This inscription is the sole certain piece of material evidence for the military campaign sent by Rome to suppress the Jewish revolt in Cyprus in 116-117 CE. It is, in fact, the only attestation of military activity, outside of a few references in literary sources, taking place on the island under Roman rule. Although there is some speculative evidence for the scale of the revolt, which shall be discussed below, this inscription is the only recorded documentation of Rome’s actions in Cyprus to settle the unrest.
The inscription, which is eleven lines long, is an epitaph commemorating the life and career of one Caius Valerius Rufus. He was a military commander, who had led the Cohort VI Praetoria as their prefect (praefecto cohortis VI praetoriae. For the unusual nature of a cohort being led by a praefectus rather than a tribunus, see Jalabert, “Une inscription inédite de Béryte,” p. 251, n. 1). He had also served as military tribune of the Legio VII Claudia Pia Fidelis, which would indicate that he had taken part in Trajan’s Parthian campaign; other epigraphic evidence attests to the legion’s support of Trajan there before being returned to Judea to deal with the outbreak of the Bar Kokhba revolt (e.g. CIL X, 3733). Rather than being sent to Judea however, Caius Valerius Rufus was sent by the emperor Trajan (misso / Imperatore Nerva Traiano Optumo Augusto Germanico / Dacico Parthico) to Cyprus (Cyprum in expeditionem), along with a “detachment” (vexillum) of men from the Legion. Trajan’s title of Parthicus would give the earliest date possible for the inscription as February 116 CE, when it was awarded to him, although Mary Smallwood has noted that it is possible the stonecutter anticipated this additional title in advance of its award (Jews under Roman Rule, p. 414, n. 104. For an argument for the later date of 116-117, see Pucci, Diaspora Judaism, p. 185 and p.261). Valerius Rufus’s actions in Cyprus were evidently successful, however, as he was afterwards promoted to the role of Prefect of a wing of the cavalry, the ala Gaetulorum, which may also have been based in Judea at this time (Jalabert, “Une inscription inédite de Béryte,” p. 255, n. 3). Following an unknown period of time in this command, he returned to Berytus – it is possible he may have originated from there – where he was given the decurional honours by the local council (honoribus decurionalibus / ornato decreto decurionum) and the power of duumvir (IIvirali potestate). It was an illustrious and successful career, which saw his military achievements rewarded with a position of local authority.
However, the inscription is most interesting for its statement regarding the expeditio (campaign) in Cyprus, which yet remains one of the more dramatic – but elusive – events of the Diaspora Revolt. Little is known of the origin of the Jewish population in Cyprus, but there appears, according to Josephus, to have been a sizeable community based there by the second century BCE (JewishAntiquities, XIII.10); in 12 BCE King Herod had won the right to half of the revenue from the large copper mines on the island from Augustus (Josephus, JewishAntiquities, XVI.4) and the Jews of Cyprus are mentioned several times in the Acts of the Apostles (e.g. 4:36; 11:19-20). However, in none of these instances is there any indication of possible hostility between the Jewish community and the Greek inhabitants of the island; as Mary Smallwood has stated, the uprising during the last years of Trajan’s reign appears to come “without prelude or reason” (Jews under Roman Rule, p. 413). The violence that had broken out in Cyrene and then in Egypt certainly spread to Cyprus by some means; following his description of the unrest in Cyrenaica, Cassius Dio relates that:
In Egypt [the Jews] did many similar things, and also in Cyprus under the leadership of a certain Artemion. Two hundred and forty thousand people were killed there. In consequence no Jew is allowed to land on the island, and even Jews shipwrecked there are put to death.
(see Roman History, LXVIII.32.2-3. Translation taken from the Loeb Classical Library edition, translated by Earnest Cary, Herbert B. Foster.)
According to Dio’s version, the Jews were led by a single figure, Artemion, perhaps following the example set by Lukuas/Andreas in Cyrene. The number of deaths caused by the Jewish revolt in Cyprus – 240,000 – seems extraordinarily high, but it should not be dismissed entirely, as it provides evidence for the size of the Jewish population there, even if the number is somewhat exaggerated (Smallwood, Jews under Roman Rule, p. 413). To Cassius Dio’s account we can add the further detail from Eusebius’s Chronicle, in which he reports that as well as killing all the inhabitants, the Jews destroyed the city of Salamis (Chronicle. Trajan. XIX). However, as noted by Olof Vessberg and Alfred Westholm, the archaeological remains do not offer much of a trace of definitive damage or destruction that can be dated to the revolt; some restoration of the agora of Salamis took place in the second century CE, but it is not possible to say whether or not it had been due to destruction by the Jews (The Hellenistic and Roman Periods in Cyprus, p. 243). The paucity of evidence for the revolt on Cyprus may, in fact, be a better indication of the scale of the revolt than the archaeological record; Olof Vessberg also pointed out that there are few inscriptions for the period and that there appears to be no coinage minted in Cyprus under Hadrian, which could be interpreted as a sign of the devastation wrought upon the island (The Hellenistic and Roman Periods in Cyprus, p. 240). In support of this conjecture is an inscription from Salamis, in Greek, which may refer to the state of affairs following the revolt; it is a dedication to Hadrian in which the new emperor is described as the city’s “own saviour” (IGR III, 989). Although Shimon Applebaum reminds us that it was not unusual for this term to be used in descriptions of Hadrian, it may here have carried special significance in the earliest years of his reign (Jews and Greeks in Ancient Cyrene, p. 297).
The epitaph from Berytus is, therefore, the only non-literary evidence for Rome’s military engagement on the island of Cyprus in 116-117 CE. The extreme violence of the revolt that broke out there can be understood from the dramatic nature of the literary records that describe it, and from the paucity of archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic evidence which indicates the severity with which the revolts affected the island’s inhabitants, Greeks and Jews alike. It is also worthy of note that Cassius Dio’s account of the event, written one century after it occurred, speaks of the banishment of the Jews from Cyprus in the present tense; the exclusion of the Jews was still then in effect (Smallwood, Jews under Roman Rule, p. 415).
Epitaph for a soldier who fought the Jewish Revolt in Cyprus (AE 1992, 1689) Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron Publishing date: Fri, 02/09/2018 - 16:51 URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/epitaph-soldier-who-fought-jewish-revolt-cyprus-ae-1992-1689 Visited: Wed, 12/06/2023 - 18:50