October 15, 2006

Year-by-Year: 6 BC

Joseph and Mary settle in Egypt, Tiberius runs away from Rome, and Herod's family troubles go from bad to worse!
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In January, Joseph and Mary are still travelling south, on the road to Egypt. They fled Bethlehem last year, in early December, to save the baby Jesus from King Herod the Great.

Here's one last thing we didn't have space for in 7 BC (but it fits here quite well):

The main road south from Judea into Egypt goes just through the city of Gaza, on the coast. It was the first major town outside of Judea where Mary and Joseph could rest. It also happened to be the number one place in the whole Roman Empire for selling incense!

Joseph and Mary rest for a night and a day. They feel safe for the moment, because Gaza is mostly an Arab city, sitting at the start of the road to Nabatea and Southern Arabia. They fall asleep not knowing that ships from all over the Roman world come to Gaza's port to buy Arabian incense... but they find out in the morning, when they go to the market for food!

Since there were many buyers to choose from, Joseph sells their frankincense for a good price. The money from the sale gives them enough to keep going.

They had plenty of reasons to keep going. First of all, God told Joseph to go into Egypt. But even if they'd wanted to stay, Gaza was a Greek town, and the large Arab population wasn't very friendly to Jews. On top of all that, Gaza was actually still part of Herod's kingdom!

So Joseph and Mary kept heading south.

Now, that all happened in mid-December of 7 BC. (A very busy year!)

And now it's January of 6 BC!


Throughout January, Joseph and Mary kept walking towards Egypt, like God told Joseph in his dream.

Joseph and Mary both knew that Alexandria, Egypt, had a lot of Jewish people there. They also knew there were few Arabs in Egypt. The city was mostly Romans and Greeks, with some light-skinned Africans. Also, the strong Jewish community of Alexandria was over 200 years old. It was naturally the best place to go.

Bethlehem to Alexandria is a 350 mile trip, which takes them at least 18 days on foot.

Sometime in February, Joseph and Mary finally arrive in Alexandria and find out that as much as a fifth of the city was Jewish! Joseph easily finds a synagogue and some honest men he can trust to help him sell the rest of their treasure.

They money Joseph makes from selling the gold and myrrh lets them buy a house, in the Jewish Quarter of Alexandria, and Joseph starts finding carpentry work where he can, to buy them food.

Mary has a nine month old in a new house in a strange city. She makes a few connections with some women from the synagogue they attend.

Mary and Joseph live this way, in Alexandria, for the rest of the year.

(They are going to stay in Egypt for almost three years, total.)

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Back in Israel, in 6 BC, Herod manages to avoid criticism for the massacre of Bethlehem, simply because everyone is too afraid to cross him by saying anything about it.

Herod instructs his chief adviser and official historian, Nicholas of Damascus, not to make any record of the visit from the Magi, or of the events in Bethlehem.

(Later, Nicolas will write about the death of Alexander and Aristobulus (Herod's two sons) after they find out that Antipater (Herod's oldest) was to blame. But at this time, they don't know that yet. But Nicolas never writes about the Bethlehem massacre.)

(Roughly eighty years from now, a Jewish rookie-historian named Josephus is going to use Nicholas' official history of Herod's rule to write his own account of the Jewish people and their wars. And basically, whatever Nicolas didn't write, Josephus will not write. And that includes Bethlehem.)

Meanwhile, Herod continues to pleasure himself in whatever ways he desires. He is growing very, very old by this time, and has begun to come down with some serious diseases.

Later this year, he'll find out that he shouldn't have killed his two sons. But right now, he's just busy taking care of their families.

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At the start of 6 BC, Herod still believed that Alexander and Aristobulus were guilty of treason and deserved to die. He was glad that he'd executed them (last year).

Aristobulus left behind one very young son, and King Herod wanted to make sure the little boy was raised properly. So, before summer, the King sent his three-year old, royal grandson to live in Rome.

The boy's name wasJulius Marcus Agrippa. (He was named after Caesar's old friend, Vipsanius Marcus Agrippa, who was also King Herod's close friend.)

(This little prince is going to become King of Israel someday, for a few years, and he's going to kill one of Jesus' apostles! In those years, he'll be known as "Herod Agrippa". But at this time, he's barely pot(ty)-trained!)

