January 1, 2009

Did Drusus' Death Hurt Herod in 9 BC? (1)

***This is the first of three posts about the chronology involved with blending Josephus’ Antiquities 17:278-299 and Cassius’ Dio’s History 55:1.1-5.1. This story is what leads Augustus Caesar to declare Herod the Great as his “subject”, at which point I believe the Emperor also commissioned plans for the first Roman census of Herod’s Kingdom [that likely took place in 7 BC]. What follows here has no direct bearing on my census theory, but will simply consider the relative timing of Roman and Eastern events in regard to the question, “Did Drusus’ death in 9 BC have any effect on Augustus’ response to the Nabatean affair?”***

For Syllaeus the Nabatean to reach Rome before sailing closed for the year (not to mention for Herod’s emissaries to do so as well, a bit later on), that first meeting between Herod the Great and Governor Saturninus must have been in early July at the absolute latest. And for Syllaeus the Nabatean to find Augustus that Autumn in the palace at Rome, the corpse of Claudius Drusus Nero must have been back in Rome by mid to late October. These are rough estimates, but the windows for activity are fairly tight.

The logistics are as daunting as any situation I’ve studied, and the sources don’t drown us in chronological details. First the East: Herod has to meet with Saturninus, schedule both the Governor and Syllaeus for a summit at Beruit, wait thirty days after that summit, meet with Saturninus again, invade North Arabia, and return home to send envoys with enough time to reach Rome by sea. Even if we grant November 10th as the far outside limit for arrival, Syllaeus must have been on ship by early September, leaving August as his 30 day grace period and July for the first meeting, Herod's scheduling and everyone's travel to the summit. So when did Saturninus arrive in Syria?

The normal arrival time for a new Proconsul is about midsummer, which is why I’d previously assumed Herod must have asked the prior Governor (Marcus Titius) for help and been turned down. If the Great King was so eager in early July, three years into a frustrating rebellion, he probably felt the same way a month or more earlier. In my reconstruction of 9 BC, I wrote that this is precisely what must have happened, but now I see there is another option: Maybe Titius wasn’t around at all when Saturninus came.

Unfortunately, the record is silent on Marcus Titius’ actual departure date. If he left early or died in office, it would not only prevent Herod from seeking his help earlier that year, it could also have caused Saturninus to arrive early in the province, leaving more time to fit in the daunting logistics outlined above. However likely this conjecture may be, we might give it extra weight because it makes both sailing parties more likely to arrive at a reasonable time. Even against the August northwesterlies (Etesian Winds), ships from Caesarea can reach Rome in less than two months by sailing under cover (like Paul did in Acts 27).

In short, the absence of a Governor in early 9 BC would explain Herod’s eagerness to see Saturninus just as well as the replacement of an uncooperative Governor. Either way, Herod has to see Saturninus in May, June or July to make the rest work. Of course, the downside to this new range of options is that it leaves a much looser set of parameters for placing the visit of Syllaeus to Augustus at Rome. Sailing west during August makes a six week trip a bit longer, so if Syllaeus embarked between July 1st and September 1st, he’d reach Rome somewhere between late August and mid-October. Assuming Herod caught on quickly, the party he sent would have been close behind. This rough estimate may be the best we can do, but it might be good enough.

In my next post, I’ll address chronological details in Dio Cassius and look for evidence of any overlap in the timing of Drusus’ death & funeral and Syllaeus’ travel & audience before Caesar.

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