By January 15, 2008 Read More →

Josephus, War V, 1-84, 269-88: The Battle of Jerusalem

Destruction and Sack of JerusalemAfter subduing the entire country, the Romans turned toward Jerusalem the conquest of which would decide the war. Josephus’ detailed narrative is an eyewitness account of that battle, although it was clearly shaped by his own pro-Roman prejudices. Clearly, Jewish disunity in the revolt was one of the causes of its failure, as seen in this selection.

(1) When, therefore, Titus 21 had marched over that desert which lies between Egypt and Syria, in the manner described above, he came to Caesarea, having resolved to set his forces in order at that place, before he began the war.

(2) But while he was assisting his father (Vespasian) at Alexandria in settling that government which had been newly conferred upon them by God, it so happened that the revolt at Jerusalem was revived, and parted into three factions, one faction fighting against the other…

(5) Eleazar, the son of Simon, 22 who caused the first separation of the Zealots from the people and made them retire into the temple, appeared very angry at John’s 23 insolent attempts which he made every day upon the people, for this man never left off murdering.

But the truth was that he could not bear to submit to a tyrant who had arisen after him. (6) So being desirous of gaining the entire power and dominion for himself, he revolted against John, and took with him Judas the son of Chelcias and Simon the son of Ezron who were among the men of greatest power. There was also with him Hezekiah the son of Chobar, a person of eminence.

(7) Each of these was followed by a great many of the Zealots, and they seized the inner court of the temple and laid their arms upon the holy gates and over the holy fronts of that court.

(8) Because they had plenty of provisions, they were of good courage, for there was a great abundance of what was consecrated for sacred use, and they had no compunctions about making use of it. Yet they were afraid on account of their small number, and when they had laid up their arms there, they did not stir from the place they were in….

(71) Whereas beforehand the several parties in Jerusalem had been dashing one against another perpetually, the war from outside, which had now suddenly come upon them in a violent manner, put the first stop to their contentions one against another.

(72) The rebels now saw with astonishment the Romans pitching three different camps, so they began to think of an awkward sort of alliance and said one to another,

(73) “What are we doing here, and what do we mean when we allow three fortified walls to be built to coop us in so that we will not be able to breathe freely? The enemy is securely building a kind of city in opposition to us while we sit still within our own walls and become mere spectators of what they are doing, with our hands idle and our armor laid by as if they were about something that was for our good and advantage.

(74) We are, it seems,” so did they cry out, “only courageous against ourselves, while the Romans are likely to gain the city without bloodshed because of our strife.”

(75) Thus did they encourage one another when they had gotten together. Then they immediately took their armor and ran out against the Tenth Legion, and fell upon the Romans with great eagerness and with a prodigious shout while they were fortifying their camp.

(76) These Romans were caught in different groups, organized in order to perform their different tasks, and for this reason, they had to a great extent laid aside their arms, for they thought the Jews would never venture to make a sally upon them. And had they been disposed to do so, they supposed that their dissension would distract them. So they were put into disorder unexpectedly.

(77) Some of them left their work and immediately marched off, while many ran to their arms but were smitten and killed before they could turn back upon the enemy….

(81) Indeed, things looked as though the entire legion would have been in danger had not Titus been informed of the position they were in and come to their aid immediately. So he reproached them for their cowardice and brought those back who were running away, (82) and fell himself upon the Jews on their flank, with those select troops who were with him, killed a considerable number, wounded more of them, put them all to flight, and made them run away hastily down the valley.

(83) Now as these Jews suffered greatly in the declivity of the valley, so, when they had gotten over it, they turned about, and stood against the Romans, having the valley between them, and there fought with them.

(84) Thus they continued the fight till noon. When it was already a little after noon, Titus deployed his reinforcements along with those who belonged to the auxiliary cohorts, to prevent the Jews from making any more sallies, and then he sent the rest of the legion to the upper part of the mountain to fortify their camp….

(269) The engines that all the legions had ready prepared for themselves were admirably designed, but still more extraordinary ones belonged to the Tenth Legion. Those that threw darts and those that threw stones were more powerful and larger than the rest. With these they not only repelled the excursions of the Jews, but also drove those away who were upon the walls.

