January 1, 2009

Did Drusus' Death Hurt Herod in 9 BC? (3)

In the last post, I tentatively concluded that Drusus’ funeral in 9 BC fell between mid-August and November. Prior to that, I showed that Syllaeus’ arrival by sea must have fallen between late August and mid-October. Unfortunately, these overlapping ranges don’t tell us the actual event dates. However, other details from Josephus and Cassius Dio can help us build a reasonable sequence of these events.

Dio tells us Augustus did not officially end his campaign when he entered the city with the funeral procession. And later, Dio strongly implies that Augustus went back outside the city after the funeral, to remain in mourning until January. [For the reason, see post #2.] But Josephus strictly says that Augustus was at his palace at least once, to meet with Syllaeus and the envoys of Herod, regarding the invasion of Nabatea. According to Josephus, Caesar was aware of Syllaeus and allowed him at court.

Obviously, if Augustus was in Rome with Syllaeus, then so was Drusus’ coffin. It may have been some days before the funeral, or the Emperor might have stayed a few days after before leaving Rome again, but Syllaeus definitely saw an Augustus who was officially in mourning.

Evidently, then, Syllaeus arrived in Rome at least a couple of days before Drusus’ funeral. But Josephus also tells us that Syllaeus had time, while in Rome, to receive messengers from Nabatea telling him details of what happened in the invasion. This makes it more likely still that Syllaeus arrived some weeks before Drusus’ funeral. Without more specific data, we can still conclude that both events happened during the autumn, and Drusus’ funeral came last, closer to winter than to summer.

At least one more detail from Josephus deserves attention now. Syllaeus “changed into black dress” to express his own mourning over the Nabatean losses. Although Josephus did not tell us about the death of Drusus, we can now see there was probably an ulterior motive in this wearing of black. Syllaeus’ tears and his clothes both displayed an emotional sympathy for what Augustus was going through personally. This is the first aspect in which we might say the death of Drusus gave an advantage to Syllaeus in his accusations against Herod. There is one more.

In Syllaeus’ day at court, the friends of Herod were already there. (Having left somewhat later, this is yet additional confirmation that some time had passed since Syllaeus’ arrival.) After listening to the Nabatean’s long, emotional report, Augustus was so upset he only allowed those envoys one word – yes or no, was it true that Herod took an army into North Arabia? Of course, they said yes. But this last question may be important to ask:

If Drusus had not been dead, if Caesar had not just lost his best General (and the joint-heir with his grandsons), if Syllaeus had not been able to connect in personal commiseration with the Emperor, if it had been a normal season and Augustus was having a great year instead of a terrible one… would things have gone differently? Would Augustus have been more patient, if the bad report hadn’t come within days of a devastatingly tragic state funeral? Would the Emperor have inquired more if he had time? Or if he hadn’t been officially in mourning? Or, if Syllaeus hadn’t used the angle he did, would Augustus even have entertained an audience that was merely for a personal grievance, while the whole city and Caesar himself were in mourning?

Is it possible that one reason the Emperor limited his inquiries was out of respect to Drusus and to the moment? And if we consider that such lack of care for thoroughness was uncharacteristic of Augustus Caesar, how much more could this anomaly be explained by the Emperor’s emotions over Drusus, and by the formality of the occasion for official mourning? Or financially, if Augustus was already weighing his diminishing chances of securing Germany without Drusus, is it possible the Emperor suddenly changed his opinion about letting the 64 year old Herod continue to remain unsettled on the future rule of Israel, among his many sons? In other words, was the loss of Drusus a reason for Caesar to move up his timetable for annexing Judea? It’s possible.

The answer to all of these questions might possibly be yes. To say the least, the death of Drusus had a profound effect on Augustus’ life and his plans for the imperial succession. Dio Cassius essentially tells us the Emperor stayed outside the city all winter, in official mourning. That makes it all the more remarkable that Syllaeus and Herod’s envoys were even able to see Augustus at the palace, for the brief days or weeks that Caesar was actually in Rome.

The timeline says this might have happened in September, October or November, but it happened this way. Finally, then, to answer the question: Did the death of Drusus hurt Herod’s temporary and immediate fortunes as Augustus responded to Syllaeus in mourning? Of course we can only guess how much this turn of events helped cause Augustus to make Herod his "subject". But it's not a big leap to say that Drusus' death did hurt Herod's cause. At least, from all we can see, it sure didn’t help!

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