Bella, sublimis, inclyta divitiis,

Olim fuisti celsa aedificiis

Moenibus clara, sed magis innumerum

Civium turmis.

The events at Rome which elevated Vespasian to the throne were the principal reasons that the siege of Jerusalem was not actually commenced till the early summer of the year 70, when, in April. Titus began his march from Caesarea. His army consisted of four legions: the 5th, under Sextus Cerealis; the 10th, under Lartius Lepidus; the 12th, that which had suffered defeat under Cestius, and was still in disgrace, and the 15th. Besides this formidable force of regulars, he had a very large number of auxiliaries. The exact number of his troops is not easy to estimate. We may at once put aside, as clearly below the mark, the estimate which puts Titus’s army at thirty thousand; for if we agree in accepting Josephus’s statements with regard to Vespasian’s army in the year 67, it consisted of sixty thousand, including the auxiliaries. The campaign in Galilee cost him a few, but not many, killed in the sieges. We may deduct a small number, too, but not many, for garrison work, for the conquest of the country had been, after the usual Roman fashion, thorough and complete. Not only were the people defeated, but they were slaughtered. Not only was their spirit crushed, but their powers of making even the feeblest resistance were taken away from them; and all those who were yet desirous of carrying on the war, those of the fanatics who escaped the sword of Vespasian, had fled to Jerusalem to fall by the sword of Titus. A very small garrison would be required for Galilee and Samaria, and we may be very sure that the large army which was with Vespasian in 67 nearly all followed Titus in 70. The legions had been filled up, and new auxiliaries had arrived. Besides these, Josephus expressly says that the army of Vespasian, and therefore that of Titus, was accompanied by servants “in vast numbers, who, because they had been trained up in war with the rest, ought not to be distinguished from the fighting men; for, as they were in their masters’ service in times of peace, so did they undergo the like danger with them in time of war, insomuch that they were inferior to none either in skill or in strength, only they were subject to their masters.”


It is not easy to make any kind of estimate of the number of these servants. Perhaps, however, we shall be within the mark if we put down the whole number of forces under Titus’s command at something like eighty thousand — an army which was greatly superior in numbers to that of the besieged. It was also fully provided and equipped with military engines, provisions and material of all kinds. It marched, without meeting any enemy, from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where it arrived on the 11th of April.

The city, meanwhile, had been continuing those civil dissensions which hastened its ruin. John, Simon Bar Gioras, and Eleazar, each at the head of his own faction, made the streets run with blood. John, whose followers numbered six thousand, held the Lower, New, and Middle City; Simon, at the head of ten thousand Jews and five thousand Idumeans, had the strong post of the Upper City, with a portion of the third wall; Eleazar, with two thousand zealots, more fanatic than the rest, had barricaded himself within the Temple itself. There they admitted, it is true, unarmed worshippers, but kept out the rest. The stores of the Temple provided them with abundance of provisions, and while the rest of the soldiers were starving, those who were within the Temple walls t were well fed and in good case. This was, however, the only advantage which Eleazar possessed over the rest. Their position, cooped up in a narrow fortress — for such the Temple was — and exposed to a constant shower of darts, stones, and missiles of all sorts, from John’s men, was miserable enough. John and Simon fought with each other in the lower ground, the valley of the Tyropoeon, which lay between the Temple and Mount Zion. Here were stored up supplies of corn sufficient, it is said, for many years’ supply. But in the sallies which John and Simon made upon each other all the buildings in this part of the town were destroyed or set on fire, and all their corn burned; so that famine had actually begun before the commencement of the siege.

“And now,” to quote the words of the historian, “the people of the city were like a great body torn in pieces. The aged men and the women were in such distress by their internal calamities that they wished for the Romans, and earnestly hoped for an external war, in order to deliver them from their domestic miseries. The citizens themselves were under a terrible consternation and fear; nor had they any opportunity of taking counsel and of changing their conduct; nor were there any hopes of coming to an agreement with their enemies; nor could such as wished to do so flee away, for guards were set at all places, and the chiefs of the robbers agreed in killing those who were for peace with the Romans.”

Day and night, he goes on to tell us, the wretched inhabitants were harassed with the shouts of those who fought, and the lamentation of those who mourned, until through the overwhelming fear, every one for himself, relations ceased to care for each other, the living ceased to mourn for the dead, and those who were not among the defenders of the walls ceased to care for anything or to look for anything except for speedy destruction; and this even before the siege began.


