CHAPTER 26. —THE SEIGE OF JERUSALEM
In due course, the Romans, marching under Titus from Caesarea, arrived at Scopus, within sight of the doomed city. There they encamped. The first thing Titus did was to make a circuit of the city with a body of horsemen to view the place, in the course of which he was nearly captured by the Jews in a sally. As the result of his inspection, he ordered the construction of three fortified camps round Jerusalem. The Jews then dropped their quarrels and made common cause against the Romans. While the Romans were at work on their fortifications, the Jews sallied in overpowering numbers, and drove them away. Reinforcements arriving, the Jews were driven back into the city. The Romans resuming work, the Jews made a second sally in greater force than before, and with terrible energy. Josephus says they rushed as if they had been shot out of a siege engine, and that the Romans could not withstand the fury of their onset. The Romans broke and fled. Titus himself with a select band of soldiers stood in the breach and succeeded at last in rallying the fleeing soldiers and repelling the Jewish assault.
After this the Romans proceeded with their fortifications in peace, and the internal strife again broke out in Jerusalem. The feast of unleavened bread having arrived, great numbers of people, notwithstanding the dreadfulness of the times, pressed into the city to keep the feast. The Temple was opened for the service, and John of Gischala made use of the opportunity to introduce a large band of his supporters, with arms concealed under their clothes. Once inside, they threw off their disguise and seized the Temple. Scenes of violence ensued, during which many were slain in the Temple.
Titus, for the erection of battering rams, levelled a considerable space outside the walls in the direction of Scopus, using for the purpose the hedges and walls of all the gardens and groves in the neighbourhood, and also all the fruit trees that abounded in the valleys in the suburbs. He also broke great masses from the rocks with iron instruments, and in this way filled up all the chasms and hollow places from Scopus to Herod’s monuments, desolating the environs of Jerusalem, which had been of great beauty.
Having, in four days, completed the levelling works, Titus made a tour of inspection round the walls. Josephus was with him, and instructed by Titus, proposed terms of surrender to the Jews on the wall. The Jews answered with darts, one of which wounded Nicanor, a friend of Titus, on the left shoulder. This exasperated Titus, who gave his soldiers leave to set the suburbs on fire. He also directed them to cut down all the trees within reach and bring them for the purpose of raising banks against the city. The Jews brought the siege engines to the walls, which they had captured from Cestius, and kept up a discharge of stones and arrows against the Romans busy at the banks. They also made frequent sorties. Notwithstanding this opposition, the Romans finished their banks, and the battering rams were brought into play. In the consternation caused by the shocks of the engines on the wall, the Jews again suspended their dissensions and fought against the Romans. They kept up a perpetual discharge of darts and torches on the soldiers working the engines, who, however, continued their operations, yet without result to the wall.
After a lull, the Jews made a sally in great force at The Tower of Hippicus and tried to set the Roman engine on fire. The Romans were obliged to give way for a time, but finally succeeded in driving back the Jews, who nearly succeeded in their object. One of the Jews taken prisoner in this fight was by order of Titus crucified before the wall, to strike terror into the besieged. On the following night, the engines began to make an impression on the wall, especially one called Nico, which succeeded in making a large breach. A chosen band of Romans entered this breach, and as the Jews had retired within the second wall to escape the darts from the towers, the Romans who assaulted the breach easily obtained possession of the first wall, and opening the gate admitted the whole army. This was on the fifteenth day of the siege.
Having captured the first wall, and having seized that portion of the city lying outside the second wall, Titus transferred his camp to within the first wall, and immediately made arrangements to attack the second wall. The Romans, however, were harassed by constant and violent sallies from the Jews. For several days, neither side wearied. The day was occupied in perpetual attacks and repulses, and the night passed without sleep, from the fear each side was in that advantage would be taken by the other of the darkness. At last the Roman engines made a breach through which a thousand Roman soldiers entered and took possession of the second wall. Titus hoped that this event would break the resistance of the Jews, and lead to the surrender of the city, which he was very desirous of preserving from destruction. With this view, he forbade the soldiers to kill any of the Jews caught on the second wall, or to set fire to any of the houses. He then proposed terms of capitulation. The bulk of the inhabitants were anxious to comply, but the fighting men rejected the proposal with scorn, and threatened death to every one disposed for peace. Some who advocated peace were instantly put to death, and an attack was made in great force upon the Romans who had come within the second wall. These, taken at a disadvantage from their ignorance of the tortuous and narrow streets, were overpowered, and only a portion of them escaped through the breach with their lives.
The Romans renewed their attack on the breach. Inside the breach the Jews formed themselves in a dense body. Covered with armour, they formed a wall with their own bodies, which for three days the Romans in vain tried to break. On the fourth day, the Roman attack became so vehement that the Jews were obliged to give way and flee within the third wall. Titus demolished the captured (second) wall, and made preparations for an attack on the third.
