Nero, the last of the Julians and the end of Israel
Nero is the most readily recognized of the emperors of Rome, excepting (possibly) Julius Caesar. He reigned from 54 until his suicide in 68 and was the last of the Julians. Though not mentioned by name in any of the ancient biblical manuscripts, it was undoubtedly Nero, to whom Paul had appealed as recorded in the book of Acts.
It was noted by the historian Seutonius that to deflect suspicion from himself as the starter of the fire that destroyed Rome in 64 (which probably was no more than a political rumor), Nero quickly attempted to lay blame on the “seditious” Christians. Roman Christians were thereby persecuted throughout the later years of his reign under his own hand. For some reason this is disputed by a few historians. However, the earliest recorders (such as Tacitus, Seutonius and Eusebius), identified Nero as the starter of the first persecutions in Rome. The historian Tertullian, a half century beyond Nero wrote, “Consult your histories; you will there find that Nero was the first who assailed with the imperial sword the Christian sect, making progress then especially at Rome.” It was recorded that Nero drove his chariot around the palace gardens at night using the burning bodies of condemned Christians, trussed up in oil-soaked hides, ignited, and raised to offer light.
At some point, just prior to or during his reign, Christianity came to be understood by Roman authorities as a distinct religion rather than as a splinter sect of the Jews. Yet there was not any real attempt to bridle Christianity. The Christians, as had been the case with the Jews, were granted the same tolerance as other foreign religions. The rule was – do not cause trouble, pay your obliged taxes, and thereby live peacefully under Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome). But in quick time, the Christians fell out of favor with the Roman officials due to the diligent work of the Jews to overthrow what they considered a seditious and spurious religion; and the Romans were especially adept at handling insurrections, perceived or real, of any sort.
It is during the reign of Nero that the Jews in Judaea began their infamous revolt (late 66). Nero dispatched Titus Flavius Vespasianus, or Vespasian, as he was commonly known, commander of the Eastern Legions, to quell the uprising in 68. By the time that Nero took his life later that year, Vespasian had subdued most of Judaea and was in the two-year process of isolating Jerusalem and starving the remaining captive population to death. He returned to Rome leaving his son, Titus Flavius Vespasianus (the son carried the same name as his father, but was known as Titus), in charge of the Legions to complete the siege and subjugation. Some ancient historians and most modern ones hold that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero. There is a single historical valuable record which will be listed later; although the record was written beyond the alleged events.
The Empire now was embroiled in more civil strife and there were brief struggles for control within Rome. Following the death of Nero there were three named emperors (all noblemen and military leaders). The three, in the short period following the suicide of Nero, were Galba, Otho, and Vitelius (68 – 69). Galba (Servius Sulpicius Galba) ruled seven months, six-days while Otho (Marcus Salvius Otho) officially ruled only three days, although he had been elected as emperor by the senate immediately upon the death of Galba. The remainder of the time went to Vitelius (who reigned eight months, twenty-seven days). So, the official time of their collective reigns was sixteen months, six days, not counting the ten- day interval between Galba’s death and Otho’s coronation. Rome was besieged with insurrections immediately upon Galba’s coronation. Following his death, Otho’s reign did not outlast the troubles of the week of his rise to emperor. The civil strife that had begun following Nero’s passing was ended only by the return of Vespasian to Rome. The city was razed as Vespasian subdued the insurrectionists and seized power following a difficult battle against Vitelius and his supporters in December of 69. Of the three emperors only the last might be remembered and for all the wrong reasons. Vitelius (court name: Aulus Vitelius Germanicus), was an immense man renowned for his debauchery, lack of manners, and huge appetite. The Roman historian Tacitus called him “a pig.”
Vespasian is listed by historians as the first emperor of the Flavian Dynasty. He was the grandson of a commoner and the son of a regular soldier, who through his own military prowess eventually rose to the office and status of Consul and commander of the Legions. It was claimed that he also had an obscure relation by adoption to Tiberius, who had himself claimed an equally obscure relation to Augustus and thereby to the Julian line. The Jewish nation and its religion ceased to exist during his reign. As noted, Titus, the dutiful eldest son, and no military slouch, completed the siege of Jerusalem in August of 70 AD.
Although some modern historians speculate as to the accuracy of his accounting, Josephus (Roman General Joseph Ben Matthias), stated that some two million Jews in and around Jerusalem were slaughtered during the siege with the survivors carried into captivity or as conscripted military by its conclusion. The city had been isolated for nearly a year prior to the assault, conditions were terrible, and the hopelessness of the situation had plenty of time to express itself and sink in. The Jews fully expected their ideal Messiah to come and save them from this horror. But, that boat had already sailed. Josephus was in Judaea for the full length of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, as a patron of both Vespasian and Titus.
As noted, Titus completed the siege of Judaea and much of Jerusalem was sacked and destroyed, including the looting of the temple and its subsequent burning by the Jews themselves. The genealogical records that had been housed within the temple were destroyed by the legionnaires effectively ending the Levitical priesthood; and (as already noted), the nation of Israel ceased to exist alongside its established worship. This clearly was the start of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. All of Jerusalem was burned except for the western foundation wall of the Temple (now commonly known as the Wailing Wall), and the three towers built by Herod. The full accounting of the prophesy may have had its completion by the third destruction of Jerusalem under Hadrian in AD 135 (when the remaining buildings were torn down and all the streets were plowed up). No matter which date you turn to, it is quite clear that the fortunes of the Jews had fallen by year 70, and they never recovered. Some later historians mention Vespasian or Titus, as persecutors of Christians although there are no historical records to substantiate the claims.
Titus was appointed emperor by something his father styled “the rights of succession” in 79 while Vespasian was still alive, and he ruled under his father’s tutelage until 81. He was the older brother of Titus Flavius Domitianus — known as Domitian. The Christian apologist and historian Irenaeus preferred Titus, or as correctly rendered: Teitan, as the name is transliterated from Greek – and as identified in Revelation 13, as “six hundred threescore and six,” through Gematria, a coded system invented for translating words and names into numbers. While Teitan transliterated may look somewhat like the name Titus, it has been noted that the two are not the same linguistically, nor in any other way. This theory, though ancient, is still tossed around today.
As to historical information: Titus was widely honored in his time. The Arch of Titus still stands in the old city forum in Rome, with its scenes of the looting of the Temple and siege of Jerusalem. Titus was considered level headed and steady and was praised for his successful military campaigns (which helped to solidify the holdings of Rome), and for his defeat of the Jews during the subjugation of Judaea.