Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus (AD 41–81)
Perceiving that his safety depended solely on his personal prowess, he turned his horse’s head and shouting to his companions to follow dashed into the enemy’s midst, struggling to cut his way through to his own party … Of all that hail of arrows discharged at Titus, who wore neither helmet nor cuirass – for he had gone forward … not to fight, but to reconnoitre – not one touched his person.1
NERO, ABANDONED BY THE SENATE AND HIS OWN PRAETORIAN GUARD, ordered one of his last faithful slaves to kill him in AD 68. Thus died the last of the Julio-Claudians. He left no heir, and power was seized by Galba, the legate of Spain. He was backed by the legion which garrisoned his province and – following the promise of a sizeable bounty to any who joined him – the Praetorian Guard. However, the new emperor failed to deliver on this promise and was lynched by a mob of praetorians within seven months of seizing power. His successor, Otho, bribed his way to power, but lasted just ninety-five days before committing suicide on receiving news of the defeat of his army by a rival, Vitellius the legate of Germania Inferior. Vitellius had managed to rally the bulk of the Rhine armies to his cause and had invaded Italy. Soon he in turn faced a challenge from the legions of the eastern provinces, led by Vespasian, the legate of Judaea. His army defeated in the Po valley and Rome itself stormed by the enemy, Vitellius was brutally murdered eight months after he had come to power.
Vespasian was the fourth man to become princeps within twelve months, and recent events had demonstrated quite openly the power of the legions to make or break emperors. After almost a century of internal peace, the Empire had been plunged into a civil war as savage as any of those which had scarred the final decades of the Republic’s life. Unlike the conflicts of the first century BC, the Civil War of AD 68–9 did not grow from long-held political rivalries. The leaders were in general fairly ordinary legates who found themselves in command of powerful armies at a time when there was a power vacuum at the centre of the Empire. With the exception of Vespasian, they were not men who had recently led legions on campaign and so had a chance to create a bond based on common experience and trust. Instead they relied upon winning over the army, and most of all the officers, within their own and the neighbouring provinces. Yet once again Roman soldiers had shown themselves willing to fight other Romans on behalf of individual generals who promised them rewards. Vitellius had dismissed Otho’s praetorians and recruited new guard cohorts from his own legions. The Syrian legions’ support for Vespasian was made all the more enthusiastic by a rumour claiming that Vitellius planned to post them to the Rhine and send the garrisons of those provinces to take over the more comfortable billets in the east.2
Vespasian proved a capable and decent ruler, one of the few men whose character did not steadily degenerate under the temptations of wielding supreme power. His family was not part of the old aristocracy and he and his brother Sabinus were the first to enter the Senate. The wealth that permitted them to do this came from a number of less than entirely respectable sources, including tax-collecting and mule-breeding, and Vespasian’s own career had been chequered. In AD 43 he was a legionary legate, commandingLegio II Augusta which took part in Claudius’ great expedition to Britain. Vespasian played a prominent role in the main battle – probably at the River Medway – against the strong tribal confederation led by the brothers Caractacus and Togodumnus, and subsequently operated independently with his own legion and supporting auxiliaries against the peoples of the south-west. Claudius was extravagant in his award of honours and decorations to the participants in this, his only major war, and Vespasian was one of those grantedtriumphalia, which was an unusual honour for someone of his rank. Even so, he never really became one of the most important men in the Senate and for a while virtually retired from public life. Later, he enjoyed Nero’s favour for some time, until his habit of leaving abruptly before or dozing off during the emperor’s musical recitals led to his exclusion from court.
Too obscure and poorly connected to be seen as a potential rival, Vespasian’s incurring of imperial displeasure did not lead to execution and in AD 67 he was sent as legate to Judaea where rebellion had broken out in the previous year. He had held all the posts normally held before the command of an imperial province and had won something of a reputation in Britain, but his appointment owed much to the same feeling that he would never pose a threat to the emperor. As added insurance, Nero kept Vespasian’s younger son Domitian with him in Rome, effectively as a hostage. It is doubtful that anyone, including himself, seriously considered Vespasian as a possible candidate for the throne until the Civil War was well under way. Even after Nero’s death, he openly acknowledged the authority of first Galba and then Otho, only declaring himself emperor after the latter’s suicide.3
Victories won by his subordinates made Vespasian emperor, but only his own political skill prevented his principate from proving as brief as those of his immediate predecessors. Most important of all, he had to deny provincial governors the opportunity of turning their armies against him. Like Augustus, he was to make extensive use of relatives and partisans – all men whose own best interests were served by the continuance of the new regime – to fight the major wars of his reign. The new emperor needed military successes to celebrate, for glory of this sort was still one of the most important attributes of a princeps. Active service also kept the armies busy and less likely to mutiny or revolt, especially if their leaders were reliable men. One war was especially important to Vespasian, for in spite of the steady progress he had made in its suppression, the Civil War had prevented his completion of the campaign in Judaea. Although most of the province was once again under Roman control, the great city of Jerusalem, along with a handful of small fortresses, remained in rebel hands. A new and still insecure emperor could not afford a personal association with a war which had not yet resulted in outright Roman victory. Jerusalem needed to be taken, as soon as possible and in a manner which did not detract from Vespasian’s earlier achievements in the conflict. Therefore, in the spring of 70 the task of besieging the city and crushing the centre of rebellion fell to the emperor’s older son, Titus, then 29 years old.
