By January 15, 2008 Read More →

Josephus, War VI, 149-266: The Final Roman Victory

Arch of Titus SpoliaThe Romans finally overcame the Jews amid great slaughter. The final battle was for the Temple. Josephus portrays Titus as wanting to spare it, but in the end it was destroyed nonetheless.

(149) In the meantime, the rest of the Roman army in seven days’ time had overthrown the foundations of the tower of Antonia, and had made ready a broad ascent to the temple.

(150) Then the legions approached the first court and began to raise their embankments….

(157) Now, a day after the Romans ascended the breach, many of the rebels were so pressed by the famine because of the lack of plunder that they got together and made an attack on those Roman guards on the Mount of Olives at about the eleventh hour of the day, supposing first that they would not expect such an advance, and, second, that they were then taking refreshments and therefore that they could very easily beat them.

(158) But the Romans were apprised of their coming to attack beforehand, and running together suddenly from the neighboring camps, they prevented them from scaling their fortification or cutting through the wall that was built around them.

(159).This led to a sharp fight, and here many gallant feats were performed on both sides….

(164) In the meantime, the Jews were so distressed by the fights they had been in, as the war advanced further and further, creeping up to the holy house [the temple] itself, that they, as it were, cut off those limbs of their body which were infected in order to prevent the further spread of the disease.

(165) So they set on fire the northwest portico, which was joined to the tower of Antonia, and after that broke off about twenty cubits of that portico, thereby beginning the burning of the sanctuary. 46

(166) Two days after that, on the twenty-fourth day of the aforementioned month [Panemus or Tamuz], the Romans set fire to the adjoining portico. When the fire went fifteen cubits further, 47 the Jews, in like manner, cut off its roof, and with no reverence at all for the works of art, severed the tower of Antonia from the temple.

(167) Even though it was in their power to have stopped the fire, rather, they lay still while the temple was first set on fire since they deemed this spreading of the fire to be to their own advantage.

(168) Then the armies fought against each other around the temple incessantly, and the war was conducted by continual sallies of each party against the other….

(177) The rebels in the temple every day openly endeavored to beat off the soldiers on the embankments, and on the twenty-seventh day of the aforementioned month [Panemus, or Tamuz], they contrived such a stratagem as this-

(178) They filled that part of the western portico which was between the beams and the roof under them with dry materials and also with bitumen and pitch, and then retired from that place as though they were totally exhausted.

(179) Thereupon, many of the most inconsiderate among the Romans, who were carried away with violent passions, followed immediately after them as they were retiring, applied ladders to the portico, and sprang upon it suddenly. But the prudent ones, suspicious of this unaccountable retreat of the Jews, stood still where they were before.

(180) However, the portico was full of those who had gone up the ladders. Then the Jews set it all on fire, and as the flames burst out everywhere all of a sudden, the Romans who were out of danger were seized with very great consternation, as were those who were in the midst of the danger in the utmost distress.

(181) So when they perceived themselves surrounded with the flames, some of them threw themselves down backwards into the city, and some into the midst of their enemies [in the temple]; many leaped down to their own men and broke their limbs. But a great number were caught in the fire in their rush to escape, though some anticipated the fire with their own swords….

(191) Now this portico was burned down as far as John [of Giscala’s] tower which he had built in the war he waged against Simon [ben Giora] over the gates that led to the Xystus. 48 The Jews also cut off the rest of that portico from the temple after they had destroyed those who got up to it….

(192) But the next day the Romans burned down the northern portico entirely as far as the east portico, the common angle of which was built over the valley that was called Kedron where the depth was frightful. And this was the state of the temple at that time. (193) The number of those who perished by famine in the city was countless and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable….

(220) And now two of the legions had completed their embankments on the eighth day of the month Lous [Ab], 49 so Titus gave orders that the battering-rams should be brought and set over against the western edifice of the inner temple.

(221) For before these were brought, the firmest of all the other engines had battered the wall for six days together without ceasing yet without making any impression upon it. But the vast size and strong connection of the stones were superior to that engine and to the other battering-rams also.

(222) Other Romans did indeed undermine the foundations of the northern gate, and, after great exertions, removed the outermost stones. Yet the gate was still upheld by the inner stones and still stood undamaged, until the workmen, despairing of all such attempts by engines and crowbars, brought their ladders to the porticoes.

(223) Now the Jews did not interrupt them in so doing, but when they had climbed up, they fell upon them and fought with them. Some of them they thrust down and threw backwards headlong; others of them they met and killed….

(225) …those who bore the [Roman] standards fought hard for them, deeming it a terrible thing which would redound to their great shame if they permitted them to be stolen away.

(226) Yet the Jews did at length get possession of these standards, and destroyed those who had gone up the ladders, while the rest were so intimidated by what those suffered who were killed that they retreated,

(227) although none of the Romans died without having done good service before his death. Of the rebels, those who had fought bravely in the former battles did the same now as did Eleazar, the nephew of Simon the tyrant.

(228) But when Titus perceived that his endeavors to spare a foreign temple led only to the damage of his soldiers and caused them to be killed, he gave orders to set the gates on fire….

(232) Now the soldiers had already set fire to the gates, and the silver that was over them quickly carried the flames to the wood that was within it, whence it spread itself all of a sudden and caught hold of the porticoes.

