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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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[383] AFTER the fall of TaricheŠ, nearly all the garrisons and towns of Galilee returned to their allegiance to the Romans. Three cities alone still defied the conqueror, Gamala, Gischala, and Itybarium, the place which Josephus had fortified on Mount Tabor.

Gamala belonged to the kingdom of Agrippa. It was built upon a long and rugged ledge of mountains, which sloped downward at each end and rose in the middle into a sudden ridge like the hump of a camel. It could only be approached from behind, where it joined the mountain-ridge. On this side a deep trench had been dug, and rendered the approach more difficult. The houses were built one above the other on the steep hill, and the whole city seemed as if hanging on a sharp precipice.

Josephus, when fortifying the town, had rendered it still more impregnable by digging mines and trenches. So that though the garrison was not so numerous as that which had defended Jotapata, the people felt so secure on account of their position that they would not admit any more outsiders within their walls to help them. This city had already held out for seven months against the troops of Agrippa, and was filled with fugitives.

Vespasian, breaking up his camp, advanced upon Gamala. Its situation not permitting him to surround it with a line of troops, he stationed sentries in those places that were accessible, and occupied the mountain that overhung it. When [384] the legions had fortified a camp upon this mountain, Vespasian commenced operations by throwing up mounds in the rear of the town, and on the east, where there was a lofty tower. One legion was employed against the center of the town, and another in filling up the trenches and ravines.

King Agrippa approached the ramparts and attempted to persuade the people to surrender, but he was struck with a stone upon the right elbow by a slinger, and was immediately carried off by his followers. The Romans were greatly enraged at this insult to their ally, and pressed the siege with renewed vigor.

The mounds were quickly completed, and the engines were brought up. Chares and Joseph, the commanders in the city, drew out their forces, though the men were somewhat dispirited on account of a want of water and other necessaries in the city. Still, they bravely manned the walls, and for a short time kept at bay the men who were fixing the machines. But at length they were beaten off by the catapults and stone-projectors, and fell back into the town.

The Romans now advanced the rams from three different quarters, and beat down the wall. Rushing in the breach, the soldiers with loud shouts fell upon the defenders. These, however, for a time gallantly repulsed the Romans, until, overpowered by force of numbers, they were obliged to retreat to the higher parts of the town. Here, turning upon their assailants, they charged with great fury, drove them down the declivities, and made great havoc among them, embarrassed as they were by the narrowness and steepness of the streets.

As the Romans could not repel the enemies who rushed upon them from above, nor yet make their way through the throngs of their own party who forced them on from beneath, they took refuge on the roofs of the houses, which rose one above the other on the hill.

The houses, which were lightly built, could not bear the weight of so many heavy armed soldiers, and gave way. As [385] the houses were built one above another, they knocked each other down like nine-pins, each one falling upon the one beneath it.

Many of the Romans were buried in the ruins, while multitudes died of suffocation from the dust. The people of Gamala took advantage of this confusion to fall upon their besiegers. The ruins afforded them stones, and they caught up the weapons of the dead. Terrible was the havoc they made among the Romans as they fell amid the ruins of the houses or slipped about the steep and narrow streets. So dense were the clouds of dust and so great the confusion that many of the besiegers slew their own comrades and fell around each other in heaps.

Those who through the blinding dust could find the road retreated from the city. Vespasian himself, who had entered with his soldiers, hardly knowing where we has going, fought his way to the highest quarter of the city. Here he found himself in the thick of the danger, with but a few followers around him. However, disdaining to fly, he formed a compact body around him, and ordered the soldiers to lock their shields over their heads, so as to protect himself and them from the falling ruins and darts. In this manner he retreated step by step, with his face to the foe, until he was outside the ramparts. The loss of the Romans in this affray was very great. Among the slain was Ebutius, one of their bravest officers. Another officer, named Gallus, with ten soldiers, crept into a private house and concealed himself there. At night he killed all the inmates, and with his comrades escaped to the camp.