And yet, with the city in this miserable and wretched condition, with the certain knowledge that the Romans were coming, the usual crowds of Jews and Idumeans flocked to the city to keep the feast of the Passover. Their profound faith was proof against every disaster. That the Temple should actually fall, actually be destroyed, seems never even to have entered into their heads; and there can be little doubt that the rude, rough, country people, coming to keep the Passover with their wives and children, were filled with a wild hope that the God of Joshua was about to work some signal deliverance for them. The population thus crowded into the city is estimated by Tacitus at six hundred thousand; by Josephus at more than double that number. There are reasons for believing the number at least as great as that stated by Tacitus. A register of the buried had been kept in the city, and the registrar of one gate, out of which the dead were thrown, gave Josephus a note of his numbers. The historian conversed with those who escaped. A list of the captives would be, no doubt, made — the Romans were not in the habit of doing things carelessly, even after a great victory — and they would be accessible to Josephus. So far as these go we ought to allow Josephus’s right to the consideration due to an eye-witness; and it seems to us absolutely unwarranted by any historical or other arguments, to put down, as has been done, the population of this city during the siege at sixty or seventy thousand. This was doubtless something like the ordinary population; but it was swelled tenfold and twentyfold by the crowds of those who came yearly to keep the feast. Again, the argument based by Mr. Fergusson on the area of the city fails for the simple reason that it is founded on wrong calculations as to the number of square yards. Moreover, it seems to assume the besieged to have been all comfortably lodged; it ignores altogether the estimate taken by Cestius; while, if the numbers adopted by Mr. Fergusson be correct, the horrors of the siege must have been grossly exaggerated, and the stories told by Josephus cannot be accepted; and, for a last objection, it appears to be assumed, what is manifestly incorrect, that every able-bodied man fought. For this vast mass of poor helpless people were like a brutum pecus; they took no part whatever in the fighting. Nothing is clearer than the statement made by Josephus of the fighting men. They were twenty-three thousand in all at the beginning: they did not invite help, and probably would not allow it, from the population within the walls. These, who very speedily found relief, in the thinning of death, for their first lack of accommodation, sat crouching and cowering in the houses, desperately hoping against hope, starving from the very commencement, beginning to die in heaps almost before the camp of the 10th Legion was pitched upon the Mount of Olives. The numbers given by Josephus may not be correct within a great many thousands; there is reason enough, however, to believe that, within limits very much narrower than some of his readers are disposed to believe, his numbers may be fairly depended on. After all, it matters little enough what the numbers really were; and even if we let them be what any one chooses to call them, there yet remains no doubt that the sufferings of the people were very cruel, and that, of all wretched and bloody sieges in the world’s history, few, if any, have been more wretched or more bloody than the siege of Jerusalem by Titus.


The people knew full well, of course, that the Romans were coming. Fear was upon all, and expectation of things great and terrible. As in all times of general excitement, signs were reported to have been seen in the heavens, and portents, which, however, might be read both ways, were observed. A star shaped like a sword, and a comet, stood over the city for a whole year. A great light had shone on the altar at the ninth hour of the night. A heifer, led up to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the Temple. The eastern gate of the inner court, so heavy that it required twenty men to move it, flew open of its own accord in the night. Chariots and troops of soldiers in armour were seen running about in the clouds, and surrounding cities. When the priests were one night busy in their sacred offices, they felt the earth quaking beneath them, and heard a cry, as of a great multitude, “Let us remove hence!” And always up and down the city wandered Jesus, the son of Ananus, crying, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” until the siege began in earnest, when he ceased; for being on the wall, he cried, “Woe, woe to the city again! and to the people, and to the holy House!” and then, as he added, “Woe, woe to myself also!” a stone from one of the engines smote him and he died.

April 11.

Titus posted the 10th Legion on the Mount of Olives, and the 12th and 15th on Mount Scopus, the 5th remaining some little distance behind. As the 10th were engaged in pitching their camp, the Jews, whose leaders had hastily patched up a kind of peace, suddenly sallied forth from the eastern gate, and marching across the valley of the Kedron, charged the Romans before they had time to form in battle. Titus himself brought a chosen body to their relief, and the Jews were, with great difficulty, driven back.

The next four days were spent in clearing the ground to the north of the city, the only part where an attack could be made. “They threw down the hedges and walls which the people had made about their gardens and groves of trees, and cut down the fruit-trees which lay between them and the wall of the city.”

The Jews, furious at sight of this destruction, made a sally, pretending at first to be outcasts from the city, and hiding their weapons until they were close upon the enemy. On this occasion the Romans were utterly routed, and fled, pursued by the Jews “as far as Helen’s monument.” It was a gleam of sunshine, and nearly the only gleam that fell to the lot of the besieged. Titus removed his camp to the north side of the city, and, leaving the 10th still on the Mount of Olives, placed the 5th on the west of the city, over against the towers of Hippicus and Pharsaelus, and the 12th and 15th on the north. A cordon of men, seven deep, was drawn round the north and west of the city. This must have taken some twenty-five thousand men to effect.

April 23.