The siege of Jerusalem is described in greater detail than any other major operation undertaken by the Roman army. The city occupied a strong natural position and was heavily fortified with three main lines of walls, so that during the five-month siege the Romans were forced to take it section by section, one difficult assault being followed by another and another. The cost of this was high, both in casualties and in the enthusiasm of the survivors, and at times the legionaries’ morale slipped to a low ebb. Titus was faced with an extremely difficult task, but one that had to be performed as soon as possible for political reasons. The capture of Jerusalem provides a very good illustration of the nature of siege warfare and the peculiar problems it presented to a commander. Our understanding of the campaign is greatly enhanced by the archaeological work which permits fairly accurate reconstruction of the layout of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. The principal literary account is provided by the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote his history of the Jewish Rebellion at Rome under the patronage of Vespasian and Titus. His flattery of both, and especially the latter who is often called simply Caesar, is both frequent and obvious, for instance in the following passage:
Thus, if, without a syllable added in flattery or withheld in envy, the truth must be told, Caesar personally twice rescued the entire legion when in jeopardy, and enabled them to entrench themselves in their camp unmolested.4
For all his sycophancy, Josephus was present with Titus’ headquarters during the operation and describes events in great detail, giving by far the best portrait of the army of the Principate on campaign. He was also peculiarly well suited to describe the conflict, for he had begun the war as a general appointed by the rebel government and had fought against the Romans, before surrendering and becoming a collaborator. His attitude towards the rebel leaders was extremely hostile, but he was content to describe the heroism of many of the Jewish fighters and the defeats they inflicted upon the Romans. More than any other conflict outside of the civil wars, we are able to see the Jewish Rebellion from the perspective of both sides, and not simply from the Roman point of view.5
THE JEWISH REBELLION
Judaea became a directly ruled province following the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC. This prompted a rebellion which was then brutally suppressed by Varus, the legate of Syria. Herod had been a consummate politician, backing Antony in the Civil War and yet still winning favour with Octavian after Actium, thus managing to retain his throne. Yet he was never popular amongst his subjects, who saw him as a foreigner – he was an Idumaean and so not considered properly Jewish – imposed on them by a Gentile power. The Roman governors who succeeded him had even less success at winning the hearts and minds of the population. These men were not senators, for Judaea was a minor province with a small auxiliary garrison, but equestrians with the title of prefect, although around AD 40 this was changed to procurator.
It was not an easy province to control, for the culture and religion of its monotheistic population set them apart from the rest of the polytheistic Roman world. By pagans the Jews (and later Christians) were seen as perverse, almost indeed as atheists, for they denied the very existence of other gods.6 Even if they were granted Roman citizenship, religious taboos prevented Judaean aristocrats from following a career in imperial service. Therefore it proved impossible to absorb them into the élite of the Empire in the same way that, over time, the noble families of other provinces enjoyed increasingly senior posts in the army and administration, eventually becoming equestrians and even entering the Senate. The high-priestly families of Jerusalem were given a dominant role in administration and especially the running of the Great Temple by the procurators, but their capacity to control the wider population was limited. Many Jews were willing to recognize religious leaders from outside the aristocracy, and these were often men of humble origins, such as John the Baptist or the Bannus whom the teenage Josephus followed for a time. As a whole the Jews had a much stronger sense of their own identity as a nation than most other peoples who came under Roman rule. Every year the festival of the Passover reminded them of their escape from bondage in Egypt and, more recently, they had the memory of the Maccabees’ successful rebellion against the rule of the Seleucid Empire in the second century BC.7
Religion and the rituals associated with the Great Temple in Jerusalem acted as continual reminders of Jewish identity, but society was also fiercely divided into sects and doctrines over the interpretation of the law. Judaeans did not quite consider Galileans to be proper Jews, whilst both loathed the Samaritans who occupied central Palestine and had their own cult and temple. The three major Jewish religious sects, Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, disagreed on most issues and were frequently split by internal dissent. The proper attitude towards Roman rule was often a vexed issue and many of the popular religious leaders who appeared periodically were perceived as revolutionaries inciting rebellion. In the 30s Jesus was publicly questioned over his attitude to taxation – ‘Render under Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s’ – and finally executed as a rebel – ‘We have no king but Caesar’. Economic problems further divided society, with lawlessness and banditry being a recurrent challenge to peace and stability. Violence appears just beneath the surface in the Gospels, with stories of travellers being attacked and beaten or of absentee landlords, and disciples with revolutionary names such as Simon the Zealot or Judas Iscariot. Barabbas, who was released by Pontius Pilate in place of Christ was, according to Mark, in prison for having led an insurrection in Jerusalem. At least some of the bandits probably had religious or political motives, but the impact of their actions was (as has so often been the case throughout history) felt most heavily by the poor.
Judaea was a troubled region, struggling to fit into the Roman system and frequently subject to procurators who failed to understand its peculiarities and who were all too often corrupt and repressive. Sporadic outbreaks of rebellion occurred from 4 BC onwards and finally erupted in the summer of AD 66 into a major rebellion. The procurator marched on Jerusalem to quell the rising with a show of force, but suffered defeat. Within a few days the garrison of Jerusalem was massacred. The legate of Syria, Caius Cestius Gallus, hastily assembled a field army to move against the rebels, arriving outside the city in October. His force was based around Legio XII Fulminata, which had been humiliatingly defeated with Paetus at Rhandeia four years earlier, reinforced by vexillations from III Gallica, VI Ferrata and X Fretensis. These were supported by some regular auxiliaries, and a large number of recently raised and ill-disciplined levies. It was not an army carefully prepared, trained or adequately supplied for war, but Gallus was following the normal Roman practice of responding as quickly as possible to insurrection in the hope that an immediate, confident counter-attack would stop the rebellion before it gathered momentum.
Surprised at the strength of resistance, Gallus suffered some minor defeats and, deciding that he could not hope to take the city, abandoned the siege and withdrew. His retreat rapidly turned into disaster, the Roman column being remorselessly harried as it descended through the narrow Beth-Horon pass. By the end of the campaign 5,780 Roman soldiers had been killed and XII Fulminata had lost its eagle. (Josephus makes no mention of the rebels’ capturing this trophy, so it may be that it was genuinely lost in the confusion. This would not have altered the disgrace of the loss of the precious standard and symbol of the legion’s pride.) Gallus died soon afterwards, probably from disease.8
Late in 66, or early in 67, Vespasian was sent to take command of the war in Judaea, whilst Caius Licinius Mucianus became legate of Syria in order to deal with the normal administration of the province. The arrangement was similar in many ways to the command structure when Corbulo was sent east to deal with the Armenian problem. By the time that Vespasian was appointed to Judaea, Corbulo was probably already dead, but it is unlikely that he would have been given another command even if he had not fallen from favour. The ideal of the senatorial class – if not always of the individual senator – was that opportunities to win military glory should be shared out as widely as possible. The 57-year-old Vespasian had not yet served as a provincial legate, but had a competent military record and the qualified trust of an emperor, who had recently become very nervous about the ambitions of more prominent senators. Tacitus described him as the ideal Roman commander, ‘active in war and accustomed to march at the head of the column, to select the place to camp, and to harry the enemy day and night by his generalship and, if occasion required, by his own hand; his ration was what fortune provided, in dress and lifestyle he was much the same as a private soldier’.9 In 67 Vespasian launched a full-scale and properly prepared invasion of Galilee, storming those walled towns and villages who did not surrender.
