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CHAPTER XXIII.

END OF TRAJAN—REVOLT OF THE JEWS.

Trajan, the conqueror of the Dacii, adorned with all the triumphs, arrived at the highest degree of power which man had until then attained, revolved, notwithstanding his sixty years, boundless projects with regard to the East. The limit of the Empire in Syria and in Asia Minor was as yet but ill-assured. The recent destruction of the Nabathean kingdom postponed for centuries all danger from the Arabs. But the kingdom of Armenia, although in law vassal to the Romans, constantly inclined towards the Parthian alliance. In the Dacian war, the Arsacides had had relations with Decebalus. The Parthian Empire, master of Mesopotamia, menaced Antioch, and created, for provinces incapable of defending themselves, a perpetual danger. An Eastern expedition, having for its object the annexation to the Empire of Armenia, Osrohenia and Mygdonia, countries which in effect, after the campaigns of Lucius Verus and of Septimius Severus, belonged to the Empire, would have been reasonable. But Trajan did not take sufficient 256account of the state of the East. He did not see that beyond Syria, Armenia, and the north of Mesapotamia, which it is easy to make the rampart of Western civilisation, extends the ancient East; traversed by nomadic tribes, containing, side by side with the cities, indocile populations, amongst which it is impossible to establish order after the European fashion. This East has never been conquered by civilisation in a durable manner; even Greece reigned there only in the most transitory way. To hew out Roman provinces in a world totally different in climate, races, manner of living, from what Rome had hitherto assimilated, was a veritable chimera. The Empire, which had need of all its strength against the German impulse on the Rhine and the Danube, was about to prepare upon the Tigris a struggle not less difficult, for supposing that the Tigris had really become in all its course a river-frontier, Rome would not have had behind the great ditch the support of the solid Gallic and Germanic populations of the West. Through not having understood that, Trajan made a mistake which can only be compared with that of Napoleon in 1812. His expedition against the Parthians was analogous to that of the Russian campaign. Admirably planned out, the expedition started with a series of victories, then degenerated into a struggle against nature, and concluded with a retreat which cast a sombre veil over the end of a most brilliant reign.

Trajan left Italy, which he was not again to see, in the month of October 113. He passed the winter months at Antioch, and in the spring of 114 began the campaign of Armenia. The result was prodigious: in September, Armenia was reduced to a Roman province; the limits of the Empire extended to the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. Trajan rested the following winter at Antioch.

The results of the year 115 were not less extraordinary. 257ordinary. The Mesopotamia of the North, with its more or less independent principalities, was conquered or subjected. The Tigris was attained. The Jews were numerous in these parts. The dynasty of the Izates and Monobazes, always vassal to the Parthians, was mistress of Nisibe. As in 70, it no doubt resisted the Romans, but it was necessary to yield. Trajan passed the following winter at Antioch, where, on the 13th December, he was nearly destroyed in a frightful earthquake which destroyed the city, and from which he escaped only with the greatest difficulty.

The year 116 witnessed miracles: the times of Alexander seemed restored. Trajan conquered Adiabene, beyond the Tigris, in spite of a vigorous resistance. There he should have stopped. Pushing his fortune to its limit, Trajan penetrated to the heart of the Parthian Empire. The strategy of the Parthians, like that of the Russians in 1813, consisted in at first offering no resistance. Trajan marched without opposition as far as Babylon; took Æsiphon, the western capital of the Empire, thence descended the Tigris to the Persian Gulf, saw those distant seas which appeared to the Romans only as a vision, and regained Babylon. Then the black spots began to accumulate upon the horizon. Towards the end of 116 Trajan heard at Babylon that revolt had broken out behind him. The Jews had without doubt taken a great part in it. They were numerous in Babylonia. The relations between the Jews of Palestine and those of Babylonia were continual—the doctors passed from one country to the other with great facility. A vast secret society escaping thus from all supervision created a political vehicle of the most active kind. Trajan confided the duty of crushing this dangerous movement to Lusius Quietus, chief of the Berber cavalry, who had placed himself with his goum at the service of the Romans, and had rendered the greatest services in the Parthian wars. Quietus re‑conquered 258Nisibe, Edessa; but Trajan began to see the impossibilities of the enterprise in which he was engaged, and meditated retreat.