Before commencing his attack on the third wall, Titus resolved to try the effect of a military display on the minds of the beleaguered Jews. He accordingly got his soldiers to polish their accoutrements and get themselves in good trim and then marshalled his army in imposing array in a prominent place inside the north wall. The splendid appearance of so great a body of troops produced a great impression on the countless thousands of spectators who covered the walls of the Temple and the houses of the city. Even the hardiest of the Jews were overawed, and Josephus expresses the opinion that but for the enormity of the crimes of which the factionists had been guilty, causing them to despair of forgiveness, the city would have surrendered. As it was, the factionists, believing they would die with torments if they surrendered to the Romans, prepared to die in war, and resolved to go on with the defence of the city. The display lasted four days, and Titus, perceiving no sign of surrender, on the fifth day resumed the work of the siege.
The Romans raised banks at the tower of Antonia, and at John’s monument. They found difficulty, however, in prosecuting the work, for the Jews within the third wall, standing on a higher elevation than the Romans, were able to keep up a constant rain of missiles upon them. The Jews had now learnt the use of the siege engines, and of one sort for the discharge of darts, they had no fewer than three hundred in position, and forty for stones. By this means they were able very seriously to impede the progress of the Roman work.
Titus, perceiving the slow progress made, resolved to make one more effort to induce surrender. He sent Josephus, who was attached to his staff, and whose wife and mother were among the besieged, to intercede with them. Josephus dared not enter within reach of the Jewish missiles, but selected a safe place within hearing distance of the wall, and delivered an eloquent address to them, using every argument to induce them for their own sakes and for the sake of the city to surrender to the Romans. The Jews scorned his words and threw darts at him, whereupon he delivered himself of a long and vehement denunciation, expressing his conviction that the generation of Jews was the most impious that had ever existed, and that God had fled from His sanctuary and was on the side of those who were fighting against it.
Although the violent and factionist element of the Jews spurned Josephus’ advice, his speech made a great impression on the common people, many of whom stole out of the city to the Romans and were allowed to pass through the military lines into the country. This caused increased vigilance on the part of the factionists within the city, who killed everyone in the least suspected of an intention to desert to the Romans.
DREADFUL CLOSING SCENES.
All order now began to dissolve in the doomed city. Food grew scarce. The factionists went up and down the city to secure, by force, a supply for themselves. They entered private houses and took whatever description of food they could find. It they found none, they suspected there had been concealment, and tormented the inmates till they disclosed their hoard. If the inmates were emaciated, they believed them when they said they had no food in concealment, and passed on without further search. If they saw any house shut up, this was to them a signal that the people inside had some food, and they broke open the doors, ran in, and in many cases took the food out of the people’s very mouths. Old people who held fast their food were beaten till they let go. Women hiding what they had got, had their hair torn out by the roots, and children clinging to their morsels were lifted and dashed to the ground. Those who had succeeded in actually swallowing their food before the robbers obtained admission, were tortured as if they had been guilty of a fraud.
The scarcity of food became so great that even the rich had difficulty in procuring, at exorbitant price, a single measure of corn. When they got it, they ate it in stealth and with closed doors for fear of the robbers. There was no such thing as a regular meal throughout the city, except among the soldier robbers of Simon and John. The demoralisation caused by the famine extended to private houses—children pulled the morsels from their fathers’ mouths, and mothers were not ashamed to eat what was set apart for their children, while the dying were utterly neglected. Some crept out of the city by night to gather wild plants, but almost invariably the soldier robbers snatched from them what they got.
Titus laid an ambush for those who came out to gather food, and a great number of them were captured. Titus, thinking it unsafe to let them at large, and not feeling he could spare the soldiers to watch them as prisoners, gave in to the clamour of the Roman soldiers, whose hatred of the Jews had by this time been fanned into a fierce flame. He consented to their being crucified. Crosses were erected all round the walls in sight of the besieged, with the writhing forms of the wretched prisoners transfixed upon them. The followers of Simon and John used this as an argument against surrender. Notwithstanding this, many ran out of the city, preferring death at the hands of their enemies to the slow agonies of starvation. These, by the order of Titus, had their hands cut off, and were sent back into the city, if possible to terrorise the city into submission. He rode round the city, exhorting the besieged to leave off their madness and not force him to destroy the city. In answer to this, they heaped reproaches on him from the wall.
The Romans then made additional efforts to raise banks for the siege engines. In seventeen days, four great banks were finished, and the engines were placed on them. The engines had scarcely got to work, however, when the principal bank, which had been, unknown to the Romans, undermined from the interior of the city, suddenly fell in with a loud noise, and was consumed with fire issuing from the mine. The Jews then made a sally upon the other banks, and set fire to the engines in the midst of desperate fighting. This occurrence very much discouraged the Romans.