Throughout the rebellion the Jews never managed to form an effective field army and the conflict was dominated by sieges. At Jotapata Vespasian received the surrender of the rebel commander Josephus, who had been hiding in a cave with a group of devoted followers, all of whom had determined to commit suicide rather than give themselves up. The future historian, who admits that he felt no enthusiasm for such a gesture, persuaded his companions to draw lots, determining who should kill the others. Miraculously – though the reader is inclined to suspect a more disreputable cause – Josephus and one other were selected to be last to die and, having watched the rest dispatch each other, they decided that surrender was in fact the only reasonable course of action. The rebel general was brought before Vespasian, whom he grovellingly declared would one day become emperor – an action that would later lead to Josephus’ release and favourable treatment when the ‘prophecy’ was fulfilled.10
In 68 the Roman army divided to suppress Idumaea, Peraea and virtually all of Judaea itself, but the following year witnessed little fighting as Vespasian concentrated his efforts on his bid for the throne. The unbroken succession of defeats which the Jews had suffered since their initial victory in 66 had by this time discredited the essentially aristocratic government formed at the start of the rising. Instead a number of far more radical leaders had seized power. At the beginning of 70 Jerusalem was split between three factions, two based on the Zealot movement and the other led by Simon bar Giora. Left alone by the Romans, these leaders had taken to fighting amongst themselves as each struggled for power. After considerable bloodshed, the rift in the Zealot movement was repaired and John of Gischala – a man who had been Josephus’ bitter rival for control of Galilee – was acknowledged as its leader. Hostility between the Zealots and Simon’s men continued unabated, involving heavy loss of life to the general population and much destruction of food stores whose want would be greatly felt in later months. Only the arrival of the Romans outside the city finally brought a grudging and mistrustful union against the common enemy.
TITUS AND HIS ARMY
Until his father’s sudden elevation to supreme power, Titus’ career had been fairly conventional. He served as the senatorial tribune in a legion in Germany and Britain, perhaps at the time of Boudicca’s rebellion in AD 60–61. When Vespasian was given the Judaean command, he was appointed as legate of Legio XV Apollinaris, a unit which had seen a little service at the end of Corbulo’s campaign but lacked the experience of much of the rest of the army. At 27 Titus was younger than most legionary legates, and his selection reflected the long-established tradition of senators relying on family members to serve as their senior subordinates. In Armenia one of Corbulo’s legions had been commanded by his son-in-law Vinicianus, whilst Caesenius Paetus’ son was a tribune under his command. It was another example of a practice which was not altered by the creation of the principate, although it may only have been especially favoured commanders who were permitted to choose their own legates. The young Titus was a dashing figure, athletic and handsome – his face as round as his father’s but softer – and, in the familiar cliché, as skilled at riding and handling his personal weapons as he was at directing the troops under his command. He played a distinguished role in the Galilean and Judaean campaigns, leading successful assaults at Japha, Tarichaeae – where he led his cavalry through the waves of the Sea of Galilee to enter the town from its undefended side – and Gamala, and persuading Gischala to surrender or face a similar attack.11
Jerusalem was a far bigger and tougher proposition than any of these smaller communities, and for the task Titus took control of a field force larger than any that his father had ever concentrated in one place. It was based around four legions: V Macedonica, commanded by Sextus Vettulenus Cerealis; X Fretensis, led by Aulus Larcius Lepidus Sulpicianus; and XII Fulminata and XV Apollinaris, under the command of Marcus Tittius Frugi. Also present and given a prominent place in the general’s consilia was Tiberius Julius Alexander, an Alexandrian Jew who had abandoned the formal practice of his religion for a career in the imperial service. The identity of the commander of XII Fulminata is unknown. This was the first time that the legion was to see active service after the disastrous 66 campaign and its reputation remained poor, although Josephus claims that the soldiers were especially eager for revenge. A pair of inscriptions suggest that one of the unit’s senior centurions transferred into X Fretensis at a lower grade of the centurionate following the disaster. Such a demotion – whether forced or voluntary in order to disassociate himself from the stigma of defeat – has no parallel amongst our evidence for centurions’ careers.
All of the legions, most of all V, X, and XV, were under strength as a result of campaign casualties and attrition, and also from sending detachments with the army which had gone to Italy to defeat Vitellius. To compensate for this the army had been reinforced by a vexillation of 2,000 men from III Cyrenaica and XXII Deiotariana stationed in Egypt and further drafts from the Syrian army.12 The Egyptian contingent included few if any men with combat experience, but was to perform with conspicuous gallantry on at least one occasion. It was commanded by the prefect Fronto Haterius. Supporting the legions were eight alae of auxiliary cavalry and twenty cohorts of infantry, along with the forces sent by the local client kings, many of whose troops were trained and equipped on the model of the regular auxiliaries. Altogether, Titus may have had anything between 30,000 and 40,000 fighting troops under his command, along with great numbers of army slaves and camp followers.13
It was a formidable force, including a good proportion of seasoned soldiers, but the task it faced was an extremely difficult one, for Jerusalem was strongly protected by both natural and man-made fortifications. It lay upon two hills, the one to the east markedly lower than the other. In the Old Testament period the city had been confined to the lower hill, which was still enclosed with its own wall and included the Great Temple – known as the Second Temple (as opposed to the First, originally constructed by Solomon). The Second Temple had been rebuilt on a lavish scale by Herod the Great who left his mark on much of the city. He had added a large tower, topped by a turret at each corner, to the north-east corner of the Temple, naming it the Fortress of Antonia after his patron Mark Antony. Even without this reinforcement the Temple was itself virtually a fort, although work on some of its internal features was still in progress just before the outbreak of the rebellion against Nero. Later, under the Hasmoneans, the city expanded to cover the second, larger hill, a region which was subsequently surrounded to the north by another wall, usually known as the second wall (the first being around the Old Town). Herod’s palace and a number of other monuments, notably the three massive towers named after his family (an area today known as ‘the citadel’) were built in the New Town. In the first century AD Jerusalem continued to expand, with many dwellings being built outside the second wall, but it was not until 66 that a third, outer wall was constructed to defend this suburb. This was the weakest of the fortifications, for the older structures were works of exceptional scale and quality of materials and workmanship. To the east the lower hill was further defended by the Kidron valley, on the opposite side of which rose the Mount of Olives. An assault from this direction would have proved extremely difficult and was not, in fact, attempted.14
