CHAPTER 25. —THE ROMAN INVASION
Cestius, the Roman general, after his flight from Jerusalem, reported to Nero the calamity that had befallen the Roman arms. The report caused Nero great uneasiness. After much deliberation, he selected Vespasian, a military veteran in the Roman army who had distinguished himself in the west and in the reconquest of Britain, and instructed him to suppress the Jewish rebellion at all hazards.
Vespasian ordered his son Titus who was in Achaia to join him at Alexandria, with the fifth and tenth legions. He himself crossed the Hellespont, and marched into Syria, where he was reinforced by several Roman detachments and bands of auxiliaries.
Meanwhile, the Jews, elated with their unexpected success in the defeat of Cestius, made large preparations for war with the Romans. They collected large numbers of Jewish soldiers and organised the public service.
Josephus, the writer of the history, receiving a command in Galilee, fortified Jotapata, and the principal cities in his jurisdiction; he also organised an army of a hundred thousand young men, whom he was at great pains to teach Roman discipline and tactics. Vespasian concentrated the Roman forces in Antioch. The plan of operations resolved upon was, to attack and reduce the outlying positions in the country one by one, with the hope that the Jews soon perceiving it was useless to resist the Romans, would give up the conquest. This was a wise plan, but it did not work out the expected result. As Josephus remarks, a frenzy seemed to possess the whole nation, urging them to a resistance that compelled the Romans, against their will, to proceed to the utmost extremities against them.
Hearing of the arrival of the Romans, the Jews resolved to assume the offensive. They despatched an army from Jerusalem to attack the Romans at Askelon. A battle ensued which resulted in the repulse and great slaughter of the Jews, of whom ten thousand lay dead in the field. In a short time, the Jews rallied their forces, and renewed their assault on Askelon, from which, however, they were again driven with a loss of eight thousand men. The rest, pursued, took refuge in the tower of Bezedel, to which the Romans set fire, and a vast number of Jews miserably perished in the flames.
Vespasian marched from Antioch to Ptolemais—his army mustering sixty thousand. At Ptolemais, a Jewish deputation from Sepphoris placed that city at the disposal of the Roman general, and received a garrison which, returning with the deputation, occupied Sepphoris. The garrison amounted to six thousand infantry and one thousand horse, under Placidus, the tribune. Josephus, hearing of it, marched to the place, hoping to wrest it from the hands of the Romans, but failed. The Romans, incensed at the attack, established martial law, under which the soldiers used their utmost liberty of plundering and burning throughout the province. Galilee, overrun, was filled with fire and blood. The people in the open country fled to the walled cities for refuge. Those who could not escape were killed or sold as slaves, and the country desolated. Placidus then attacked Jotapata, where Josephus commanded in person; but Josephus, in a sortie, compelled the Roman tribune to retire.
Vespasian then marched from Ptolemais to Gadara, which he took at the first assault and put the inhabitants to the sword without respect of age. The place was burnt to the ground, and also all the villas and villages in the neighbourhood. Survivors brought in as prisoners were condemned to slavery. Many of the fugitives repaired to Jotapata. Vespasian, hearing that Josephus was there, determined to make every sacrifice necessary to the capture of that place, imagining that with the capture of Josephus (who was known to the Romans) the war would end. Vespasian, with great speed, marched his whole army to Jotapata, a place of great strength in the mountains. The assault on the first day was a failure, also during the four succeeding days, during which the Jews sallied forth in large numbers, and with great desperation beat off the attacks of the Romans. On the sixth day, the Romans commenced a regular siege; they raised a bank from which to fight the defenders on the walls. The work was much hindered by constant sallies in small bands, who scattered fire among the materials used in the construction of the bank, besides killing many of those engaged in the work. While the bank was progressing, Josephus, concealing his operations by a tall screen on the wall, raised the wall of the city thirty feet higher, so that the bank when finished was useless. The Romans, discouraged, resolved to suspend the attack and starve the city into surrender. The activity of the Jews, in incessant sorties, however, compelled the Romans to resume the offensive. A battering ram was got into play against a portion of the wall. Josephus met the shock by lowering sacks filled with soft materials between the wall and the engine. The Romans succeeded in cutting down the sacks. The Jews then made a sally in great force to destroy the engine. They sallied from three directions, and piling burning materials round the battering engine, they set fire to it. The result was that the engine and the bank which had cost the Romans many days’ patient labour, were consumed in an hour. The Romans then made a desperate attempt to take the city by assault. It was on the point of succeeding when Josephus ordered boiling oil to be pored upon the soldiers who were scaling the walls. This compelled them to abandon the attempt. Vespasian then ordered the banks to be raised again, with three towers fifty feet high. In due time, the work was accomplished, and Vespasian learning, on the forty-seventh day of the siege, that the Jews were worn out with incessant watching and suffering from want of water, and that the watch at night was loosely kept, made a night attack by which he succeeded in gaining entrance into the city. Exasperated by the prolonged and bitter defence of the Jews, the Romans gave over the inhabitants to indiscriminate slaughter. Of forty thousand in the city at the commencement of the siege, only one thousand two hundred women and children were spared for captivity. Josephus was taken alive and retained in Vespasian’s staff. Jotapata was burnt and the fortifications demolished.