The Romans were greatly depressed by the disasters that had befallen them, and were particularly ashamed that they had allowed their general to be exposed to great danger. But Vespasian encouraged them by word, saying that their repulse was due to accident and to their own too impetuous ardor, which had led them to fight with the frantic fury of the Jews [386] rather than with the steady discipline of Roman troops. In this way he revived their drooping spirits.

The people of Gamala, meanwhile, were for the moment greatly elated by their signal success. But when they considered that they were now cut off from all hopes of pardon and that their supplies were giving out, they became very dejected; yet they did not entirely lose their courage and activity. The bravest guarded the breaches, and the rest defended what still remained of the wall.

Still, while the Romans were completing their works and preparing for a second assault, multitudes escaped from the city down pathless ravines, where no watch was kept, and through underground passages. As many, however, as remained in the town through fear of capture slowly perished from want, for the scanty provisions that were left were reserved for the use of the garrison.

At this time Vespasian sent Placidus with six hundred horse to attack Itybarium upon Mount Tabor, where a vast multitude had congregated. Thinking it unwise to attempt to ascend the heights, Placidus invited the assemblage to terms, holding out the hope of his protection and influence with Vespasian. He did this as a ruse to get them down into the plain, where he could capture them.

The Jews pretended to agree to these terms, and came down with a design of falling upon the Romans when off their guard. The craft of Placidus, however, succeeded, for when the Jews commenced the action he pretended to fly. When he had drawn his enemies far down into the plain, he ordered his cavalry to wheel round, and, falling upon his pursuers, routed them with dreadful slaughter and cut off their retreat to the mountain. Those who escaped fled to Jerusalem. The inhabitants of Itybarium, under promise of protection and because they were distressed for want of water, surrendered to Placidus.

In the mean time the garrison of Gamala still made a vig- [387] orous resistance, while the people pined away with hunger. At length three Roman soldiers stole up early in the morning and undermined a lofty tower, without being perceived by the sentries. The soldiers, without noise, rolled away five of the supporting stones and sprang away. The tower fell with a tremendous crash, carrying the guards with it headlong. The rest of the sentries fled on all sides. Many were slain by the Romans, among them Joseph, who was killed while trying to escape through the breach. The whole city was in an uproar, and the people ran about in the greatest fright.

Charres, the other commander, was lying sick in his bed, and was so disturbed by the noise that he died. The Romans, warned by their former disaster, did not make an attack at once, but waited for some days.

Titus, who had been away on an expedition, now returned. He was very angry when he heard of the loss which the Romans had sustained during his absence, and immediately entered the city with two hundred horse and a body of infantry. The people flew quickly to arms. Some, catching up their children and dragging their wives along, fled to the citadel with loud lamentations; others, who encountered the enemy, were slain without mercy. Terrible was the slaughter, and blood flowed down the steep streets like a waterfall.

Vespasian entered the city with his entire force to aid his son, and led his men against the citadel. The rock upon which it stood was rugged and jagged and surrounded on all sides by precipices. The Jews crowded upon this crag, the top of which the Roman darts could not reach, and hurled stones and missiles upon their assailants.

But to seal their destruction a tremendous storm arose, and blew full in the faces of the unfortunate Jews, which, while it carried against them the Roman darts, turned their own aside and rendered them harmless. Nor could they stand on the edges of the rock, having no secure footing, nor [388] yet see the enemy as they scaled the crag. Thus they were surrounded and slaughtered.

The Romans, savage on account of their former defeat, spared no one, not even the women and children. Multitudes threw themselves headlong down the precipices. Their despair was even more fatal than the weapons of their enemies. For four thousand fell by the sword, while five thousand furled themselves down from the heights.

Two women who had hidden themselves alone survived the general carnage. Thus fell Gamala, upon the 23rd of September, in the year A.D. 67.

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