|The Story of the Last Days of Jerusalem|
|by Alfred J. Church|
|Skillful retelling of Josephus's account of the revolt against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem. Recounts the events leading up to the opening of the war with the Romans, Josephus's brave defense of Jotapata, its final capture and his escape from death, and finally the siege of Jerusalem, the burning of the temple, and the razing of the city. Ages 12-15 |
WHEN the rebels had fled into the Upper City, the Temple and all the cloisters about it being now on fire, the
Romans set their standards by the eastern gate, and did sacrifice, and saluted Titus as Emperor with a very
great shouting. So much plunder had the soldiers from the spoiling of the Temple, that at this
 time a pound weight of gold was sold in Syria for half only of the price that it had before.
There were certain of the priests who had climbed on to the wall of the Temple and would not descend; and among
these a boy who, being tormented with thirst, cried out to the Roman guards that they should reach him a hand
that he might come down, for that he was dying from thirst. And when, having compassion on his youth, one of
them reached to him his hand, he came down, and drank himself, and filled his pitcher with water, and having so
done, fled back to his own people; nor could any of the guards overtake him. On the fifth day the priests,
being now overcome with hunger, came down, and besought Titus that he would have compassion upon them; but he
made answer to them that the day of mercy was now past, and commanded that they should be slain.
After this Simon and John, and they that were with them, seeing that they were surrounded and had now no way of
escape, said that they would speak with Titus. And he, for that he was of a gentle temper, and would gladly
have saved the City, and being also persuaded by his friends, said that he would hear them. Wherefore he stood
on the Terrace, that was on the western side of the Temple, where there was a bridge between the Temple and the
Upper City, and spake with them, having first commanded the soldiers that they keep their wrath within bounds,
and should not shoot arrows against them that stood on the other side of the bridge. And first he rebuked them
for their folly, in that they had thought to resist the Romans, who had conquered all the nations of the world,
as the Germans, for all the greatness of their stature, and the Britons, for all that they had the sea for a
 he brought up against them, that, even after he had begun to besiege the City, he had yet been willing to make
peace, and had besought them to have compassion on themselves, and on their countrymen, and on the Holy Place.
"And now," he said, "that your Temple hath perished, are ye worthy to live? Yet even now ye come not as
suppliants to me, but stand in arms against me, though your nation hath perished, and I have the mastery over
your City. Nevertheless, if ye will lay down your arms, and yield yourselves to me, I give you your lives." To
this the rebels made answer, "Thy hand we cannot take, for we have sworn a great oath that this thing we will
not do. But if thou wilt suffer us to go forth with our wives and our children, we will depart into the desert,
and leave this City to thee." At which words the wrath of Titus was greatly moved; and he bade a herald
proclaim that thenceforth he would spare no man, but would deal with them after the custom of war. Then he
commanded the soldiers to spoil and burn all that remained of the City.
After this the rebels assaulted the Palace of Herod, where many had put their goods for safety, and driving out
thence the Romans, slew the people therein, and spoiled the place. Also they took two soldiers, a horseman and
a foot-soldier. The foot-soldier they slew forthwith and dragged his body about the City, as if they would
avenge themselves upon him for all that the Romans had done to them. As for the horseman, they bound his hands
behind his back, and covered his eyes with a band, and made ready to slay him before the eyes of the Romans.
But while the executioner was drawing his sword, the man escaped to the Romans. And Titus, because he had
escaped from the enemy, would not slay him; but because he was not fit to be a soldier of Rome
 who had suffered himself to be taken alive, he commanded that they should strip him of his arms, and drive him
out of the host.
The leaders of the rebels were the more obstinate in holding out, because they hoped that they should escape by
hiding themselves in certain caverns that were under the earth. For they expected that search would not be made
for them there; but that the Romans, when they had made an end of destroying the City, would depart, and they
themselves could come forth. But this was a vain thought of theirs, that they should escape the vengeance of
God and of their enemies. Nevertheless, because they had this hope, they increased daily in violence and
After this, Titus began to set up banks for the taking of the Upper City. There was a great lack of timber for
the works, for all the trees for the distance of a hundred furlongs from Jerusalem had been cut down for the
former banks. Nevertheless the thing was done, the four legions building on the west side of the City, over
against the Palace of Herod, and the auxiliaries and the mixed multitude building over against the Terrace and
the bridge that was between the Upper City and the Temple, and the Tower of Sirnon, which he had built for a
stronghold when he was fighting against John of Gischala.
