Last Days of Jerusalem: From Josephus - Alfred J. Church

The Beginning of the Siege

Meanwhile the strife in the City waxed yet fiercer than before. For now Eleazar, the son of Simon, who had at the first separated the Zealots from the people, and taken possession of the Temple, began to stir himself. He made indeed as though he could not any longer endure the doings of John of Gischala, for John ceased not from shedding blood, but in sooth he was not content to be under the rule of another sect, but would have the dominion for himself. Therefore he revolted from John, and drew away not a few of the Zealots after him. With these he seized the Inner Court of the Temple. Of stores indeed they had sufficiency, for the Temple was well furnished with them; nor did they abstain from anything, as accounting it sacred. But because they were few in number they went not forth beyond the enclosure. As for John of Gischala, he was superior to Eleazar in the number of his men, but inferior in the advantage of his place; for he had the enemy above, and so could not attack them without peril, yet could not for wrath remain quiet. Wherefore though he suffered more damage than he caused to Eleazar and his fellows, yet he slackened not at all, but assailed them without ceasing; and the Temple was defiled daily with bloodshed.

As for Simon, the son of Gioras, who possessed the whole of the Upper City, and a great part of the Lower, he assailed John with the more fury, as knowing that he was being assailed by Eleazar also from above. But he was lower than John, as John was lower than Eleazar. As for John, he drove back them that assailed him from below with no great trouble, and them that were above he checked with his engines of war and artillery, for he had these in plenty, throwing stones and bullets and the like, with which he slew not the enemy only, but many also of them that came to do sacrifice in the Temple. And indeed, for all their madness and wickedness, the Zealots refused not entrance to such as would offer sacrifice, admitting the people of the land not without suspicion, but strangers freely. These then would often be slain in the midst of their sacrificing, for the stones from the artillery reached to the altar itself, so great was the force of them.

Now therefore there were three parties in the City striving with each other. And in this strife they destroyed, as though of set purpose, all that had been stored in the City for the enduring of a siege, and in other things also served the cause of the enemy. For all the space that was round about the Temple was wasted with fire, being made ready, as it were, for the ordering of an army therein; and all the wheat, excepting a little only, which had otherwise sufficed for many years, was destroyed.

And now began many, the old men especially and the women, to pray for the coming of the Romans, having indeed no other hope of deliverance. But as for escape, that was not possible to any, for all the ways were diligently guarded; and though the armed men strove with each other, yet they agreed in this, that they counted for enemies such as seemed to them to desire peace with the Romans, and slew them without mercy.

And now John of Gischala took of the consecrated timber that he might make thereof engines of war. For before this the priests and the people had thought to build the Temple higher by twenty cubits; and for this end King Agrippa had caused that there should be brought down from Mount Lebanon great beams, suitable for the work, doing this with great cost of money and with much labour. And these beams were of marvellous size and beauty; and John, seeing that they were of suitable length for his purpose, built of them great towers on the west side of the Temple, seeking thus to be on a level with them that assailed him from above.

By the help of these towers he hoped that he should prevail over his enemies; nor did he heed at all that the timber was consecrated. Yet did God show him that his labour was in vain; for before that any man set foot in the towers the Romans came upon the City. For by this time Titus had set out from Cęsarea; and part of his army he had with him, and to part he had given commandment that they should meet him at Jerusalem. Three legions he had under him with which his father Vespasian had laid waste the whole land of Judęa; he had the twelfth also, which legion had suffered defeat under Cestius, and having always been renowned for courage, was now the more eager to avenge itself upon the Jews. The fifth legion also was coming to meet him, marching by way of Emmaus, and the tenth by way of Jericho. Over and above these there were the auxiliaries of the kings, and many others from the province of Syria. And to fill the place of those whom Vespasian had chosen from the legions and sent on to Rome, there came two thousand men of the army of Alexandria and three thousand of the garrison that is on the river Euphrates. This was the army of Titus, and he had for chief counsellor, Tiberius Alexander, who aforetime had been Governor of Egypt.

This was the order of march with the army of Titus. First the auxiliaries from the kings; after these the pioneers; then the baggage of the captains with a guard; then Titus himself with his spearmen. After these the artillery; and after them the legions, marching six men abreast; then the slaves with the baggage; and last of all the mercenaries. And Titus pitched his camp in the Valley of Thorns, which is distant thirty furlongs from the City.

Then Titus took with him six hundred horsemen, and went forth to spy out the strength of the City. Also he had hopes that it might submit itself to him without a siege. For he had heard, as indeed was true, that the people were ill-disposed to the rebels, and would fain be at peace. And when he came near to the City by the way that slopes down to the walls, he saw no man, and the gates were shut. But when he approached the tower that is called Psephina, suddenly there burst forth from one of the gates a great multitude of men, and brake the array of the horsemen in twain, so that Titus with a few others was cut off from the rest. And indeed he could not go, forward, for the ground was broken with trenches, and divided with hedges and such like even up to the wall; and to go back was perilous, so great was the multitude of the enemy. Nor did the horsemen know how it was with him, but fled, thinking that he was with them. But he cried out to his companions that they should follow him, and drave right at the enemy to break through them. Then indeed might be seen the providence of God; for though javelins without number were cast at him, and he had neither helmet nor breastplate, for he had gone forth to spy and not to fight, yet did none wound him; but he let drive with his sword at them who stood near, and overthrew others with his horse. Then the Jews shouted aloud to see the courage of the man; and though they ceased not to encourage each other to assail him, yet for all that they gave place when he came near. And the other horsemen followed close behind him, seeing that thus only could they be saved. And in the end two only were taken and slain, but Titus and the others came back safe to his company. Nevertheless, the Jews were much lifted up in hope by this matter, and thought that it was a fair beginning of great good fortune to come.

