Knowing that he could no longer afford to allow the endless revolts, Gabinius sent a body of soldiers against Aristobulus. He was not taking any chances… the commanders of this enormous force were Anthony, Sisenna, and Servilius, all considered extraordinary generals. But strange as
it may sound, Aristobulus had certain advantages. First, he was on his own terrain, which he knew very well. Second, thousands of Jews clamored to join his army for this seemingly suicidal revolt. Some of these people were still enchanted by his former glory; others simply would join any revolt against the hated oppressor. Till the last family member was dead, the Hasmoneans never lost their hypnotic charm that could sway people and convince them to do the impossible. For example, the Legate of Jerusalem, whose title can be explained as deputy-general of the province for the Romans, defected to Aristobulus with a force of one thousand well-armed men! This act is incomprehensible, but the result was extremely important to Aristobulus, since many of the men who wanted to join his army had no weapons to use in the war, and he had no supplies to equip them with either. So he sent the unarmed men home, and marched toward the strong fortress of Machaerus, where he intended to fortify himself and fight the Romans.
The plan was cut short because the Romans fell on them on their way. Thousands of Jews were killed during this fierce battle; the number of losses to Aristobulus is estimated to be around five thousand men. The remaining army, about one thousand men, was led to Machaerus by Aristobulus who had escaped being seriously wounded. They immediately set out to fortify the place, and prepared for a long siege. This was not to be. The siege lasted only two days, and a great number of Aristobulus’ soldiers suffered severe wounds. There is a variance of opinion regarding Aristobulus himself – the records disagree if Aristobulus was wounded as well, but either way he was taken prisoner with his son Antigonus.
What happened next was a rare occurrence in the bloody history of Rome and Judea. Gabinius sent Aristobulus to Rome in chains – but not Antigonus. In addition, a letter went with Aristobulus for the Senate. The letter requested the release of all of Aristobulus' children and their safe return to Judea, because this was what Gabinius promised their mother, Aristobulus’ wife, when she surrendered the strongholds in the previous clash with Aristobulus in Alexandreion.
This was 55 BCE, a turbulent time in the entire region, and times like these were what Antipater was waiting for. And indeed, another golden opportunity fell into his hands. Gabinius was sent on a campaign to Parthia, but was recalled and ordered to go to Egypt. King Ptolemy XI Auletes was deposed by Archelaus of Pontus, and Gabinius was ordered to restore Ptolemy to the throne. Antipater, as usual, was closely connected to Hyrcanus, and convinced him to send grain, arms and money to Gabinius. Needless to say, this was well received by Gabinius, but Antipater went much further in his support. He went on a secret mission to the area above Pelusium (an important city in the eastern extremes of Egypt's Nile Delta, 30 km to the southeast of the modern Port Said), which had a large Jewish population. This area had several rivers that served as entries into Egypt. Antipater, always the suave diplomat, won these Jews over, and had them assume the position of guardians of the entrances to Egypt. This act made Gabinius’ mission much easier, and by then the friendship between him and Antipater was cemented.
When Gabinius returned to Judea, he found that his kindness to Aristobulus’ children did not really pay off. Aristobulus' son Alexander persuaded or forced many Jews to join him in yet another revolt, and was marching over the country killing all the Romans on his way. When Gabinius went to meet him, Alexander was conducting a siege on a group of Romans who had taken a refuge on Mount Gerizim. While Gabinius was thus engaged, he sent Antipater to the Jews who were on Alexander’s side. Josephus describes it charmingly. “Gabinius sent Antipater, who was a man of good sense, to the unruly elements, to see whether he could put a stop to their mad behavior and persuade them to return to a more reasonable frame of mind. And so he came and brought many of them to their senses and induced them to do their duty; but he could not restrain Alexander, who with an army of thirty thousand Jews went to meet Gabinius, and was defeated in an engagement near Mount Tabor, in which ten thousand of his [Alexander’s] men fell. Gabinius then settled affairs in Jerusalem in accordance with the wishes of Antipater…”
This was, unfortunately, the end of Gabinius stay in Judea. After a surprising march against the Nabateans, and then some skirmishes with the Parthians, he was ready to leave. Josephus finalizes the story: “And so, having performed great and brilliant deeds during his term as governor, Gabinius sailed for Rome, handing over his provinces to Crassus.” And what an sad exchange it was… in the next posting I will tell about Crassus’ horrific plunder of the sacred Temple and its aftermath. Yes, Crassus certainly loved money, but Antipater would still have his way and the Herodian Dynasty would emerge.