June 13, 2007

Year-by-Year: 1 AD

Gaius restores Nabatea and marches to Parthia.

First things first. No, Jesus wasn’t born in 1 BC, but people used to think he was. The man who created our BC/AD calendar system was a bit off. He thought the Lord was born on December 25 of a certain year, so he called it 1 BC and made the next month 1 AD. (There is no “Year Zero”.) For the record, the man’s name was Dionysius Exiguus and he did his work in the year we now call “525 AD”.

Jesus was actually born in 7 BC.

(Click on that link, or stay here to see what happened in 1 AD.)


In January, 1 AD, Jesus was 6 years and 7 months old.

In late March, Joseph & Mary went up to Jerusalem for Passover. For the fourth straight year, Joseph left Jesus in Galilee, because he feared Archelaus.

This was the fifth Passover Archelaus ruled over Judea. His rule was about the same this year, as before. The Ethnarch kept on filling his treasuries, and paid no respects to his people.

The Jews were getting more and more irritated with their rich young Herodian. Archelaus didn’t know it yet, but his days in power were just about half-over!


Archelaus’ brother, Herod-Antipas, was doing well in Galilee. At the start of 1 AD, Antipas was waiting to hear from Rome about his treaty with Aretas.

In Arabia, the former King Aretas was waiting to see if he would get his crown and Kingdom back.

And hundreds of miles north of those two, in Antioch, Syria, young Gaius Caesar was just getting ready to deliver that news.

Here’s how it happened…


After Augustus told Gaius to wait in Syria, the Emperor’s prediction came true. (See 1 BC.)
Very early this year, Parthian Messengers came to Rome with a letter from King Phrataces. The letter basically told Caesar to leave them alone and let them control Armenia.[1]

Naturally, Augustus didn’t back down. The Emperor wrote back and told Phrataces to give up his crown and get out of Armenia!

Then Augustus sent a new letter to Gaius in Syria.

Caesar knew Phrataces was afraid of their Legions.[2] And the Emperor was pretty sure he could win this war with letters... but it was going to take a while.[3] So Augustus told Gaius to go on down to Arabia.

Then, six weeks later, Gaius got that letter.


By March 1st, the Emperor’s Grandson was riding south towards Northern Arabia.

Gaius met with Aretas in Petra and gave the good news.[4] The nineteen year old Emperor-in-training stayed just long enough to make a good, firm impression. Then Gaius took the Legion Varus had placed there (in 3 BC) and marched it away from Nabatea.

Along the way, Gaius let the Legion keep marching north while he took a side trip thru Israel.
Gaius saw Herod-Archelaus in Jerusalem and Herod-Antipas in Galilee.[5] The heir of Augustus was still on his coming out tour.[6] Plus, Gaius gave Antipas the same news Aretas got, about their treaty.

Now Antipas knew he was really engaged.[7]

And Archelaus knew his brother had passed him, in Caesar’s eyes. But this year, Archelaus also learned that the Emperor could be forgiving to a bad client king!

It wasn’t really the kind of lesson Archelaus needed.[8]


Please note: Archelaus is a few years from getting himself into major trouble. So we’ll have lots more to say about him, before long.

But Aretas & Antipas are now ruling wisely and peacefully. And naturally, that means they don’t show up much in the history, for a while.[9]

The alliance between Nabatea and Galilee is going to last right up until the days of John the Baptist.

We’ll hear a bit more about Antipas, before then.

But nothing else about Aretas, until 28 AD.


While Gaius was busy in Nabatea and Israel, the Roman and Parthian Messengers were still carrying letters!

Before spring, King Phrataces had gotten Caesar’s letter. He sent a proud, defiant reply. But a part of him was starting to worry…

Phrataces began to realize the Nobles in his country didn’t want a war with Rome. And his ally in Armenia, King Tigranes, actually sent a letter to Caesar asking for peace![10]

Caesar wrote back and told Tigranes to visit Gaius in Syria. But Caesar didn’t write back to Phrataces… and that silence turned out to be louder than war drums!

By mid-summer, Phrataces sent new Messengers, to ask for peace.[11]

And by autumn, Gaius marched all three Syrian Legions to their border with Parthia. They were going to have a peace ceremony there, on the Euphrates River.

But the young Caesar got a big surprise, during the event.

Gaius & Phrataces had a gourmet luncheon on the Euphrates.[12] At some point, the young Parthian shocked his new ally with evidence of a Roman traitor! The King accused Gaius’ chief advisor, Marcus Lollius, of taking bribes to turn against his fellow Romans.

So on the way back to Antioch, Gaius put Lollius out of his inner circle. And a few days later, Lollius killed himself.[13]

Which does two important things to our story…

First, the young Caesar needs a new chief advisor, while he winters in Antioch. And second, Lollius couldn’t lie to Gaius about Tiberius, anymore! (More on that, soon.)