On the morning of the Passover, John contrived — taking advantage of the permission freely granted to all who chose to enter the Temple unarmed — to send in his own men, choosing those whose features were not known to Eleazar’s followers, with concealed weapons. Directly they got into the Inner Temple, they made an attack on the men of the opposite faction. A good many were slaughtered, and the rest, finding it best to yield, made terms with their conquerors, Eleazar’s life being spared. There now remained only two factions in the city, Simon holding the strongest place — the Palace of Herod, which commanded the Upper Town — and John the Temple Fortress, without which the Lower Town could not be taken.


It was determined to begin the assault with the north-western part of the wall, that part of it where the valley turns in a north-westerly direction and leaves a level space between the wall and its own course. The engines used by the Romans were those always employed in the conduct of a siege — the ballistae, the towers, and the battering rams. Then banks were constructed, on each of which was a tower and a ram. In the construction of these last all the trees round Jerusalem were cut down. Nor have they ever been replanted, and a thousand years later on the siege of the city by the Crusaders, only inferior in horror to that of Titus, nearly miscarried for want of timber to construct the towers of assault.

As soon as the banks were sufficiently advanced the battering rams were mounted and the assault commenced. The Jews, terrified by the thunder of the rams against the city, annoyed, too, by the stones which came into the city from the ballistae, joined their forces and tried a sortie from a secret gate near Hippicus. Their object was to destroy the machines by fire; and in this they well-nigh succeeded, fighting with a desperation and courage which no Roman troops had ever before experienced. Titus himself was in the conflict; he killed twelve Jews with his own hands; but the Romans would have given way had it not been for the reinforcement of some Alexandrian troops who came up at the right moment and drove back the Jews.

On the fifteenth day of the siege the biggest battering ram, “Nikon,” the Conqueror, effected a breach in the outer wall. The Jews, panic-stricken, forgot their wonted courage and took refuge within the second wall. Titus became therefore master of Bezetha, in the New Town; forming about a third of the city.

As nothing is said about the population of this, which was probably only a suburb and never actually filled with people till the siege began, we may suppose that very early in the assault they hastened out of reach of the ballistae and arrows by fleeing to the inner city. And by this time a fortnight of the siege had passed away and already their numbers were grievously thinned by starvation.

Between the palace of Herod and the Temple area there stretched the second wall across the Tyropoeon valley, which was filled, before the faction fights of Simon and John, with houses of the lower sort of people. This was the most densely populated part of the city. The wall which defended it was not so strong as the rest of the fortifications, and in five days, including an unsuccessful attempt to storm the palace of Herod, a breach was effected and the Romans poured into the town, Titus at their head.

In hopes of detaching the people from the soldiers, Titus ordered that no houses should be destroyed, no property pillaged, and the lives of the people spared. It was an act of mercy which the fierce passions of the Jews interpreted as a sign of weakness, and renewing their contest, fighting hand to hand in the streets, from the houses, from the walls, they beat the Romans back, and recaptured their wall, filling the breach with their own bodies. The battle lasted for four days more when Titus, entering again, threw down the whole northern part of the wall and became master of the whole Lower Town.

Partly to give his troops rest, partly to exhibit his power before the Jews, Titus gave orders that the paying of the troops should be made the opportunity for a review of the whole army almost under the walls of the city, and in full view of the besieged. The pageant lasted four days, during which there was a grand march-past of the splendid Roman troops, with burnished armour and weapons, and in full uniform.

“So the soldiers, according to custom, opened the cases where their arms before lay covered, and marched with their breastplates on; as did the horsemen lead the horses in their fine trappings. . . . The whole of the old wall and the north side of the Temple were full of spectators, and one might see the houses full of such as looked at them; nor was there any part of the city which was not covered over with their multitudes; nay, a great consternation seized upon the hardiest of the Jews themselves, when they saw all the army in the same place, together with the success of their arms and the good order of the men.”