In these days the captains of the Idumæans, assembling themselves in secret, took counsel whether they should
not deliver themselves tip to Titus; and they sent five ambassadors to him, who should entreat him to have
compassion upon them. And Titus, because he hoped that the rebels, when the Idumæans should have left them, who
were their chief strength, would be willing to give themselves up, promised that he would
 give them their lives. But as they were preparing to depart, Simon perceived their purpose, and cast the
captains into prison, having first slain the five men that had gone as ambassadors to Titus. As for the common
folk, he commanded that they should be watched, and that the wall should be more diligently kept, lest they
should escape. Notwithstanding, though many were slain, yet the greater part escaped. On these Titus had mercy
and saved their lives. The soldiers also were by this time wearied of slaying, and were willing to spare such
as came to them, in the hope of gain.
In these days a certain priest, named Joshua, when Titus had sworn to him that he would save him alive, came
forth and delivered to him two candlesticks from the wall of the Temple, like to them that were in the Holy
Place, and tables also, and books, and cups; all of which things were of gold throughout, and of a very great
weight. He also delivered to him curtains and garments of the priests, with precious stones, and many other
things that had been made for ministering in the Temple. Moreover, the keeper of the treasury, by name
Phinehas, having been taken, showed where there lay tunics and girdles of the priests, and a great store of
purple dye and of scarlet that was kept for the dyeing of the curtains, and also a very great abundance of
cinnamon and cassia and other spices, which they were accustomed to mingle together for the making of the
incense that they offered in the Temple. Many other precious things and ornaments of the Holy Place were
delivered up by him, for the sake of which things, though he had been taken by force, he received mercy as if
he had yielded himself.
On the seventh day of the month September, the
 siege-works being now altogether finished (and this work was done in the space of eighteen days), the Romans
brought their machines near to the Upper City. And when the rebels saw them, the most part being now driven to
despair, fled from the walls, and some hid themselves in the caverns. Nevertheless there yet remained some who
fought against the men that had charge of the battering rams; but these were but few in number and
faint-hearted. And when a part of the wall had been broken down, and some of the towers also had yielded to the
battering rams, these also fled. And now the leaders were in great fear, for they saw no hope remaining to
them. And first they sought to break through the guards and so escape, but could not. And, indeed, it was as if
God had turned their minds to folly by reason of their wickedness, for whereas, had they abode in the towers,
they could never have been taken, save only from stress of hunger, they left these of their own accord, and hid
themselves in the caverns.
Then did the Romans set up their standards upon the walls and celebrate their victory with great shouting and
joy, having found the war, they said, easier at its ending than at its beginning. For this last wall of the
City they took without any loss whatsoever, a thing almost beyond belief. Then they searched through the lanes
and streets of the City, slaying all whom they met; and they burnt with fire many houses, with such as were
therein. And in many of the houses, when they had gone into them seeking for plunder, they found whole families
dead of hunger, and came forth from them with their hands empty. Nevertheless, though they felt some pity for
the dead, they had no compassion upon the living, but slew them without mercy, till the streets were piled up
with dead bodies. This they did
 until nightfall; and during the night the flames prevailed against the City, so that it was consumed
altogether. And this befell on the eighteenth of the month September.
The next day Titus came into the City, and beheld it, marvelling much at the strength of the towers which the
rebels had left of their own accord. And when he considered with himself how high they were, and how solidly
built, and of how great stones, he said, "Surely now hath God been on our side, else the Jews had not left
these towers; for, indeed, what could the hands of man do against them?" And when he commanded that the rest of
the City should be destroyed, he would have these towers left, that they might be a memorial of his good
fortune to them that should come after.
