The timeline of the career of Sulpicius Quirinius includes at least three solid points – his consulship in 12 BC, his service to Gaius in the East, from 2 to 4 AD, and his census of Judea in 6/7 AD. There is some question about his status as governor of Crete & Cyrene (c.15 BC?) as it seems to have been a military command before the General had yet served as Consul, but the most significant question about the career of Quirinius is about the time at which he executed the Homanadensian War.
Given the inscriptional attestation in Antioch Pisidia for the presence of Legions V and VII in southern
until after the Isaurian War (6 AD), it is unnecessary to suggest any Syrian
Governor pursued the Homanadensians from the other side of the Taurus Mountains.
Further, the situation in the East during those years would have made it
unwise to remove two of Syria’s three Legions (they were still not four at the
death of Herod the Great) – aside from which any General starting a campaign
from Antioch into the Taurus range should have begun with the Cilician
mountains or Isaurians.
Besides all this, the only suggestions that Quirinius attacked Pisidia from
are from those suggesting it happened from 3 to 1 BC. Their motive is to contrive a late death for
Herod and an early governorship for Quirinius, both of which should seem
impossible after any thorough historical analysis. Aside from this present volume*, they should
check the works of Mitchell and Levick on Syria , in the bibliography*. But now having addressed his, we move on. Galatia
Accepting that Quirinius executed the Homanadensian War as Proconsul of Galatia, probably from Antioch Pisidia, means his governorship there must have occurred between 12 BC and 2 AD. Fortunately the milestones of the Via Sebaste attest the presence of Cornutus Aquila and his completion (or near completion; see Levick) of that road in 6 BC. Further, as the path of that road follows a difficult route through the mountains that is many miles west of the Kestros River valley, where the modern road lies, it seems even more certain that the Roman road was built as a limes (boundary road) before Pisidia had been fully pacified.
That suggests Quirinius’ earliest arrival in
middle of 5 BC. At any rate, with a
range between 6 BC and 2 AD it could hardly have been much later, and as the
purpose for the road was for rapid military transport around a hostile area, it
seems most natural to assume the next stage of preparation for that war began
in the following year. Galatia Galatia was not a strategic point at which to
station Legions except to direct them locally, and the greater needs of the
Empire would have motivated Augustus to pacify Anatolia
as quickly as possible.
On essentially this basis, among other points, Levick concurs with the great Ronald Syme who suggested the war belongs in the years 4-3 BC. With their recommendation on top of such historical evidence, I simply conclude Quirinius arrived in 5 and left in 2, leaving two full summers for a campaign so difficult Augustus rewarded him with an ornamental triumph. Obviously, this view excludes Quirinius from any participation in Syria between 3 and 1 BC, but as stated above, that prospect never had any firm historical footing anyway.
*This entire post excerpted from an unpublished draft manuscript.
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