The Jews saw and trembled. But they did not submit. There could be no longer any hope. The multitude, pent up in limits too narrow for one-tenth of their number, daily obtained more room by death, for they died by thousands. The bodies were thrown out into the valleys, where they lay rotting, a loathsome mass. Roaming bands of soldiers went up and down the city looking for food. When they came upon a man who looked fat and well-fed they tortured him till he told the secret of his store: to be starving or to appear to be starving was the only safety: and “now,” says Josephus, “all hope of escaping was cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the market-places like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them. As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it; and those that were hearty and well, were deterred from doing it by the great multitude of those dead bodies, and by the uncertainty there was how soon they should die themselves; for many died as they were burying others, and many went to their coffins before that fatal hour was come! Nor was there any lamentation made under these calamities, nor were heard any mournful complaints; but the famine confounded all natural passions; for those who were just going to die, looked upon those that were gone to their rest before them with dry eyes and open mouths. A deep silence also, and a kind of deadly night, had seized upon the city; while yet the robbers were still more terrible than these miseries were themselves; for they brake open those houses which were no other than graves of dead bodies, and plundered them of what they had; and carrying off the coverings of their bodies, went out laughing, and tried the points of their swords on their dead bodies; and, in order to prove what mettle they were made of, they thrust some of those through that still lay alive upon the ground; but for those that entreated them to lend them their right hand, and their sword to despatch them, they were too proud to grant their requests, and left them to be consumed by the famine. Now every one of these died with their eyes fixed upon the Temple. Children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their very mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do as to their infants; and when those that were most dear were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives; and while they ate after this manner, yet were they not concealed in so doing; but the seditious everywhere came upon them immediately, and snatched away from them what they had gotten from others; for when they saw any house shut up, this was to them a signal that the people within had gotten some food; whereupon they broke open the doors, and ran in, and took pieces of what they were eating, almost up out of their very throats, and this by force: the old men, who held their food fast, were beaten; and if the women hid what they had within their hands, their hair was torn for so doing; nor was there any commiseration shown either to the aged or to infants, but they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels they had gotten, and shook them down upon the floor; but still were they more barbarously cruel to those that had prevented their coming in, and had actually swallowed down what they were going to seize upon, as if they had been unjustly defrauded of their right. They also invented terrible methods of torment to discover where any food was, and a man was forced to bear what it is terrible even to hear, in order to make him confess that he had but one loaf of bread, or that he might discover a handful of barley-meal that was concealed; this was done when these tormentors were not themselves hungry; for the thing had been less barbarous had necessity forced them to it; but it was done to keep their madness in exercise, and as making preparation of provisions for themselves for the following days.”

At night the miserable wretches would steal into the ravines, those valleys where the dead bodies of their children, their wives, and kin, were lying in putrefying masses, to gather roots which might serve for food. The lot of these was pitiable indeed. If they remained outside they were captured by the Romans, and crucified, sometimes five hundred in a morning, in full view of the battlements: if they went back laden with a few poor roots of the earth, they were robbed by the soldiers at the gate, and sent home again to their starving children, starving themselves, and unable to help them.

The cruelty of Titus, designed to terrify the Jews, only stimulated them to fresh courage. Why, indeed, should they surrender? Death was certain for all; it was better to die fighting, to kill one of the enemy at least, than to die amid the jeers of the triumphant soldiers. Besides, we must remember that they were defending their sacred mountain, their Temple, the place to which every Jew’s heart looked with pride and fondness, whither turned the eyes of those who died with a sort of sad reproach. Simon and John were united in this feeling alone — that it was the highest duty of a Jew to fight for his country. The portraits of these two commanders have been drawn by an enemy’s hand. We must remember that the prolonged resistance of the Jews was a standing reproof to Josephus, who had been defeated, captured, and taken into favour. No epithets, on his part, can be too strong to hurl at John and Simon. It is impossible now to know what were the real characters of these men, whether they were religious patriots, or whether they were filled with the basest and most selfish motives. One thing is quite certain and may be said of both: if John hated Simon much, he loved the city more. Neither, at the worst moment, hinted at a surrender of the town; neither tried to curry favour for himself by compassing the fall of his adversary.

And the Jews, though emaciated by hunger, reeling and fainting for weakness, were yet full of courage and resource. While Titus was spending seventeen days of arduous labour in getting ready his new banks against the Temple, the Jews were busy burrowing beneath his feet; and when the rams had been mounted and already were beginning to play, a subterranean rumbling was heard, and the works of weeks fell suddenly to the ground.


“The Romans had much ado to finish their banks after labouring hard for seventeen days continually. There were now four great banks raised, one of which was at the tower of Antonia; this was raised by the 5th Legion, over against the middle of that pool which was called Struthius. Another was cast up by the 12th Legion, at the distance of about twenty cubits from the other. But the labours of the 10th legion, which lay a great way off these, were on the north quarter, and at the pool called Amygdalon; as was that of the 15th legion, about thirty cubits from it, and at the high priest’s monument. And now, when the engines were brought, John had from within undermined the space that was over-against the tower of Antonia, as far as the banks themselves, and had supported the ground over the mine with beams laid across one another, whereby the Roman works stood upon an uncertain foundation. Then did he order such materials to be brought in as were daubed over with pitch and bitumen, and set them on fire; and as the cross beams that supported the banks were burning, the ditch yielded on the sudden, and the banks were shaken down, and fell into the ditch with a prodigious noise. Now at the first there arose a very thick smoke and dust, as the fire was choked with the fall of the bank; but as the suffocated materials were now gradually consumed, a flame brake out; on which sudden appearance of the flame a consternation fell upon the Romans, and the shrewdness of the contrivance discouraged them; and indeed, this accident coming upon them at a time when they thought they had already gained their point, cooled their hopes for the time to come. They also thought it would be to no purpose to take the pains to extinguish the fire, since, if it were extinguished, the banks were swallowed up already [and become useless] to them.”