Our ancient sources do not provide any reliable figures for the size of the city’s population in AD 70 and the number of active defenders. Jerusalem was certainly an exceptionally large community by the standards of the Roman world, but a total of over 1,000,000 occupants according to Josephus or even some 600,000 according to Tacitus seems much too high. Josephus claims that Simon led a force of 10,000 of his own partisans and 5,000 Idumaean allies, whereas John had 8,400 Zealots under him. These well-armed and highly motivated men would bear the brunt of the fighting during the siege, but at various times their numbers would be swelled by many of the ordinary citizens. The Zealots controlled the Temple and much of the surrounding area, whilst Simon’s men held most of the New Town.15
THE PRELIMINARIES AND TAKING THE FIRST WALL, LATE APRIL–MAY 70
The Roman army approached in several columns, mostly from the west, apart from X Fretensis which had been garrisoning Jericho for much of the last year and advanced from that direction. Although it was unlikely that the Romans would encounter a major enemy force in the open field, the army did not advance in battle order, but still moved carefully and under the close control of Titus and his officers. The order of march of the main column was very similar to that adopted by Vespasian in AD 67. The vanguard consisted of auxiliaries and allied troops, most in close formation, but probably screened by cavalry pickets and parties of archers and light infantry tasked with exploring any potential ambush sights. Following close behind were the officers and men tasked with laying out and beginning construction of the night’s marching camp. Then came the officers’ baggage train, followed by Titus and his staff, guarded by his singulares – an élite bodyguard of infantry and cavalry picked out from the auxiliary units – and the 120 cavalrymen which each legion maintained. Next there was the artillery train required for the siege, and then the commanders of the auxiliary units each with a small escort. Presumably they were collected together rather than staying with their units so that it was easier for Titus to issue an order to them. Behind came the legions, each preceded by its eagle and other standards massed together and escorted by trumpeters, and followed by their baggage trains and slaves. Finally the rearguard was formed by the remainder of the auxiliary and allied troops.16
As his forces closed in on the city, Titus rode ahead to reconnoitre, escorted by 600 cavalry, most probably his singulares. He was wearing neither helmet nor armour, for he did not plan to fight, simply to observe and to judge the mood and enthusiasm of the defenders. At first the appearance of the Roman patrol provoked no response from the city until, as they incautiously rode along parallel to the walls, a group of rebels launched a sudden sally. For a moment the Roman general was cut off with a small group of followers – the rest had fled believing that no one had been left behind – and was forced to lead a headlong charge to break out. Titus escaped unscathed, although two of his bodyguard were cut down as they tried to get away. Personal reconnaissance provided a commander with useful information, but was seldom without risks, as Marcellus’ death had shown centuries before.17
On the following day the three legions, approaching along essentially the same route followed four years earlier by Cestius Gallus, reached Mount Scopus, a height about a mile to the north of Jerusalem and overlooking the city. XII Fulminata and XV Apollinarispitched camp together on this high ground, with V Macedonica a few hundred yards away and slightly to the rear. Presumably the auxiliaries and allied troops were distributed amongst these camps. As arranged X Fretensis also arrived on the far side of the city and began to construct a camp on the Mount of Olives, the soldiers dispersing into work parties. Deciding to unite against the common enemy, the Jews launched a combined attack out of the eastern wall of the city, swarming across the Kidron Valley and attacking the isolated legion. The suddenness and enthusiasm of the attack surprised the legionaries, who seem complacently to have assumed that the rebels were not capable of serious aggression. Many panicked and fled, and their officers struggled to form any sort of coherent fighting line as the rebels drove uphill and captured the Roman campsite. The ease with which they had taken such a naturally strong position testifies to the Romans’ lack of precautions. Titus and his singulares rode to the spot, but it would take time before more reinforcements could march to join the fighting.
Rallying some of the fleeing soldiers and getting them to form up and re-engage the enemy, Titus then supported their advance by charging against the rebels’ flank with his cavalry. Throughout the rebellion the Jewish partisans, who never mustered cavalry in any significant numbers, proved especially vulnerable to the fast-moving and disciplined Roman horsemen. As the Roman counter-attack gathered momentum the Jews were driven back down the way they had come. Having crossed over the Kidron stream they managed to halt on the far bank and bring their pursuers to a halt. For a while the fighting seems to have petered out into sporadic exchanges of missiles and halfhearted charges. By noon Titus decided that the threat was over and ordered much of the legion to return to the task of building the camp, establishing a covering force of auxiliary cohorts and other men brought up as reinforcements. The rebels had a man on the walls watching the Romans who signalled this partial withdrawal by waving a cloak. This prompted a new attack by a fresh band of rebels who poured out of one of the gates and
sprang forth with such impetuosity that their rush was comparable to that of the most savage of beasts. In fact not one of the opposing line awaited their charge, but, as if struck [by the missile] from an engine, they broke their ranks and turned and fled up the mountain side, leaving Titus, with a few followers, half way up the slope.18
Galloping around the hillside, the Roman commander led whatever men he could find in a series of desperate charges, fighting hand-to-hand at their head. After a while, parts of the legion broke off work to join the fight and these were joined by some of the rallying troops. After a while Titus was able to halt the enemy attack and put together his screening force once more, permitting the legionaries to return and complete the camp.19
In the following days a party of soldiers were lured forward to within missile range of the walls by a group of rebels pretending to surrender, and suffered heavily before they escaped. Titus made an angry speech to the survivors, condemning their indiscipline in running forward without orders. The young commander announced that he intended to execute them in accordance with the strictest traditions of military discipline. Hearing this a great crowd of the condemned soldiers’ comrades clustered around him begging him to forgive the men and declaring that they would make sure that there was no repeat of this misadventure. It was a piece of theatre similar to some of Julius Caesar’s confrontations with his troops and typical of the way that Roman senators often interacted with a mass of soldiers much as they handled a crowd in the Forum. Titus yielded to their entreaties, realizing anyway that it was not practical to execute so many men at once and also guessing that the importance of his point concerning the need for strict obedience had been well made.