Disquieting news reached him, blow upon blow. The Jews were everywhere in revolt. Nameless horrors passed in Cyrenaica. The Jewish fury attained to heights which had never yet been known. This poor people again lost their heads. Perhaps there was already, in Africa, a presentiment of the revival of fortune which was awaiting Trajan; it may be that the Jewish rebellions of Cyrene, the most fanatical of all, were anticipated on the faith of some prophet, that the day of wrath against the Pagans had arrived, and that it was time to begin the Messianic exterminations. All the Jews were agitated as under a demoniacal attack. It was less a revolt than a massacre, with details of indescribable ferocity. Having at their head a certain Lucora, who enjoyed amongst his friends the title of King, these madmen set to work to butcher Greeks and Romans, eating the flesh of those whom they had slaughtered, making belts of their bowels, rubbing themselves with their blood, skinning them and clothing themselves with the skin. Madmen were seen sawing unfortunate men in two through the midst of their bodies. At other times the insurgents delivered the Pagans to the beasts, in memory of what they themselves had suffered, and forced them to fight with each other like gladiators. Two hundred and twenty thousand Cyreneans are believed to have been slaughtered in this way. It was almost the entire population: the province became a desert. To repeople it, Hadrian was obliged to bring colonists from other places, but the country never again flourished as it had done under the Greeks.

From Cyrenaica the epidemic of massacre extended to Egypt and to Cyprus. The latter witnessed atrocities. Under the leadership of a certain Artemion 259the fanatics destroyed the town of Salamine and exterminated the entire population. The number of Cypriotes butchered, was estimated at 240,000. The resentment for such cruelties was such that the Cypriotes decreed the exclusion of the Jews from their island in perpetuity; even the Jew cast upon their coast by the act of God was put to death.

In Egypt the Jewish insurrection assumed the proportions of a veritable war. At first the rebels had the advantage. Lupus, Prefect of Egypt, was obliged to retreat. The alarm in Alexandria was acute. The Jews, to fortify themselves, destroyed the Temple of Nemesis raised by Cæsar to Pompey. The Greek population succeeded, however, not without a struggle, in gaining the upper hand. All the Greeks of Lower Egypt took refuge with Lupus in the city, and made there a great entrenched camp. It was time. The Cyreneans, led by Lucora, came to join their brethren of Alexandria, and to form with them a single army. Deprived of the support of their Alexandrini co-religionists, all killed or prisoners, but strengthened by bands from other parts of Egypt, they dispersed themselves, killing and plundering, over the Thebaïd. They especially sought to seize the functionaries who tried to gain the cities of the coast, Alexandria and Pelusia. Appian, the future historian, then young, who exercised municipal functions in Alexandria, his country, was nearly captured by these madmen. Lower Egypt was inundated with blood. The fugitive Pagans found themselves pursued like wild beasts; the deserts by the side of the Isthmus of Suez were filled with people who hid themselves and endeavoured to come to an understanding with the Arabs, so as to escape from death.

The position of Trajan in Babylonia became more and more critical. The wandering Arabs in the space between the two rivers mused him much difficulty. The impregnable stronghold of Hatra, inhabited by a war-like tribe, stopped him altogether. The surrounding 260country is aeserted, unhealthy, without wood or water, desolated by mosquitoes, exposed to frightful atmospheric troubles. Trajan committed, without doubt from a sense of honour, the mistake of wishing to reduce it As later Septimus Severus and Ardeschir Babek, he failed. The army was frightfully wasted with sickness. The city was a great centre of sun-worship; it was thought that the god was fighting for his temple; storms breaking out at the moment of attack, filled the soldiers with terror. Trajan, who was already suffering from the malady which carried him off a few months later, raised the siege. The retreat was difficult, and marked by more than one partial disaster.