The other banks against the west wall were not more fortunate. For Simon’s soldiers, with torches in their hands, rushed out suddenly when the engines were beginning to shake the walls. They seized the iron of the engines, which was red hot, and despite this held them till the wood was consumed. The Romans retreated: the guards, who would not desert their post, fell in numbers, and Titus found his whole army wavering under the attacks of a half-starved and haggard mob, whose courage arose from despair. And the engines had all been burned, the labour of three weeks gone. Titus held a council to decide what should next be done. It was resolved, on his own suggestion, that a wall of circumvallation should be raised round the city, and that a strict blockade, cutting off all communication with the country, should be established, until starvation should force a surrender.

The wall, which was probably little more than a breastwork, though strong and solid, was completed, together with thirteen external redoubts, in three days, every soldier giving his labour. No attempt seems to have been made by the Jews to prevent or hinder the work. Probably they were too weak to attempt any more sorties. A strict watch was set by the Romans — up to this time the blockade does not seem to have been complete — and no one was allowed to approach the wall. And now the last feeble resource of the Jews, the furtive gathering of roots under the city walls, was denied them; and the sufferings of the besieged became too great for any historian to relate. Titus himself, stoic though he was, and resolute to succeed in spite of any suffering, called God to witness, with tears in his eyes, that this was not his doing.


Even the obstinacy of the Jews gave way under these sufferings, and more than one attempt was made to introduce the Romans. Matthias opened a communication with the enemy. He was detected, and, with three sons, was executed. One Judas, the son of Judas, who was in command of a tower in the Upper City, concerted with ten of his men, and invited the Romans to come up and take the tower. Had Titus at once ordered a troop to mount, the Upper City might have been easily taken. But he had been too often deceived by feints, and hesitated. The plot was discovered, and Judas, with his ten fellows, was hurled over the ramparts at the feet of the Romans.

It was then that Josephus, whom of all men the besieged hated, was wounded in the head, but not seriously, by a stone. The Jews made a tremendous acclamation at seeing this, and sallied forth for a sortie, in the excess of their joy. Josephus, senseless, was taken up and conveyed away, but the next day reappeared and once more offered the clemency of Titus to those who would come out. The hatred which his countrymen bore to Josephus, as to an apostate, natural enough, shows remarkably the love of justice which in all times has distinguished the Jew. His father and mother were in the city. They were not, till late in the siege, interfered with in any way: and his father was set in prison at last, more, apparently, to vex his son than with any idea of doing him an injury.

The miserable state of the city drove hundreds to desert. They came down from the walls, or they made a pretended sortie and passed over to the Romans; but here a worse fate accompanied them, in spite of Josephus’s promises, for Josephus had not reckoned on the expectation that the Jews, famishing and mad for food, would, as proved the case, cause their own death by over-eating at first. And a more terrible danger awaited them. It was rumoured about that the deserters swallowed their gold before leaving the city, and the auxiliaries in the Roman camp, Arabians and Syrians, seized the suppliants, and fairly cut them open to find the gold. And though Titus was incensed when he heard of it, and prohibited it strictly, he could not wholly stop the practice, and the knowledge of this cruelty getting into the city stopped many who would otherwise have escaped: they remained to die. One of those who kept the register of burials and paid the bearers of the dead, told Josephus that out of his gate alone 115,880 bodies had been thrown since the siege began, and many citizens, whose word could be depended on, estimated the number who had died at 600,000.

Banks, meanwhile, were gradually rising against the fortress of Antonia. The Romans had swept the country clear of trees for ninety furlongs round to find timber for their construction: they took twenty-one days to complete, and were four in number. The besieged no longer made the same resistance. Their courage, says Josephus, was no longer Jewish, “for they failed in what is peculiar to our nation, in boldness, violence of assault, and running upon the enemy all together . . . but they now went out in a more languid manner than before . . . and they reproached one another for cowardice, and so retired without doing anything.” The attacks of the enemy were, however, courageously defended. For a whole day the Romans endeavoured with rams to shake the wall, and with crows and picks to undermine its foundations. Darkness made them withdraw, and during the night the wall, which had been grievously shaken, fell of its own accord.

But even this calamity had been foreseen by the defenders, and, to the astonishment and even dismay of Titus, a new wall was found built up behind the old, and the Jews upon it, ready to defend it with their old spirit. Titus exhorted his soldiers, who were getting dejected at the renewal of the enemy’s obstinacy, and offered the highest rewards to him who would first mount the wall. His exhortation, like the rest of the speeches in Josephus, is written after the grand historic style, and embodies all those sentiments which a general ought to feel under the circumstances, together with a verbosity and length quite sufficient to deprive it of all hortatory effect.