At around this time he ordered the three legions to move from Mount Scopus and camp nearer the city on its western side. Since the rebels had shown their willingness to attack any detachment which appeared vulnerable, the Romans deployed facing the city to cover the movement of the baggage and camp followers. Titus formed his infantry in three ranks, backed by a fourth rank of foot archers and closely supported by three ranks of cavalry. Once again the three legions were divided between two camps, Titus himself with XII Fulminata and XV Apollinaris taking position within a quarter of a mile of the walls, whilst V Macedonica was a little further to the south, facing the tower of Hippicus, one of the trio of massive turrets built originally by Herod.20
Before launching the assault on the third, or outer wall, Titus again rode out with his cavalry bodyguard to examine the fortifications and select the most suitable spot for breaching the wall. The easiest approach proved to be near the tomb of a high priest, the location of which is not precisely known, although it appears to have been not far from the modern-day Jaffa Gate. Orders were issued for the legionaries to clear all the ground outside the walls in preparation for the siegeworks and to begin collecting the timber which would be needed in their construction. The defenders attempted to harass the workers with missiles fired from scorpions and larger ballistae which they had captured in the fortresses of the city or during the defeat of Cestius Gallus in AD 66. Instructed by Roman deserters, their shooting was at first wildly inaccurate, but would steadily improve as the siege went on. The legions used their own artillery – one late source claims that each unit had sixty scorpions and ten larger stone-throwing ballistae, but it is probable that the numbers varied considerably depending on the nature of the operation – in an effort to suppress the defenders on the wall. This was the main role of artillery during a siege, the attacker trying to make it impossible for defenders to remain in positions from which they could impede the siegeworks and the defender trying to do just that. Fortifications on the scale of the walls and towers at Jerusalem could not be breached by the missiles of ancient artillery.
Although the Romans suffered casualties during this exchange of bolts and stones shot from the engines, in the end this was insufficient to slow the progress of the work parties significantly. The greater numbers and size of their machines – those of X Fretensiswere especially renowned – and the quality of their crews allowed them to win the artillery duel, although this encounter was by no means one-sided. Josephus tells us that at the beginning the lightly coloured catapult stones – which may well have been quarried and carved on the spot – were easy for the defenders to see in flight. Sentries on the wall would yell out ‘Baby on the way!’ in time for most of the defenders to duck or take cover. Learning this, the Romans began to paint their ammunition a much darker shade, making it far less visible and greatly increasing the casualties caused. The force of such projectiles was truly appalling. Josephus recalled seeing a man’s head flung a quarter of a mile away from his body by the impact of a catapult stone during the siege of Jotapata. Even more gruesomely, he describes a missile which hit a pregnant woman, instantly killing her and flinging out her unborn child.21
Since the walls could not be broken by artillery, the principal method of creating a breach was to employ a massive battering ram, the iron head usually shaped like that of the animal after which it was named. The bulk of the Romans’ efforts had been to construct three ramps allowing these engines to approach the wall. Calculating the distance to the wall by throwing a plumb line – the only method which allowed the engineers to avoid exposing themselves to enemy missiles – to confirm that the ramps were ready, the legions brought up these massive machines. Titus had ordered the construction of artillery positions to cover the ramps and prevent the defenders from hindering the work of the rams. At Jotapata one giant of a Galilean had hurled a boulder down to snap the iron head off a ram. On another occasion the defenders lowered straw-filled sacks to cushion the blows and reduce the force of the battering. Roman convention dictated that until the first blow of the ram struck the wall of a city its occupants could still surrender and hope for reasonable terms. Josephus tells us that a great moan went up from the people of Jerusalem when the noise of the first strike echoed across through the streets. Another uneasy truce developed between Simon and John, the former permitting the Zealots to pass through the sectors held by his men in order to reach the threatened section of wall. From the rampart they began hurling down incendiary missiles or shooting at any Roman who was visible. A few groups sallied out from the walls to set torches to the rams and siegeworks. In spite of the boldness of the attacks, each one was beaten off by a combination of archers and artillery backed by cavalry charges sent in by Titus who directed the battle.22
Although the Romans had successfully defended their works, the rams initially made little impression on the wall, apart from the one operated by XV Apollinaris which managed to weaken the corner of a tower. As the day wore on many of the Roman units were allowed to return to camp, for it seemed that the main threat had been repulsed. Yet once again they had underestimated the determination of their opponents, who launched a second attack, this time from a concealed doorway near the Hippicus tower. It was on this occasion that the stubborn resistance of the vexillations from the Egyptian legions won fame by stopping an advance which seemed on the very brink of success. This time Titus himself led his cavalry in a charge against the rebels, allegedly killing twelve of them himself. A single prisoner was taken in the fighting and the Roman commander ordered him to be crucified within sight of the walls as a warning of the fate awaiting those who fought against Rome. Yet the very fervour of the rebel sallies had surprised the besiegers and created an air of nervousness. When one of the siege towers fell down during the night there was widespread panic until officers were sent around to explain the cause of the confusion. There were three of these towers, one for each of the ramps, and their purpose was to provide a platform from which archers and scorpions could shoot down on to any defenders on the wall’s parapet. Gradually the defenders were losing the ability to fight from their own fortifications just as the battering began to take effect, as one of the rams at last opened a breach. Most of the rebels decided that the position was hopeless and pulled back to the second wall. When the Roman storming party climbed the breach, the few remaining men fled. The outer wall of the city had fallen after fifteen days of the siege. Titus ordered most of the wall to be demolished, along with many of the buildings, gardens and other structures in this section of the city. The legions – with the exception of X Fretensis which remained on the Mount of Olives – advanced to camp in the area levelled in this way.23
THE SECOND WALL
Although the defenders had abandoned the third wall, their defence of the second line was as determined and aggressive as any of the earlier fighting. Continual raids were made against the Roman soldiers labouring to prepare for the assault, resulting in many fierce skirmishes. Josephus tells us that the rebels were still confident of their ability to defend the city and eager to win favour from their leaders. By contrast, for the Romans
the incentives to valour were the habit of victory and inexperience of defeat, their continuous campaigns and perpetual training, the magnitude of their empire, and above all Titus, ever and everywhere present beside them all. For cowardice when Caesar was with them and sharing the contest seemed monstrous, while the man who fought bravely had as a witness of his valour one who would also reward it.24
During this period a horseman from one of the auxiliary alae made a lone charge into a dense block of the enemy formed up outside the walls, killing three before galloping unscathed back to his own comrades. There was a long tradition in the Roman army, stretching back at least to Polybius’ day, of rewarding such acts of bravado. In this case Titus praised the man, a certain Longinus – the name was a common one, especially amongst auxiliaries – but also warned his men not to be too reckless in their bids for honour.