Joppa, fortified town near Jotapata, with an outer and inner wall, was attacked by a small Roman force under Trajan, sent by Vespasian. The Jewish garrison met the Romans outside the walls and were defeated. In escaping within the first wall, the Romans got inside with them, and the Jews inside the second wall, fearing the entry of the Romans in the same way, shut the gates against their own people, who were put to the sword by the Romans to the number of many thousands. The Romans, reinforced by Titus, then proceeded to besiege the inner city, and in a short time succeeded in forcing an entrance and obtaining possession. The Jews, however, refusing to surrender, continued to fight the Romans in the streets and from the windows of the houses. The result was the total extermination of the inhabitants to the number of fifteen thousand, over two thousand being reserved to grace a subsequent triumph.
Vespasian heard that Mount Gerazim was in the possession of a force of nearly twelve thousand insurgents. He dispatched Cerealis with about two thousand five hundred horse and foot to disperse them. The Romans surrounded the foot of the mountain and summoned the insurgents to surrender. On their refusal, the Roman commander attacked them and put them all to the sword.
Vespasian then retired to winter quarters at Caesarea and Scythopolis. He heard that Joppa, on the sea coast, was in the hands of the insurgents, and that they had many ships with which they piratically infested the whole coast, doing much damage. He dispatched a force to capture the place. The garrison, after a short fight, took refuge in the ships which crowded the roadstead. During the following night, a violent storm drove the ships on the rocks and multitudes were drowned, and those who gained the shore were destroyed by the Romans. The Romans burned Joppa to the ground, and pillaged the whole country for miles in all directions.
After receiving the submission of Tiberias, Vespasian proceeded towards Tarichea, on the lake of Gennesareth. Tarichea, a strongly fortified place, with a fleet in the lake, bade defiance to the Romans. Finally, the Romans carried the place by assault. The Jewish soldiers escaped to the ships, and fled to other parts of the lake. They were followed in a few days by the Romans, who destroyed the Jewish fleet, and massacred the crews and soldiers. About six thousand five hundred perished. The survivors, to the number of between thirty and forty thousand, gave themselves up to the Romans on a promise of preservation. The old men, numbering one thousand two hundred, were sent to Tiberias and massacred; six thousand of the strongest were sent to Nero, to labour on the public works: the rest were sold into slavery.
Hearing of the fall of Tarichea, all the neighbouring fortresses and cities of Galilee surrendered to the Romans, except Gamala, Gischala, and Mount Tabor. Gamala, strongly situated among the mountains by the lake, was then invested by Vespasian. Banks were cast up by the Romans. A breach being made, the Romans carried the place by assault; but the streets being narrow and precipitous, and the inhabitants numerous and furious, the Romans were repulsed, and retired to the outside of the walls with a considerable loss. The Romans renewed the attack, destroying many of the Jews. They then settled down to the regular operations of a siege: provisions ran short in the city. Many of the people died of famine. At the end of several weeks a principal tower was undermined and fell with a crash, spreading consternation throughout the city. The Romans entered the city, and a desperate conflict ensued, during which the streets ran with blood. A gale of wind at the same time blew vast numbers of Jews over the precipices on which the city was built: many voluntarily threw themselves down rather than be taken prisoners by the Romans. In all nine thousand perished.
Titus was then sent by Vespasian against Gischala, which was full of military fugitives. Titus perceived the place was capable of an easy assault, and already satiated with blood-shedding, he proposed favourable terms of capitulation. This was on the Sabbath. A certain violent man named John, who had made himself leader of the place, asked Titus to wait till the Sabbath was over, which Titus, peaceably inclined, consented to do, and withdrew his troops to camp at some distance. John took advantage of the opportunity to flee. He escaped by night. Several thousands of the citizens with their families fled with him—a multitude of women and children. When three miles out of the city, finding the people with him slow in their movements, he left them, and rode in all haste to Jerusalem. Many of the men accompanied him, notwithstanding the agonising importunities of wives and children to stay. The multitude thus deserted were in great distress. They were afraid to go back and unable to go forward. They dispersed among the hills, and vast numbers of the women and children perished. Next day, the Romans slew crowds of them. Three thousand of them were driven back like a flock of sheep to the city. The city was spared and occupied by a garrison.
