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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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[472] WHEN Silva had blocked the town so that none could escape, he commenced to build a mound upon a rock called the White Cliff. This rock jutted out to the westward, below the tower that barred the western passage to Massada. First a high mound was built of earth, and upon this a second bank, made of enormous stones, built in the shape of a platform. Then upon this a high tower was raised, completely cased with iron. From this tower the Romans hurled missiles and darts by means of their military engines, and cleared the ramparts of their defenders.

Silva brought up a battering-ram and commenced to batter against the wall, and at length battered down a portion of it. But in the mean while the Sikars had thrown up another wall inside. This they built of wood and earth, which, being soft, did not give way before the blows of the ram, but only became all the firmer from the blows.

When Silva saw that the ram was useless against this wall, he ordered his soldiers to throw lighted torches upon it. The wood-work soon caught on fire, and before long the whole wall was one vast sheet of flame. At the beginning the north wind blew the flames in the faces of the Romans, and they were much alarmed on account of their military engines, which seemed likely to be burned up.

But on a sudden the wind shifted and blew fiercely from the south, driving the flames inward, and soon the wall fell down, after the woodwork was all destroyed. The Romans then [473] returned rejoicing to their camp, intending to attack the enemy on the following day. During the night they kept vigilant watch lest any of the besieged should escape.

Eleazar, however, did not intend to fly, nor would he allow any of his followers to do so. When he saw the wall in ruins and no hope of safety left them, he though it would be nobler for all to die by their own hands than to be cut down by the swords of the enemy.

And so he called his followers together in the palace, and urged them to set the city on fire and perish with it, rather than to wait for death at the hands of the Romans, who would carry off their wives and children into slavery.

Some of his followers were eager to obey Eleazar at once, but others could not bear the thought of putting their wives and children to death, and tears stole down their cheeks.

Seeing them wavering, Eleazar addressed them again. He spoke of the endless life of the soul and its freedom after death, and of the horrors of slavery which their wives and children would have to endure if they did not destroy them with their own hands. "Let us," he said, "depart from life in freedom with our wives and children, and thus we will disappoint the Romans of their victory. Let us deny them the joy and triumph of seeing us conquered, and rather strike them with awe at our death and with admiration of our valor."

While Eleazar was still speaking, he was cut short by his hearers, who became filled with ardor and with haste to commit the deed. They rushed away like men possessed, and began the bloody work. While they embraced their wives and stooped to kiss their children they stabbed them in the heart.

When they had put them all to death, they gathered together their effects and set fire to them. Then they chose by lot ten of their number to slay the rest. They lay down beside their dead wives and children and were slaughtered by [474] the ten. The ten then cast lots, and nine of them fell by one anotherís hands. Then he who was left single and alone looked about to see that all were dead, set fire to the palace, and with his own hand drove his sword into his heart, and fell dead beside his family.

Two women, however, and five children escaped by hiding themselves in an underground cavern. But all the rest perished, to the number of nearly a thousand.

Early the next morning the Romans formed in close array and advanced to the wall with great caution, for they expected to meet with a fierce resistance. They formed bridges of planks from the mound to the fortress, and rushed to the assault. But no enemy appeared, and an awful silence hung over the city. When the Romans saw fire burning the palace they did not know what to think. At length they shouted aloud, in order to call out some of the enemy.

Hearing the noise, the two women who had saved themselves came out of their retreat and informed the Romans of what had taken place. At first they would not believe the story, until putting out the flames, they made their way into the palace and there beheld the heap of slain.

The Romans did not rejoice over this victory, since their own arms did not win it. But they could not help admiring the contempt of death which their enemies had shown. With the fall of Massada the war in Judea was completely ended, and not an enemy remained to dispute the power of Rome.

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