The Romans found the approach to the second wall easier than the first, and within five days a battering ram had created a breach in one of the towers. Titus took his singulares and 1,000 legionaries into the city, and at first encountered little opposition. However, he neglected to order work parties to widen the breach – Josephus claims that this was because he hoped that Jerusalem would still surrender and wished to avoid unnecessary destruction, but this seems unlikely – and the storming party soon had difficulty making its way through the maze of narrow streets. The rebels launched a counter-attack, their numbers and local knowledge giving them a marked advantage. The Romans suffered heavily and were soon forced to retreat, but the narrowness of the breach made it difficult for them to exit quickly, or for reinforcements to come to their aid. A desperate rearguard action developed as Titus and a force of auxiliary archers kept the rebels back to cover the retreat of the rest. On this occasion the Roman commander is supposed to have demonstrated as much skill with the bow as he had earlier shown with spear and sword, shooting down twelve men with as many arrows.25
Encouraged by the repulse of the enemy, the defenders held the wall with renewed determination for three more days, until a second Roman assault proved successful on the fourth day. This time the legions were ordered to demolish most of the walls and buildings in that quarter to allow themselves more room for movement. The reverse had proved temporary, but it is notable that several days had to pass before the Romans felt ready for a second attack. Assaulting an enemy-held fortification placed very heavy demands on the courage of the soldiers taking part, probably heavier than those during a battle. In an effort to give his soldiers more time to recover and to cheer them up, Titus ordered a suspension of the main work of the siege whilst the army held a formal parade to receive its pay. The army was normally paid three times a year, on the first day of January, May and September. Since the parade at Jerusalem took place early in June, this would mean that the pay was overdue by at least a month.
It was an affair of great ceremony, the units parading in turn over four days to receive the money they were due. A great deal of time and effort was devoted to polishing armour and weapons as individuals and units vied to produce the best possible turnout. The result was a scene of great splendour as the serried ranks, their brightly painted shields for the first time unveiled from the protective leather covers, paraded within full view of the city. For the Romans themselves it was a reminder of their pride in themselves and their units, and also of the tangible rewards of military service. To the rebels it was a display of the might and overwhelming power of the Roman army. Although it did not prompt sudden surrender, this return to the formal routine and ritual of peacetime soldiering helped to prepare the troops for the even greater tasks ahead of them.26
ANTONIA AND THE TEMPLE
The next phase of the siege involved the construction of assault ramps against the Fortress of Antonia and a stretch of the first wall. V Macedonica worked to construct the first ramp against Antonia, whilst XII Fulminata built another some 30 feet away. X Fretensisand XV Apollinaris constructed two more ramps about 45 feet apart against the wall, probably not too far from the modern Jaffa Gate. (It is possible that each pair of legions was in fact labouring on either side of a single ramp, but this theory cannot be proved and it does not affect the basic narrative of the siege if there were in fact two ramps instead of four.)27 The height of the walls, and especially of Antonia, combined with the growing accuracy of the rebels’ artillery, made the labour on these projects extremely difficult. In addition the defenders mounted frequent sallies so that large numbers of troops were required to remain under arms to protect the siegeworks. In spite of this the Romans persevered and completed the ramps after seventeen days of heavy labour. The need for timber in the construction work had already meant that the hills for several miles around were stripped bare of trees.
The great sense of achievement at the completion of these works was rudely shattered when the ramps were destroyed before the rams had been moved into position. As the Romans had toiled in their construction, John of Gischala’s men had been tunnelling out from Antonia beneath the ramps nearest to it. The roof of the mine was supported by timber props which were coated in bitumen and piled around with combustible material. Finally these were set on fire, the blaze consuming the timbers and causing the mine to collapse, bringing the Roman works down with them. What was not immediately shattered was burnt in the fire which spread rapidly amongst the dry timbers of the ramps. Two days later Simon equalled his rival’s success when his men sallied out and set fire to the ramps facing their section of the first wall. The Romans were thrown into such confusion by this attack that the rebels came close to storming part of the camp and were only repulsed by the picket stationed in front of the rampart, its members oath-bound not to abandon their position. Titus, who had been at Antonia inspecting the damage there, then arrived at the head of his singulares and charged the enemy in the flank. Once again the Jewish infantry proved vulnerable to well-handled cavalry and they suffered heavy losses as they were driven back into the city. This did little to diminish the scale of their victory in destroying the product of so much labour by the enemy.28
Morale amongst the besiegers dropped alarmingly following these setbacks. Dio tells us that some soldiers so despaired of ever taking the city that they deserted to join the rebels inside. Titus summoned his senior officers to a consilium in order to discuss the problem. Some argued for an immediate all-out attack using the entire army in the hope of overwhelming the defenders and storming the city, but this risked a costly failure which would quite probably irrevocably shatter the men’s spirit. Others suggested that it was better to surround Jerusalem with a wall and simply starve it into submission, although this would inevitably take a long time and was scarcely the sort of dramatic victory Titus’ father needed to cement his hold on power. Titus sided with the more moderate opinion, deciding that they should continue the assault and begin new ramps even though this would require quantities of timber which might prove difficult to find and could certainly not be quickly replaced if destroyed by the enemy.
