The Barbarian

Identifying the barbarian figure has been difficult because a lack of distinguishing features. He wears trousers and pants which are traditional representations of barbarians in roman art and imperial imagery. However, there are two features that may lead to identification. While more prominent in the terracotta at the British Museum (Figure 13), the barbarian figure has longer, pronounced hair above its shoulder. In the case of the British Museum piece, Bailey proposes that this may indicate that the barbarian is in fact Jewish in origin because there might be a connection to the long hair worn by the Jewish people (Bailey, 3509 GR Plate 93). This may be the case for the USC figurine, but it is not conclusive enough to make a secure identification. The second feature though helps solidify this identification. The feature is the curved sword or dagger held by the barbarian figure. This dagger is most likely a blade known in Latin as a sica, which is commonly defined as a dagger. The sica is a particular type of dagger that has a curved blade that could be easily concealed (Zeitlin).

The sica was the weapon of choice for a group of Jewish terrorists known as the “Sicarii.” The word sicarii derives from the Latin sica and means a murderer or assassin. A group of Jewish terrorists used the sica, which they hid under their garments and murdered people in public and were given the name Sicarii because of this weapon and their tactics (Zeitlin). The name “Sicarii” was first used by the ancient historian Josephus in his text about the Judean War in The Judean War. This text was written in Greek and Josephus is the first author writing in Greek to use “Sicarii” to describe this group of Jewish terrorists. The Sicarii are traditionally understood to be a violent, anti-Roman, revolutionary group. They are best known for their discrete urban assassinations using the sica but Josephus is careful to explain that they were not the constrained to this type of tactic. They also conducted raids on villages and participated in regular activities of armies and soldiers (Brighton). They threatened and attacked their own people for religious and political gains, and in particular attacked those who were Roman sympathizers and those who submitted to the Romans. They believed that Judeans like this were no different from the Romans and were deemed traitors to the Judean people (Zeitlin).

The group consisted of followers of Judas of Galilee who incited the Judeans to revolt against Rome. Judas maintained that they only had one master, God, and that no one should acknowledge Ceasar as master. The group soon came under the leadership of Menachem, the son of Judas of Galilee, after his death and Menachem continued the opposition of the Romans and also opposed the Jewish high priests. The Sicarii’s motto was “No lordship of man over man.” They fermented revolt in Judea and in 65 c.e. a revolt broke out in Jerusalem. Shortly thereafter the moderate citizens of Judea killed Menachem because they feared his radical ideas. However, the revolt turned into a full blown war. The remnants of the Sicarii fled to their fortress at Masada and were then led by Eleazar, a kinsman of Menachem (Zeitlin).  The Sicarii did not participate directly in the war against the Romans after Menachem’s death. However, the Sicarii are attributed with agitating conflict with the Romans in Egypt and Cyrene (Horsley). But in the end they were blamed by Josephus to be the cause of the revolt and the resulting burning of the temple and all of the misfortune that befell the Judeans during that period. The last time the actual group known as the Sicarii were historically present was when Flavius Silva attacked Masada and defeated them, as they were the final remains of Jewish revolt during that time (Zeitlin).

Josephus does not explicitly express who used the term, but the word itself provides some clues. The word “sicarii” is a Latin loan word, or a Latin word that was used within the scope of another language or culture, in this case in Judea. Because of this, it has been suggested that it would be unlikely that a group of Judean rebels would adopt this Roman word. That means that it must have been applied by the Romans who were governing the area as a way to describe the groups they were facing. If any Judeans were using the term, such as Josephus, they were most likely those who had regular relations with the Roman occupiers. The word seems to not have been in us among the greater population due to its absence from strictly Jewish texts of the time. Based on this understanding and that Josephus attributes the Sicarii to an assortment of different types of violent actions the word came to be understood in a general sense as enemies who conduct stealthy acts of violence like the modern usage of “terrorist” instead of focusing on one specific group of people (Brighton).

Thus the curved weapon in the hands of the barbarian on the USC terracotta figurine is probably the curved dagger of the Sicarii. However, the barbarian is in all probability not a member of the specific group known as the Sicarii during the First Jewish Revolt. The emperors during that period did not have a beard and the bearded emperor is a critical piece of the identification. But, the barbarian is most likely a Jewish terrorist or rebel during the Second Jewish Revolt which was defeated by Hadrian. By that time the term “sicarii”, as was suggested in Brighton’s article, may have been used as a general term to describe a terrorist. If this is the case, the curved dagger was used to identify a particular terrorist, a Jewish one, because that particular blade was used by Jewish rebels and terrorists during the first war. And finally, the barbarian is probably a Jewish rebel because the term “sicarii” was first used to describe a group of Jewish terrorists and rebels.



Brighton, Mark A.. The Sicarii in ACTS: A New Perspective. Journal of the Evangelical

Theological Society. 54. 3. Sept., 2011. 547-558

Horsley, Richard A. "The Sicarii: Ancient Jewish "Terrorists"." Journal of Religion. 59.4 (1979): 435-458. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <>.

Zeitlin, S. Zealots and Sicarii. Journal of Biblical Literature. Vol. 81. No. 4. Dec., 1962.






  • Grant Dixon