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Josephus, War IV, 1-82: The Battle at Gamala

GamlaIn the account of the battle for Gamala, we encounter Josephus’ description of his own involvement as a rebel commander, a role he claimed he never really pursued wholeheartedly. Gamala was an impregnable fortress located in the lower Golan, and its conquest by the Romans was a harbinger of their conquest of the rest of Judea.

(1) Now all those Galileans who, after the taking of Jotapata, 12 had revolted against the Romans, upon the conquest of Taricheae 13 surrendered to them again. And the Romans received all the fortresses and the cities, excepting Gischala 14 and those who had occupied Mount Tabor. l5

(2) Gamala 16 also, which is a city across from Taricheae, but on the other side of the lake, 17 conspired with them….

(4) Agrippa had come to terms with Sogana and Seleucia 18 at the very beginning of the revolt, but Gamala did not accede to them, but relied upon the difficulty of its position which was greater than that of Jotapata,

(5) for it was situated upon a rough ridge of a high mountain with a kind of hump in the middle….

(9) Although this city was naturally impregnable, Josephus made it still stronger by building a wall about it and by ditches and mines under ground.

(10) The people who were in it were made more bold by the nature of the place than the people of Jotapata had been, but it had much fewer fighting men in it. They had such confidence in the location of the place that they did not permit any more fighters to enter. For the city had been filled with those who had fled to it for safety on account of its strength, because of which they had been able to resist those whom Agrippa sent to besiege it for seven months….

(11) But Vespasian moved his camp from Ammathus 19 where he had last pitched his camp before the city Tiberias … and came to Gamala….

(17) Now when the earthworks were finished, which was done rapidly by a multitude of hands which were accustomed to such work, they brought the machines.

(18) Chares and Joseph, who were the most prominent men of the city, set their armed men in order, though already they were afraid because they did not suppose that the city could hold out long since they did not have a sufficient quantity either of water or of other supplies.

(19) However, their leaders encouraged them and brought them out upon the wall, and for a while indeed they drove away those who were bringing the machines. But when those machines threw darts and stones at them, they retired into the city.

(20) Then the Romans brought battering rams to three different places and made the wall shake [and fall]. They then poured in over the parts of the wall that were thrown down with a mighty sound of trumpets and noise of armor and with a shout of the soldiers, and they broke in by force upon those who were in the city.

(21) But these men fell upon the Romans for some time at their first entrance and prevented their going any farther, and with great courage beat them back.

(22) The Romans were so overpowered by the greater multitude of the people, who beat them on every side, that they were obliged to run into the upper parts of the city. Then the people turned about and fell upon their enemies who had attacked them and thrust them down to the lower parts, and as they were impeded by the narrowness and difficulty of the place, killed them.

(23) As these Romans could neither beat back those who were above them, nor escape the force of their own men who were forcing their way forward, they were compelled to flee into their enemies’ houses which were on the ground.

(24) These houses, being thus full of soldiers whose weight they could not bear, fell down suddenly; and when one house fell, it pushed down a great many of those that were under it, as those did to those that were under them.

(25) By this means a vast number of the Romans perished. For they were so terribly distressed that although they saw the houses collapsing, they were compelled to leap upon their rooftops. A great many were buried by these ruins, and a great many of those who escaped from under them lost some of their limbs, but still a greater number were suffocated by the dust that arose from the ruins.

(26) The people of Gamala supposed this to be an assistance afforded them by God, and without regard for the damage they suffered, they pressed forward and thrust the enemy upon the tops of their houses; and when they stumbled in the narrow streets, they threw their stones or darts at them, and killed them….

(62) But of the people of Gamala, those that were of the bolder sort fled and hid themselves, while the more infirm perished by famine;

63) but the men of war sustained the siege till the twenty-second day of the month Hyperberetaeus [Tishri], 20 when three soldiers of the fifteenth legion, about the time of the morning watch, crept up to a high tower that was near and undermined it without making any noise….

(70)… Titus…took two hundred chosen horsemen and some footmen with him and entered without noise into the city…

(74) Now the upper part of the city was rocky all over, difficult of ascent, elevated to a vast height, very full of people on all sides, and encompassed with precipices. (75) Here the Jews cut off those who advanced against them and did much mischief to others by their darts and the large stones which they rolled down upon them, while they were themselves so high that the enemy’s darts could hardly reach them.

(76) However, there arose a miraculous storm against them which was instrumental in their destruction. It carried the Roman darts upon them and made those which they threw return back.

(77) Nor could the Jews indeed stand upon their precipices, because of the violence of the wind, having nothing that was stable to stand on, nor could they see the approaching enemy.

(78) The Romans got up and surrounded them. Some they killed before they could defend themselves, and others as they were surrendering, and the remembrance of those who were killed at their initial entrance into the city increased their rage against them now.

(79) A great number also of those who were surrounded on every side, despairing of escape, threw their children and their wives, and themselves also, down the precipices, into the valley beneath which, near the citadel, had been dug hollow to a vast depth.

(80) So it happened that the anger of the Romans appeared not to be as great as the madness of those who were now conquered. While the Romans killed only four thousand, the number of those who had thrown themselves over the cliff was found to be five thousand.

(81) Nor did anyone escape except two women who were nieces on the mother’s side of Philip, the son of an eminent man called Jacimus, who had been general of King Agrippa’s army.

(82) The escaped because they lay concealed from the sight of the Romans when the city was taken, for otherwise they spared not so much as the infants, of whom many were flung down by them from the citadel….

12. Hebrew, Yodefat, a Galilean fortress 6 miles north of the talmudic period town of Sepphoris.

13. On the southern end of Lake Tiberias.

14. Hebrew, Gush Halav, an ancient cityin the upper Galilee, 5 miles northwest of Safed.

15. A mountain in the northeast part of the Jezreel Valley in the Galilee.

16. A fortress in the Golan Heights.

17. Lake Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee.

18. These cities did not participate in the revolt.

19. South of Tiberias, known today as Hamat Tiberias.

20. November 9, 67 C.E.

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