Arabian Princes

The actual masters in the Seleucid kingdom were at this time the Bedouins, the Jews, and the Nabataeans. The inhospitable sandy steppe destitute of springs and trees, which, stretching from the Arabianpeninsula up to and beyond the Euphrates, reaches towards the west as far as the Syrian mountain-chain and its narrow belt of coast, toward the east as far as the rich lowlands of the Tigris and lower Euphrates--this Asiatic Sahara--was the primitive home of the sons of Ishmael; from the commencement of tradition we find the "Bedawi," the "son of the desert," pitching his tents there and pasturing his camels, or mounting his swift horse in pursuit now of the foe of his tribe, now of the travelling merchant. Favoured formerly by king Tigranes, who made use of them for his plans half commercial half political,(8) and subsequently by the total absence of any master in the Syrian land, these children of the desert spread themselves over northern Syria. Wellnigh the leading part in a political point of view was enacted by those tribes, which had appropriated the first rudiments of a settled existence from the vicinity of the civilized Syrians. The most noted of these emirs were Abgarus, chief of the Arab tribe of the Mardani, whom Tigranes had settled about Edessa and Carrhae in upper Mesopotamia;(9) then to the west of the Euphrates Sampsiceramus, emir of the Arabs of Hemesa (Homs) between Damascus and Antioch, and master of the strong fortress Arethusa; Azizus the head of another horde roaming in the same region; Alchaudonius, the prince of the Rhambaeans, who had already put himself into communication with Lucullus; and several others.


Alongside of these Bedouin princes there had everywhere appeared bold cavaliers, who equalled or excelled the children of the desert in the noble trade of waylaying. Such was Ptolemaeus son of Mennaeus, perhaps the most powerful among these Syrian robber- chiefs and one of the richest men of this period, who ruled over the territory of the Ityraeans--the modern Druses--in the valleys of the Libanus as well as on the coast and over the plain of Massyas to the northward with the cities of Heliopolis (Baalbec) and Chalcis, and maintained 8000 horsemen at his own expense; such were Dionysius and Cinyras, the masters of the maritime cities Tripolis (Tarablus) and Byblus (between Tarablus and Beyrout); such was the Jew Silas in Lysias, a fortress not far from Apamea on the Orontes.


In the south of Syria, on the other hand, the race of the Jews seemed as though it would about this time consolidate itself into a political power. Through the devout and bold defence of the primitive Jewish national worship, which was imperilled by the levelling Hellenism of the Syrian kings, the family of the Hasmonaeans or the Makkabi had not only attained to their hereditary principality and gradually to kingly honours;(10) but these princely high-priests had also spread their conquests to the north, east, and south. When the brave Jannaeus Alexander died (675), the Jewish kingdom stretched towards the south over the whole Philistian territory as far as the frontier of Egypt, towards the south-east as far as that of the Nabataean kingdom of Petra, from which Jannaeus had wrested considerable tracts on the right bank of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, towards the north over Samaria and Decapolis up to the lake of Gennesareth; here he was already making arrangements to occupy Ptolemais (Acco) and victoriously to repel the aggressions of the Ityraeans. The coast obeyed the Jews from Mount Carmel as far as Rhinocorura, including the important Gaza--Ascalon alone was still free; so that the territory of the Jews, once almost cut off from the sea, could now be enumerated among the asylums of piracy. Now that the Armenian invasion, just as it approached the borders of Judaea, was averted from that land by the intervention of Lucullus,(11) the gifted rulers of the Hasmonaean house would probably have carried their arms still farther, had not the development of the power of that remarkable conquering priestly state been nipped in the bud by internal divisions.

Pharisees Sadducees

The spirit of religious independence, and the spirit of national independence--the energetic union of which had called the Maccabee state into life--speedily became once more dissociated and even antagonistic. The Jewish orthodoxy or Pharisaism, as it was called, was content with the free exercise of religion, as it had been asserted in defiance of the Syrian rulers; its practical aim was a community of Jews, composed of the orthodox in the lands of all rulers, essentially irrespective of the secular government-- a community which found its visible points of union in the tribute for the temple at Jerusalem, which was obligatory on every conscientious Jew, and in the schools of religion and spiritual courts. Overagainst this orthodoxy, which turned away from political life and became more and more stiffened into theological formalism and painful ceremonial service, were arrayed the defenders of the national independence, invigorated amidst successful struggles against foreign rule, and advancing towards the ideal of a restoration of the Jewish state, the representatives of the old great families--the so-called Sadducees--partly on dogmatic grounds, in so far as they acknowledged only the sacred books themselves and conceded authority merely, not canonicity, to the "bequests of the scribes," that is, to canonical tradition;(12) partly and especially on political grounds, in so far as, instead of a fatalistic waiting for the strong arm of the Lord of Zebaoth, they taught that the salvation of the nation was to be expected from the weapons of this world, and from the inward and outward strengthening of the kingdom of David as re-established in the glorious times of the Maccabees. Those partisans of orthodoxy found their support in the priesthood and the multitude; they contested with the Hasmonaeans the legitimacy of their high- priesthood, and fought against the noxious heretics with all the reckless implacability, with which the pious are often found to contend for the possession of earthly goods.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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