Born in the third decade of the Common Era to the Judean client king Herod Agrippa I, Julia Berenice married her uncle, Herod of Chalcis, thus becoming queen of that small territory in modern-day Syria. Sometime after his death and that of her father, she returned to Jerusalem to reign as queen alongside her brother Agrippa II. Carly Silver describes the twists of her life thereafter:
When [Berenice] saw the havoc the Roman soldiers were wreaking in Jerusalem [in the period leading up to the Judean Revolt], she sent her retainers to plead with the Roman procurator Florus, [to whose authority the Herodian monarchs were ultimately subject], asking him to ease up. Beseeching divine intervention for her people, Berenice swore a vow that “she had made to God,” according to [the ancient Jewish historian] Josephus. After boycotting alcohol and sacrificing at the Temple, as well as shaving her head, she stood barefoot before Florus, pleading with him again. Florus denied her and Berenice herself just barely escaped assault from his soldiers. . . .
In 66 CE, the Romans sent General Vespasian with three legions, along with his son Titus, to quell the unrest. . . . Vespasian and Titus cultivated support among local Jews; after all, not all residents hated Rome, while others couldn’t imagine the Jews succeeding against the legions. Among these pro-Roman Jews was Berenice. . .
Their common education and shared interests trumped their differences, as well as their age gap; Berenice was nearly a dozen years Titus’s senior. The two carried on a passionate affair for three years in Judea, until Titus finally incinerated Jerusalem in 70 CE. He went home to Rome the following year—by then, Vespasian was already named emperor. In 75, Berenice and Agrippa II followed.
In Rome, Titus and Berenice resumed their relationship, to the horror of more conservative Romans. . . . It’s no coincidence that [the Roman historian] Tacitus places Titus’s “notorious passion for Queen Berenice, to whom it was even said that he promised marriage” among references to Titus’s other debaucheries, like eunuch parties. Never mind Berenice’s pro-Roman attitudes; she was a foreigner, her strangeness exemplified by her single status and independence.
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