Just remember – the fate of an Empire can turn on one death. Or two, in this case.

But we won’t see that second death until next year…


Before we leave 1 AD[14], let’s check on Tiberius.

The Exile kept writing letters to Augustus, begging the Emperor to let him come back to Rome. Tiberius was so desperate, he even confessed the true reason he’d left in 6 BC. He told Caesar it was only to get out of Gaius & Lucius’ way, so no one would think he resented them.

Augustus never backed down. But after a while, Caesar finally told Tiberius he could come home if and only if Gaius personally said it was okay.

Now, at this time, Augustus and Tiberius both knew Gaius didn’t want his step-father around.

But they didn’t know how much Lollius had been a factor, in Gaius’ feelings. And they didn’t yet imagine just how quickly the young Emperor-in-training might be able to change his mind!


One major player has yet to be mentioned, this year.


As Augustus’ wife and Tiberius’ mother, the Emperess kept herself well informed of everything. With pillow-talk from the Emperor and letters from the Exile, Livia knew just what those two were saying to each other.[15]

So this year, she finally heard what would save her son.

Before the end of 1 AD, the Emperess Julia-Livia found out there was only one thing keeping Tiberius from coming back to Rome. And Gaius was that thing!

But that’s not to say Livia could do anything about it…

Or could she?

Next Year Book: 2 AD!
Footnotes to 1 AD:

[1] Phrataces offensively addressed the Emperor only as “Caesar”. He defended Parthian actions in Armenia and demanded Augustus send his four half-brothers back home. (He saw them as threats - see 1 BC notes.)

[2] Clearly! Otherwise, he wouldn’t have bothered sending messengers and trying to act tough!

[3] Parthia was a 7-8 week trip, for a Roman messenger. And the Parthians probably went even slower (not being able to trade horses thru Roman territory, like Augustus’ men could do). So when Augustus sends this letter, he knows it’s going to be nearly four months, at least, before he gets Phrataces’ official response. Add to that another six weeks to notify Gaius of the results, and the Emperor had only two options – either keep his young heir sitting idle in Antioch for five or six months – or he could tell Gaius to get the southern mission out of the way as quickly as possible. Since we know Gaius winds up having a busy Autumn, these letter-sending months must have run something like January to June, or possibly March to August at the latest.

[4] Thanks to Aretas’ new peace treaty with Herod-Antipas, Nabatea was reinstated as an independent “Client-Kingdom”. Aretas was allowed to reclaim the title of King and to resume minting coins with his picture on them. Gaius also must have stressed Rome’s expectation of peaceful interaction with their Jewish neighbors. And with that, it is at this point that the Nabateans cease to be “subjects” of the Roman Empire. (See Strabo 16.4.21 and Bowersock’s Roman Arabia, Chapter Four.

[5] By about this time, both men were using Herod’s name on their coins as a title of respect.

[6] Gaius may have fancied himself as following the footsteps of Alexander the Great (touring the whole East in a couple of years). Augustus later (in a letter) specifically complimented Gaius for refraining from offering sacrifices at Jerusalem – a task no Roman commander would stoop to, but which Alexander had done, famously, on his first and only visit to the Jews’ Holy City.

[7] Betrothed, that is, to Aretas’ pre-pubescent daughter. (See 1 BC.)

[8] Archelaus should have noticed that the Emperor might have enough space now, in Syria, to annex a new kingdom – now that he’d un-annexed Nabatea!

[9] The wedding between Antipas and the Nabatean Princess happens some time in the next several years. We don’t know just when, and it doesn’t really matter. He’s going to take a new wife in 27 AD, and she’ll run out on him in 28 AD. Meanwhile, Aretas the King goes on, after 1 AD, to lead his people into their own very prosperous Golden Age for several years, that last even after the divorce. (See Bowersock’s Roman Arabia.)

[10] Tigranes didn’t write to Rome at all until he saw that Caesar wasn’t backing down. And about that time, he suddenly decided to switch back to his old alliance!

[11] The Parthian King backed off the tough-talk, dropped his demands, and promised to stay out of Armenia!

[12] They dined in three courses, in three locations: an island in the river, then once again on each riverbank. One of the Roman officers present at this event was the ancient author Vellius Paterculus. By the way, Phrataces and Gaius were very close in age.
[13] We don’t know whether Lollius killed himself, or it was reported that way, or it was made to look that way.

[14] Let’s also mention, briefly, there was a small outbreak in Germany this year, and the Danube Legions dealt with it, to some extent. But Caesar couldn’t commit much effort to it, because of Parthia & Armenia.

[15] Livia also learned this year, after Tiberius did, of the threat that was made somewhere in Asia, by Gaius’ dinner guest. The threat was made nearly a year before they heard about it, but it sounded recent. For this and other reasons (Suet.2.13), this was the year Tiberius & Livia both became desperately concerned about his safety.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why r we stalking Jesus??

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