At last they resolved to execute their purpose on the day of the Circensian Games when the celebration is in honour of Ceres;8 as the emperor who rarely left home and secluded himself in his palace or gardens, went regularly to the exhibitions in the Circus and could be approached with comparative ease owing to the gaiety of the spectacle. They had arranged a set programme for the plot. Lateranus, as though asking financial help, would fall in an attitude of entreaty at the emperor's feet, overturn him while off his guard, and hold him down, being as he was a man of intrepid character and a giant physically. Then, as the victim lay prostrate and pinned, the tribunes, the centurions, and any of the rest who had daring enough, were to run up and do him to death; the part of protagonist being claimed by Scaevinus, who had taken down a dagger from the temple of Safety — of Fortune, according to other accounts — in the town of Ferentinum,9 and wore it regularly as the instrument sanctified to a great work.
It is surprising, none the less, how in this mixture of ranks and classes, ages and sexes, rich and poor, the whole affair was kept in secrecy, till the betrayal came from the house of Scaevinus.11 On the day before the attempt, he had a long conversation with Antonius Natalis, after which he returned home, sealed his will, and taking the dagger, mentioned above, from the sheath, complained that it was to be rubbed on a whetstone till the edge glittered: this task he entrusted to his freedman Milichus. At the same time, he began a more elaborate dinner than usual, and presented his favourite slaves with their liberty, or, in some cases, with money. He himself was moody, and obviously deep in thought, though he kept up a disconnected conversation which affected cheerfulness. At last, he gave the word that bandages for wounds and appliances for stopping haemorrhage were to be made ready. The instructions were again addressed to Milichus: possibly he was aware of the conspiracy, and had so far kept faith; possibly, as the general account goes, he knew nothing, and caught his first suspicions at that moment. About the sequel there is unanimity. For when his slavish brain considered the wages of treason, and unbounded wealth and power floated in the same instant before his eyes, conscience, the safety of his patron, the memory of the liberty he had received, withdrew into the background. For he had also taken his wife's counsel. It was feminine and baser; for she held before him the further motive of fear, and pointed out that numbers of freedmen and slaves had been standing by, who had witnessed the same incidents as himself:— "One man's silence would profit nothing; but one man would handle the rewards — he who won the race to give information."
55 1 At the break of day, then, Milichus went straight to the Servilian Gardens.12 He was turned from the door; but, on insisting that he was the bearer of great and terrible news, was escorted by the porters to Nero's freedman Epaphroditus,13 and by him in due course to Nero, whom he informed of the urgency of the danger, of the desperate character of the conspirators, and of all else that he had heard or conjectured. He also showed the weapon prepared for the assassination, and demanded that the accused should be summoned. Scaevinus was hurried to the spot by soldiers, and opened his defence by replying that "the weapon charged against him had long been regarded with veneration by his family, had been kept in his bedroom, and had been purloined by the knavery of his freedman. The tablets of his will he had quite often sealed, and without taking any particular notice of the days. He had previously made grants of money or freedom to his slaves; but this time more liberally, for the simple reason that his means were now slender, and, with his creditors pressing, he had misgivings about his will. As to his table, it had always been generously provided: his life had been on pleasant lines, and hardly to the taste of austere critics. There had been no bandages for wounds of his ordering, but the accuser — whose other allegations had been patently futile — was adding a charge in which he could play informer and witness alike." He followed up his words with a display of spirit, and attacked the freedman as an unspeakable villain, with so much assurance of look and tone that the informer's tale was on the point of collapse, had not his wife reminded Milichus that Antonius Navalis had had a long and secret interview with Scaevinus, and that both were on intimate terms with Gaius Piso.
Two remarkable details emerge from Tactitus's accounts. First, that this Flavius Scaevinus is descended from perhaps the High Priesthood of Nortia of Etruria (later emphasized more strongly in Nero's revenge, involving the ceremonial dagger). His name, Scaevinus, bears this meaning (fate) and is likely a pseudonym.Natalis accordingly was summoned, and the two were separately questioned as to the nature and the subject of the conversation. Suspicion was now awakened, as their answers failed to tally, and they were thrown into irons. At the sight and threat of torture they broke down. Natalis, however, took the lead. Better acquainted with the conspiracy as a whole, and at the same time more adroit as an accuser, he first admitted the case against Piso, then went on to name Annaeus Seneca, perhaps because he had acted as intermediate between him and Piso, or perhaps to win the good graces of Nero; who, in his hatred of Seneca, grasped at all methods of suppressing him. Then, when Natalis' disclosure became known, Scaevinus himself, with similar weakness, — or else in the belief that all had been told and there was no profit in silence, — divulged the rest of the confederates. Of these, Lucan, Quintianus, and Senecio, long denied the charge: at last, bribed by a promise of impunity, and by way of excuse for their slowness, they gave the names, Lucan of his mother Acilia; Quintianus and Senecio, of their principal friends — Glitius Gallus and Annius Pollio respectively.