(270) The stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent 24 and were carried two furlongs 25 and farther. The blow they gave could in no way be sustained, neither by those who stood first in the way nor by those who were beyond them at a great distance.

(271) As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but it could be seen also before it came by its brightness.

(272) Accordingly, the watchmen upon the towers gave them notice when the engine was fired and the stone came from it, and cried out aloud in their own country’s language, “The son is coming!” 26 so that those who were in its way stood aside and threw themselves down upon the ground so that by their thus guarding themselves, the stone fell down and did them no harm.

(273) But the Romans contrived to prevent that by blackening the stone which they then could aim at them with success, for the stone was not discerned beforehand as it had been until then. So they destroyed many of them at one blow.

(274) Yet the Jews, under all this distress, did not permit the Romans to raise their embankments easily, but they shrewdly and boldly exerted themselves and repelled them both by night and by day.

(275) And now, when the Roman earthworks were finished, the workmen measured the distance from the wall by lead and line which they threw to it from their embankments. For they could not measure it otherwise because the Jews would shoot at them if they came to measure it themselves. When they found that the battering-rams could reach the wall, they brought them there.

(276) Then Titus set his engines at proper distances nearer to the wall so that the Jews might not be able to repel them, and gave orders that they should strike.

(277) Thereupon a terrific noise echoed round about from three places, and suddenly there was a great cry made by the citizens within the city, and terror fell upon the rebels as well. Then both groups, seeing the common danger they were in, contrived to make a joint defense.

(278) So those of different factions cried out one to another that they were acting entirely in concert with their enemies, whereas, even if God did not grant them lasting agreement, in their present circumstances they ought to lay aside their enmities against one another and unite together against the Romans. Accordingly, Simon proclaimed that those who came from the temple had permission to go upon the wall. John also, though he could not believe Simon was in earnest, gave them the same permission.

(279) So both sides laid aside their hatred and their private quarrels and formed themselves into one body. They then ran around the walls, and having a vast number of torches with them, threw them at the machines and shot darts continually upon those who controlled those engines battering the wall.

(280) The bolder sort leaped out in bands upon the hurdles that covered the machines and pulled them to pieces, and attacked those operating them and beat them, not so much by any skill they had as by the boldness of their attacks.

(281) However, Titus himself sent assistance to those who were the hardest hit, placed both horsemen and archers on the several sides of the engines, and thereby beat off those who shot stones or darts from the towers, and then set the battering-rams to work in earnest.

(282) Yet the wall did not yield to these blows, except that the battering-ram of the Fifteenth Legion dislodged the corner of a tower….

(284) The Jews suspended their sallies for a while. However, when they observed the Romans dispersed about the works and in their several camps (for they thought the Jews had retired out of weariness and fear) they suddenly dashed out at the tower Hippicus through a concealed gate, and at the same time brought fire to burn the siege-works, and went boldly up to the Romans—to their very fortifications.

(285) At their shouts, the legionaries nearby came immediately to their assistance, and those farther off came running up after them. Here the boldness of the Jews was too much for the good discipline of the Romans. They beat those whom they first fell upon and pressed on against the assembling troops.

(286) A fierce conflict took place around the machines, for one side tried hard to set them on fire and the other side to prevent it. On both sides there were confused cries, and many of those in the forefront of the battle were killed.

(287) However, the Jews were now too difficult for the Romans to resist due to the furious assaults they made like madmen. The fire caught hold of the siege-works, and both all those works and the engines themselves were in danger of being burnt. But many of the select soldiers from Alexandria stood in opposition and prevented it, and they behaved with greater courage than they themselves supposed they could have done. For in this fight they outdid those who had an even greater reputation than they. This was the state of things until Caesar (Titus) took the stoutest of his horsemen and attacked the enemy.

(288) He himself killed twelve of those in the forefront of the Jewish line. The death of these men, when viewed by the rest, caused the remainder to give way so that Caesar pursued them and drove them all into the city, and saved the siege-works from the fire….

21. The son of Vespasian who took over for him as general after his father was named emperor in 69 C.E.

22. A priest who was a Zealot leader.

23. John of Gischala, leader of one of the rebel groups

24. Approximately 20 kilograms.

25. One-fourth mile.

26. A corruption of Hebrew ha-’even, “the stone,” into ha-ben,“the son.”

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