Titus then abandoned the erection of banks, and resolved to build a wall round the city with towers, hermetically closing the city in till starvation should compel a surrender. The whole army were set to work, and in three days, the wall was completed. By this time the Jews were hemmed into the uncaptured part of the city, and could no longer make incursions to the environs either for food or fighting. A deep silence settled down on the city and famine made its direful progress. The upper rooms of the houses were full of dying women and children, and the streets full of dead bodies. Burial ceased, and bodies were simply thrown over the walls into the valley beneath. Titus, in going his rounds, was shocked at the thick putrefaction running about the heaps of the dead, and called to witness that he was not responsible for this awful state of things. He then began to raise banks so as to expedite the capture of the city and put an end to the misery of the living.
Inside the city, one of Simon’s lieutenants resolved to surrender the tower in his charge. Having persuaded the garrison, he beckoned to the Romans, who took no heed, not believing him to be in earnest. Titus hearing of it, approached the tower, but by this time, Simon, within the city, had become aware of the lieutenant’s purpose, entered the tower, seized and killed the garrison in the sight of the Romans, and mangling their dead bodies, threw them down the wall.
Many of the Jews now deserted to the Romans; but only to encounter an awful death. A report (true in many cases) got abroad that the Jews deserting the city had swallowed gold to save it from the robbers inside. The Roman soldiers consequently killed and opened every Jew that fell into their hands for the sake of the gold. Josephus mentions that in one night, about two thousand Jews were thus dissected. He remarks that God had condemned the whole nation, and turned every course that was taken for their preservation, to their destruction.
Inside the city, John and his robber companions, finding no more opportunity of plunder among the people, melted down the holy golden vessels of the temple. They now fought without any hope of victory, and gave themselves over to the hardihood of despair. They only aimed to harass the Romans as much as possible, and the Romans suffered great distress at their hands.
The wall suddenly gave way at the place where the ground had been undermined for the destruction of the Roman banks, but the Romans were dejected to find another (new) wall inside. Notwithstanding, they made a desperate attempt to storm the new wall, which was weaker than the old one. The attempt failed; but two days afterwards, a band of Romans, during the night, crept through the ruins and effected an entrance into the tower of Antonia, where they killed the sentinels, whom they found asleep, obtained possession of the wall and summoned the army with the trumpet to the assault. Both sides woke up and a desperate and prolonged battle for the possession ensued in the city. As the struggle took place in the streets, the Jews had the advantage, and the Romans had to retire, content with having taken possession of the tower of Antonia.
Titus gave orders to demolish the tower of Antonia, so as to make a ready passage for his army. Meanwhile he put Josephus forward again to try and induce the Jews to surrender. Speeches were interchanged between Josephus and John, but without effect. Many of the Jews, watching the opportunity, crept quietly over to the Romans and were well received by Titus. To prevent others deserting, John gave out that Titus had killed those who had gone over to him. Titus hearing this, displayed the deserters to the people, upon which a great many more fled to the Romans. All these, standing together, besought the Jews, with tears and groans, to surrender to the Romans, and so save the city, and, at least, the Temple from destruction. Titus himself appealed to them, declaring that he would preserve the Temple whether the Jews wished it or not. The Jews answered these proposals with imprecations and darts, and Titus, seeing there was no hope of making any impression upon them, resumed the operations.
At the end of seven days, the tower of Antonia was demolished and a wide passage for the army made to the walls of the Temple. The Romans raised banks against the Temple wall. The Jews harassed and impeded them by constant sallies. One of these attacks (upon the Roman guards on the Mount of Olives) came near the point of success; the Romans, however, gradually advanced their works against the Temple cloister. This was the beginning of the destruction of the Temple.
At this point the Jews killed many of the Romans by a desperate stratagem. They stored a part of the Temple cloister with inflammable materials, and then retired as though beaten before the Roman attack, upon which a body of Romans took possession of the deserted cloister. The Jews then set fire to the materials and few of the Romans escaped the flames.
To make quicker work, the Romans piled burning materials against the western gates of the outer court and set fire to them. The fire caught the cloisters on the inside of the wall and extended a considerable way. The Romans by this means were enabled to make a large breach for the passage of the legions into the first or outer court. The actual Temple itself was as yet intact. Titus called a council of war to determine whether to spare or destroy the Temple. It was decided to spare it as an ornament to the Empire, and orders to this effect were issued to the army. But God had proposed otherwise.