One Sabinus, with only eleven others, made the attempt. He alone reached the top of the wall, and after a gallant fight was killed by the Jews. His followers were also either killed or wounded. Two days afterwards “twelve of the men who were in the front,” to give the story in Josephus’s own words, “got together, and calling to them the standard-bearer of the fifth legion and two others of a troop of horse, and one trumpeter, went out noiselessly about the ninth hour of the night through the ruins to the tower of Antonia. They found the guards of the place asleep, cut their throats, got possession of the wall, and ordered the trumpeter to sound his trumpet. Upon this the rest of the guard got up suddenly and ran away before anybody could see how many they were who had got into the tower.” Titus heard the signal and came to the place. The Jews, in their haste to escape, fell themselves into the mine which John had dug under the banks; they rallied again, however, at the entrance of the Temple, and the most determined fight, in a narrow and confined space, took place there. The Temple was not to fall quite yet, and after a whole day’s battle the Romans had to fall back, masters, however, of Antonia.

July 17.

But on that very day the daily sacrifice failed for the first time, and with it the spirit of the starving besieged.

The end, now, was not far off. In seven days nearly the whole of Antonia, excepting the south-east tower, was pulled down and a broad way opened for the Roman army to march to the attack of the Temple. Cloisters, as we have seen, united the fortress with the Temple, and along these either on the flat roofs or along the galleries.

And now many of the priests and higher classes deserted the falling city and threw themselves upon the clemency of Titus. They were received with kindness and sent to Gophna. John’s last resource was to pretend they had all been murdered, and Titus was obliged to parade them before the walls to satisfy the suspicions thus raised.

An attempt was made to take the Temple by a night attack. This, however, failed, and Titus foresaw the necessity of raising new banks. Fighting went on daily in the cloisters, until the Jews set fire to them, and occasional sorties were made by the besieged in hopes to catch the enemy at unguarded moments.

The banks were finished on the 1st of August. Titus ordered that they should be brought and set over against the western wall of the inner Temple. For six days the battering rams played against the masonry of the inner Temple, for by this time the beautiful cloisters which surrounded it, and ran from east to west, were all destroyed, and the inner Temple, a fortress in itself, stood naked and alone, the last refuge of John and his men. Had they yielded this at least would have been spared. But it was not to be. With a pertinacity which had no longer any hope in it the obstinate zealots held out. On the north side the Romans undermined the gate, but could not bring it down; they brought ladders and endeavoured to tunnel the wall. The Jews allowed them to mount, and then killed every one and captured their ensigns. And thus it was that Titus, fearing perhaps that the spirit of his own troops would give way, ordered the northern gate to be set on fire. This was done, and the cloisters, not those of the outer court, but of the inner, were soon destroyed. But Titus resolved still to save the Holy of Holies.

Aug. 9.

It was the day on which Nebuchadnezzar had burned the Temple of Solomon. The Jews made another sortie, their last but one. They could affect nothing, and retired after five hours’ fighting into their stronghold, the desecrated Temple, on whose altar no more sacrifices were now made, or ever would be made again.


Titus retired to Antonia, resolving to take the place the next day; but the Jews would not wait so long. They made a last sortie, which was ineffectual. “The Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the holy House itself. At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched somewhat out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the holy House, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward the Jews made a great clamour, such as so mighty an affliction required, and ran together to prevent it; and now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered anything to restrain their force, since that holy House was perishing, for whose sake it was that they kept such a guard about it.”

Titus, with all his staff, hastened to save what he could. He exhorted the soldiers to spare the building. He stood in the Holy of Holies itself, and beat back the soldiers who were pressing to the work of destruction. But in vain: one of the soldiers threw a torch upon the gateway of the sanctuary, and in a moment the fate of the building was sealed. And while the flames mounted higher the carnage of the poor wretches within went on. None was spared; ten thousand were killed that were found there — children, old men, priests and profane persons, all alike; six thousand fled to the roof of the royal cloister, that glorious building which crowned the Temple wall to the south, stretching from “Robinson’s Arch” to the valley of the Kedron. The Romans fired that too, and the whole of the multitude perished together.

“One would have thought that the hill itself, on which the Temple stood, was seething hot, full of fire in every part; that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire; and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them, for the ground nowhere appeared visible for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of these bodies as they ran from such as fled from them.”

The really guilty among the Jews, the fighting men, had cut their way through the Romans and fled to the upper city. A few priests either hid themselves in secret chambers or crouched upon the top of the wall. On the fifth day they surrendered, being starving. Titus ordered them to execution.

And so the Temple of Herod fell.

The Roman army flocked into the ruins of the Temple which it had cost them so many lives to take; sacrifices were offered, and Titus was saluted as Imperator. An immense spoil was found there, not only from the sacred vessels of gold, but from the treasury, in which vast sums had been accumulated. The upper town, Zion, still held out. Titus demanded a parley. Standing on that bridge, the ruined stones of which were found by Captain Warren lying eighty feet below the surface of the ground, he for the last time offered terms to the insurgents. He explained that they could no longer entertain any hope, even the slightest, of safety, and renewed his offers of clemency to those who should yield.