Second, it appears as if one interpretation of the narrative is that Scaevinus was permitted clemency in exchange for divulging the conspiracy. He begins as a ringleader, or fancies himself as such. He later attempts to make excuses, downplay his own role, insist the dagger has nothing to do with the conspiracy. Tacitus implies he is killed, but is deliberately vague.
There are three overlapping areas between Scaevinus and Vespasian:
- Vespasian is observed to be an incompetent, lazy and almost disinterest administrator. Scaevinus has a slightly different reputation, but Tacitus records that he was not considered high in virtue.
- Vespasian, ostensibly with family ties to Sabinia, nevertheless visits with his grandmother in Etruria. His mysterious marriage to Flavia Domitilla ties him to Ferentium, the home of Scaevinus's ancestral cult.
- The news of the conspiracy, leaked by Milichus, reaches first the ears of Epaphroditus. The same continued in service in the Flavian household. Domitian accuses Epaphroditus of Nero's murder, not in this Piso conspiracy, but in relation to Epaphroditus administering the poison at Nero's request. Domitian is considered intemperate, but what if there are reasons for him to be more suspicious? If Epaphroditus helps screen for Scaevinus, allowing his confessions to earn him exile instead of death, and if Scaevinus is Vespasian, then Domitian would be well aware of Epaphroditus's duplicity. We would only need a reason why Epaphroditus would be dissatisfied with Domitian, but otherwise content with Vespasian and Titus.
And here is the whole solution key.On the tour through Greece, among the companions of Nero,12 he bitterly offended the emperor by either going out often while Nero was singing, or falling asleep, if he remained. Being in consequence banished, not only from intimacy with the emperor but even with his public receptions, he withdrew to a little out‑of-the‑way town, until a province and an army were offered him while he was in hiding and in fear of his life.
5 There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world. This prediction, referring to the emperor of Rome, as afterwards appeared from the event, the people of Judaea took to themselves; accordingly they revolted and after killing their governor, they routed the consular ruler of Syria as well, when he came to the rescue, and took one of his eagles. Since to put down this rebellion required a considerable army with a leader of no little enterprise, yet one to whom so great power could be entrusted without risk, Vespasian was chosen for the task, both as a man of tried energy and as one in no wise to be feared because of the obscurity of his family and name. 6 Therefore there were added to the forces in Judaea two legions with eight divisions of cavalry and ten cohorts.13 He took his elder son as one of his lieutenants, and as soon as he reached his province p291 he attracted the attention of the neighbouring provinces also; for he at once reformed the discipline of the army and fought one or two battles with such daring, that in the storming of a fortress he was wounded in the knee with a stone and received several arrows in his shield.
Vespasian is forced to remain naked and alone, out of sight, in fear of his life. Until an army is handed to him. Imagine now that Suetonius is wrong about the slight against Nero. Imagine if Nero offers Vespasian brief clemency, in exchange for the names of the Piso conspirators - by Epaphroditus's advice. The conspiracy isn't defeated yet, so the executions will have to wait until afterward.
Rome was nearly destroyed during the civil war, and Vespasian's rule lacked some legitimacy. His reign produced enormous amounts of propaganda. Imagine, for instance, that the virtue deficiencies we see with Scaevinus are recast as simply the bored disinterest of a true soldier who is not quite suited for bureaucratic life. Of course Suetonius wouldn't tie Vespasian to the Piso conspiracy.
It is Tiberius Alexander who gives Vespasian his legions, and first supports his claim to Rome's throne. Of the family of Philo and Alexander the Alabarch. Connecting him to Herod Agrippa's kin. We have to observe the "Epaphroditus" of Paul's letters. Also, the relationship of Nero's Epaphroditus to Josephus. Is this a grand conspiracy?
THE STAR PROPEHCY
Suetonius mentions the belief that a world-conqueror would come out of Judea. It's necessary to do so, because this is used to explain the support Vespasian receives from the eastern kingdoms. We see the same messianic belief repeat in the name of Simon bar Kokhba during the latter Jewish revolt.
What's most remarkable, in relation to this, is the false Nero phenomenon.
There was a belief among poor Greeks that, in spite of his rumored death, Nero would return from the East. The belief was so strong there were no fewer than three Nero imposters, one of whom had to flee Rome's borders, one of whom raised a ship and a militia.
The phenomenon is exceedingly strange. However, in context of the star prophecy, as explained by Suetonius in relation to Vespasian, the false Nero belief makes sense. It appears as if someone had been promulgating the "Emperor from the East" prophecy even during the reign of Nero. Vespasian is the fulfillment of it, but it appears that Nero is an unintended beneficiary.