Next day, the Jews made a desperate sally from the east gate of the Temple. The attack, which lasted some hours, was repulsed with great difficulty by the Romans. The Jews then retired into the inner court and shut themselves up. With a view to preserve the Temple, a body of Romans, by order of Titus, attempted to extinguish the fire in the outer cloisters. The Jews from the inner Temple attacked them while so engaged. The Romans, enraged at this attack, repelled it with great fury, and one of them jumping upon another one’s shoulders, threw a burning brand through a window in the Temple itself. The Temple caught fire; upon which the Jews raised a great clamour. Titus hastened to the spot and ordered an immediate stop to be put to the fire, but the tumult on all hands was so great that his own soldiers could not make out his orders. The fire extended. The Jews then indiscriminately fell upon one another among the smoking embers of the cloisters, and perished in large numbers. Many of the Jews who had taken refuge in the Temple were weak and unarmed: these were killed without mercy. Dead bodies were piled in heaps about the altar before the Temple. Titus dashed into the interior, resolved, if possible, to rescue the buildings. His soldiers in an enthusiastic fury disregarded his commands. He gave orders to those about him to beat the soldiers who refused to obey; in the confusion, however, he made no impression. Exasperation at the Jews and love of plunder proved too strong for him; the Romans spread the fire in all directions, and Titus was obliged to hasten out of the Temple to secure his own safety. The conflagration finally wrapped the whole building in a blaze, and in a short time it was burnt to the ground.
The Temple destroyed, Titus concluded there was no object in sparing anything, and the soldiers set fire to adjacent buildings. In the remaining portions of the cloisters and the outer wall, there were about six thousand women and children. Titus was asked what was to be done with them, but before his decision could be given, a soldier set fire to the cloisters, and the whole multitude perished. When the fire subsided, the Romans brought their ensigns into the Temple area and there offered sacrifice amid loud acclamations.
The upper city was still unsubdued, and in the possession of Simon and John, with whom there was still a vast multitude of Jews. These, seeing the destruction of the Temple, proposed to treat with Titus about a surrender. Titus offered to grant them their lives. Simon and John declined these terms, and asked that they might be allowed to leave the city with their wives and depart to the desert. Titus, indignant at their request, broke off the negotiation, and resolved to hold no further parley. He gave orders to his soldiers to burn and plunder the city, and give no quarter to any. That part of the city in their possession was then fired.
The Jews in the upper city (Mount Zion) and part of the lower city, then resumed hostilities. On the day following, the Romans drove them out of the lower city, and set all on fire as far as Siloam. Josephus made a last appeal to the Jews holding the upper city to surrender. The Jews were inexorable, and set ambushes throughout the upper city to catch and kill those who attempted to desert to the Romans. Vast numbers were thus slain, and the city was everywhere full of dead bodies. The soldiers of Simon and John, driven to extremities for want of food, fought with one another over the plunder of the houses of private citizens.
Titus now raised banks round Mount Zion, from which to batter the walls of the upper city. Several of Simon’s lieutenants privately conferred and resolved to surrender to the Romans with their men, but Simon finding it out, killed five of them, put the others in prison and placed a garrison to watch their men. The latter, notwithstanding, succeeded in deserting in large numbers.
Famine prevailed in its severest form throughout the upper city. The soldiers had still some supplies left, but the citizens were absolutely without food of any kind, and perished in large numbers. Men went about the streets in search of food in a state of madness. In their intolerable hunger, they ate leather, wisps of old hay and refuse of all kinds. A lady roasted her baby and ate it in two meals. Despair settled down upon all survivors.
In eighteen days the banks against Mount Zion were finished, and the engines were brought into play against the wall. In a short time, a breach was made, and the Romans obtained an easy entrance, all power of resistance having departed from the Jews. The towers were captured and the city taken. The Romans planted their ensigns on the towers, and made joyful acclamations of victory. The city was given up to plunder. When the soldiers entered the houses, they found the upper rooms full of dead men, women and children. They were horror-struck, and set all on fire. Vast crowds of miserable survivors in the streets were slain without mercy, and the torrent of blood was so great that the fire in many of the burning houses was quenched by it. The Roman soldiers, tired of killing, received instructions to spare the young and the strong. During the process of discriminating as to who should be kept alive, eleven thousand perished for want of food.
The number spared for captivity was ninety-seven thousand, of whom many were afterwards destroyed in the public games. All above seventeen were chained and sent to work in the mines in Egypt. The number which perished during the siege was eleven hundred thousand, of whom six hundred thousand were thrown over the walls, causing at one time such a pile of corruption that the Romans were obliged to withdraw from that part. The city and the Temple were utterly demolished to the foundations, and the ground on which they stood was ploughed up.
Such was the dreadful tragedy (unparalleled in the history of the world) in which Jehovah’s long pent-up wrath against Israel burst at last upon their heads, and destroyed their national existence from the earth for a long series of centuries, during which they have been wanderers among the nations, among whom they have been objects of obloquy and scorn, finding no rest for the soles of their feet, till these later times, when the hour has arrived, with the near termination of the times of the Gentiles, for some mitigation of Israel’s calamities, in preparation for the glorious restoration long foretold and now approaching.
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