Little Known Wars

Bar Kokhba Coin CC BY-SA 3.0 Tallenna tiedosto – Wikimedia Commons -

Alan Axelrod’s Little-Known Wars of Great and Lasting Impact sets out to earn its title. In the two chapters I read, which were the only ones of the 18 that were on the ancient world, Axelrod seems to meet his goal, or at least presents interesting points to consider.

The two ancient wars that make his list are Boudicca’s and the Bar Kochba revolts. While Axelrod’s look at Boudicca’s war offers details on the weaponry that I had not read before and judges Boudicca an incapable strategist, a point I wasn’t familiar with, Axelrod says the importance of the revolt was that it obliged the Romans to re-consider how it treated its provincials. No longer was it okay to rape the queen’s daughters and rob the queen blind.

In the Bar Kochba revolt are far more points about which I was ignorant. Bar Kochba was considered the Messiah. In contrast with the earlier Jewish revolt where three groups of Jews fought each other as well as the Romans, Bar Kochba was in charge of all the Jewish forces.

Hadrian had promised to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, which sounds good and did to the Jews until they realized he meant to replace the Temple with a temple to the Roman gods. Such sacrilege was not to be countenanced and the Jews of Jerusalem revolted.

Axelrod attributes at least three enduring results to the Bar Kochba revolt. The first was that at the time Bar Kochba became known as the Messiah, the Jewish followers of Jesus split. That makes the revolt a starting point for the separate religion of Christianity. A second result was that when the Romans killed all the local Jews, those who survived were forced to flee and it was the start of the Diaspora. The third point was that the area was renamed Palestine deliberately honoring an ancient enemy of the ancient Hebrews.

After I read Axelrod’s chapter on the Bar Kochba War, I read “The bar Kokhba Revolt: The Roman Point of View,” by Werner Eck (The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 89 (1999), pp. 76-89). Here’s what Eck says about the renaming of Judaea:

But never before (or after) was the old name of a province changed as a corollary of a revolt. Not that revolts were not frequent in other provinces as well: the Germani in Germania, the Pannonii in Pannonia, and the Brittones in Britannia all revolted against Rome at one time or another. Yet none of these provinces lost its original name derived from the name of its people. But Judaea, derived from Iudaei, ceased to exist for the Roman government after the Bar Kokhba revolt. It was not because the Jewish population was much reduced as a result of losses suffered during the war that the name of the province was changed; the same was true, for example, of Pannonia, and yet the old name was kept. The change of name was part of the punishment inflicted on the Jews; they were punished with the loss of a name.

As I said, the rest of Little-Known Wars of Great and Lasting Impact is on wars after the ancient period, beginning with one involving Islam. Although I read with pleasure Craughwell’s work on the Mongols, the Middle Ages are not my bailiwick, so that’s all I can comment on in Alan Axelrod’s Little-Known Wars.


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