Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Terrorism In the Ancient World.



To understand terrorism it is important to understand the difference between war and terrorism. It can be argued that war itself is a criminal act. That is a discussion for another time. Many people recognize the difference between war, terrorism and crime. Putting it into words can be difficult.

  War is a conflict between nations. War is waged within the rules that have been established by treaties. These rules cover everything from how soldiers dress to how armies interact with civilian populations. War is a violent conflict, but it is controlled violence within bounds.

Terrorism is a method that uses violence to achieve societal change. The violence used is not constrained by the rules of War. The more horrible the act the more effective the result is the axiom of terrorism. It is important to remember no matter how noble the cause may seem, terrorism is not an accepted method of war.

Historical Reference

When studying terrorism it is important to understand the history of terror as a weapon and why it is seen as an effective method. One of the earliest examples of terror as a method is found in the writings of Josephus (37-100 AD). It is important to note that Josephus, though a Jew, wrote for a Roman audience and sided with Rome. This article uses much of Josephus's The Jewish War and his observations of the conflict. There is a great deal of scholarly discussion concerning Josephus, but this article stays out of the political discussion and attempts to stay strictly on the methods used prior to, during, and the aftermath of the war. 


The time period that this article is concerned with is from approximately 30 AD to 135 AD. During this time Rome was the only superpower controlling most of Europe and what is now known as the middle east.

At that time in what is now Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and part of Iraq the Romans referred to the area as Judea. Within Judea was a smaller region known as Galilee. The most important city within Galilee was Jerusalem.

  Judea was a problem for the Romans. The Jewish population and Rome had very little in common. The Jews were monotheistic (one god) while the Romans were polytheistic (many gods). The methods of worship, and the degree of belief in one god was impossible for many Romans to understand. I will not delve into this issue. Suffice it to say, the Jews and Romans were bound to be at odds on everything.

Rome had developed a method of assimilation when it conquered a new area. Its first step was to subjugate the population. They did this by conducting a census. The census would include all properties owned and was used to tax the population. The idea of paying a tax to Rome was a form of slavery as far as the Jews were concerned. The census was the spark that ignited 200 years of revolt in Judea.

Following their formula of assimilation the Romans allowed the Jewish religious practices and its government to govern the people. The exception to this were any groups or individuals that the Romans felt were a threat to their control. The Romans left no doubt that even though the Jewish nobility could rule the Jewish population, the Romans were in control.

In response to the Roman census, and taxation a rebel group was formed to resist the Romans. Josephus refers to these rebels as the Zealots. The Zealots were violently opposed to everything Roman. It was due to their violent revolt that they came into conflict with the Rabbis. The Rabbis advocated peaceful treaties.

The Zealots operated as a guerrilla force at times, and other times they operated as larger military forces. This was most evident during the Jewish Roman war of 66-70 AD. The Zealots were not terrorists. They fought directly against Roman forces and sought to occupy territory like other armies. They did not target the general population.

The Sicarii
A Study in the Strategy of Terrorism.  

Judea was socially divided into three main classes.  The Roman, Priests/Nobility, and the Poor classes.  As discussed earlier the Romans used the Priests and Nobility as a buffer to deal with the Poor.  However, within the Priests and Nobility there were still power plays at work, and this internal strife was used to manipulate the Roman rule. This is an environment ripe for terrorist strategies.

It had become known to the Romans that the High Priest Jonathon was conspiring against the Romans.  To counter this the Romans hired Jewish assassins to kill Jonathon.  These assassins would become known as the Sicarii.  

Sicarii is the latin word for "dagger men".  The term Sicarii was used in the same way as terrorist is used today.  The Sicarii operated in a totally new way.  They did not target the Romans.  Instead the targeted the Jews.  The assassination of Jonathon is an example of how they operated.

During one of the Jewish festivals Jonathon would be in attendance to give a blessing.  As Jonathon pushed his way through the crowd a loud scream went up from the people closest to Jonathon.  Men were screaming that the High Priest had been killed. The crowd saw many men covered in blood cradling the lifeless Jonathon.  The men were crying and shouting for the people to find the assassins. 

The people became frenzied in search of the mysterious murderers.  Meanwhile the assassins joined the crowd in calling for the Romans to help.  The call went unanswered.

This was the first recorded attack by the Sicarii.  Over the next decade the Sicarii attacked Jewish nobility.  They were experts at killing in plain sight, and slipping away as part of the crowd. These actions led to division among the Priest and Nobility class.  Everyone was suspect.  

Laws were passed by the Priests and Nobility that further burdened the poor.  Of course this was used to by the Zealots to strengthen their forces.  The Sicarii's actions also made it clear to the Priests and Nobility that the Romans were not able to protect them.  

The Strategy of Terrorism is not for a terrorist to win in direct battle with an opponent.  Terrorists attack the very fabric of a society.  By creating an environment in which a society is unsure of its leaders ability to protect it, the society will be forced to change.  Terrorism is a method that uses unbounded violence to achieve societal change.  


At the end of the Jewish War, Rome maintained control of Judea.  The Romans changed their tactic of gradual assimilation and took direct control of Judea.  The renamed it to Syria/Palestine.  They sent their most ruthless commanders to take control of the region.  The outlawed many of the Jewish religious practices.  The Sicarii eventually faded to a memory, but they proved the effectiveness to bring about social change.  It may not have been the change the Sicarii wanted. 

Terrorism is a method of violence to bring about social change.  It is not bound by the rules of war and everyone is a valid target.  This makes combating the strategy of terrorism a very difficult task. What would you do to combat terrorism, without affecting the social structure of America?