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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Italian Band

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According to Acts 10:1, the centurion Cornelius, of the σπεῖρα Ἰταλική, was in Caesarea about a.d. 40. The adjective indicates that the ‘cohort’ (Revised Version margin) consisted of native Italians. Now, as a province of the second order, Judaea , of which Caesarea was the administrative centre, was not garrisoned by legionaries, who were Roman citizens, but by auxiliaries, who were provincials. How, then, could an auxiliary cohort be called Italian? Josephus states that there were five cohorts, composed of citizens of Caesarea and Sebaste, stationed in the former city at the time of the death of Herod Agrippa (Ant. xix. ix. 2, xx. viii. 7), and Blass suggests (in loco) that one of the five may have bean called the cohors Italica, as being composed of Roman citizens who had made their home in one or other of the two cities. Schürer has no doubt that one of the five is the Augustan cohort mentioned in Acts 27:1, but he refuses to identify another (or the same one) with ‘the Italian.’ Indeed, while he produces monumental evidence that ‘at some time or other a cohors Italica was in Syria,’ he thinks that the story of Cornelius lies under suspicion, ‘the circumstances of a later period having been transferred back to an earlier period’ (History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] i. ii. [1890] 53f.). Ramsay regards this suspicion as groundless, and makes effective use (Was Christ born at Bethlehem?, 1898, p. 260f.) of an inscription recently discovered at Carnuntum on the Upper Danube-the epitaph of the young soldier, Proculus, a subordinate officer (optio) in the second Italian Cohort, who died there while engaged on detached service from the Syrian army. Syrian troops, under Mucianus, were certainly engaged on the Lower Danube, and probably on the Upper, in 69 b.c. (Tacitus, Hist. iii. 46). When their campaign was ended, they were doubtless sent back to Syria; and the same legions frequently remained a very long period, sometimes for centuries, in one province.

‘The whole burden of proof, therefore, rests with those who maintain that a Cohort which was in Syria before [a.d.] 69 was not there in 40. There is a strong probability that Luke is right when he alludes to that Cohort as part of the Syrian garrison about a.d. 40.’ Besides, ‘the entire subject of detachment-service is most obscure; and we are very far from being able to say with certainty that the presence of an auxiliary centurion in Caesarea is impossible, unless the Cohort in which he was an officer was stationed there’ (Ramsay, op. cit. 265, 268).

James Strahan.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Italian Band'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/i/italian-band.html. 1906-1918.

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