Vespasian then advanced from Caesarea to Jamnia and Azotus, both of which he captured and garrisoned. Disorder and civil war now prevailed throughout the country. The Jews were everywhere divided between those who wanted war and those who wanted peace. This raised feuds even in private families, and led to bitter quarrels. The more violent banded together in bodies and betook themselves to rapine, and for barbarity and iniquity exceeded the Romans themselves. The Roman garrisons took no notice of these disorders, and the country became a prey to misery. The lawless bands, after exhausting their opportunities of plunder and cruelty, repaired one after the other to Jerusalem, which became crowded with the refuse of the country.
JERUSALEM BEFORE THE SEIGE.
Galilee subdued, the Romans next turned their eyes anxiously to Jerusalem, which, on account of its great strength and abundance of supplies, threatened a stubborn resistance. John of Gischala, arriving there, incited the people to war, by reporting the Romans to be in a weak condition on account of the resistance of Galilee. John’s harangues had the effect of inciting the young and violent part of the city, but saddening the aged and the prudent. The numerous vagabonds from the country sided with John, and soon evinced a disposition to domineer over the city. They supplied their own private wants by robbery, and murdered all who stood in their way. They assassinated the public treasurer, a man of royal lineage, and two other public men. Other leading men soon fell a prey to their violence, under the pretence that their victims were in secret correspondence with the Romans. Terror prevailed in the city even before the Romans arrived. Ananus, the high priest, persuaded the people to rise against John’s party, who, after a collision and much effusion of blood, took refuge in the Temple, and fortified themselves there against their assailants. John’s party sent secretly for the Idumean Jews to come to their assistance. The Idumeans came to the number of twenty thousand, but the party of the high priest refused them admittance. John’s party, who may be called the Temple party, cut open one of the gates at night during a tempest, and admitted the Idumeans to the Temple. When their presence was discovered, dismay filled the city. Fighting ensued, during which the Idumeans slew nearly nine thousand persons. The outer wall of the Temple was covered with blood. The Idumeans proceeded to violent measures in the government of the city. They assassinated the high priest Ananus, who, had he lived, had influence enough to have persuaded the Jews to submit to the Romans and save the city. Jesus, the next in influence to Ananus, was also slain, and the bodies of both thrown out of the city naked and without burial. General massacre ensued. The better class of citizens were imprisoned in the hope they would join the Idumean party; refusing which, they were put to all manner of tortures. Public terror prevailed. Nobody had even courage to weep for the dead or bury them, for anyone suspected of sympathy with the murdered were immediately put to death.
The Temple party increased in arrogance with their success, and resolved to assume the government of the city. They determined to get rid of Zacharias, a leading man in Jerusalem, of great influence by reason of his wealth, wisdom, and probity. They arraigned him before the Sanhedrin on the accusation of designing to betray the city to the Romans. They furnished no proof, and the Sanhedrin acquitted him of the charge; whereupon two of the party slew Zacharias before the Sanhedrin, and dismissed the Sanhedrin with a blow on the back of each member with a sword. The Idumeans then got out of love with the proceedings of the Temple party, and left Jerusalem in a body. The high-priest party were glad of this, but without reason, for the Temple party became more audacious and lawless in their proceedings—arresting and assassinating prominent citizens at their pleasure. Anarchy then set in. The Roman commanders hearing of what was going on, advised Vespasian to march on the city. Vespasian replied that God was fighting for the Romans, and that it would be far better to leave the Jews to wear themselves out in their seditions than to unite them by attacking them. Many of the Jews left the city and deserted to the Romans. The exodus was stopped by the Temple party, who killed all who were found fleeing, unless they were able to pay a large sum of money for their liberty to go. All along the road vast numbers of dead bodies began to accumulate in heaps. The Temple party refused burial, and the bodies putrefied in the sun. If any man in the city granted a grave to any of the slain, he was himself killed instantly. The terror of the living was so great that the dead were envied. To increase the dreadfulness of the situation, the Temple party laughed at the law, and poured contempt on the prophets as “jugglers”; though, as Josephus observes, they proved the prophets true by the miseries they brought on the city. John, the leader of the Temple party, aspired to the position of dictator; upon which the Temple faction split into two parts—one for, and the other against him.
The fortress of Masada, outside of Jerusalem, at this point was seized by a large band of lawless men, who made incursions from the fortress into the neighbouring country, and plundered the villages, slaying the inhabitants. Engaddi, a small city in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem was taken by them. The population fled, and the women and children left behind, to the number of seven hundred were butchered. The whole region was quickly desolated, and those parts of Judea hitherto quiet, were now in commotion and misery.
