Masada Aerial

The ranks of the activists began to swell with the arrival on the Judean scene in AD 64 of Gessius Florus as Procurator. His principles, says Josephus, “were so much more abandoned” than those of his predecessor that the latter “seemed innocent on the comparison.” And of his predecessor Josephus writes that “avarice, extortion, corruption and oppression, public and private, were vices equally familiar to him!” The rule of Florus was marked by massacre and savagery, and reprisals against his soldiers by the people became frequent.

The climax to one such series of incidents occurred after Roman troops at his instigation went on a murderous rampage through Jerusalem. “The Jews, from the roofs of the houses, assaulted the Romans with such violent showers of stones and darts, that, unable to make any resistance, or press through the crowds of people in the narrow streets, Florus was compelled to retreat to the palace, with the remainder of his troops.” The Jews then fortified themselves in the Inner Temple and cut access to it from the Antonia castle. Florus was unable to dislodge them, and he returned to his headquarters at Caesarea, complaining to his immediate chief, Cestius Gallus, Roman Governor of Syria, about “the rebelliousness of the Jews.” Gallus was to experience this rebelliousness personally only a short while later.

The Jews were much heartened by this modest, but successful, insurrection, and the arguments of the activists became more compelling. In AD 66 they struck. The “War of the Jews against the Romans” was to last five years and to end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70.


The Jews had been given a breathing space, but they squandered it on bitter and bloody internal conflict. Lack of unity had sapped their strength, and they revived and sought to compose their differences only when, in the spring of 70, Titus with his vast forces descended upon the city. They consisted of four legions, plus large contingents of auxiliaries. The Twelfth Legion approached Jerusalem from the west; the Fifth and the fifteenth from the north; and the Tenth from the east. The Tenth set up camp on the Mount of Olives, looking down upon the Temple from the east; the other three encamped on the west, opposite the Upper City, and began to reconnoiter and prepare for the assault. While they were doing so, the Jews sallied forth to attack them, and there were sharp skirmishes which left the Romans confounded. But not for long. Titus eventually managed to move closer to the walls and split his main force into two. He concentrated one slightly north of the present day site of Zion Square, in the town center—some four hundred yards form the Psephinus Tower, at the northwestern corner of the Third Wall (Agrippa’s northern wall). The other was based not far from the site of today’s’ King David Hotel—a similar distance form the Hippicus Tower, adjoining Herod’s Palace. The Tenth Legion remained on the Mount of Olives, a magnificent observation point from which to follow all that went on inside the city.


It was in Simon’s sector that the Second Wall was eventually breached, and the Romans rushed through, only to be set upon heavily by the defenders (who were more familiar with the narrow alleys), and driven out. It took them four days to crash through the improvised breach-fillings and consolidate their position inside this wall. One wall alone, the First Wall, now lay between them and the beleaguered Jews. The assault proper on the Temple and the Upper City could now begin.

Titus ordered the construction of platforms for his battering rams in front of the Antonia fortress, key to the Temple, and before the monument to Hyrcanus, key to Herod’s Palace and the Upper City. (The site of the monument to Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean, also known as the “Tomb of John,” was close, says Josephus, to the Amygdalon Pool, the “Pool of the Patriarchs, and lies between the Jaffa Gate and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.)


Titus now applied himself to inflict the final coup. He concentrated on reducing the Antonia fortress and ordered the raising of four platforms against it, bigger and stronger than the ill-fated earlier ones. When they were completed and the rams brought up to the wall, the defenders continued to assail them from the ramparts with torches, arrows and rocks. But the Roman sappers, working under a roof of shields and with covering “fire” from fellow units, hacked away at the wall, undermining the foundations with hand and crowbar while the rams battered the upper sections. They finally affected a breach. Blood battles followed within the confines of the Antonia fortress and the Jews were steadily pressed back. They retired and fortified themselves within the adjoining Temple compound.

Titus’ call to them to surrender was again spurned, and he therefore ordered his men to flatten Antonia and erect platforms against the Temple ramparts. He then brought up the rams and pounded away at the outer wall of the Temple. Six days of battering and undermining proved ineffective, so solid was the wall. Attempts to scale it with ladders were also fruitless. The Romans then set fire to the gates, the metal melting and exposing the woodwork to the flames. When the fire had abated, picked men of all the cohorts fought their way through the openings and, in hand to hand combat, steadily thrust forward until they were in eventual occupation of the colonnades and Outer Court of the Temple. The Jews fell back to the Inner Temple—the sanctuary itself, the Court of Israel and the Court of the Women—and continued to hold out from there.

On the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Ab, the very month and day on which 657 years earlier the Babylonians had sacked the first Temple on this site, the one built by Solomon, the forces of Titus broke into the Inner Temple and set the sanctuary ablaze. “The flames of fire were so violent and impetuous that the mountain on which the Temple stood resembled one large body of fire, even from its foundations.”

Apart from the soldiers who fell in the fighting, thousands of civilians, priests and laymen, women and children, were butchered as the legionaries charged through the compound, and many thousands more fell victim as the Romans proceed all the way down along the eastern ridge into the Lower City, as far as Siloam, slaughtering and setting the city aflame as they went.


Titus ordered the entire city to be razed, except for the three Herodian towers, Phasael, Hippicus and Mariamne, and the western wall, to protect the camp of the Tenth Legion who were to be left as a garrison.

After executing many of the survivors, Titus carried off the rest as slaves—though many of these perished in gladiatorial combat or were thrown to wild beasts at the “games” held at Caesarea by the Romans to celebrate the victory. Titus then returned to Rome where, together with his father, the emperor Vespasian, he conducted a triumphal procession. Most prominent among the spoils on display were the treasures taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, notably the golden seven-branched candelabrum and the code of Jewish laws.


To commemorate his capture of Jerusalem, the “Triumphal Arch of Titus” was erected in the Forum Rome. Its outstanding relief, which may be seen today, shows a float being carried in the Roman victory procession bearing the Temple spoils, the most prominent being a representation of the sanctuary candelabrum.