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Alfred J. Church

Of the Doings of Cestius

When tidings of these things were brought to Cestius it seemed good to him to march against the rebels. Wherefore he gathered together an army, taking the twelfth legion and auxiliaries, both horse and foot, and twelve thousand men from the three kings, to wit, Antiochus and Agrippa and Sohemus, of which twelve thousand the half were archers; and besides, many came of their own accord from the cities round about, who, though they knew but little of war, were full of zeal and hatred against the Jews; with Cestius was King Agrippa, who was a guide to the army, and also furnished it with food and with fodder for the horses.

Cestius, having burned certain cities on his way, and put their inhabitants to the sword, came near to Jerusalem, and began to pitch his camp at Gabao, which is distant six miles or thereabouts from the City. But when the Jews heard that the enemy was now approaching, they left keeping their feast and made haste to meet them; nor did they make any account of the Sabbath, though on this day they are wont to do no manner of work. Being thus very bold, by reason of their numbers, and full of courage and zeal, they fell, without keeping any order, upon the Romans; nay, so fierce were they that they broke through the line, making a great slaughter; and but that the horsemen came to the help of such as stood firm, with such also of the infantry as were not over-weary with their march, it had gone hard that day with Cestius and his whole army. Of the Romans there fell five hundred and fifteen; but of the Jews twenty-and-two only. After this the Jews went back to the City, and Cestius remained in the place for three days, the Jews watching him to see what he would do.

Then King Agrippa, seeing that the Romans were in no small danger from the multitude that was gathered in the hill country round about, judged it to be expedient to send yet again ambassadors to the Jews, who should promise to them in the name of Cestius pardon for that which was past, and peace for the time to come. For he hoped that some at the least would hearken to these words, and that so there would be made a division among them. And this, indeed, the rebels feared, for they set on the ambassadors or ever they had spoken a word, and slew one and wounded the other; and when some of the people showed indignation at such doings they drove them back to the City with clubs and stones.


The tortoise.

When Cestius saw that they were thus divided among themselves he fell upon them with his whole army, and driving them before him, pursued them to Jerusalem. And having pitched his camp at Scopus, which is distant seven furlongs from the City, he remained quiet for three days, for he hoped, it would seem, that the inhabitants would surrender themselves to him; only during these days he sent to gather provisions from the villages that were round about. On the fourth day he set his army in array and marched into the City. Nor did the rebels seek to hinder him; for being astonished at the strength and good order of the Romans, they fled from the outer parts of the City and betook themselves to the Temple and fortified places. Then Cestius, having burned certain parts of the suburbs, came to the Upper City, and pitched his camp over against Herod's palace; and doubtless, if he had so willed, he might have conquered the rebels forthwith and so put an end to the war; but one Priscus, that was second to him in command, and certain of the captains of the horsemen, having been bribed with money by Florus, persuaded him that he should not attack the rebels. And so the war was prolonged to the utter destruction of the City. Also Ananias, the son of Jonathan, and other of the chief men of the City, had conference with him, promising that they would open the gates; trusting to whom, he sat still and did nothing. But the rebels getting a knowledge of this purpose of Ananias and his companions, cast them down from the walls, and dispersed all such as favoured them.

Cestius seeing this, gave command to the army that they should assail the Temple and the palace; and this they did for five days, but prevailed nothing. But on the sixth day Cestius, taking with him certain picked men of the legion, and archers, with them attacked the Temple from the north. These also at the first were driven back, but afterwards making a tortoise of their shields, they came close to the walls without suffering any damage and were about to put fire to the gate of the Temple. Now the manner of making a tortoise is this. They that are in the front set their shields stoutly against the walls, and to these others coming close join their shields, and to these again others. These shields being closely fitted together are as the shell of a tortoise, neither can any darts pierce through them. When the rebels saw these things they were in great fear and were about to fly, and the people were made to open the gates, and to give up the whole City to Cestius. And assuredly, if he had persevered in his undertaking, all would have gone well. But doubtless it was of God that this day brought not an end to the war. For indeed Cestius, as though he knew not the fear of the rebels, nor the temper of the people, how they would willingly receive him, suddenly called back the soldiers, and though he had suffered no great loss, contrary to the expectations of all men, departed from the City. And the rebels, seeing him thus retreat, a thing beyond all their hopes, took courage, and fell upon the rear of his army, slaying many, both horse and foot. That night Cestius abode in his camp at Scopus, but the next day he went yet further from the City, giving great encouragement to the enemy, who followed after his army and slew the hindmost, casting also javelins from either side of the way. And neither did they that were in the rear of the army dare to turn against them that assailed them, fearing the great numbers of the enemy; nor did the main body drive back them that set upon them from either side of the way, for they feared to break up their order. Also the Romans were heavily armed, but the Jews lightly equipped and ready for such kind of fighting, whence it came to pass that they suffered much loss but did no harm to the enemy.

This day there were slain with others, Priscus, that commanded the sixth legion, and Longinus, the tribune, and Æmilius Jucundus, captain of a troop of horse. And so, after much toil and loss of baggage, they came to their first camp, that is to say, the camp of Gabao. There Cestius abode two days, not knowing what he should next do. But on the third day, seeing that the number of the Jews grew greater continually, and that the whole country round about was filled with the enemy, he thought it best to depart. And that his flight might be the easier, he gave command that the soldiers should leave behind them all such baggage as might hinder them in their march; also that they should slay all the mules and beasts of burden, save such as carried the arrows of the artillery—for these things they kept, not only for their own using, but also because they feared that, falling into the hands of the Jews, they should be turned against themselves. So Cestius came to Bethhoron. Now, while the Romans were in the open country, the Jews held back, but so soon as they were come to the going down of Bethhoron, where the way is narrow, they fell upon them. And some hastening to the other end of the pass kept them from going out, and others from behind drove them down the road. Nor did the whole multitude cease to shower darts upon them till they seemed, as it were, to cover the army with them. And while the foot-soldiers stood still, not knowing how they should defend themselves, the horsemen were in a worse strait. For they could not keep their ranks and move forward by reason of the javelins that were cast against them, and the rocks on either side, being very steep and such as no horses could mount, hindered them from attacking the enemy. And on the other hand were very steep places, over which there was great peril of falling. Being therefore overwhelmed with these perils, they thought no more of defending themselves, but wept and cried aloud like men that are driven to despair, while the Jews shouted aloud for joy and for fury against their adversaries. And indeed, they were within a little of destroying both Cestius and his whole army, but that the night coming on, the Romans made their way back to Bethhoron, where the Jews, surrounding them on all sides, watched for their coming forth.

But Cestius, seeing that he could not make his way by force, devised means by which he might fly. He chose four hundred of the bravest of his soldiers, and set them on the rampart of the camp, bidding them display the standards, that so the Jews might believe the whole army to be in the camp. And when he had done this, he himself departed in silence with the rest of his army. So soon as it was morning the Jews fell upon the camp; and when they had slain the four hundred, they pursued after Cestius. But he had been marching during no small part of the night, and now that it was day made all the speed that he could, insomuch that the soldiers cast away the battering rams and the catapults, and many other implements of war, all of which things the Jews took and used afterwards against them that had left them. And when the Romans had reached Antipatris the Jews ceased from pursuing them, and returning gathered together the implements of war, and spoiled the bodies of the dead, and collected great store of plunder, and so returned, with shouts and songs, to the City. Many Romans and auxiliaries fell in this fight, to wit of infantry five thousand and three hundred, and of horsemen three hundred and eighty.