That night came the fifth legion by way of Emmaus. And the next day Titus went to a certain place called Scopus (which is by interpretation the "Outlook "), from which the City and the Temple could easily be seen; and it lieth on the north side of the City. Here he pitched a camp for two legions at seven furlongs from the City; and another for the fifth legion three furlongs behind. After this came the tenth legion by way of Jericho; to this it was commanded that it should pitch its camp on a hill called the Mount of Olives. This is distant six furlongs from the City, being divided from it by a deep valley, which is called the Valley of Cedron.



But when the three captains from within saw what was done, that the Romans were preparing to pitch three camps against the City, they began to take counsel among themselves. "Why," they said, "do we suffer the enemy to build these great works and we sit still, and use not our arms, as though these things concerned us not? We are bold enough against each other; but from our strife the Romans will gain this advantage, that they will take the City without loss." Then joining their bands together, and making a great shout, they rushed out upon the tenth legion, the same that was making its camp upon the Mount of Olives. Now the soldiers were busy about the work of entrenching, and had for the most part laid aside their arms; for they thought not that the Jews would dare to sally forth upon them, being also, they supposed, too much at variance among themselves for any such enterprise. Being therefore surprised, some fled, and others seeking to take up their arms were slain. And all the while the number of the Jews waxed greater and greater; and the Romans being used to fight in set array, were much perplexed by the suddenness and confusion of this onslaught. Wherefore though they stood their ground for a while, they were at the last driven out of the camp; and they had been in great peril of perishing altogether, but that Titus, seeing in what strait they were, came with certain chosen men, and fell upon the Jews, slaying many of them and driving them back into the valley of Cedron. And indeed as they were driven down the further slope of the valley they suffered much damage; but being come to the nearer side they gathered themselves together, and stood their ground against the Romans, having the river-bed in their midst. After this Titus bade his men fall back to the upper part of the hill, that they might finish the fortifying of the camp. But when the Jews perceived that he sent his men back, they took this for fear; and when the watcher whom they had set upon the wall gave the signal—and this he did by shaking his cloak—they ran forward, with others newly come from the City, and that with such swiftness that they seemed like to wild beasts. Nor could the legion sustain their attack, but the ranks were broken as though by the stones that are cast by artillery. Then was Titus left standing with a very few others; and though these would fain have him give way, for "it was not the part of a general," they said, "to fight as though he were but a soldier," yet he hearkened not to them, but stood his ground against the Jews as they ran up the hill, smiting them in the face, and slaying many, and driving them down the slope. But when they that were fortifying the camp saw that their fellows on the lower part of the hill gave way, they also fled, and the whole legion was scattered. But after a while certain soldiers perceived that Titus yet stood in the midst of the battle, and being in great fear of what might befall him, made this thing known to the others. Wherefore for very shame's sake they stayed their flight, reproaching each other that they had deserted their captain, and rushed with all their might upon the Jews, and drave them down the hill into the valley. And the Jews gave place, but ceased not nevertheless to fight. Then again Titus sent back the legion to finish the fortifying of the camp; and keeping with him those whom he had with him at the first, kept back the enemy.

After a few days there arose fresh strife in the City. It was now the Feast of the Passover; and Eleazar, the son of Simon, and his companions, opened the gates of the Temple, that such of the people as would worship might go in. Then John of Gischala took certain of his own company, choosing such as were not known to the Zealots, and commanded that they should hide their swords under their garments, and so go into the Temple. And many of these men had not been duly purified. When, therefore, they had been admitted, they threw aside their cloaks, so that it could be seen that they were armed. Then the Zealots left guarding the gates and leapt down from the battlements, hiding themselves in the passages that are under the Temple. But the people, not knowing what was about to be done, were gathered together round about the altar; and many of these were wounded and slain, for if any of the armed men had a grudge against any he used the occasion to satisfy it. Thus did the innocent suffer, but the guilty escaped; for John made a covenant with the Zealots that had fled into the passages under the Temple, saving them alive if they would serve him thenceforth. And he appointed Eleazar to be one of his captains. So now there were not three parties but two in Jerusalem, of whom John possessed the Temple and the Upper City; and Simon, the son of Gioras, the Lower City.

Titus was now purposed to bring his camps nearer to the City. And first he gave commandment that the whole space up to the walls should be made plain, and every hollow filled up, and every fruitful tree cut down. In the doing of this he suffered some loss, for the Jews drew certain of his men into an ambush, leading them within a stone's cast of the tower upon the wall. And this they did by a pretence of strife among themselves, for a company came without the walls, making as if they had been driven out by their fellows from within. But when the Romans followed, the whole army of the Jews ran forth from the gates and slew not a few. After this Titus, seeing that the whole space had been made plain according to his commandment, because he would move the baggage and the beasts of burden without damage, set the best of his soldiers in array from the northernmost point of the City to the westernmost. In the front he set the foot-soldiers, standing seven deep; and behind were the horsemen, in three companies, and in the midst were the archers. So all the baggage and the mixed multitude of the army passed safely behind the line; for the Jews could not break through them. Then were the camps pitched nearer to the City, being distant from it two furlongs only, of which camps one was at the corner of the wall which looketh to the south and to the west, and another was set at the tower which is called Hippicos, being also two furlongs from the City. As to the tenth legion it still abode in the Mount of Olives, which lieth to the east of the City.