Vespasian was importuned to come to the rescue. He temporised, but at last decided to move, resolving, however, to reduce what Jewish cities still held out in the provinces, so that nothing might interrupt him in the siege of Jerusalem when once begun. Accordingly, he marched against Gadara, the metropolis of Perea, a place of some strength. The place was surrendered on the fourth day, and the walls demolished, but the people spared on account of their friendly disposition to the Romans. Numerous seditious fugitives escaped from Gadara to Bethennabris, and made a stand with the Jews there. A detachment of the Roman horse followed them and took the place by storm, and put all the inhabitants to the sword, and burnt the village. A few survivors escaped; they spread the news of the Roman arrival throughout the district, and declared that the only hope lay in insurrection en masse. The population accordingly left their homes in the hills and mountains, and fled to Jericho, which was fortified, and had many inhabitants. Before they got there they were overtaken by the Roman horse and driven to the banks of the Jordan and compelled to accept battle. A massacre—not a battle—ensued; 15,000 were slain by the Romans; large numbers were drowned in the Jordan, and 2,200 taken prisoners.
The Roman commander, Placidus, who performed this exploit, next fell on the smaller cities and villages in the district, subduing Abila, Julias, and Bezemoth, and all other places toward the Dead Sea.
Vespasian marched to Jericho. Hearing of his approach, a great multitude left Jericho and took refuge in the mountains. Vespasian took the city and built a citadel in which he placed a garrison. He despatched a Roman officer, with horse and foot, to Gerasa. The place was taken at the first assault, the young men slain, the houses pillaged and then burnt. The adjoining villages were treated in the same way.
The mountainous district of Judea was now desolate and also the plain country, and escape from Jerusalem was impossible. Returning to Caesarea to make final arrangements for the siege of Jerusalem, Vespasian was informed of the death of Nero, and suspended his plans till he should see who was made Emperor, and what instructions he should receive as to the Jewish war.
The death of Nero postponed the fate of Jerusalem for many months. Meanwhile, new trouble arose for that unhappy city. One Simon, of Gerasa, a man of violent and domineering disposition, got himself appointed captain of the marauding bands in the fortress of Masada. Increasing his numbers by various means, he extended his operations in the open country about Jerusalem till he was in a position to invade Idumea. The Temple party in Jerusalem—headed by John of Gischala—watched Simon’s movements with great jealousy. They captured his wife and household. Simon appeared before Jerusalem in a great rage, and demanded the restoration of his wife. He laid hold of all the stragglers he could find outside Jerusalem; killed many by torture, and cut off the hands of others and sent them maimed into Jerusalem. His threatenings were so formidable that the Temple zealots at last sent his wife out to him. He departed into Idumea, but returned in a short time and environed the whole city with his soldiers, torturing and slaying all who ventured out of the city.
Meanwhile, inside the city, affairs became worse. John of Gischala propitiated the support of his party by giving them licence to pillage and murder and ravish without restraint. His men revelled in every form of violence and excess. Many sought to escape from the city, but in fleeing from John inside the walls, they fell into the hands of Simon outside. Affairs grew so bad that the high priest party tried to overthrow John by admitting Simon. The people welcomed Simon with joyful acclamation: but the remedy proved worse than the disease. Simon having obtained possession of Jerusalem, treated those who had admitted him as enemies equally with those of John’s party. He made an assault on the temple where John’s party were established. A great deal of bloodshed ensued, but with little result.
A faction then sprang up in John’s party, headed by Eleazar the priest. Desirous of getting rid of John’s tyranny, this faction established themselves against John in the inner court of the Temple and assailed John’s adherents from the upper part of the building. John was thus between two fires—Simon in the city and Eleazar in the inner and higher parts of the Temple. Constant and desperate fighting ensued between the parties. Simon and John both resorted to the use of fire, by which the principal calamity of the city was prepared. In addition to the houses near the Temple where the strife raged, the granaries near the Temple in which had been stored corn that would have lasted the city several years, were burnt down. This was the cause of famine afterwards. The city now sank to a state of extreme wretchedness, and the elder part earnestly desired the arrival of the Romans, but had no means of communicating with them, or in any way of influencing the course of events, as every exit from the city was carefully guarded, and every one suspected of favouring the Romans was put to death, equally by the three factions at war with each other.
The Roman army at Caesarea proclaimed Vespasian emperor. Vespasian departed to Alexandria, and thence to Rome, leaving the direction of the war to his son Titus. Titus remained for a time at Caesarea, making preparations for the siege of Jerusalem. At last he marched and was reinforced at various points.
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