But the offers of Titus were supposed to be the effect of weakness. Again the insurgents, now indeed possessed with a divine madness, declined them. They demanded that they might be allowed to march out with all their arms, and what would now be called the honours of war. This proposition from a handful of starved soldiers surrounded by the ruins of all that they held dear, with a triumphant army on all sides, was too monstrous to be accepted even by the most clement of conquerors, and Titus resolved with reluctance on the destruction of the whole people. The royal family of Adiabene, descendants of Queen Helena, had not left Jerusalem during the siege; on the contrary, they had lent every aid in their power to the Jews. Now, however, seeing that no hope was to be got from any but Titus, they went over in a body to the Romans and prayed for mercy. Out of consideration for their royal blood this was granted. But the Jews revenged the fainthearted conduct of these royal proselytes by an incursion into the lower New Town (on the Hill of Ophel), burning their palace and sacking the rest of the town. The last part of the siege, which Mr. Lewin finely calls the fifth act of a bloody tragedy, was commenced by the usual methods of raising banks, all attempts to carry the Upper City by assault being hopeless. These were raised over against the Palace of Herod on the west, and at a point probably opposite Robinson’s Arch in the east. And now, at the last moment, no longer sustained by any hopes of miraculous interference, — for if their God had allowed his Temple to fall, why should he be expected to spare the citadel? — the Jews lost all courage and began to desert in vast numbers. The Idumeans, finding that Simon and John remained firm in their resolution of defence to the last, sent five of their chiefs to open negotiations on their own account. Simon and John discovered the plot; the five commissioners were executed; care was taken to entrust the walls to trusty guards, but thousands of the people managed to escape. The Romans began by slaying the fugitives, but, tired of slaughter, reserved them as prisoners to be sold for slaves. Those who were too old or too worn out by suffering to be of any use they sent away to wander about the mountains, and live or die. One priest obtained his life by giving up to Titus the sacred vessels of the Temple, and another by showing where the treasures were — the vestments of the priests, and the vast stores of spices which had been used for burning incense daily.

Sept. 8.

It took eighteen days to complete the siege-works. At last the banks were ready to receive the battering-rams, and these were placed in position. But little defence was made. Panic-stricken and cowering, the hapless Jews awaited the breach in the wall, and the incoming of the enemy. Simon and John, with what force they could collect, abandoned the towers, and rushed to attempt an escape over Titus’s wall of circumvallation at the south. It was hopeless. They were beaten back; the leaders hid themselves in the subterranean chambers with which Jerusalem was honeycombed, and the rest stood still to be killed. The Romans, pouring into the town, began by slaying all indiscriminately. Tiring of butchery they turned their thoughts to plunder; but the houses were filled with dead and putrefying corpses, so that they stood in horror at the sight, and went out without touching anything. “But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in this manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive; and they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the streets with dead bodies, and made the whole city run with blood to such a degree, indeed, that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with their men’s blood.”

And then they set fire to the houses, and all was over.


As for the prisoners who remained alive, they were destined to the usual fate of slaves. To fight as gladiators; to afford sport among the wild beasts in the theatres; and to work for life in the mines, was their miserable lot. Woe, indeed, to the conquered in those old wars, where defeat meant death, whose least cruel form was the stroke of the headsman, or, worse than death, life, whose least miserable portion was perpetual slavery in the mines. It would have been well had Josephus, after narrating the scenes which he tells so well, gone to visit these his miserable fellow-countrymen in slavery, and described for us, if he could, the wretchedness of their after-life, the unspeakable degradation and misery which the Jew, more than any other man, would feel, in his condition of slavery. Their history began with the slavery in Egypt: to these unfortunate captives it would seem as if it was to end with slavery in Egypt.

The Romans, knowing that Jerusalem had a sort of subterranean city of excavated chambers beneath it, proceeded to search for hiding insurgents and for hidden wealth. The chambers were, like the houses, often full of dead bodies. They found fugitives in some of them; these they put to death. In others they found treasure; in others they found corpses.

Simon and John were not among the prisoners, nor were they among the killed. John, several days after the capture of the city, came out voluntarily from his hiding-place, and gave himself up to Titus. He was reserved for the triumph. And then came the grand day of rejoicing for the conquerors. Titus made a long and laudatory oration to the army, adjudged promotions, coronets, necklaces, and other prizes of valour, and with lavish hand distributed the spoils among his soldiers. For three days the troops banqueted and rejoiced. Then Titus broke up his camp, and departed for Caesarea with the 5th and 15th Legions, leaving the 10th, under Terentius Rufus, to guard the city, and sending the 12th to the banks of the Euphrates.