And now the soldiers being weary with slaying, seeing that a great multitude of the people yet remained alive,
Titus commanded that they only should be put to death who had been found with arms upon them, and that the rest
should be kept alive. But the soldiers slew, together with them whom they had been bidden to slay, the old men
also and the weak. But such as were strong and in the vigour of their age they gathered together in the Court
of the Women. Titus set one of his freedmen, Fronto by name, to have the charge of these, and to deal with them
according to their deserts. Then Fronto commanded that all the rebels should be slain; yet he kept certain of
the young men who surpassed the rest for beauty and stature against the triumph of Cæsar. Of them that remained
he sent all that were of seventeen years and upwards to work in the mines of Egypt; but many were sent into the
provinces to be slain by the sword and by wild beasts in the theatre. All such as were younger than seventeen
 sold. But a great multitude perished of hunger during these days, some because the guards for hatred would not
give them to eat, and some because they would take nothing of their hands. And indeed there was not a
sufficiency of food for so great a multitude.
Now the number of them that were taken captive was ninety-and-seven thousand in all; and the number of them
that perished in the war was eleven-hundred-thousand. For a great multitude had assembled, according to custom,
at the Feast of the Passover, and being overtaken suddenly by the war were not able to depart. And indeed, that
so great a multitude could be gathered together in the City is manifest from the counting that was made in the
days of Cestius. For when Nero made little account of the strength of the people, Cestius would have the
priests take the number of the people. And they, when the Feast of the Passover was come, counted the number of
the lambs that were slain for sacrifice; and the number was two-hundred-and-fifty-and-six thousand and five
hundred; and for each lamb might be reckoned a company of ten men at the least. Nor are there counted herein
such as were unclean, or the strangers that had come to the City for the Feast.
As for the leader of the rebels, John, being compelled by hunger, gave himself up to the Romans, and was saved
alive, but kept in prison until the day of his death, but Simon they found not till after certain days. For
when the Romans had taken the Upper City, this Simon, having with him certain of his friends whom he judged to
be most faithful to himself, and with them stone-cutters, and tools such as were suitable for digging, and a
great store of provisions, escaped into a cavern. And coming to the end of the cavern, he and his
com-  panions dug away the earth, for they hoped that when they had so dug for a certain space they might come forth
into some safe place and so escape. But after making trial of the work they found that they had no hope of
success. For the men that dug away the earth could do but little, and their food was well-nigh spent. Then
Simon, seeking to astonish the Romans, and so escape them, put on him a white tunic and above it a purple robe,
and came forth from the earth in the place where the Temple had stood. And at the first they that saw him stood
still for wonder; but afterwards they went to him, and asked him who he was. This indeed he would not tell
them, but bade them fetch their captain. Then they ran and fetched Terentius Rufus, for he had been left to
command such part of the army as remained, for with the greater part Titus had already departed. Then Simon
told the whole truth to Terentius, and Terentius kept him till he should hear the pleasure of Titus. The end of
this Simon was that he was led as chief among the prisoners when Vespasian and Titus went in triumph to the
Capitol in Rome, and that after the triumph he was slain.
Titus commanded that the whole City should be laid even with the ground, saving the three towers that were
highest, even Phasælis, and Hippicos, and Mariamne, and a part of the wall that compassed the City towards the
west; and these he left that they might show to the generations to come how great a city the Romans had taken.
After this he called together the whole army and made an oration to the soldiers, wherein he praised them
greatly for their steadfastness and valour, declaring that not one who had borne himself bravely in the siege
should go without his reward. Then he called to him
 such as had done any notable deeds of valour, and set crowns of gold upon their heads, and gave them also
chains of gold, and long spears with shafts of gold, and ensigns of silver; and each man he promoted in his
legion, or cohort, or squadron. After this he held a great sacrifice, wherein was slain a great multitude of
oxen; and their flesh he gave to the soldiers for a feast. And after he had feasted with them for three days,
he sent away the other legions, each to its proper place, but gave the charge of Jerusalem to the tenth.
After this he kept the birthday of his brother in the city of Cæsarea; and, as is the custom of the Romans at
such feasts, he caused a great multitude of the Jews to be slain, constraining them to fight with each other,
or with wild beasts. And not many days after he kept the birthday of his father in like manner. And this he did
in the city of Berytus.
