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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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THE CONQUESTS OF BASSUS

[467] LUCILIUS Bassus was sent to Judea as legate, and there took command of the Roman army. Although Jerusalem was in ruins, yet three strong fortresses, garrisoned by Jews, still remained in arms against the Roman Empire. These were Herodium, Massada, and Machærus.

Bassus soon gained over the fortress of Herodium, and then drew around him the Roman forces scattered throughout Judea, and, together with the tenth legion, marched against Machærus.

Because Machærus was a very strong fortress, and well fortified by nature, Bassus thought that it ought to be destroyed, lest its very strength should induce many of the Jews to revolt. For so long as it stood they would feel that they had a place of safety to which they might retire.

It was built upon a high and rocky hill, which was surrounded on all sides by deep ravines, which could not be easily crossed, and which it was nearly impossible to mound up. Remarking the natural advantages of the spot, Alexander, king of the Jews, first erected a fortress there. But this was destroyed by Gabinus in his war with Aristobulus.

Afterwards, when Herod was king, he surrounded a space of ground upon the hill with ramparts and towers, and built there a city, with an ascent leading upwards to the summit of a hill. On the very brow of the hill he raised a wall, and at the angles built high towers. In the centre of the [468] enclosure he built a beautiful palace, and around it he placed a number of cisterns in order to receive the rain and thus keep the city supplied with water in case of a siege; and also he stocked the place with missiles and engines, so that a gallant defence could be made.

After Bassus had examined the place from every point, he determined to fill up the ravine upon the east, and from thence make an attack upon the town. The Jewish natives of the town separated themselves from the strangers who had taken refuge within the walls, and shut themselves up in the citadel. But they compelled the strangers to defend the lower town.

Many fierce conflicts took place about the walls, for the Jews every now and then would sally out upon the Romans while they were employed upon their works. The garrison sometimes caught the Romans off their guard, but at other times they were repulsed with great loss. These combats, however, did not decide the fate of the town, but it was suddenly decided by a remarkable chance.

Among the garrison there was a young man called Eleazar, who was very brave and bold. He had greatly distinguished himself in the sallies that the Jews had made, and had killed a great many of the enemy. Always the last to retreat, he had often checked by himself the onset of the Romans. One day it happened that just after a fight, and when both parties had retired, Eleazar remained alone outside the walls of the town, chatting with some friends upon the ramparts, and giving his attention entirely to them.

Suddenly an Egyptian called Rufus, who was serving in the Roman army, and was renowned for his strength, rushed swiftly up to Eleazar while off his guard, and, picking him up armed as he was, he succeeded in bearing him off to the Roman camp. For the Jews upon the ramparts were too much taken by surprise to attempt his rescue.

The Roman general ordered Eleazar to be stripped and taken to a spot where he could be seen by all his friends in 469 the city, to be there scourged in sight of all. When the Jews saw this sight they began to weep and groan, for Eleazar was very dear to them. When Bassus saw how much they were affected by this, he thought he might force the town to surrender by a stratagem. Nor was he disappointed.

He ordered a cross to be put up, as if he were about to crucify Eleazar. Then the friends and relatives of the youth set up loud wails and gave themselves up to the most violent grief. And rather than see him perish thus before their eyes they sent messengers to the Romans, saying that they would surrender the fortress if only they might be allowed to depart in safety and take with them Eleazar.

Bassus agreed to these conditions. When the multitude of strangers in the lower town heard of the agreement which the citizens had made, they determined to steal away quietly during the night. But as soon as the gates were thrown open, those who had come to terms with Bassus told him of the design the strangers had in view. Bassus then fell upon them and slaughtered the great part of the men, and enslaved the women and children. A few of the bravest men managed to cut their way through the Roman forces and escape. All the natives were spared, according to the agreement, and allowed to depart with their beloved Eleazar.

Bassus then marched to a forest, called the forest of Jarden, and proceeded to surround it. For here a number of those Jews had collected who had escaped from Jerusalem and Machærus while they were being besieged. Bassus posted his cavalry all around the forest, and then set the infantry to chopping down the trees, among which the fugitives had taken refuge.

The Jews were thus compelled to fight, for their only chance of escape was to cut their way through the enemy. And so they collected together, and rushed upon the troops that hemmed them in. But the Romans were well armed and prepared for the attack. Upon their side only a few fell, while [470] the Jews were slaughtered to a man; and at the end of the fight three thousand lay dead among the woods of Jarden.

At this time Cæsar wrote to Bassus, and to Liberius Maximus, the procurator, directing them to sell the whole of the Jewish territory. For he kept it all as his own private property, without sharing the conquered land with his army. To eight hundred veterans, however, he gave as a dwelling-place a town called Emmaus, about seven or eight miles from Jerusalem. At the same time he ordered that every Jewish man would have to pay an annual tax of two drachms for the support of the Capitol; this being the amount that each Jew had formerly paid for the support of the temple.


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