March 23, 2009

Josephus on 9/8/7 BC (4)

I posted recently that it was probably in November of 9 BC when Augustus "became still more angry and wrote to Herod in a harsh tone... that whereas formerly he had treated him as a friend, he would now treat him as a subject." (Josephus' Antiquities 16.290) What I would like to know more precisely is how many months passed before "Caesar's attitude underwent such a change that he condemned Syllaeus to death and became reconciled with Herod..." (Josephus' Antiquities 16.352)

Twelve pages of greek (Loeb edition) stand between those two lines of text. This alone tells us nothing about time, but the limits of travel and Dio Cassius' account of the Emperor's campaign in Germany - together - suggest the second event most likely occurred no sooner than August of 8 BC. (See previous posts.) That gives us at least a nine month long demotion. Skip the small print below if you don't want the details. ;)

Scholarship on this event sequence typically neglects to work out chronology in this much detail. Peter Richardson makes Augustus linger in Rome until Nicolas arrives but is vague about the timing of that visit and does not discuss the German campaign itself. Based on Peter Swan's analysis of Dio, Richardson's assumption is highly unlikely, more so because Josephus tells us that Olympus went to see Augustus as soon as he heard about Nicolas’ success. Since Olympus sailed to Italy from Palestine, he could hardly have arrived before June. But Augustus was hailed imperator by the German Legions in June at the latest. Therefore, it seems almost certain that Nicolas must not have been able to meet with Caesar until after the Emperor’s return – some time between August and October. Adding seven weeks for imperial couriers to reach Herod with news about each change in status, King Herod probably got the good news between mid-October and December of 8 BC, having previously received the demotion somewhere around the turn of January that year.

Regrettably, I have not yet found this much attention to detail, on this matter, in scholarly books about Herod. At least Richardson acknowledged the German campaign and considered the issue of time. Stewart Perowne skipped backwards and forwards during the late period of Herod’s life with scant chronological detail at all. Emil Schurer did not even bring Nicolas all the way into Italy! Surveys of the period tend to cover the whole affair in a sentence or two, and it is notable that Fergus Millar chose this moment at which to point out, "Problems of time and distance, often very important to the role of the near east within the empire, do not play any visible part." (emphasis mine) In fact, Millar himself had just skipped over one whole year of action in less than a paragraph. (To be fair, his survey was not aimed at events in strict sequence. Sadly, among scholars, too few are.)

In their defense, we can easily point out these world class scholars were simply following Josephus himself in neglecting to tease out much detailed chronology around Herod’s demotion. Still, solid historiography requires logistical outworking, at least for double checking. On this issue, we owe these past scholars our efforts to make some improvement. Thanks mainly to Swan, this post is now my contribution. Hopefully, they would all approve.

It seems Herod the Great remained in disfavor for the first nine to eleven months of the year 8 BC. This is a significant amount of time and offers a new perspective for reconsidering other pertinent facts. For instance, now see my next point:

The extended duration of Herod’s demotion makes it less likely to have been insignificant, punishment wise. It is fine to say Herod lost certain perks of imperial friendship, but that is now likely less than the least we should assume. Eleven months is a long time to believe Caesar made no active efforts to “treat” Herod as a “subject”, as he promised to actively do. Three months of winter could perhaps allow an as yet unfulfilled threat to remain unfulfilled. That's conceivable. But nine months with a summer makes that threat, retroactively, implicitly empty. That does not at all fit what we know of Augustus.

This gives us a new problem. Why does Josephus list no punishments? For that matter, what would they have been? I already admitted my own suspicion, back in post #2. But to back up, the most basic question at this moment is: did Augustus take any particular actions to treat Herod as a subject, or not?

This question deserves more attention. Time is but one of the issues.

Stay tuned...

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