Before the army resumed this work, however, he ordered the construction of a line of circumvallation all round the city. Each legion and sub-unit in the army was given a stretch of rampart to construct, probably from dry stone much like the smaller circuit still visible at Masada. This was a normal Roman method of undertaking any major project, employed for instance in the building of Hadrian’s Wall where many inscriptions have been found recording the completion of a set distance of wall by a specific century of a legion. Division of labour in this way made practical administrative sense, but it was also intended to exploit the soldiers’ pride in their own units as they competed to finish their allotment before everyone else. Titus continually visited the work parties, encouraging the troops to believe that their commander noticed everything that they did and would reward ability as swiftly as he punished sloth. In three days a line some 5 miles long and including fifteen forts was built completely enclosing the city. Each night Titus himself went on a tour of inspection, visiting the sentries and outposts all the way around the wall. In the second watch Tiberius Alexander undertook this task, and in the third one of the legionary legates was selected by lot for the same duty.29
Titus had given his men a task which, although involving considerable effort, could be and was completed swiftly. The satisfaction felt at its completion helped to renew their spirits. To the defenders the Romans’ wall sent a clear message that there could be no escape and made it much more dangerous for small groups to leave the city in the hope of finding food. Food supplies were by now running very short in Jerusalem, especially for the ordinary population who were unable to prevent the partisans from seizing anything they could find. Yet any attempt to leave the city and surrender to the Romans risked immediate execution. Nor was it always safe to enter the Roman camp. At one stage during the siege some civilians who had given themselves up were observed picking gold coins out of their own faeces, having swallowed these to prevent their confiscation by soldiers on either side. The rumour spread that deserters were full of gold, leading to a gruesome massacre as camp followers, auxiliaries and some legionaries pounced on any prisoners they could find and slit their stomachs open in search of wealth. Horrified, not least because such atrocities would only deter others from defecting to the Roman camp in the future, Titus harangued his troops and promised to execute anyone found responsible for this crime, although in fact the culprits were not discovered. Even so the dream of concealed gold led to more instances of such dreadful murders whenever no senior officer was in sight.30
After completing the line of circumvallation the Romans began to construct new ramps facing Antonia. Materials were in short supply, and men had to be sent as much as 11 miles away to find trees to fell. In twenty-one days the new assault ramps were ready, the work having been once again made difficult by the continued activity of the defenders. Yet when John led his men out to burn the completed works he found the Roman troops guarding the positions very determined and well supported by archers and scorpions. The raid was poorly organized and not pressed home. The rams were now brought up to batter the walls of Antonia, a barrage of artillery missiles being laid down on the ramparts in an effort to pin down the defenders. Some legionaries formed testudowith their shields making an overlapping roof above their heads and set to work trying to prise the stones out of the wall with crowbars. Little impression had been made after a day’s concerted effort, but overnight everything changed when Antonia, undermined by the earlier tunnels dug by John’s men, suddenly collapsed. A massive breach opened in the tower-fortress to the amazement of the Romans. The Zealots had suspected the danger and hastily built a new wall running behind it, to cut off the route which otherwise led straight into the Temple Court. Rubble from the collapse of the great tower had piled up against this, however, making it relatively easy to scale.31
The Roman troops displayed a surprising reluctance to assault this makeshift fortification, in spite of an encouraging speech from Titus promising rewards to the first men over the parapet. Only a dozen auxiliaries responded, led by a Syrian called Sabinus, whose thin frame and swarthy skin in no way conformed to the ideal image of the brave soldier. Calling out to the watching general, Sabinus led the charge up the slope, only to be killed along with three of his comrades. The remainder were all wounded, but brought back into the Roman lines. The rest of the troops had made no effort to follow the lead of these brave men. However, two nights later a group of twenty legionaries on outpost duty, joined by a standard-bearer (signifer), a trumpeter and a couple of auxiliary cavalrymen, on their own initiative climbed up to the enemy rampart. Killing or driving off the Jewish sentries, they had the musician sound his trumpet.
As far as we can tell this exploit had not been ordered by higher commanders, but was simply a bid by these soldiers to win fame and reward. Even so, Titus quickly discovered what had happened and formed up a body of troops to secure the foothold. Exploiting this success, he sent his men into the Temple Court where a furious combat developed as the rebels struggled to defend this most sacred of sites. In the darkness there was little that leaders could do to organize the fighting, but the combat raged for over half of the next day before the Romans were finally driven back. In the course of the fighting a Bithynian centurion named Julianus made a one-man charge across the Temple Court, driving back the enemy, but failing to persuade the Roman soldiers to follow him. In the end his hobnailed sandals – the caligae after which Caligula was nicknamed – slipped on the smooth flagstones and he was surrounded by a group of rebels and hacked to pieces. It seems more than likely that such tales of heroic death, so similar to stories Caesar told to soften the impact of his own reverses, were included in Titus’ own Commentaries which Josephus claims to have consulted.32
The next assault into the Temple was to be better prepared than the first, and the Roman general ordered the remains of Antonia to be levelled, creating a wide ramp up into the Court. Only a single turret was left as an observation post. The Roman general also sent Josephus to carry a message to John of Gischala, formally challenging him to come out and fight a battle. The gesture was in part intended to emphasize to the wider population of the city that they only suffered because of the actions of the radical leaders, but it may also have been intended to encourage his own troops by suggesting that the enemy were afraid to fight them fairly. Desertions, especially from amongst the aristocracy, were now occurring frequently, whenever these men could evade the guard set by the partisans.
A few days later Titus formed a special assault force which he placed under the command of the legate Cerialis. It consisted of temporary units of 1,000 men, commanded by a tribune and drawn from the bravest thirty legionaries in each century. In this way these men were marked out as special in the hope that their pride would make them fight all the harder to justify their selection. The attack was to go in at night, observed by Titus from the remaining turret of Antonia. Josephus claims that the young commander had had to be restrained by his officers from personally leading the storming party as he had done in earlier sieges. Certainly, every commander faced a difficult choice between remaining in the rear, where it would be difficult to see what was going on and still harder to do much to influence the fighting, or going forward and risking death or capture. At the first, ultimately unsuccessful assault on Gamala in AD 67, Vespasian had grown frustrated with not being able to direct the attack and had entered the town with hissingulares. When the Romans were routed by a rebel counter-attack, Vespasian was cut off and suffered a wound to the foot before he and his guards fought their way out. At Jerusalem Titus again emphasized to the soldiers that his main reason for staying behind was so that he could better observe their individual conduct.
