Judeans: Reliefs on the Arch for Titus depicting temple treasures and defeat (late first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judeans: Reliefs on the Arch for Titus depicting temple treasures and defeat (late first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 20, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=14184.

Photo by HarlandEngraving by Pietro Santi Bartoli, 1690.

Photo by Harland.Engraving by Bartoli, 1690.Photo by Harland.Engraving by Bartoli, 1690.Comments: These are reliefs from the reconstructed Arch of Titus located on the Sacred Way south-east of the forum at Rome, dating susequent to Titus’ official reception among the gods (apotheosis) after his death in 81 CE. This is one of two arches dedicated to Titus in the same year in commemoration of the defeat of the Judeans or Jews ten years earlier, but the other arch no longer remains. The first photo and engraving depicts the triumphal procession or parade, the second Titus riding in a chariot, and the third (under the arch) Titus with an eagle, likely a reference to Titus’ deification. The seemingly quite accurate engravings by Bartoli (of 1690) – beyond expected stylistic elements of his own time – tend to bring this to life more so than recent photos of the monument by yours truly.

Unlike some other monuments in the wake of the Roman conquest of peoples (e.g. Sarmatians or Dacians on Trajan’s trophy at this link) and unlike the “capture of Judea” coins (link), the reliefs of the arch which have been preserved do not depict war-scenes or the defeated Judeans or Jews themselves. Nonetheless, this provides a Roman imperial image of triumph over the Judeans. In this case we have pictures of the Roman procession or parade that took place in June 71 CE after the siege of the Jerusalem temple under the command of Titus as general (when Vespasian was emperor). These reliefs are likely portraying the same parade that Josephos describes as some length in his account of the Judean War (7.123-157), a parade that may have passed by both this surviving arch and the second arch to Titus which has since been destroyed (see Millar 2005).

Although dedicated by the Roman People to Titus specifically, these arches (set up ten years after the triumph) were clearly a statement of the supposed achievements of the Flavians overall (built in the time of Domitian). Our present arch was dedicated by “The Senate and the Roman People to god (divus) Titus Vespasian Augustus, son of god Vespasian (CIL VI 945; late in 81 CE). Although now destroyed, the inscription from the other arch in the Circus Maximus was thankfully copied by an anonymous eighth-century Swiss monk, and that inscription is more expressive about Titus’ supposed achievement: “he subdued the people (gens) of the Judeans and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, which had previously been attacked without effect or not even attempted by any generals, kings, or peoples previous to himself.” As Fergus Millar also notes, this is simply false, as Jerusalem and the temple had been successfully taken previously by Pompey and earlier by other peoples (e.g. Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar).

Even though Judeans are not depicted on these monuments, they are symbolized as a defeated people by their sacred objects from the Jerusalem temple – the table for displaying the bread of the tribes, the menorah, and trumpets – carried by Roman soldiers in one of the reliefs. Josephos describes a similar scene:

Generally, the spoils were carried in indiscriminate piles. However, conspicuous above everything stood out those items captured in the temple of Jerusalem. These consisted of a golden table worth many talents in weight and a lampstand that was likewise made of gold. Now this lampstand was constructed on a different pattern from those which we use in everyday life: Attached to a pedestal was a central shaft, from which there extended slender branches. These were arranged like a trident with a wrought lamp attached at the end of each of seven branches, indicating the honour paid to that number among the Judeans. After these, and last of all the spoils, was carried a copy of the Judean law (Judean War 7.142-147; LCL trans., public domain, adapted).

Works consulted: R.R. Holloway, “Some Remarks on the Arch of Titus,” L’Antiquité Classique 56 (1987): 183–191 (link); F. Millar, “Last Year in Jerusalem: Monuments of the Jewish War in Rome,” in Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome, ed. J. Edmondson, S. Mason, and J. Rives (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 101–128.

Source of images: Photos by Harland. All engravings by Pietro Santi Bartoli from Giovanni Pietro Bellori, Veteres arcus augustorum triumphis insignes (Rome: Ad templum Sanctae Mariae de Pace, 1690), public domain (link).

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