Anyway, it was in this year, 6 BC, that King Herod sent his grandson to Rome with a large grant of money, to provide for his care and his education. The woman who agreed to take him in and raise him was Antonia - daughter of Marc Antony, widow of Drusus (who died in 9 BC) and mother of Germanicus (now age 10), Livilla (now 7) and Claudius (now 4).

They all lived in the palace, and the Royal Family began to call Agrippa, "Little Herod".

For many years to come, the future King of Israel (Herod Agrippa) and a future Emperor of Rome (Claudius) are going to be childhood buddies, growing up in the palace of Augustus!

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So, what was happening in Rome, at the start of 6 BC?

The Roman Senate granted Tiberius "tribunican power" (which was basically a level of authority second only to Augustus), but for a specific purpose. The Senate wanted Tiberius to go into the East for five years to restore Rome's control over the "client-kingdom" of Armenia. The Senate also granted Tiberius "imperium" over the East, making him the temporary equal of Augustus, during his trip.

It was a great way to meet a pressing need, and an honor for Tiberius.

But Tiberius didn't want the honor.

Remember, Tiberius was Augustus' step-son. His mother, Livia (Augustus' wife) had recently forced Tiberius to divorce his own beloved wife Vipsania in order to marry Augustus' daughter, Julia. Tiberius had done so, for the good of Rome. But he hated his new wife, Julia... for many reasons.

Julia had already been married to that great Roman General, Marcus Agrippa (just mentioned, above; Agrippa was Augustus' closest friend and ally until he died in 12 BC). And Julia had three sons by Agrippa, named Gaius, Lucius & Postumus.

These boys were now Tiberius' step-sons, but they were Augustus' grandsons, first! Augustus acted like their father, and he favored them over Tiberius. Poor Tiberius (!) had divorced his true love, lost his brother Drusus, and now his own step-sons were beating him out with his step-father, the Emperor!

At the very start of this year, 6 BC, the Senate had just tried to make the older boy, Gaius, a consul of Rome - to please Augustus - even though the boy was only 14. And while the Senate was making the boy more admired in Rome, they were trying to get Tiberius to go away for several years... to fight a long war... in the East!

Hmm, let's see... How will the jealous step-father, Tiberius, respond?

For whatever reason/s, Tiberius refused the Senate's offer, but decided to leave Rome anyway, on his own terms!

That summer, Tiberius left his mother, his Emperor, his legions and his whole city behind him. He left all alone, too, and began living as a retired citizen, on the Greek Island of Rhoads (near Asia Minor)!

Tiberius is going to live in the East, on Rhoads, for seven years.

Grave things are going to have to happen, to bring him back.

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By the way, here's what Tiberius missed out on, by not going to Armenia!

At this time, the Parthian Empire was Rome's strongest enemy (besides Germany). One of the things Rome and Parthia struggled over - constantly - was Armenia (east of Galatia & Cappadocia, and north-east of Syria).

In this year, the Parthians set up a King who would be loyal to Parthia, a man named Tigranes IV. Next, Tigranes IV was appointed to marry his sister and rule with her, a woman named Erato. (It wasn't the creepy, icky marriage the Romans had a problem with. It was the strong Parthian control over Armenia!)

So that was the situation Tiberius was asked to go deal with. But of course he didn't go, and - at least in this year - no one else did either!

Therefore, this Parthian loyalist, Tigranes IV is going to stay in power in Armenia until 1 AD. And the Roman who finally goes and defeats Tigranes will be one of Augustus' grandsons. (Tiberius' step-son, Gaius.) And it's going to be a very big event...

But that's about six years away!


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Augustus did make one small move in the East, when Tiberius wouldn't go.

The Emperor had wanted Tiberius to attack Armenia. But without Tiberius, Caesar's plans shifted from offense to defense.

Augustus sent orders for his 12th Legion to move to Syria.

So Legio XII Fulminata (Thunderbolt Carriers) marched over 700 miles from Alexandria to Antioch, and began guarding Syria.

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Let's go back to Israel again.

In the spring of 6 BC, Herod's oldest son, Antipater, is basically running the country together with his dad. His wealth and power are increasing like never before. And it's all due to the fact that he framed his two younger brothers for treason, and had them executed... which is starting to worry him.

