While deeply immersed in piles of research, I am overcome with resentment. Armed with my fury at the unfairness of it all, I scribbled down a defense of Berenice, a woman who is a historical character as well as one of the main characters in the novel I am currently writing. Since it is a subject I am passionate about, my scribbles went on for ages, and the piece refuses to fit into a proper blog-length. So I decided to break it into chunks, using this one to set the historical stage for my upcoming rabid, vociferous, defense of Berenice’s character.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Setting the Stage
69 C.E. – Rome is engaged in a war with the Jews. It is not the first, or the last, but it will be the most bloody. A man called Vespasian is the general in charge, and is slowly fighting his way through Judea to the capital, Jerusalem. Back in Rome, the elite families that have been ruling for centuries, the Julio-Claudians, have run out of legitimate heirs. This leaves the job of Emperor up for grabs and the city in an uproar.
Vespasian is from a family called the Flavians, part of the ‘new’ elite, one of many ‘common’ families that have risen in power and influence over the past four generations. The elite class is in desperate need of unpolluted blood, and families like the Flavians are going to be the answer. 69 C.E. will be known as the ‘Year of the Four Emperors,’ as different generals and their armies to attempt coup after coup. In the end, Vespasian is the one left standing, and he travels from the front in Jerusalem back to Rome in late 69 to assume power. He leaves his eldest son, Titus, in charge of finishing what he has begun.
The rulers of Judea, appointed by Rome, are the Herodians. In 69 C.E., the King is Agrippa II, great-grandson of Herod the Great. He is not married, and he and his sister Berenice rule equally as King and Queen. This fact is attested to by numerous writers, including New Testament writer Paul. The Herodians were not terribly popular among the Jewish people because of their close association with the Romans. Both Berenice and Agrippa cared deeply for their people, however, and tried without success to get them to relent in their opposition of Rome. There were too many zealots, too many who urged their countrymen to fight, to not pay taxes, to never give in. On one occasion Berenice nearly lost her life to a mob outside of Jerusalem when she traveled there to try and speak out against the violence and rebellion.
70 C.E. - No one could influence the Jews to stop in their fight against their perceived oppressors and occupiers and they went to war with Rome. Which, as we all know, is an ill-advised course of action. Titus stopped the import of food into Jerusalem, starving the millions trapped inside the walled city during Passover. When his army finally attacked, the people were weak. The Romans, fired up from days of waiting, let the bloodlust take over and killed approximately a million men, women, and children in a few hours. Berenice cropped her hair and dressed as though in mourning while she watched the wholesale slaughter of her countrymen.
The Jewish Temple was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Allegedly, Titus gave orders that the Temple be left intact, but lost control of his men and it too was destroyed in the heat of the moment. The war was over in a matter of days, both the city and the spirit of its people temporarily disabled. Titus swept through Judea, enjoying his spoils and annihilating smaller pockets of resistance before returning to Rome in triumph.
My work in progress takes place partially during these years, and both Titus and Berenice are integral characters in my story. Sometime, somehow, during this year of upheaval, blood, death, and betrayal, Titus and Berenice managed to fall in love with each other. In my next post I will explore both the facts and popular gossip surrounding their affair, as well as the possibility that love can overcome us, even in a time of unimaginable hate.
(Photo is a bust of Titus)