Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE FALL OF MASSADA
 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
 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
 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
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.