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

The Siege (Continued)

Titus held a consultation with his captains what it were best to do. Some that were of a fierce temper said that it would be well to make an instant assault on the wall with the whole army, for the Jews, they said, have hitherto fought with a part only, nor will they be able to stand up against the whole, but will be overwhelmed by the javelins alone. But others said that they should raise new banks against the wall. And others again that they should blockade the City, so that none should go out or in, and so leave the people to perish with hunger. To Titus himself it seemed a base thing that so great an army should sit doing nothing; yet he judged it an idle thing to fight with men that cared nothing for their lives. And as for blockading the City, this, he thought, would be a very difficult thing, for that the Jews would find out some secret ways of coming out and going in, and that there was danger lest the glory of their enterprise should be diminished, if the City should thus have power to hold out for some long time. He judged, therefore, that it would be best to surround the whole City with a wall, by which means their work would be both safely and speedily accomplished.

This therefore was done; and the soldiers worked with such diligence and zeal, that the wall was built in the space of three days. It was thirty-and-nine furlongs in length, and on the outer side thereof there stood thirteen forts. And that it might be the more diligently guarded, Titus himself kept the first watch, and Alexander, that had been Governor of Egypt, the second, and the captains of the legions the third.

But in the City, now that all power and hope of going forth had been taken away, the famine grew daily more grievous, and many perished of hunger, gazing earnestly on the Temple; and their dead bodies lay in the houses and in the streets, for there was no man to bury them. At the first, indeed, they buried the dead at the charge of the treasury, but afterwards, the number increasing, they cast them over the heights into the valleys and ravines. But when Titus, riding about the City, saw this sight, for it was a very grievous thing to behold, and there came also a horrible stench from the corpses, he lifted up his hands, and called God to witness that this was not of his doing. And because he had compassion on the people, and would save some of them, at the least, from perishing with hunger, he set his army again to siege-works, casting up banks against the Tower of Antony, which mounds were larger by far than had been cast up at the first; and because all the trees in the neighbourhood of the City had been cut down, the soldiers fetched the timber from the distance of ninety furlongs and more.

Meanwhile, in the City, the high priest Matthias was put to death, together with his sons; being accused of a purpose to betray the City to the Romans. And when the old man besought that he might be slain the first, they would not hearken to him, but slew his sons before his eyes, and himself last of all. And this they did in the sight of the Romans.

Also, when a certain Judas, who was of the captains of Simon, repenting him of all this wickedness, made a plot with ten others to deliver up the Temple to the Romans, Simon, having discovered the matter, slew all of them and cast their bodies down from the wall.

About this time Josephus, as he went about the wall (for he ceased not to persuade his countrymen that they should yield themselves to the Romans), was smitten on the head with a stone, and fell senseless to the ground. And the Jews sallied forth to lay hands upon him, and would doubtless have carried him into the City, but that Titus sent certain soldiers to his help.

Of the Jews many cast themselves down from the wall, being driven thereto by hunger: and others, making as if they would go forth to battle, fled to the Romans. Of these, many perished most miserably; for some eating and drinking without stint after long fasting, so died; and others were slain by Arabians and Syrians in the camp. For it had been noised abroad that many of them that escaped from the city had swallowed gold—of which indeed there was great plenty—and the Arabians and Syrians slew many for the sake of what they might find in their bodies. But when Titus heard of these doings he was very wroth, and but for the multitude of the guilty, would have surrounded them with horsemen and cut them in pieces. But because they were so many, he called together the captains of the auxiliaries and of the legions also (for certain of the Romans themselves were accused of the same crime), and affirmed that he would put to death any who should thereafter be discovered so doing. Nevertheless this greed of gain prevailed over the fear of death, and many of them that escaped from the City were still slain in this fashion.

And now John, not content with the evil that he had done already, began to commit sacrilege. For he took of the gifts and offerings of the Temple, bowls and dishes and tables (and among these the pitchers which Augustus the Emperor and Livia his wife had offered), and melted them for the coining of money. Also he took the sacred wine and oil which should be kept for the use of the priests only, and distributed them to his soldiers, who feared not to drink of the wine and anoint themselves with the oil. Verily it is to be believed that if the Romans had delayed to destroy these wicked men, the earth had opened her mouth for them, or they had been swept away by a flood, or had perished by the fire of Sodom.

