The Roman army and the occupation of the Holy Land (Acts 27)

The Roman army was arguably the greatest single military organization in world history, as it was consistently victorious and maintained its identity and traditions for nearly a thousand years. The early Roman armies were composed entirely of property-owning citizens because service in the army was regarded as a privilege. Wealthier citizens formed the cavalry and poorer citizens the infantry (a necessary arrangement, since troops provided their own gear). Allies provided the manpower for specialized forces, such as archers. As Rome grew to be a world power, however, this arrangement proved inadequate.

In 107 B.C. C Marius reformed the army and accepted landless recruits, equipping them at state expense. This was the beginning of professional Roman armies that owed their allegiance to their generals and also expected from them rich rewards for years of loyal service. In 88 B.C. Sulla used his legions to seize power in Rome itself, and this precedent began a series of civil wars. Julius Caesar employed his armies to end the republic and establish himself as dictator, but the turmoil did not end until Augustus established the empire and placed all legions under his direct command.

Although Rome produced a number of great generals, the secret of Roman success lay in the legendary discipline of its troops. Ancient battles, because they were fought face-to-face and were bloody affairs, tended to be extremely short, typically ending as soon as one side panicked, broke ranks and fled. Romans, when confronted, for example, with a furious onslaught of Gauls, simply refused to break ranks, and after a few minutes of fighting the Gauls turned and ran. The Carthaginian Hannibal, the greatest general Rome ever faced, inflicted a terrible defeat on the Roman army at Cannae in 216 B.C. Even so, Roman perseverance won out, and Hannibal ultimately lost the Second Punic War.

The presence of Roman armies in Judea created an explosive situation. The Jews despised the Romans as pagans and were offended at the presence of Roman war standards, with the idol-like eagle at the top, in close proximity to their temple. Fanatics and messianic pretenders, such as Bar-Kokhba, assured the Jews that God would intervene if they were to rise up against Rome. For their part, Romans sometimes infuriated Jews with needless insults. Two Jewish revolts (A.D. 66-70 and 132-135) both ended in catastrophic defeat for the Jewish people.

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