Lucius Flavius Silva

Lucius Flavius Silva

Overview


Lucius Flavius Silva Nonius Bassus was a late-1st century Roman general, governor of the province of Iudaea
Judaea (Roman province)
Judaea or Iudaea are terms used by historians to refer to the Roman province that extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel...

 and consul
Roman consul
A consul served in the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.Each year, two consuls were elected together, to serve for a one-year term. Each consul was given veto power over his colleague and the officials would alternate each month...

. History remembers Silva as the Roman commander who led his army, composed mainly of the Legio X Fretensis
Legio X Fretensis
Legio X Fretensis was a Roman legion levied by Augustus Caesar in 41/40 BC to fight during the period of civil war that started the dissolution of the Roman Republic...

, in 73 AD up to Masada
Masada
Masada is the name for a site of ancient palaces and fortifications in the South District of Israel, on top of an isolated rock plateau, or horst, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada is best known for the violence that occurred there in the first century CE...

 and laid siege to its near-impenetrable mountain fortress occupied by a group of Jewish rebels called the Sicarii
Sicarii
Sicarii is a term applied, in the decades immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, to an extremist splinter group of the Jewish Zealots, who attempted to expel the Romans and their partisans from Judea using concealed daggers .-History:The Sicarii used...

. The end of the siege culminated with the mass suicide of the Sicarii who preferred death to defeat or capture.
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Lucius Flavius Silva Nonius Bassus was a late-1st century Roman general, governor of the province of Iudaea
Judaea (Roman province)
Judaea or Iudaea are terms used by historians to refer to the Roman province that extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel...

 and consul
Roman consul
A consul served in the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.Each year, two consuls were elected together, to serve for a one-year term. Each consul was given veto power over his colleague and the officials would alternate each month...

. History remembers Silva as the Roman commander who led his army, composed mainly of the Legio X Fretensis
Legio X Fretensis
Legio X Fretensis was a Roman legion levied by Augustus Caesar in 41/40 BC to fight during the period of civil war that started the dissolution of the Roman Republic...

, in 73 AD up to Masada
Masada
Masada is the name for a site of ancient palaces and fortifications in the South District of Israel, on top of an isolated rock plateau, or horst, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada is best known for the violence that occurred there in the first century CE...

 and laid siege to its near-impenetrable mountain fortress occupied by a group of Jewish rebels called the Sicarii
Sicarii
Sicarii is a term applied, in the decades immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, to an extremist splinter group of the Jewish Zealots, who attempted to expel the Romans and their partisans from Judea using concealed daggers .-History:The Sicarii used...

. The end of the siege culminated with the mass suicide of the Sicarii who preferred death to defeat or capture. His actions are documented by 1st century Jewish-Roman historian Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

; the remains of a 1st century Roman victory arch identified in Jerusalem in 2005; and of course the extensive earthworks at the Masada site, a monument to the highwater mark of Roman siege warfare.

Siege of Masada


The historical context of the siege of Masada was Rome's 'cleaning up' of the remaining Jewish resistance to Roman rule after crushing the rebellion in Jerusalem
Siege of Jerusalem (70)
The Siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD was the decisive event of the First Jewish-Roman War. The Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus, with Tiberius Julius Alexander as his second-in-command, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem, which had been occupied by its Jewish defenders in...

 in 70 AD. While Masada was the last vestige of the rebellion it was as much a symbol as a threat. Thus, the attack on Masada was as much for Roman prestige as security. Silva's forces were a projection of Roman power. Rome's 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers outnumbered the people on Masada -- estimated by Josephus at 960 men, women and children -- by 5 to 1.

The central challenge to Silva and his battlefield engineers was to overcome the isolated plateau and its fortifications, originally constructed by King Herod. Silva surrounded the mountain fortress by constructing a 6 foot high, 7 mile long siege wall (circumvallation) to prevent attacks and escapes. The wall also enclosed the eight base camps established for the army. After initial efforts to breach Masada's defences failed, Silva's army built a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau, using thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth. The huge dirt ramp, which survives to this day, allowed the Romans to roll up a battering ram to breach Masada's walls. Silva's victory was incomplete. His opponents, some 960 men, women and children, had committed mass suicide shortly before the Romans took the mountain top. However, the Romans succeeded in making their point clear and removed an obstacle to reasserting their rule in Judaea.

Later life


Silva was Roman governor of Judaea
Judaea (Roman province)
Judaea or Iudaea are terms used by historians to refer to the Roman province that extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel...

 from 73 to 81 AD. In 81, he became consul, serving in office during January and February.

Historians speculate about the end of Silva's life. After his consulate and after the death of emperor Titus, Silva likely fell victim to Domitian's reign of terror which purged popular generals whom the emperor saw as rivals. Falling into disfavour, Silva's accomplishments were erased from Roman archives in what Romans called damnatio memoriae
Damnatio memoriae
Damnatio memoriae is the Latin phrase literally meaning "condemnation of memory" in the sense of a judgment that a person must not be remembered. It was a form of dishonor that could be passed by the Roman Senate upon traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman State...

. Thus the Silva family's name and its prestige were lost.

Verbal folklore in the Portugese Azore Islands reportedly claims that the DaSilva and Silva inhabitants of the islands are descended from the ancient Roman family.

Archaeological Finds


In October 2005, Hungarian Archaeologist Dr. Tibor Grull published an article about a stone tablet unearthed in 1999 near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Latin inscription on the tablet describes Silva as the victor of Masada. It is believed the tablet was part of the Roman restoration of Jerusalem after Rome's victory.

On Film & Television


Silva was portrayed by Peter O'Toole
Peter O'Toole
Peter Seamus Lorcan O'Toole is an Irish actor of stage and screen. O'Toole achieved stardom in 1962 playing T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, and then went on to become a highly-honoured film and stage actor. He has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, and holds the record for most...

 in the 1981 Television Mini-Series Masada
Masada (miniseries)
Masada is an American television miniseries that aired on ABC in April 1981. Advertised by the network as an "ABC Novel for Television," it was a fictionalized account of the historical siege of the Masada citadel in Israel by legions of the Roman Empire in AD 73. The TV series' script is based on...

(where his character is incorrectly called 'Cornelius Flavius Silva').