The attack achieved initial surprise, but the defenders swiftly rallied and came in ever growing numbers to contest the wide Temple Court. Once again the night battle continued well into the following day without either side gaining any marked advantage. Most of the Court apart from a narrow corner was left in Jewish hands. Within seven days the road over the ruins of Antonia was complete, allowing the Romans to commit troops more easily in support of their attacks. With this task finished, work began on ramps to permit rams to be brought against the first wall, although the wood required for the task was now having to be brought from over twelve and half miles away. For a while there was a lull between major attacks, but still each day there were skirmishes and raids. Titus ordered the execution of a cavalryman from a group which had let their horses roam freely whilst they were out on a foraging expedition only to have them stolen by the enemy. Shortages within the city were now extreme as a result of the blockade, and John and Simon joined forces to launch an all-out attack on the camp of X Fretensis on the Mount of Olives, hoping to break the Romans’ line at this point. They were repulsed after a very hard fight and pursued back across the valley by the Roman cavalry. One auxiliary horseman, a member of the less well paid and prestigious cavalry troops forming part of certain predominantly infantry cohorts, galloped into the midst of the fleeing enemy and picked one up by the ankle. The four-horned saddle used by the Romans gave a rider a very secure seat, but even so this was a remarkable feat of strength as well as a display of contempt for the enemy. The man carried his prize to lay before Titus. The soldier was praised, his captive crucified within sight of the walls. At various times during the siege the Roman legionaries amused themselves by nailing victims to their crosses in a variety of grotesque postures.33
Bitter fighting continued in the Temple Court, both sides setting light to sections of the porticoes to make their own positions stronger against attacks. As before the defenders did their best to harass the men labouring on the siege ramps. During this period Josephus tells of a small man named Jonathan who challenged any Roman to meet him in single combat. A cavalryman – obviously on foot and an indication that horsemen were expected to play their part in a dismounted role in the dangerous operations of a siege – came forward and was killed after he slipped. Jonathan’s triumph proved short-lived, for he was promptly killed by an arrow shot by a Roman centurion named Priscus. The defenders had more success when they abandoned a section of portico which they had already prepared to set on fire, luring forward some impetuous legionaries into a trap where they must either perish in the flames or be killed or captured by the enemy. Some days later an attempt was made to capture the rest of the Temple by escalade. Ladders were set against one of the porticoes and the stormers climbed up on to the top, but were unable to make any headway. Near the front were several standard-bearers, who could do little to defend themselves whilst carrying these heavy burdens. After a vicious fight around these symbols of unit pride, all the Romans who had reached the top were killed and the standards captured. In subsequent days more of the outer porticoes were put to the torch by the Romans, but the sheer size and quality of the stonework prevented the rams from having much effect.34
According to Josephus, Titus then held a consilium in which he made it clear that he still hoped to avoid the destruction of the Temple. For the Jewish historian it was important that blame for this dreadful catastrophe should fall not on his hero, but on the shoulders of the radical rebel leaders. Fighting continued in what was left of the Temple Court, on one occasion Titus sending in his bodyguard cavalry to reinforce the infantry line when it looked about to break. On this occasion he was once again observing the combat from the vantage point of the ruins of Antonia. Gradually the Romans were taking more and more of the Temple until the rebels were forced back into the inner court. In further confused fighting they were driven from this and the most sacred heart of the Temple put to the torch. Whoever started the blaze, it soon raged out of control and many of the Roman soldiers were reluctant to do anything to quell it. Titus tried to organize fire-fighting parties, telling a centurion and some of his men to use force against any men who disobeyed, but failed to bring any semblance of order. The soldiers were keen to plunder the fabulous wealth rumoured to be found in this place, and as eager to destroy the most sacred site of an enemy who had fought them with such bitter determination. In the confusion of the final capture of the Temple most of the buildings were burnt to the ground and most of the civilians sheltering near by massacred. It was now late August.35
Later, when some order had returned, the Roman army celebrated more formally, by parading their standards in the Temple Court and offering a sacrifice. The Old Town was soon taken and given over to the sack. Josephus mentions that so much plunder was taken by the troops at Jerusalem that the value of gold fell by half throughout Syria when the men returned to their garrisons. Sometimes the looters encountered rebels engaged on the same task. One legionary cavalryman – each legion in this period included a small force of 120 horsemen – was captured, but escaped before he could be executed. In another rather theatrical performance Titus gave in to his soldiers’ entreaties not to have the man killed for being captured in the first place, but still made him suffer the humiliation of being dismissed from his legion. There were still minor setbacks, but the heart had gone out of the defenders with the fall of the Temple. John of Gischala and Simon bar Giora had attempted to begin negotiations, but their approach, so late in the siege, was rejected. Eighteen days were spent in constructing ramps against the walls of the upper city, but the rebels were now demoralized and suffering badly from lack of food so that resistance was feeble. Before the Roman storming party had even reached the top of the breach created by the rams, the defenders fled and dispersed. The siege of Jerusalem was at an end. John of Gischala surrendered and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Simon was kept to be the most important captive in Titus’ triumph. It was nearing the end of September.36
After the siege Titus held a formal parade to thank and reward his men.
A spacious tribunal having accordingly been constructed for him in the centre of his former camp, he here took his stand with his principal officers so as to be heard by the whole army. He expressed his deep gratitude to them for the loyalty which they had continuously shown him…
He accordingly forthwith gave orders to the appointed officers to read out the names of all who had performed any brilliant feat during the war. Calling up each by name he applauded them as they came forward, no less exultant over their exploits than if they were his own. He then placed crowns of gold upon their heads, presented them with golden neck-chains, little golden spears and standards made of silver, and promoted each man to a higher rank; he further assigned to them out of the spoils silver and gold and raiments and other booty in abundance. When all had been rewarded as he judged each to have deserved, after invoking blessings on the whole army he descended amidst many acclamations and proceeded to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving for his victory. A vast number of oxen being brought up beside the altars, he sacrificed them all and distributed them to the troops for a banquet.37
It was a ritual confirming the commander’s role as judge of his men’s behaviour, ending in three days of feasting. Afterwards Legio X Fretensis was to become the garrison of the captured city. XII Fulminata had evidently not fully atoned for its earlier defeats, for it was not permitted to return to its old base at Rhaphanaeae in Syria but was transferred to a far less comfortable position on the frontier between Cappadocia and Armenia. After various celebrations and ceremonies, Titus returned to Italy, dispelling fears of a return to civil war by immediately greeting his father most warmly on arrival. The emperor and his eldest son then celebrated a joint triumph over Judaea which culminated in the ritual strangulation of Simon bar Giora. Vespasian himself found the slow crawl of the procession extremely tiresome and was heard to mutter something about serving himself right for wanting to have such an honour at his age. Yet the new dynasty had gained the spectacular victory needed to justify its rule and took care to parade this achievement thoroughly. In the following years the Arch of Titus was built, which still bears reliefs depicting his triumph. This was part of a building programme including the Colosseum with which Vespasian provided employment for the Urban poor and helped to rebuild the centre of a Rome devastated by fire and Nero’s grandiose projects.38
Vespasian managed to restore stability to the Empire. His only serious fault was considered to be his avarice, but this may well have been due mainly to the need to restore a treasury drained by Nero’s excesses. He died in AD 79, his final words a joking reference to the convention by which emperors were almost always deified after their deaths – ‘I think I am becoming a god’. In his funeral procession the actor wearing his mask and symbols of office called out to the officials organizing the ceremony and asked how much it all cost. When they replied with an enormous figure, the actor offered them 1 per cent of the total and suggested that they just tip the body into the River Tiber instead.
During his father’s life Titus commanded the Praetorian Guard and undertook much of the emperor’s dirty work. It came as something of a surprise and relief when his rule proved to be benevolent and just. For the sake of propriety he gave up his long-time mistress, Queen Berenice, a descendant of Herod the Great, as well as the band of eunuchs and homosexuals who had normally attended his entertainments. Like his father, Titus became far more popular after he had become emperor than he had ever been before. Yet his reign proved short, and in AD 81 he too died in his fortieth year, to be succeeded by his far less popular and gifted younger brother Domitian.39