Hadrian and the Second and Third Jewish Revolts | Curator’s Nook Season 5 Episode 5

published on July 2, 2020

Hello! My name is Ross Thomas

I'm a curator in the department of Greece and Rome

and welcome to my corner!

I would like to talk to you today about

the Second and Third Jewish Revolts

and I have a couple of objects here

which have been the subject of study by British Museum curators and our teams

So we have on the right here

a lovely Egyptian figurine

which shows a bearded emperor

wearing Roman legionary uniform

and carrying the gladius sword

and he's worrying with this sword a prisoner

So scholars now generally agree

on the identification of this character as

the emperor Hadrian either

putting down the Second Jewish Revolt

in around 117 AD

or putting down the Third Jewish Revolt

between 132-136 AD

The Second Jewish Revolt started during Trajan's campaign of Mesopotamia

where he conquered large parts of what is now Syria and Iraq

While he was progressing eastwards

there were a series of revolts in different city-states

including Cyrene in Northern Africa

and Alexandria where there were significant Jewish populations

Trajan then died

and Hadrian became emperor in 117 AD

And one of the first things he had to do

was to suppress this revolt

And then a second revolt starts

which is more of a nationalistic revolution of the people of Judea

against the Romans

trying to expel Roman control

And this occurs around 132 AD

and continues until 135/136 AD

when again Hadrian suppresses the revolt

The figurine is mould made

It's made from Egyptian Nile silt

It comes from Lower Egypt

and he is shown here also with a big symbol

an important symbol of victory

the eagle here on his left shoulder

It looks a bit like a parrot

but I can assure you it is actually an eagle

and it's a symbol of victory

it's also a symbol of Zeus or Jupiter

which was thought to be one of the reasons for the Third Jewish Revolt

was Hadrian's building of a large Jupiter temple in Jerusalem

This piece shows a series of different bits of iconography

So it shows a fully armoured Roman emperor

but he's in the stance of a Egyptian pharaoh or god

but on his shoulder he's got the eagle

which is also a symbol of the earlier Hellenistic dynasty of Egypt

So you've got Greek, Roman and Egyptian

all represented in this figurine

suppressing the Jewish Revolt

I'd like to talk about the second piece

and this is a fragment of Roman tile or brick

And you can see here a rectangular stamp with Latin letters

L E X F R

So this describes the legio or legion 10 Fretensis

which is the '10th Legion of the Strait'

So this is a legion that was founded around 41-40 BC by Octavian

who later became the first Roman emperor

And they were very active in the civil war at the end of the Roman Republic

before the founding of the Roman Empire

But they were moved to Judea

they were based in Jerusalem

until the 3rd century AD

And this device is very specifically something that they produced in Jerusalem

during the period between 130 or 132, and 136 AD

So the period immediately preceding, during or right at the end of the period of the Third Jewish Revolt

So excavations in Jerusalem have found the workshops where these were made

Legions weren't just a fighting force

an army fighting on behalf of the emperor

they also had engineers and builders

As the Romans sought to build – or rebuild – Jerusalem

in their image

which of course was not very popular amongst the local population

the Roman building campaigns required other parts of Jerusalem to be knocked down

and it might also be this that was part of the reason for the Revolt

Put together, these pieces tell us about the dramatic events

that ultimately saw the Jewish populations of Judea and Egypt

in Alexandria specifically

turned them from a powerful and influential eastern Mediterranean peoples

into a minority that was scattered and persecuted

across the Roman empire and beyond

and it's only through the ongoing study of our collections here in the basements

which we've been doing with our volunteers

very recently

that we're able to continue to study these pieces

and inform our research projects and our displays

And even some objects that seem quite fragmentary

and not particularly interesting at a first look

can actually tell us a very specific story about the past

Thank you for watching

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