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Fighting Against Rome. The Jewish Revolts under Nero/Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian


Admission requirements

In addition to the general rules set out for admission to the master program students are required to have a BA either in Religious Studies, Jewish or Hebrew and Aramaic Studies, Classical Languages, Ancient History, Egyptology, Assyriology or Archaeology. Minimum number of participants 3.


While diplomatic relations between the nascent Jewish state in Judaea and the Roman senate had a positive start in the mid-2nd century BCE and witnessed their heydays under Herod, king in Judea, the friend of the Roman people and advisor to Augustus, they rapidly deteriorated during the 1st century CE culminating in the outbreak of a bloody and devastating revolt in 66. After the clouds of war had passed in 73/74, Jerusalem and Judaea were in ruins, the vast majority of the Jewish population had been killed or deported and Rome begun to set up colonies in the region.
Only little more than a generation later when Trajan prepared his massive campaign aganst the Parthians, the thriving Jewish diaspora communities in Egypt and Mesopotamia were hit by unrest and violence (115-117 CE). Though our sources are very scant and difficult to understand, the results were no less devastating: the extremely creative and lively community in Alexandria was destroyed and the intellectual experiment of a Greco-Egyptian Judaism came to an end.
Back in Palestine resistance again broke out when Hadrian came to visit the region and wanted to transform Jerusalem, still the holy city of the Jews, into the pagan Colonia Aelia Capitolina (132 CE). “Prince” Shimon Bar-Kokhba, as he was called by his “prophet” Rabbi Aqiba, and his followers took up arms and drew the Romans into a merciless guerilla war that Hadrian was only able to put down with the help of his most ruthless generals. The hope to rebuild the temple vanished for good, and Judaea was renamed Syria Palestina. Even more surprising is the fact that the demise of the Second Revolt in Palestine was not the end, but the beginning of a new, no less creative cohabitation between Jews and Romans.
To approach these momentous events, we will read core texts (for the First Revolt above all Josephus), discuss relevant archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic sources. Was there a common “strategy” behind these uprisings om the Jewish side, some sort of a “messianic expectation”? And did the Romans have a coherent policy against the Jews? How did the Romans fight, how the rebels? Can we still hear the voices of the common Roman soldier in his camp, of the Jewish rebels holding out in their desert caves?
There will be no entry test to this class.

Course objectives

General learning objectives
The student has acquired:

    1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
    1. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
    1. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
    1. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
    1. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following:
    • in the specialisation Ancient History: unification processes in the Graeco-Roman World, 400 BC – 400 AD; insight into the recent large-scale debates in the field with respect to both the history of mentality and socio-economic history.
    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Ancient History: the comparative method; application of socio-scientific methods; specialised source knowledge, in particular of documentary sources, and more specifically epigraphy.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar
The student:

    1. has developed an understanding of theoretical questions of the relationship between Rome and dependent political entities and groups with special attention on Judaism;
    1. Has acquired nowledge of and insight into key persons / groups and locations related to the topics discussed in the class including relevant texts and material culture.
    1. Will be able to formulate new hypotheses within existing academic debates.
    1. Will be able to reflect upon common methodological approaches to existing debates and suggest solutions to dead ends.
    1. Has developed the ability to interact constructively with the other participants of the course, showing from:
      a) The degree to which the student is prepared for classwork according to reading assignments and the ability to participate in classroom discussion.
      b) The creativity, knowledge and frequency with which the candidate contributes to classroom discussion.


See Timetable and deadlines History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Lecture elements by instructor, assignments to students, presentations and discussions by students

Course Load

Total course load: 10 × 28 hrs = 280 hours.

  • Attending lectures and seminars: 24 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 30 hours

  • Writing a paper (including reading /research/presentation): 226 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography).
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 7-9, 12-15

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-4, 7

  • Assignment 1 (preparation for classwork and interaction in classroom)
    Measured learning objectives: 10-11, 17

Assessment additional course objectives for the ResMa students
ResMA students need to hand in an extra paper of 2000 words on a specific methodological or source-related topic.

Written paper: 70 %
Oral presentation: 20 %
Assignment 1: 10 %

Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline

Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used as means of communication and to distribute study material.

Reading list

  • W. Horbury, Jewish War under Trajan and Hadrian, Cambridge 2014 (access via EBL)

  • M. Popovi’c (ed.), The Jewish Revolt against Rome. Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Leiden 2011 (in UB).

  • P. Schäfer (ed.), The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered. New Perspectives on the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome, Tübingen 2003 (in UB)

  • Further literature will be made available during class.


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


dhr. Prof.dr. J.K. Zangenberg


Attendants who miss more than two sessions will have to repeat the course. Minimum attendance is 3 students.