There are rumors going around, about their deaths, and who caused it.

Antipater feels like he needs to get out of the country for a while. So he writes to friends in Rome (he lived there, for a while) and says, "Send for me." (A messenger carries the letter directly to Rome.)

A couple of months later, a letter arrives for King Herod, asking the King to send Antipater to visit Rome. So Herod agrees to send Antipater for the winter. (It was always a good idea to keep up good relations with Rome!)

Besides, Herod had another reason for sending Antipater to Rome.

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Syllaeus the Nabatean had to be punished!

Remember, Syllaeus went to Rome in 9 BC to accuse Herod, but he wound up getting himself into trouble with Caesar, instead! So then, in the summer of 8 BC, the Emperor sent Syllaeus back to Arabia to make up for his crimes.

In the past two years, Syllaeus has not done what Augustus told him to! As a matter of fact, he was worse than before! He actually murdered several important men of Nabatea and plotted to take the throne of King Aretas there. This year, in Israel, Syllaeus bribed one of Herod's own bodyguards to kill him!

Herod discovered the plot and tortured the bodyguard (whose name was Corinthus). When he found out about the bribe from Syllaeus, he contacted King Aretas, who captured Syllaeus and sent him to Herod.

Now Herod had two people to send to Rome together - his son Antipater and his enemy Syllaeus!

Herod sent some men with Antipater to guard Syllaeus, and their first stop was Antioch.

It is now June of 6 BC. The Governor of Syria, who is still Sentius Saturninus, had closed the books on his census of Israel and was waiting for his replacement from Rome. (New Governors usually arrived in their Provinces around July 1st.)

Saturninus heard the evidence from Herod and Aretas. Then he sent Syllaeus to Rome under Antipater's guards.

It was nearly the last official act Saturninus made in Syria.

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Around July 1st, a new Governor came from Rome to Antioch. After a brief turn-over of power, Saturninus sailed back to Italy.

The new Governor's name is Publius Quinctilius Varus.

Varus doesn't do much this year, but we'll see him again, very soon...

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Meanwhile, Antipater was about to arrive in Rome any day.

He's going to be gone for a little over seven months - which he doesn't know are going to be the final happy months of his life.

On the journey to Rome, Antipater is thinking about his reasons for going. He's hoping the rumors about him will die down in Israel. He's hoping to build up his Roman connections and make his own claim to Herod's throne even stronger.

He's also thinking about his Uncle Pheroras, who had promised to kill Herod while Antipater was away!

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Pheroras was Herod's brother. Now, Pheroras, his wife, her mother, and her sister - all four of them - hated Herod and wanted to kill him. So did Antipater, and so did Antipater's mother Doris, one of Herod's nine wives! In public, these people all acted like they hated one another - to throw off suspicion - but they were meeting and plotting together in secret.

Herod found out about Pheroras and the women, but didn't suspect Antipater. He told Antipater and Doris not to see Pheroras or the other women. (Herod thought Antipater would be okay, if he was safe from the influence of his uncle!)

But while Herod was deciding what to do with Pheroras and his wife, Antipater had one last secret meeting with his old uncle. In that meeting, Pheroras promised Antipater he would kill Herod while Antipater was away. Right after that meeting, Antipater left for Antioch & Rome.

A short time later, the King banished his own brother, Pheroras, who died soon after!

Too bad for Antipater that he was on the boat, and didn't know what happened!

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In Rome, when Augustus heard the evidence about Syllaeus, he had him beheaded.

Actually, some soldiers took Syllaeus up to a high point somewhere and threw him off, head-first! When he landed, it smashed his head so totally, they said he'd been beheaded. (This explains the two accounts of his death.)

Here's two points to remember, about Syllaeus' life:

Point One: It might be said that Syllaeus the Nabatean died without ever knowing his purpose in life! That is: Syllaeus went to Rome in 9 BC and made Augustus so angry at Herod that he started the first-ever census in Israel... which is how the Lord Almighty got Mary to Bethlehem, so the Messiah could be born there!


Now that is a meaningful coincidence!

Point Two: Syllaeus died about the same time as Pheroras.

Which is merely a segue (!) . . .