(233) Upon the Jews’ seeing this fire all around them, they were deprived of all energy of body and mind, and they were so astounded that not one of them hurried either to defend himself or to quench the fire, but they stood only as mute spectators.

(234) However, they did not so grieve at the loss of what was now burning as to grow wiser thereby for the time to come, but as though the holy house itself had been on fire already, they whetted their passions against the Romans.

(235) This fire prevailed during that day and the next also, for the soldiers were not able to burn all the porticoes that were round about all at one time, but only by sections.

(236) But then, on the next day, Titus commanded part of his army to quench the fire and to make a road to facilitate the marching up of the legions while he himself gathered the commanders together….

(238) …Titus proposed to these that they should give him their advice what should be
done about the holy house.

(239) Now, some of them thought it would be best to act according to the rules of war [and demolish it] because the Jews would never cease rebelling while that house was standing, for it was there that they used to gather together.

(240) Others were of the opinion that if the Jews would leave it and none of them would lay their arms up in it, he should save it. But if they mounted it to fight any more, he ought to burn it because it must then be looked upon not as a holy house, but as a citadel. The impiety of burning it would then belong to those who forced this to be done and not to them.

(241) But Titus said “Although the Jews should mount that holy house and fight us from it, yet we ought not to revenge ourselves on things that are inanimate instead of on the men themselves,” and that he was not in any case for burning down so vast a work as that was because this would be a loss to the Romans themselves, as it would be an ornament to their government if it stood….

(243) Then this assembly was dissolved as Titus gave orders to the commanders that the rest of their forces should lie still, but that they should make use of those who were most courageous in this attack. So he commanded that the chosen men from the cohorts should make their way through the ruins and quench the fire.

(244) Throughout that day, the Jews were so weary and under such consternation that they refrained from any attacks, but on the next day they gathered their whole force together and sallied forth very boldly against those who guarded the outward court of the temple, through the east gate at about the second hour of the day.

(245) These guards withstood their attack with great bravery, and by covering themselves with their shields in front as if with a wall, they drew their squadrons close together. Yet it was evident that they could not hold together there very long but would be overcome by the great number of their attackers and by the heat of their passion.

(246) However, Caesar, seeing from the tower of Antonia that this squadron was likely to give way, sent some chosen horsemen to support them.

(247) Thereupon the Jews found themselves not able to sustain their attack, and, upon the slaughter of those in the forefront, many of the rest were put to flight.

(248) But as the Romans were moving back, the Jews turned back upon them and fought them. And when those Romans came back upon them, they retreated again, until about the fifth hour of the day when they were overcome and shut themselves up in the inner [court of the] temple.

(249) So Titus retired into the tower of Antonia and resolved to storm the temple the next day, early in the morning, with his whole army, and to encamp around the holy house.

(250) But, as for that house, God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire, and now that fatal day had come according to the revolution of years. It was the tenth day of the month Lous [Ab] upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon. 50

(251) These flames, however, were ignited by the Jews themselves and were occasioned by them. For upon Titus’ retiring, the rebels lay still for a little while and then attacked the Romans again when those who guarded the holy house fought with those who quenched the fire that was burning in the inner [court of the] temple. But these Romans put the Jews to flight and proceeded as far as the holy house itself.

(252) At that time, one of the soldiers, without waiting for any orders and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched a brand out of the materials that were on fire. Lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window through which there was a passage to the rooms that were around the holy house on the north side of it.

(253) As the flames went upward the Jews made a clamor such as so great a tragedy required and ran together to prevent it. They did not spare their lives any longer nor allow anything to restrain their force since that holy house which they had guarded so carefully was about to be destroyed

(254) And now someone came running to Titus and told him of this fire as he was resting in his tent after the last battle. Thereupon he arose in great haste and, just as he was, ran to the holy house in order to put the fire out….

(260) And now, since Caesar was in no way able to restrain the enthusiastic fury of the soldiers, and the fire proceeded on more and more, he went into the holy place of the temple with his commanders, and saw it with what it contained, which he found to be far superior to what the reports of foreigners contained, and not inferior to what we ourselves boasted of and believed about it.

(261) But as the flame had not as yet reached its interior but was still consuming the rooms that were around the holy house, and Titus supposed that the house itself might still be saved,

(262) he came in haste and endeavored to persuade the soldiers to quench the fire and gave orders to Liberalius, the centurion of his bodyguard of spearmen, to beat the soldiers who disobeyed orders with staves and to restrain them.

(263) Yet their passions were too strong for the regard they had for Caesar and the dread they had of him who forbade them, as was their hatred of the Jews and a certain vehement inclination to fight them which was too strong for them also.

(264) Moreover, the hope of plunder induced many to go on who thought that all the places within were full of money, seeing that all around it was made of gold.

(265) Besides, when Caesar ran out so hastily to restrain the soldiers, one of those who went into the place threw the fire upon the hinges of the gate in the dark.

(266) Then the flame burst out immediately from within the holy house itself, and when the commanders withdrew, Caesar with them, nobody any longer forbade those who were outside to set fire to it. Thus the holy house burned down without Caesar’s approval….

46. Here Josephus, true to his political and religious views, blames the Jews for the destruction of the Temple.

47. About 22 feet.

48. Cf. War IV, 580-1.

49. July/August.

50. In 587 B.C.E.

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