The Jewish Great Revolt

Roman-Jewish relations had been on tension for long years, but in 66 AD the Jewish Great Revolt (also known as the Frist Roman-Jewish war) broke out, originating from Jewish-Greek tensions and anti-taxation protests. The Romans handled the crisis badly and a major rebellion broke out giving the Jews the upper hand for the first year and ambushing and destroying the Legion XII Fulminata.

The following year, General (later Emperor) Vespasian entered Judea with a fighting force of 60 thousand men including the legions V Macedonica and X Fretensis. The first city to end up as pre to the X Fretensis was Gamala on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. For a year, 67-68 AD the legions were camped at Caesarea (Samaria) but then the X Fretensis moved location to Jericho and was active in the valley of the river Jordan and destroyed the monastery of Qumran, (where the Dead See-scrolls have been found).

In 69-70 AD together with another three legions, the X Fretensis were present at the Siege of Jerusalem, under the command of Titus, Vespasian’s (who had by now became Emperor) son. The legion was camped on the Mount of Olives (the same place where according to the Gospels, years before Jesus Christ had spent a few time, from his last hours on earth, praying before being captured and crucified). Though the first two outer walls of the city were breached after 3 weeks, then the Jews then gave a stubborn defence for another seven months, before Jerusalem’s complete fall. The city was sacked and burnt together with its temple. During this siege, the X Fretensis also became famous for the ballistae (siege engines) that they became epxerts in constructing and which they used to deal heavy blows on the Jewish ramparts and defences.

Even after the fall of Jerusalem, Judea remained a troublesome region. Legio X Fretensis was assigned the responsibility of mopping-up operation to cleanse the region from all rebels. In 72 AD, the governor Flavius Silva laid siege to the last Jewish stronghold, the citadel at Masada, occupied by the Sicarii – Jewish extremists. From the military point of view, this could be seen as a waste of time, but it had the significance of giving the Jews a lesson and show to everyone that no mountain is too high for the Roman army. The citadel seemed impregnable but the engineers of Legio X Fretensis managed to design and construct a gigantic ramp over which they moved a siege-tower that scaled the walls. The Jewish defenders committed suicide in the last moment when they realised that their defences were soon to be breeched.

X Fretensis was to stay in Judaea for the long years to come, with Jerusalem becaming its new base. Thier garrison fortress was somewhere on the Western Hill in the southern half of the old city, though its precise location is unknown.

But several archaeological finds in the holy city, such as bricks and tiles, with the name or symbols (bull or boar) of the legion, prove its presence. The visibility of these symbols might have been intended to humiliate the Jewish population. Since Judea had become a province apart from Syria, the Legion no longer had its commander but was led by the governor, acted as the Legatus Legionis for all the legions present in his province.

Like the other legions in the Levant, X Fretensis served in Trajan’s campaign against the Parthians 115-117 AD. Several officers were decorated. This was the last campaign intended to expand the Roman Empire.

Further Readings
  • Dabrowa, Legio X Fretensis. A Prosopographical Study of its Officers (I-III C AD) (1993)
  • E. Dabrowa, “Legio X Fretensis”, in: Yann Le Bohec, Les légions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire (2000 Lyon) 317-325
  • Flavius Josephus (Author), Betty Radice (Editor) E. Mary Smallwood (Editor), G.A. Williamson (Translator) The Jewish War: Revised Edition (Penguin Classics).
  • H. Geva, “The Camp of the Tenth Legion in Jerusalem: an Archaeological Reconsideration,” in: Israel Exploration Journal 34 (1984) 239-254.
  • Josephus Flavius (Author) by G.J. Goldberg … A Chronology of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome ((
  • M. Gichon, “The siege of Masada”, in: Yann Le Bohec, Les légions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire (2000 Lyon) 541-554
  • Peter Schäfer (editor), Bar Kokhba reconsidered, Tübingen: Mohr: 2003.
  • Eck, ‘The Bar Kokhba Revolt: the Roman point of view’ in the Journal of Roman Studies 89 (1999) 76ff.
  • Y. Meshorer, “Two Finds from the Roman Tenth Legion”, in: Israel Museum Journal 3 (1984), 41-45.
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