Independent historian Dr. Linda Zollschan has authored a blockbuster article challenging the definition – until this point, accepted by all historians in the field — of an inscription on a gold coin issued by Rome at the conclusion of Vespasian’s war against the Jews of Judaea.
The paper, based on one delivered to the 2018 European Association of Jewish Studies Conference in Krakow, is entitled “The Conclusion of the First Jewish Revolt: Interpreting IVDAEA RECEPTA,” is to be published in the Israel Numismatic Research Journal Vol. 14 2020.
Zollschan, a resident of the northern Negev community of Arad, has become known for her direct, no-nonsense way of turning the world of historical research upside down simply by looking at things through a different lens.
In a previous article on a long-lost bronze tablet in Rome, Zollschan set out to prove the tablet — which displayed “friendship” between the Romans and the Jews at the time of Yehudah haMacabee — did indeed exist. The article was published in 2013 in Classica Et Mediaevalia, the Danish Journal of Philology and History (Volume 63).
In her current article, Zollschan sets out to argue for a different interpretation of the inscription on the aureus (gold coin equal to 25 silver denarii) of Vespasian with the legend “Judaea recepta” which on the reverse illustrates Roman formalities for the conclusion of wars.
“Until now, Judaea recepta was commonly interpreted either as meaning the recovery of Judaea or as an announcement of a return to the embrace of the [Roman] provincial system,” writes Zollschan. “However, Judaea recepta indicates surrender, and the aureus with the legend Judaea recepta thus commemorates the Roman acceptance of the unconditional surrender of the Jewish rebels in Jerusalem.”
Previous scholars have suggested that the word recepta indicates a message of “recovered” or “recaptured” rather than “captured” and as such, underlines a message saying “rather than conquest by force, a return to the embrace of the provincial system.”
The historian then proposes her blockbuster challenge: “whether it is possible to accept that recepta carries that meaning, and therefore whether the aureus conveys the message of a gentler view of Rome’s triumph over the rebels in the Jewish revolt.
“The sheer number of coins relating to the end of the first Jewish revolt minted by the Flavians testifies to their use as ‘propaganda on an unprecedented scale’ (Ostrowski 1999:154-155).
“While the quantity of coins with the legend Iudaea capta minted in gold, silver and bronze during the reigns of Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian, over a period of 16 years (Brin 1986:10) is vast, only a single find to date has yielded a coin with the legend Iudaea recepta. No other Roman victory produced a similarly large number of coins (TJC:185). They were minted in Rome and across the empire in Lyon, Judaea, Antioch, Tarraco in Spain and Commagene (present-day south-central Turkey). The coins were designed to send a warning made repeatedly to other parts of the empire not to attempt a revolt from Rome (Brin 1986:10). The victory over the Jews was presented as a
world event and not as a local uprising, particularly as populations of Jews could be found in many areas of the empire (Overman 2003:216).”
The Roman custom was that surrender was accomplished through a ritual act, Zollschan further explains, with a ceremony that took the form of verbal questions and responses. Only after hearing an affirmative answer did the representative of Rome legally complete the ritual by saying “at ego recipio” (and so I accept [it], meaning the surrender).
Zollschan underlines that Rome ascertained those surrendering were independent, so that any Roman arrangement with them would not overturn the international order of alliances. “We know of examples where surrender was rejected because the requesting party was not independent,” she writes. “It was important to determine that the other party was entering into the legal arrangement of their own free will.”
Internal politics were in play within the Roman Senate, as well as internationally.
The coin – known as a “triumph” and minted by Vespasian specifically to advertise the deditio (surrender) of the rebel Jewish leaders, was used by the Roman general to lay claim to the prestige due him and to cement his place in Roman history. Deditio was the barometer of military success, writes Zollschan. Judaea recepta was the Roman emperor’s announcement of the deditio of the Jews. The Roman Senate awarded Vespasian and Titus each a “triumph” (extraordinary honor) for their victories over the Jews, both in one year: a rare accolade.
Zollschan posits: How had Vespasian prepared the ground for the senate’s decision which held the power to deny or accede to the request for a triumph? Perhaps the minting of the gold Judaea recepta coin formed part of a highly orchestrated prelude to the emperor’s report to the senate on the conclusion of the Jewish revolt — in order to win the support of individual senators in the vote to grant him a triumph.
One has to wonder whether international political machinations have really changed all that much in two millennia. Roman appetites for empire-building, their propaganda and public relations efforts, and in some respects even their deference to international laws seem to have left their mark on most of today’s governments and certainly on the international bodies that rule the world today.