It was not till October that Simon gave himself up. To prevent being killed at once, he emerged by night from his hiding-place dressed in a long white robe, so that the astonished soldiers took him for a ghost. “I am Simon, son of Gioras,” he cried. “Call hither your general.” Terentius received him as a prisoner, and sent him to Titus.

One of the most important things in the conduct of a triumph at Rome was the execution of the general of the vanquished army. Titus bad both generals to grace his procession. He assigned to Simon the post of honour. At the foot of the Capitoline Hill the intrepid Jew was led to the block, with a halter round his neck, and scourged cruelly. He met his death with the same undaunted courage as he had defended his city. John of Giscala remained a prisoner for life.


No historian, except perhaps Milman, whose sympathies are ever with the fallen cause, seems to us to have done justice, not only to the bravery and heroism of the Jews, but also to the heroism of their leaders. Their leaders have been described by an enemy and a rival — that Josephus, son of Matthias, who, after making an heroic resistance at Jotapata, obtained his life by pretending to be a prophet, and continued in favour with the conquerors by exhorting his fellow-countrymen to submission. That Simon and John were men stained with blood, violent, headstrong, we know well; but it does not seem to us that they were so bad and worthless as Josephus would have us to believe. After the siege fairly began they united their forces: we hear no more of the faction-fights. If their soldiers committed excesses and cruelties, they were chiefly for food; and everything was to give way to the preservation of the defenders. Moreover, discipline was not thought of among the Jews, whose notion of fighting was chiefly a blind and headlong rush. But we must again recall the religious side of the defence. To the Jew his Temple was more, far more, than Mecca can ever be to a Mohammedan. It had traditions far higher and more divine. The awful presence of Jehovah had filled the sanctuary as with a cloud. His angels had been seen on the sacred hill. There, for generation after generation, the sacrifice had been offered, the feast kept, the unsullied faith maintained. The Temple was a standing monument to remind them by whose aid they had escaped captivity; it taught them perpetually that freedom was the noblest thing a man can have; it was the glorious memorial of a glorious history; it was a reminder that theirs was a nation set apart from the rest of the world. To defend the Temple horn outrage and pollution was indeed the bounden duty of every Jew. And these Romans, what would they do with it? Had they not the keys of the treasury where the vestments of the priests were laid up? Had not one of their emperors ordered a statue of himself to be set up, an impious idol, in the very Holy of Holies?

A handful of men, they offered war to the mistress of the world. True, the insurgents were rude and unlettered, who knew nothing of Rome and her power. Even if they had known all that Rome could do, it would have mattered nothing, for they were fighting for the defence of all that made life sweet to them; and they were sustained by false prophets, poor brainstruck visionaries, who saw the things they wished to see, and foretold what they wished to happen. God might interfere; the mighty arm which had protected them of old might protect them again. The camp of the Romans might be destroyed like the camp of the Assyrians; and because these things might happen, it was a natural step, to an excited and imaginative people, to prophesy that they would happen. But when the time passed by, when none of these things came to pass, and the deluded multitude hoped that submission would bring safety at least, the tenacity of their leaders held them chained to a hopeless defence. Whether Simon and John fought on with a stronger faith, and still in hope that the arm of the Lord would be stretched out, or whether they fought on with the desperate courage of soldiers who preferred death by battle to death by execution, it is impossible now to say.

It has been suggested by Josephus, as well as by modern writers, that the courage of the Jews was shaken by predictions, omens, and rumours; but if there were predictions of disaster, there were also predictions of triumph. If Jesus, whom a few called Christ, had prophesied the coming fall of the city, there were others who had announced the fall of the enemy. Omens could be read either way. If a sword-shaped comet hung in the sky, who could deny that the sword impended over the heads of the Romans? And when the gate of the Temple flew open, did it not announce the opening of the gates for the triumph of the faithful? In that wild, unsettled time, when there was nothing certain, nothing stable, the very faith of the people would be intensified by these prophecies of disaster; their courage would be strengthened by the gloomy foretellers of defeat; and, as the Trojans fought none the worse because Cassandra was with them, so the Jews fought none the worse because voices were whispering among them about the prophecies of him whom some recognised as the Messiah.

Let us, at least, award them the meed of praise for a courage which has never been equalled. Let us acknowledge that, in all the history of the world, if there has been no siege more bloody and tragic, so there has been no city more fiercely contested, more obstinately defended; and though we may believe that the fall of Jerusalem had been distinctly prophesied by our Lord, we must not therefore look on the Jews as the blind and fated victims of prophecy. The city fell, not in order to fulfil prophecy, but because the Jews were, as they ever had been, a turbulent, self-willed race; because they were undisciplined, because they loved freedom above everything else in the world except their religion; and their religion was the ritual and the Temple.

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