The history of ancient Jerusalem: The Fall of the Temple to the Romans



NERO died after having reigned thirteen years and eight days, and Vespasian, being informed of the event, waited for a whole year, holding his army together instead of proceeding against Jerusalem. Galba was made emperor, and then, after the defeat and death of the emperor Vitellius, Vespasian was proclaimed by the East. He had preferred to leave the Jews to waste their strength by their internal feuds while he sent his lieutenants with forces to reduce various surrounding districts instead of attacking Jerusalem. When he became emperor, he released Josephus from his bonds, honouring him for his integrity. Hastening his journey to Rome, Vespasian commanded Titus to subdue Judea.

At Jerusalem were now three factions raging furiously. Eleazar, son of Simon, who was the first cause of the war, by persuading the people to reject the offerings of the emperors to the Temple, and had led the Zealots and seized the Temple, pretended to cherish righteous wrath against John of Gischala for the bloodshed he had occasioned. But he deserted the Zealots and seized the inner court of the Temple, so that there was war between him and Simon, son of Gioras. Thus Eleazar, John and Simon each led a band in constant fightings, and the Temple was everywhere defiled by murders.

Now, as Titus was on his march he chose out 600 select horsemen, and went to take a view of the city, when suddenly an immense multitude burst forth from the gate over against the monuments of Queen Helena and intercepted him and a few others. He had on neither helmet nor breastplate, yet though many darts were hurled at him, all missed him, as if by some purpose of Providence and, charging through the midst of his foes, he escaped unhurt. Part of the army now advanced to Scopos, within a mile of the city, while another occupied a station at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

SEEING this gathering of the Roman forces, the factions within Jerusalem for the first time felt the necessity for concord, as Eleazar from the summit of the Temple, John from the porticoes of the outer court, and Simon from the heights of Sion watched the Roman camps forming thus so near the walls. Making terms with each other, they agreed to make an attack at the same moment. Their followers, rushing suddenly forth along the valley of Jehoshaphat, fell on the 10th legion, encamped at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and working there unarmed at the entrenchments. The soldiers fell back, many being killed. Witnessing their peril, Titus, with picked troops, fell on the flank of the Jews and drove them into the city with great loss.

The Roman commander now carefully pushed forward his approaches, and the army took up a position all along the northern and the western walls, the footmen being drawn up in seven lines, with the horsemen in three lines behind, and the archers between.

Jerusalem was fortified by three walls. These were not one within the other, for each defended one of the quarters into which the city was divided. The first, or outermost, encompassed Bezetha, the next protected the citadel of the Antonia and the northern front of the Temple, and the third, or old, and innermost wall was that of Sion. Many towers, 35 feet high and 35 feet broad, each surmounted with lofty chambers and with great tanks for rain water, guarded the whole circuit of the walls, 90 being in the first wall, 14 in the second, and 60 in the third. The whole circuit of the city was about 33 stadia (four miles). From their pent-houses of wicker the Romans, with great toil day and night, discharged arrows and stones, which slew many of the citizens.

AT three different places the battering rams began their thundering work, and at length a corner tower came down, yet the walls stood firm, for there was no breach. Suddenly the besieged sallied forth and set fire to the engines. Titus came up with his horsemen and slew twelve Jews with his own hands.

The Jews now retreated to the second wall, abandoning the defence of Bezetha, which the Romans entered. Titus instantly ordered the second wall to be attacked, and for five days the conflict raged more fiercely than ever. The Jews were entirely reckless of their own lives, sacrificing themselves readily if they could kill their foes. On the fifth day they retreated from the second wall, and Titus entered that part of the lower city which was within it with 1,000 picked men.

But, being desirous of winning the people, he ordered that no houses should be set on fire and no massacres should be committed. The seditious, however, slew everyone who spoke of peace, and furiously assailed the Romans. Some fought from the walls, others from the houses, and such confusion prevailed that the Romans retired; then the Jews, elated, manned the breach, making a wall of their own bodies.

THUS the fight continued for three days, till Titus a second time entered the wall. He threw down all the northern part and strongly garrisoned the towers of the south. The strong heights of Sion, the citadel of the Antonia, and the fortified Temple still held out. Titus, eager to save so magnificent a place, resolved to refrain for a few days from the attack, in order that the minds of the besieged might be affected by their woes, and that the slow results of famine might operate. He reviewed his army in full armour, and they received their pay in view of the city, the battlements being thronged by spectators during this splendid defiling, who looked on in terror and dismay.

The famine increased, and the misery of the weaker was aggravated by seeing the stronger obtaining food. All natural affection was extinguished, husbands and wives, parents and children snatching the last morsel from each other. Many wretched men were caught by the Romans prowling in the ravines by night to pick up food and these were scourged, tortured and crucified. This was done to terrify the rest, and it went on till there was not wood enough for crosses.

Terrible crimes were committed in the city. The aged high-priest, Matthias, was accused of holding communication with the enemy. Three of his sons were killed in his presence, and he was executed in sight of the Romans, together with sixteen other members of the sanhedrin. The famine grew so woeful that a woman devoured the body of her own child. At length, after fierce fighting, the Antonia was scaled, and Titus ordered its demolition.

TITUS now promised that the Temple should be spared if the defenders would come forth and fight in any other place, but John and the Zealots refused to surrender it. For several days the outer cloisters and outer court were attacked with rams, but the immense and compact stones resisted the blows. As many soldiers were slain in seeking to storm the cloisters, Titus ordered the gates to be set on fire. Through that night and the next day the flames raged through the cloisters. Then, in order to save the Temple itself, he ordered the fire to be quenched. On the tenth of August, the same day of the year on which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple built by Solomon, the cry was heard that the Temple was on fire. The Jews, with cries of grief and rage, grasped their swords and rushed to take revenge on their enemies or perish in the ruins.

The slaughter was continued while the fire raged. Soon no part was left but a small portion of the outer cloisters, where 6,000 people had taken refuge, led by a false prophet who had there promised that God would deliver His people in His Temple. The soldiers set the building on fire and all perished. Titus next spent eighteen days in preparations for the attack on the upper city, which was then speedily captured. And now the Romans were not disposed to display any mercy, night alone putting an end to the carnage. During the whole of this siege of Jerusalem, 1,100,000 were slain, and the prisoners numbered 97,000.





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