Revelation

Vespasian and Titus in Revelation 6

In A Chronological Revision of the Origins of Christianity I gave good reasons to consider the two witnesses of Revelation 11 as referring to Jesus in his double role as royal and priestly messiah. In the transfiguration Jesus appeared together with Moses and Elijah, and in Revelation 11 he also has characteristics of both Old Testament figures: the ability to turn water into blood (Moses – Exodus 7) or to destroy people with fire (Elijah – 2 Kings 1). Revelation 11:11-13 clearly discusses Jesus’ fate, so it is not surprising that he plays the main role throughout the whole chapter. So the author of John usesd duplication as a veiling technique in this chapter that plays in wartime.

 

It is an interesting angle of inquiry that the author of Revelation might have applied the same technique elsewhere in his writing, for example in chapter 6, where we encounter four horsemen. Are these ‘four horses’ the description of historical figures, and maybe of two historical figures? I believe so. Below I will show that probably Vespasian and Titus are the historical figures behind these four horsemen. The horses of the Old Testament book of Zachariah (1:8, 6:2-7), who have the assignment to ‘go and patrol the earth’ have in all probability inspired the writer of Revelation, but ‘John’ gives an original elaboration to the theme.

First of all, it’s not a mere accident that four horses make their appearance. The Latin for horse is equus, and the nobility called after the horse were called ‘equites’ (singular: ‘eques’), horsemen ore knights. Vespasian and his son Titus belonged to the equites branch of Roman aristocracy.

Maybe the color of the first two horses gives an indication that these two horsemen are the two halves of one and the same person. The first horse is white, and the second one is red. Coincidentally – or maybe not – the characteristic dress of the ‘eques’ was the white and red tunica angusticlavia, white being the primary color, and decorated with two red ribbons.

Illustration?

And what about the equipment and the activity of these two first horsemen?

The white horse:

  • Has a bow
  • Was given a crown
  • Went out conquering and to conquer.
  • Was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another
  • Was given a great sword.

For a full understanding of the ‘crown’ attribute, I believe we should choose a different translation for the Greek στεφανος, not a crown (like a royal crown) but the wreath (in this case of a victorious general). On imperial coins Vespasian is depicted with the laurel wreath, and on p. 116 of A Companion to the Flavian Age of Imperial Rome (Andrew Zissos, editor, 2016) the Cancelleria reliefs are discussed. There we read: ‘Victory can just be seen hovering behind Vespasian holding a laurel wreath over his head for his successes in the Judean War.’

The red horse:

I believe it is not necessary to address every point in detail. These elements are an accurate description of Vespasian as the commander-in-chief of the Romans waging war against the Jews. Maybe the bow represents the auxiliary troops (see Josephus, The Jewish War III:68 and 116), the great sword the Roman legions (the Roman sword of that era was longer than the Jewish one). To be ‘permitted to take peace from the earth’ simply means ‘to wage war’. In ancient Greek είρηνη (peace) and πολεμος (war) were two diametrically opposed military terms.

Then follow the black and the greenish horse. Here I have not been able to correlate these colors with a specific dress of Titus. But the characteristics of these two knights clearly refer to Titus. The black ‘eques’ has a balance in his hand to weigh the scarce wheat and barley, that are sold for famine prices. So verse 5 and 6 seem to depict the famine during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

The rider of the greenish horse is called θανατος, which can mean ‘death’ but also ‘deadly disease’ or ‘pestilence’. The modern term is ‘epidemics’. In all literature on famine the outbreak of infectious diseases like dysentery, typhus and smallpox is described as the inseparable companion of prolonged starvation. Before the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem, Vespasian had already left for Italy to claim the imperial throne, leaving his son Titus in charge of the recapture of Jerusalem. So it seems obvious that, in describing the two major mortal effects of the siege, the Roman protagonist behind that siege is described. Titus had a siege wall built around Jerusalem in June 70 CE, that way making famine a spearhead of his military strategy.

Highly interesting in verse 8a is that the rider’s name is θανατος. This is the only occasion in this chapter where the Greek word ὄνομα (‘name’) is used. I have elaborated this point in a separate contribution. Verse 8b seems to be a recapitulation, in which one new element is introduces: wild beasts. After the Roman victory were slaughtered in the arena during the victory games that were held throughout the (eastern part of) the Roman empire. See Josephus, War VII: 23-24. So chronologically these wild beasts are logically mentioned at the end of the enumeration in verse 8b.

The table below gives a short summary of the horses, their characteristics and their identification as the Roman generals Vespasian and Titus.

 

 

Verses

Characteristic

Who?

Verse

Characteristic

White horse

1-2

bow

Vespasian

 

 

Red horse

3-4

sword

Vespasian

8b

sword

Black horse

5-6

famine price for wheat and barley

Titus

8b

famine

Greenish horse

7-8a

fatal illness / epidemics

Titus

8b

fatal illness / epidemics

 

 

 

Titus

8b

wild beasts

 

Above I mentioned the two witnesses = Jesus in chapter 11, and here we encountered 4 horses = 2 Roman ‘horsemen’ = Vespasian and Titus. In my opinion the same technique has not been used incidentally but purposefully in these two fragments. It has been used to depict the major opponents (in the view of the author of Revelation) in the war of the Jews against the Romans: Jesus on one side, and Vespasian and Titus on the other. In Revelation 11 Jesus is described as having been active during the war against the Romans, and here we see his major Roman opponents described with the same duplication technique.