BMCR 2018.03.13

Rome and Judaea: International Law Relations, 162-100 BCE. Routledge studies in ancient history

, Rome and Judaea: International Law Relations, 162-100 BCE. Routledge studies in ancient history. London; New York: Routledge, 2016. 350. ISBN 9781138932913. $149.95.


The political relations between Rome and Judaea are frequently studied, especially the first ties between the Jews and Rome, documented in 1 Macc 8,23-32. Zollschan is the first to write an entire book on the subject (some of her findings were published in earlier articles), and she presents her results in a clear, succinct way, never leaving any doubt about the line of thought she is pursuing.

Zollschan argues that 1 Macc 8,23-32 represents not—as most scholars today believe—a foedus, but a form of amicitia. She starts with the introduction of “new evidence” (ch. 1) and continues with moving the date of the agreement from 161 B.C. to 162 B.C. (ch. 2). Her next step is a survey of Roman ties of friendship with Hellenistic powers (ch. 3), which is used to show that no foedus was concluded, but that the Romans declared the Jews to be autonomous and to be their amici (ch. 5), which, in turn, influences her view on the outcome of the Jewish embassy (ch. 6). An overview of Romano-Jewish relations from 160 B.C. to 100 B.C. is given in an epilogue (ch. 7).

The real interest of the book (and, I believe, Zollschan’s interest, too) lies in her assessment of the so-called first Romano-Jewish treaty: views on the outcome of the embassy and (at least partly) on the summary of the diplomatic relations in the later part of the 2nd cent. B.C. depend on this. Bibliographically, Zollschan registers all that is necessary and new, making her book a welcome tool for anybody interested either in Roman international relations or Hasmonaean foreign policy. But as her interest lies mostly in the results proposed in chapters 1, 2 and 5, I am going to concentrate on these chapters, too.

Ch. 1 concerns itself with a notice in the 12th century Mirabilia urbis Romae, c. 24,7: “in muro S. Basilio fuit magna tabula aenea, ubi fuit scripta amicitia in loco bono et notabili, quae fuit inter Romanos et Iudaeos tempore Iudae Machabaei.” Zollschan rightly discards earlier attempts to identify this tabula with known inscriptions, but this does not suffice to turn it into a new (and important) piece of evidence for the relations under Judas Maccabaeus or for a Roman declaration of amicitia, as an unbiased reading of Zollschan’s conclusions shows (18f.):

the Temple of Mars Ultor served as a type of Roman ‘Foreign Office’ … It would be entirely appropriate for a bronze tablet … to be found in this temple, given the need of the senate to know who was friend and who was foe—and, therefore, who was eligible to receive an audience. The close connection between the bronze tablet, its contents and its location in the church of San Basilio, which stood on the ruins of the Temple of Mars Ultor, is consistent with a genuine Roman bronze tablet of this nature.

We know nothing about any collection of treaties in the Forum Augustum, and even if there was such a collection, no outdated document would have been brought to this place: relations with Herod or his sons might have received such an honor. We do not know what the author of the Mirabilia records (or what he—or rather his source—had seen or not seen), but even if he records a genuine, republican bronze tablet, I would be reluctant to use the medieval expression scripta amicitia as an argument in the debate on international relations in the 2nd c. B.C.1

Ch. 2 tries to move the established date of 161 B.C. to 162 B.C. The date of 161 B.C. rests on two concurring arguments. (1) 1 Macc 7 reports the enthronement of Demetrius I in the year 151 S(eleucid) E(ra), the death of Nicanor in battle and the victory of Judas on Adar 13th, the last month of the Jewish year; ch. 9 continues this story, and the first date mentioned there is the first month of the year 152 S.E. (1 Macc 9,3).2 1 Macc 8 is inserted between these dates—and most people thought that the dispatch of the embassy after Judas’ victory makes sense, i. e. autumn 161. (2) Josephus quotes the letter of a certain Fannius (AJ 14,233) which refers to the return of a Jewish embassy from Rome. A Fannius was consul of 161 (Roman calendar) and could have given a letter to Jewish ambassadors on their return early in 160.

Zollschan tries to show that both arguments are invalid: according to her it was not the victory of Judas, but the arrival of Demetrius I in the east that provoked the embassy. She believes that Demetrius arrived early enough in 162 to allow the embassy to be in Rome during the interregnum of 162 B.C.—which, according to Zollschan, is hinted at in the enigmatic passage 1 Macc 8,16: καὶ πιστεύουσιν (scil. the Romans) ἑνὶ ἀνθρώπῳ ἄρχειν αὐτῶν κατ᾽ ἐνιαυτὸν καὶ κυριεύειν πάσης τῆς γῆς αὐτῶν, καὶ πάντες ἀκούουσιν τοῦ ἑνός, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν φθόνος οὐδὲ ζῆλος ἐν αὐτοῖς. Zollschan’s timeline is very tight: autumn 162: arrival of Demetrius in Syria; October 162: arrival of the Jewish ambassadors in Rome; late November or beginning of December 162: return of the ambassadors to Jerusalem. But if she is correct, we will have to rethink views on composition and intentions of 1 Macc, Judas’ politics, the behavior of the Seleucid general Nicanor before the final battle, Roman decision-making and the importance attached to Demetrius.