And now the Romans had finished their siege-works, for which indeed they had consumed all the trees that were within ninety furlongs of the City; nor if these should be destroyed did they know how they should make others. For which reason they regarded them not without fear; and the Jews also seeing their bigness, and how near they were to the wall, were greatly terrified. And though John and his followers, issuing forth from the Temple, sought to set fire to them, they harmed them not at all; nor indeed did they bear themselves as valiantly as they had been wont to do. And on the other hand, the Romans kept more steadfastly to their places than before, standing in such close array that the fire could not be brought near to the machines; so that after no long conflict the Jews fell back into the City. Whereupon the Romans brought the rams up to the wall, nor were they hindered by the stones and darts and such-like things that they who stood upon the Tower of Antony poured down upon them; but they closed their shields over their heads, and under cover of these brake away the foundations of the work with their hands and with levers, so that at nightfall they had with much labour moved from their places four great stones.



But during the night the wall of a sudden fell down, for the ground beneath it had been mined; yet the work was not finished, for John had built another wall behind the former one. Only this, it seemed, could be more easily taken than the first one, the ruins whereof were a help to them that would attack; also being newly built it had not the strength of the old wall. For all this none among the Romans dared to approach it. But when Titus had exhorted his soldiers, promising rewards to them that should venture on this work and live, and fame without end to such as should fall in the doing of it, a certain Sabinus, who was of the auxiliaries, a Syrian by nation, came forth and said, "O Csar, willingly do I offer myself for this work, and will be the first to climb the wall." And indeed he was a man of great strength and courage, though to look upon him he scarcely seemed fit for a soldier, for he was small and slight of stature. Then, having drawn his sword, and holding his shield over his head with his left hand, he ran forward to the wall; and there followed him eleven others and no more. And though the guards on the wall cast stones and javelins without number against him, striking down with them some of the eleven, yet him they harmed not till he had climbed on to the top of the wall, for the Jews were astonished at his courage, and fled before him, thinking also that more must needs be following him. But when he had well-nigh accomplished his undertaking there befell him (as indeed often happens in such enterprises) a very ill chance, for he stumbled upon a stone and fell with a great crash. Which when the Jews perceived, seeing him lie on the top of the wall alone, they turned upon him; and though he defended himself and wounded many of the enemies, yet at last his strength failed him; and indeed he was buried under a multitude of spears even before he died. Of the eleven three were slain, and the rest carried back to the camp grievously wounded.

But two days afterwards, twenty of them that guarded the banks, taking with them a standard-bearer of the fifth legion, and two horsemen, and a trumpeter, at the ninth hour of the night approached silently to the Tower of Antony, and finding the sentinels asleep, slew them, and so mounted on the wall; which when they had done, they bade the trumpeter sound on his trumpet; and the guards of the wall, hearing the trumpet, fled, judging that it would not have sounded had not many been present, and Titus, on the other hand, commanded the soldiers to arm themselves with all haste; and himself came with a chosen company of men. Thus did the Romans take possession of the Tower of Antony; but when the Romans pressed on and would have taken the Temple also, John and Simon, joining their forces together, drave them back into the Tower. Thus for ten hours, even from the ninth hour of the night until the seventh hour of the day, they fought; and many were slain on both sides. Among these there was none more worthy to be remembered than Julianus, a centurion, a man of a singular strength and courage, who, when he perceived that the Romans gave place to the Jews (for he was standing by Titus in the Tower), leapt forward, and with his own hand only put the Jews to flight, and drave them before him so far as to the corner of the Inner Court, slaying many, to the great admiration of Csar and terror of the enemy. But here his fate overtook him; for having in his shoes many and sharp nails, as soldiers are wont to have, he slipped on the polished pavement of the Temple and so fell. Thereupon the Jews turned upon him; nor could he raise himself from the ground for the multitude of them that assailed him; and so after wounding many he perished, Csar greatly grieving that so brave a man should be slain, and that where none could give him any help. So the Romans abode for awhile in the Tower of Antony.