By this time Vespasian was come to Rome, and had been received as Emperor with good-will by the whole world;
and he would that Titus should come to him without further delay. From Berytus therefore Titus went to Antioch,
and from Antioch to Alexandria in Egypt. And as he was on his way to Alexandria he passed by the place where
Jerusalem had been, and he was moved with compassion when he saw its desolation, that had been before more
magnificent than all the cities of the world. At Alexandria he took ship and sailed into Italy, whither he had
sent beforehand Simon and John, and others of the captives, to the number of seven hundred, being the tallest
and fairest that could be found. When he was come near to Rome, his father Vespasian, having with him his
younger son Domitian and a great multitude of the citizens, both small and great, came forth to meet him and
conduct him into the city.
 Not many days after, these two, even Vespasian and Titus, went, after the manner of the Romans, in a triumph to
the Capitol. Now the manner of the triumph was this. While it was yet night all the soldiers that were in the
city, being ranged in their squadrons and companies, surrounded the Temple of Isis; for there the Emperor and
his son passed the night. And so soon as it was light the two came forth, having crowns of laurel about their
heads, and clad in robes of purple after the manner of their country, and came to the terraces of Octavia,
where the senate and the magistrates, and as many of the citizens as were of the rank of Knight, were assembled
to meet them., There had been set a tribunal before the cloister, and on the tribunal two ivory chairs. On
these they sat, being without armour or weapons, and the soldiers shouted when they saw them. After a while
Vespasian beckoned with his hand that the shouting should be stayed; and there being made a great silence, he
offered up prayer, according to custom, Titus also doing the same. And when he had made an end of praying, he
bade the soldiers depart to the banquet which had been prepared for them; and he himself with Titus went
without the city to the Gate of the Triumphs, which has its name because all triumphs pass through it. There,
when they had taken some food, they were clad in robes of triumph, and after sacrifice done to the gods before
the Gate, so passed into the city. And that the triumph might be the more easily seen of all the people. it was
led through the theatres.
SPOILS OF THE TEMPLE CARRIED IN TRIUMPH.
But to tell worthily the glory and splendour of that sight is not within the power of speech. For of all the
riches that have ever been possessed of man there was nothing wanting that day to show the greatness of the
Empire of Rome. Then might one see silver and gold
 and ivory in such plenty, that it seemed not as if some were carried for a show, but that all that there was in
the whole world was gathered together in that one place. Also there was a great store of robes, of purple some
of them, and some woven most skilfully in pictures; and jewels, set some in crowns of gold, and some in other
works, and of all so many that one could no longer think them to be rare. There were carried also statues of
the gods, of marvellous greatness and beauty, and not one of them that was not made of some precious stuff.
After these came all kinds of animals, each adorned after his kind. And the men that carried these things had
purple robes and crowns of gold. Also there were to be seen the prisoners that had been kept for the triumph,
all very splendidly adorned, and the splendour and variety of their equipment was such that men noted not their
weariness and misery. Nor was there anything more marvellous than the greatness and height of the carriages on
which all these things were borne, being some of them of three or even four stories. And on the sides of the
carriages there were pictures of all kinds of warfare, marvellously well wrought. There could men see the
laying waste of some fertile country, and the slaying of great hosts of the enemy; for some could be seen to
flee, and some to be led into captivity; and great walls were broken down by machines, and cities full of
inhabitants taken by force, and armies entered in, with other such like sights. And on each carriage was the
chief of the city that had been taken.
Of all the spoils of war that were borne in the triumph, the richest and most beautiful were they that had been
taken from the Temple at Jerusalem, among which was a table of gold of many talents in weight, and a
candle-stick of gold, having seven branches, according to the
 number which the Jews are wont to have in the highest honour; and after the candlestick the Book of the Law.
After all the spoils came the Emperor Vespasian, and next to Vespasian was Titus his son. With these also went
Domitian; and in this array they came to the Temple of Jupiter of the Capitol.
After this Vespasian built a Temple of Peace; and in this he laid up the vessels that had been taken from the
Temple; but the veil of the Temple and the Book of the Law were laid up in the Palace.
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