Demetrius’ movements are largely unknown, but the last cuneiform attestation of Antiochus V is from October 29th, 162. 3 Theoretically, Demetrius might have arrived only in October 162, and the timeline would become much tighter—and I am not convinced by the reference to the interrex. 4 Zollschan has the ambassadors return long before Nicanor’s defeat. One might ask, then, why 1 Macc 8 was inserted after his defeat—if 1 Macc 8 is not anyway a later insertion (as sometimes argued). An earlier article by Zollschan showed that the date of 161 B.C. for Fannius’ letter is not absolutely certain, but has not provided strong indications for a later date: the weight of the evidence still favours the consul of 161 B.C. as the author. 5

Ch. 5 explores the legal form of the agreement reached between Rome and the Jews. Scholars in the 19th century discussed the possibility that the result of this embassy was amicitia, but the standard view since Mommsen is to interpret this as a foedus. Zollschan diverges from this view: dismantling arguments for a treaty (p. 107-133), she strongly supports the amicitia -hypothesis. Since amicitia presupposes the political freedom of the amicus, the senate must have determined “that the Jews should be free and autonomous through a unilateral declaration of libertas (freedom), that the Jews should become friends of the Roman people, that they should be enrolled in the formula amicorum/sociorum and that they should erect a bronze tablet in Jerusalem testifying to the new ties with Rome” (p. 170). libertas“was characterised by some or all of the following: autonomy, freedom from garrisons, immunity from tribute, and freedom from kings” (p. 194)—i. e. freedom from the Seleucids.

Amicus and amicitia can be used as terms of sociological description or as terms of legal relationship, in which case amicitia denotes a personal relationship, hence the legal status of the inhabitants of another community, conferring hospitium, but not implying any Roman (military) duties: epigraphically, simple amicitia is not combined with military support, only amicitia et societas is. 6 Only societas implies the Roman willingness to support socii militarily. Foedus implies a formally and solemnly formed alliance. The epigraphical evidence for a formal renewal of or a first decision on the creation of political relations with a state uses amicitia et societas. A foedus is no prerequisite of this condition, but amicitia (et societas) is a prerequisite to a foedus. 7 Both represent forms of treaties (already Mommsen spoke of amicitia et societas as “Internationalvertrag”), but a treaty of the type of foedus could not be concluded without a solemn sacrifice (and other religious acts). All this corresponds well enough with the ideas of the ambassadors as expressed in 1 Macc 8,20 (στῆσαι μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν συμμαχίαν καὶ εἰρήνην καὶ γραφῆναι ἡμᾶς συμμάχους καὶ φίλους ὑμῶν), and it corresponds with the fact that 1 Macc 8,23ff. never uses the word φιλία, but instead affirms the Roman willingness to support the Jewish ethnos militarily. The necessary ceremonies may have precluded ambassadors from Judas Maccabaeus to entertain the notion of a formal foedus. This might have been the reason why this new alliance took the form of a senatus consultum —and the fact that 1 Macc 12,1 speaks of a renewal of φιλία is—in view of the possible connotations of amicitia —no argument against this interpretation.8

To conclude: it seems to me that some of Zollschan’s results cannot be confirmed, but her book will be the starting point for any investigation into this matter, because she has meticulously documented the history of research on the Romano-Jewish relations and put them in the wider context of international relations and their forms.


1. Zollschan 197: “declarations of libertas were often published on bronze tablets on the Capitol and several examples have been found in Rome”, quoting CIL VI 30927; 30922; Degrassi, Scritti Vari I, Rome 1962, 415ff. Even though the first part of her statement is correct, none of the inscriptions quoted is a bronze tablet or a declaration of libertas.

2. Both dates use the western Seleucid reckoning in which the year began in autumn, cf. D.R. Schwartz, 2 Maccabees, Berlin 2008, 511. The argument for the Babylonian calendar resulting in a date of 160 for the defeat of Nicanor (V. Babota, The Institution of the Hasmonaean High Priesthood, Leiden 2014, 103f. with n. 48) is inconclusive at best.

3. R.J. van der Spek, Archiv für Orientforschung 44/5, 1997/8, 167f.

4. Zollschan takes the ambassadors as the source of 1 Macc 8,1-16 but the author insists twice that he reports the deliberations of Judas in sending the embassy (the passage is highly dubious and artificial; many scholars think that 1 Macc 8,9f. refers to 146 B.C.). If 1 Macc 8,16 is nevertheless somehow related to a report by the ambassadors, they had failed to grasp the nature of the interrex’s office: according to Zollschan they thought the interrex a yearly magistrate (κατ᾽ ἐνιαυτόν).

5. The words στρατηγὸς ὕπατος in Fannius’ letter can denote something other than consul, but the evidence for this is meagre, and consul is undoubtedly the most natural translation. We do not need times of extraordinary turmoil for the ambassadors to receive a letter of conduct to the states on their route: such letters were produced quite regularly.

6. On the relation of amicitia und ( amicitia et) societas see esp. A. Zack, Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft 18, 2015, 34f.; 75: “Termini für eine vom Senat oder vom Magistraten auf Anfrage eines fremden Gemeinwesens (Anhörung der Gesandtschaft im Senat bzw. vor dem Magistrat) förmlich (Senatsbeschluss / magistratisches decretum) herbeigeführte und vertragliche (Angebot der Gesandtschaft und offiziell verbalisierte Angebotsannahme … ) Verbindung mit Rom”; p. 122 on the mostly ceremonial difference between foedera and the other legal ties of Rome with foreign parties. On amicitia in general cf. e. g. A. Çoskun (ed.), Roms auswärtige Freunde, Göttingen 2005.

7. An unpublished inscription shows Kibyra as an amicus et socius in 188, whereas its foedus dates to 174.

8. Just now J. Bernhardt, Die jüdische Revolution, Berlin 2017, 364-375 retains the date of 161 B.C. and the classification of the agreement as foedus.