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Soooo, anyway . . .

In late Autumn, some time after Pheroras died, two of his freedmen (ex-slaves) went to Herod about the death. They claimed Pheroras was poisoned by his wife!

Herod wanted to know more! So he tortured the two freedmen (and some of Pheroras' wife's slaves) until he got the whole story. (We're skipping a bunch of non-essential details, here! And yes, you're welcome! Let's just say Herod tortured a lot, and he found out a lot!)

This is how Herod found out that Antipater was plotting to kill him.

By now it was nearly winter, and Herod began to plan what he would do, when Antipater came home in the spring.

There's gonna be a nasty homecoming, next year!

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That's all for this year, about Joseph & Mary, about Herod, and about Rome.

But there's one more big event, elsewhere in the Empire.

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In the middle of 6 BC, there was big news from Galatia - which is another Roman Province, east of Syria. This year, the Roman Legions of Galatia finished building a major Road, called the Via Sebaste!

Golly, Gee, a road?

Yes, but wait! It's a military Road, through a wild, dangerous region, with a very dramatic story!

Here's a little background:

Thirty years before 'now', in 36 BC, Marc Antony gave King Amyntas of Galatia some extra lands to rule - Pisidia and Lycaonia were added to Amyntas' Kingdom. Nine years after that, in 25 BC, Amyntas died while fighting the wild people of the mountains down there. That tribe of people was called the 'Homanadensians' (Homa-nad-en-sians).

In that very year (25), Augustus Caesar claimed the Kingdom of Galatia (including its new southern lands) and called it the Province of Galatia. And then the Romans went to work there!

Now, it's fascinating to see what Romans do with a brand new province! First of all, they usually like to send in an army or two! In Galatia, Legion Five and Legion Seven were sent in right away. (Legion Five was made of Gauls, so they were almost at home there in Gaul-latian lands!) (See note.)

The next thing Romans often do is send a bunch of older soldiers to live there and help keep order. So in 25 BC, thousands of veteran troops were given land for their retirement nearby six cities in the new province. (The land had previously belonged to King Amyntas.) Some soldiers settled into old cities and some actually built new towns. Either way, the cities they moved to were called Colonies of Augustus!

There were six colonies of 25 BC. One old city that got re-founded was called Antioch-near-Pisidia. One of the brand new cities was called Lystra in Lycaonia. (We will visit these cities again, in 47 AD!)

Finally, in a new Province, the Romans really like to build a Road! And usually, the Road becomes their boundary!

Augustus knew the same tribes who fought and killed Amyntas were going to be trouble for Rome as well. So he set out a long-term strategy, from the beginning. Legions Five and Seven (about 11,000 men altogether) worked on building the cities and the Road. They also made their presence known in the province at large. The Road laid out the boundary, and the Colonies were laid out on that Road.

But here's the trick! The dangerous Homanadensian tribes were surrounded by that Road! It actually circled around the mountains of Pisidia where they lived. Another hostile tribe, called the Isaurians, were also trapped inside the horse-shoe shaped Road!

Such clever, hard-working, patient, devious Romans!

It was only a matter of time, now... about 19 years, actually...

Which brings us back to 6 BC.

In this year - 6 BC - the Governor of Galatia and his two legions finally finished the Road! (They named it the Via Sebaste in honor of Caesar, because the Greek word for "Augustus" was "Sebaste"; both words mean "honored" or "reverend".)

Now the army could use the road for moving men and supplies quickly, before and after a battle.

So now it was time to prepare for a war!

And the Romans take their time when they prepare...

This year's Governor - a man named Cornutus Arruntius Aquila - needs this whole year to finish his task. His troops had finished the Road, put his name on the mile stones, and earned themselves a well-deserved rest!

It is the next Governor of Galatia who will be coming to begin the war.

You know, sometimes you gotta do things one at a time!

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By the way, that next Governor, next year in Galatia - the guy who's coming to start the war? He's a man with a famous name.

He was consul in 12 BC, and he won't become really famous for another ten years (until 6 AD), but lots of readers are going to recognize his name, right now.

Next year's Governor of Galatia is going to be Publius Sulpicius Quirinius.

And Quirinius is going to become very important...

Very soon!

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Next Chapter: "5 BC"

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