About the month of April 117, the Emperor set out on his return to Antioch, sad, ill, and irritable. The East had conquered him without fighting. All those who had bowed before the conqueror raised their heads again. The results of three years of campaigning, full of marvellous struggles against nature, were lost. Trajan had to begin over again, if he were not to lose his reputation for invincibility. All at once grave news came to prove to him what grave dangers were concealed in the situation created by the recent reverses. The Jewish revolt, until then limited to Cyrenaica and Egypt, threatened to extend itself through Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Always on the watch for signs of weakness in the Roman Empire, the enthusiasts fancied for the tenth time that they saw the preliminary signs of the end of an abhorred domination. Excited by books like Judith and the apocalypse of Esdras, they believed that the day of Edom was come. The cries of joy which they had uttered at the deaths of Nero and Domitian, they uttered once more. The generation which had made the great Revolution had almost disappeared; the new had learned nothing. These hard heads, obstinate and full of passion, were incapable 261of enlarging the narrow circle of iron that an inveterate psychological heredity had riveted around them. What passed in Judea is obscure, and it is not proved that any positive act of war or of massacre took place there. From Antioch, where he resided, Adrian, Governor of Syria, appears to have succeeded in maintaining order. Far from encouraging rebellion, the doctors of Jabneh had shown, in the scrupulous observation of the Law, a new way of arriving at the peace of the soul. Casuistry had in their hands become a plaything, which like all playthings ought to invite much to patience. As to Mesopotamia, it is natural that a half-subdued population which a year before were in arms, and amongst whom there were not merely dispersed Jews but Jewish armies and dynasties, should have broken out after the check of Hatra, and upon the first indications of the approaching death of Trajan. It appears, besides, that the Romans acted with vigour, often upon mere suspicion They feared that the example of Cyrenaica, of Egypt, and of Cyprus might be contagious. Before the massacres had broken out, Trajan confided to Lucius Quietus the duty of expelling all the Jews from the conquered provinces. Quietus went thither as to an expedition. This African, cruel and pitiless, supported by light Moorish cavalry, men who rode bare-backed without saddle or bridle, went like the modern Bashi-Bazouk, massacring right and left. A very large part of the Jewish population of Mesopotamia were exterminated. To reward the services of Quietus, Trajan detached Palestine from the province of Syria for him, and created him Imperial Legate, thus placing him in the same rank as Adrian.

The revolt of Cyrenaica, of Egypt, and of Cyprus, still continued. Trajan chose one of his most distinguished lieutenants, Marcius Turbo, to suppress it. He gave him a land and a sea force, and numerous cavalry. A regular war with many battles was required 262to put an end to these madmen. There were regular butcheries. All the Cyrenian Jews, and those from Egypt who had joined them, were massacred. Alexandria—the blockade raised at last—breathed once more, but the destruction of the city had been considerable. One of the first acts of Hadrian after becoming Emperor, was to repair the ruins and to give himself out as the restorer.

Such was this deplorable movement, in which the Jews appear to have been wrong from the first, and which finished by ruining them in the opinion of the civilised world. Poor Israel fell into furious madness. These horrible cruelties, so far removed from the Christian spirit, widened the ditch of separation between Judaism and the Church. The Christian, becoming more and more of an idealist, consoled himself more and more by his gentleness, by his resigned attitude. Israel had made himself a cannibal, rather than allow his prophets to be liars. Pseudo-Esdras, twenty years before, contented himself with the tender reproach of a pious soul which thinks itself forgotten of God: now it is a question of killing everybody, of annihilating the Pagans, that it may not be said that God has failed to keep his promise to Jacob. Every great fanaticism, pressed by the ruin of its hopes, ends in madness, and becomes a peril to the reason of all humanity.

The material diminution of Judaism, as the result of this inept campaign, was very considerable. The number of those who perished was enormous. From that moment the Jewry of Cyrene and Egypt almost disappeared. The powerful community of Alexandria, which had been an essential element of Oriental life, was no longer important. The great synagogue of Diapleuston, which passed in the eyes of the Jews for one of the wonders of the world, was destroyed. The Jewish quarter near the Lochias became a field of ruins and of tombs.

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