But Titus judged it best that the Tower should be laid even with the ground, so that the army might the more easily approach to the Temple. Yet he would try the Jews once more if they would yield themselves, for he had heard that the daily sacrifice had ceased for the want of men to offer it. Therefore he sent Josephus again to John and his fellows; who, standing where he could be heard by all the people, spake to them in the Hebrew tongue, that they might have pity on their country and on the Temple of God. And when John answered that he feared not what might happen, for that the City was the City of God, Josephus reproached him with all that he had done against the Temple, saying, nevertheless, that he had yet a place of repentance if he would yield himself. John, indeed, would not hearken to these words, but many of the nobles hearkened, and delivered themselves to Titus, who dealt kindly with them. But the Jews gave out that they had been slain, lest others should do likewise; which when Titus heard, he bade them show themselves in the sight of all the people, who, when they saw them, were the more inclined to come over to the Romans. After this, Titus spake to John and his fellows, saying, "Dost thou not know that we have always held this Temple sacred, which thou hast defiled with slaughter, setting certain boundaries, which if any stranger over-passed it was lawful for you to put him to death? And now I swear to you by the gods of my country that if ye will take another place for your fighting, no Roman shall come "near to the Temple." All this he said, using Josephus for his interpreter.

But the rebels, thinking that he spake this for fear, were confirmed in their folly. Therefore Titus delayed no longer to attack the Temple. And because there was not space for all his army, he chose thirty out of every company, and set a tribune over every thousand, and appointed Cerealis to be captain of all. To these he gave commandment that they should attack the guards of the Temple at the ninth hour of the night. And he would have gone with them himself, but his friends hindered him, saying that he would serve them better if he stood by the Tower of Antony, and ordered the battle, and that the soldiers also would fight the better, as knowing that they were under the eyes of Csar. Therefore he sat in a watch tower to see what should happen.

Then there was fought a very fierce battle. For the Romans found not the guards sleeping as they had hoped; but these raised the alarm, and the whole multitude came to their help. And each knew their friends indeed by their speech, but could not see them for the darkness, which indeed caused fear to some and madness to others, so that they smote all whom they approached, without discrimination. But the Romans, seeing that they advanced in order, and had watchwords, were less troubled by the darkness than were the Jews. For the most part the battle was fought by both as they stood, for neither had space either for flying or for pursuing. And they that stood by the Tower shouted to their fellows, if they saw them prevail, that they should go yet further, and bade them be of good heart, if they saw them beaten back. They fought from the ninth hour of the night till the fifth hour of the day, and neither had the advantage.

After this, the Tower of Antony having been now destroyed, the legion made a broad way of approach to the Temple, and began to cast up banks against it, surrounding it on the north side, and on the east, and on the west.

The next day after the finishing of this way, many of the Jews, being sore pressed by hunger, attacked the garrison of the Romans that was on the Mount of Olives, about the eleventh hour of the day, hoping to find them taking their rest. But the Romans, being aware beforehand of their coming, met them and hindered them from breaking through the wall. And though the Jews fought fiercely as men who despaired of life, yet they gained nothing, but were driven back to the City. And here a certain Pedanius, a horseman, made himself a great name; for he caught up a young man of the enemy as he fled, with marvellous strength of arm and skill of horsemanship, and carried him to Titus.

And now the Jews, seeing that the war daily came nearer and nearer even to the Temple, did as one that cuts off a diseased limb that he may save the rest of his body; for they set fire to the cloister which was between the Temple and the Tower of Antony, to the length of twenty cubits; part also the Romans burned, so that the whole space between the Temple and the Tower was now empty.

About these days a certain Jonathan came out of the City and called to the Romans to send a man to fight with him. And as no man answered he began to scoff at them for their fear, till a certain Pudens, thinking that he should easily prevail (for the Jew was short and weak to look upon), came forth. And indeed he had the better in the fight, but stumbled by chance, and so was slain by Jonathan. Then the Jew, putting his foot on the dead body, shook his sword in one hand and his shield in the other, boasting of his deed, till a certain Priscus, a centurion, shot him through with an arrow.