There could not be a false Nero phenomenon unless there was a tremendous effort to lay the groundwork for this prophecy. There is some evidence in Paul of such an effort, the ministry among the Philippians allowing for a deep relationship with elder Praetorians. The link between Epaphroditus, a Titus, Philippi and Paul is rather extraordinary. In light of the Emperor from the East prophecy, and the emergence of the pseudo-Nero belief.
THE PLOT'S FAILURES
It is Ananus ben Ananus who is at the head of the Judean Provisional Government, waiting for Vespasian's arrival. The same who killed James the Just. We could expect, therefore, that his factional alliance would be inclined to the "Pauline" as it were.
Could Ananus and his cohort have triggered the war in the first place? The revolt was overdue, but there was an inciting event. As the revolt unfolds, one can't help but observe the betrayals of Josephus.
Josephus is sent to deal with the Western Galileans. We also see an overzealous Roman commander slaughter the Bathyran colonists at Gamala. Adiabene had not lent troops to the revolt, so these should not have been targeted. One imagines that Josephus and the Gamalans would have surrendered to Rome but the endeavor failed, leaving Josephus to weasel his way out of danger.
One imagines a plan where Gamala and Jerusalem have terms of settlement with Vespasian, the Pharisaical and zealot factions are crushed, and the war ends otherwise with minimal bloodshed. Vespasian gets declared savior of the Jews, and becomes the messiah out of the East.
Ananus was killed when either a misguided or treasonous Pharisee opens the gates of Jerusalem to a horde of Idumean rebels.
Nevertheless, Vespasian takes Rome and Titus razes the temple.
We see, in Titus's household, the Herodians are present(including hints at an eventual marriage to Berenice, and a union of Herodian and Flavian dynasties - a Jewish emperor). As is Epaphroditus with Josephus. Julia Domna and Titus Flavius Clemens practice what appears to be a proto-Christianity.
Then Vesuvius erupts. Drusilla dies at Pompeii (leaving the possibility that Berenice, whose fate is unknown, might have been present). Titus's promising reign leads to a personal decline ending in what appears to be a poisoning, but leaving the possibility of it being self-inflicted or otherwise related to a loss of the will to live (Titus's activity and morale in long decline).
We know that Titus sent Berenice away, for political reasons. He had a plan to bring her back, when his reputation was secure. What if he had sent her to Drusilla her sister, in Pompeii? What if she had tried to persuade him to allow her to stay in Rome? Imagine the guilt this might have caused, had Berenice met her end at Vesuvius. As Rome faced the challenges of the disaster, how long could Titus put on a good face?
Domitian is known to have been unhappy with the religion of Titus's household, favoring the cult of Isis. He exiled these "Christians" to Pontus. We see he also killed Epaphroditus.
Josephus disappears. One might tie Josephus bar Matityahu to Joseph of Arimathea, Josephus having this vague tale from his autobiography:
There is a discussion about the construction of Deva fortress in Britain during the time frame in question. Perhaps it was a prison for the court Herodians. Maybe Josephus does find his way to Britain, sent in exile there. One can imagine that this is the last domain of Herod Agrippa II.And when I was sent by Titus Cesar, with Cerealius, and a thousand horsemen, to a certain village called Thecoa, in order to know whether it were a place fit for a camp; as I came back I saw many captives crucified: and remembred three of them, as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind; and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them. So he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them in order to their recovery. Yet two of them died under the physicians hands while the third recovered.
Nevertheless, this is extraordinary. "Paul's" mission and a conspiracy to replace the Julio-Claudians with the Flavians, using the Jewish Revolt as a catalyst? There is some reason to expect a conspiracy like this. The Herodians and Alexandrian Jews had been active as soft kingmakers in Roman politics before. Alexander and Tiberius Alexander show that Egypt was now ruled by the Alexandrian Jews. These same Jews were fighting pharisaical nationalists and radical zealots. Why not solve two problems with one stone? Use Rome's legions to give Jerusalem to the Alexandrians, meanwhile, use the event to catalyze the rise of a new dynasty which the Herodians and Alexandrians can control?
What makes the conspiracy most plausible is the existence of multiple points of failure which contrast with one might expect is the ideal plan:
- The Emperor from the East prophecy leads to the ridiculous pseudo-Nero belief.
- The Piso conspiracy fails due to careless bragging, and Vespasian's life is barely spared thanks to a lucky intervention.
- The Provisional Government is killed due to an unintended intrigue, and the Gamalans are slaughtered due to an overzealous lower level commander.
- Vesuvius completely disrupts the reign of Titus, prevent him from achieving the political consolidation which would have allowed for a Jewish emperor.