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William Shepard

The Zealots Wrangle among Themselves

And now the Zealot party itself split into two factions. For John of Gischala, whose aim all along had been to gain the supreme power, withdrew from them with a band of the most desperate men whom he had attached to his person, and over whom he ruled as a king. Those who were too proud to submit to his authority, and who dreaded lest John should be made king, formed an opposite party.

The two parties watched each other closely, but rarely, if ever, appealed to the sword. They both, however, assailed the populace, and vied with each other in the quantity of plunder they could extort.

The capital was thus afflicted with the three greatest of evils,—war, tyranny, and sedition,—while a fourth evil was soon added to complete the nation's ruin. Not far from Jerusalem was a fortress of very great strength, called Massada, erected by the ancient kings as a treasury for their wealth and a place of safety during war. Of this the Sikars, or Assassins, had taken possession some time before. They had hitherto confined themselves to marauding expeditions through the surrounding districts. But when they heard that the Roman army was lying inactive, and that in Jerusalem the people were distracted by sedition and tyranny, they attempted more daring enterprises. And so at the feast of the Passover they surprised by night a small town called Engaddi, drove the men from the town before they could seize their arms, and put the women and children to the sword. They then rifled the houses, seized great quantities of corn, and, when they had laid waste the whole region, carried back their booty to Massada. These bold robbers were daily strengthened by multitudes of wicked men who flocked to them from every quarter. Other bands of robbers collected in other parts, until the whole province became a scene of plunder and confusion.

The Jewish refugees who had fled from the capital to the camp of Vespasian besought him to march upon the city and succor its inhabitants, who, they said, were in great peril because of their friendliness to the Romans. Vespasian thought it best to first reduce the rest of the country, and so broke up his camp and marched upon Gadara, the capital of Peraea. The leading men, who wished to save their property, sent a deputation to treat of surrender. The insurgents, despairing of being able to defend the city, put to death one of the leading men who was to have advised that the deputation be sent, and fled from the city.

The Gadarenes then threw open their gates to Vespasian, and welcomed him with every demonstration of joy. The general left them a garrison for protection; for they had demolished their own walls, in order that their want of power to make war might be a sign that they would remain peaceful for the future.

Vespasian sent a force of cavalry and foot under Placidus against those who had fled from Gadara. He himself returned with the remainder of the army to Cæsarea.

The fugitives took possession of a village called Bethennabris, and, being joined by a number of the young men, they rushed at random upon the troops of Placidus.

Placidus feigned a retreat, in order to lure them a distance from their walls, then faced round and killed a great number of them. The remainder fled back to the village, so closely pursued by the Romans that they almost entered the town with them. The assault was immediately made, and by evening the ramparts were scaled, the inhabitants slaughtered, and the village reduced to ashes.

Some fugitives, however, escaped, and created great excitement throughout the country by stating that the Roman army was advancing in full force. Accordingly, the whole population fled towards Jericho, where, from the strength of its defences and from its numerous inhabitants, they hoped for safety. Placidus pursued them to the Jordan, putting all he overtook to the sword. The river was swollen and impassable, so the Jews were compelled to turn and fight. Placidus charged them with his cavalry, cut them down by thousands, and drove multitudes into the river, where they were drowned. Fifteen thousand perished, while over two thousand were captured, together with an immense booty of asses and sheep, camels and oxen.

Placidus, following up his good fortune, rapidly took town after town, and soon reduced the whole of Peraea and the coast of the Dead Sea as far as Machaerus.

Meanwhile, Vespasian received tidings that disturbances had broken out in Gaul, and that a chief called Vindex, with many others, had revolted from Nero. He foresaw the civil dissensions which threatened the empire, and was persuaded that he had better put an end to the war in Palestine at once, that his army might be at liberty for any further service.

He therefore employed himself during the winter in garrisoning the villages and smaller towns that he had reduced; and as soon as spring broke he marched to Antipatris. Spending two days in reducing this town to order, he advanced upon Jericho, wasting all the places around with fire and sword. He captured a number of cities and towns, fortifying some and destroying others, and at length encamped before Jericho, where he was joined by the troops who had reduced Peraea.

Before the Romans arrived, the inhabitants escaped to a mountainous range which lies over against Jerusalem, so that the city was deserted. Vespasian placed a garrison here, and another in Adida, in order to invest Jerusalem on all sides. And he also despatched Lucius Annus, one of his officers, with a large force, against the city of Gerasa.

Annus carried the city at the first assault, burnt it to the ground, and advanced against the villages in the neighborhood. All who could fly from the towns did so; the feeble people perished. The whole country was overrun, and all egress from Jerusalem was prevented. For those who wished to desert were closely watched by the Zealots, while those who did not yet favor the Romans were kept in check by the army, which hemmed in the city on all sides.

While Vespasian was preparing to march upon Jerusalem in full force, tidings reached him of the violent death of Nero, the emperor of Rome. This news deferred his expedition, and he waited anxiously to learn who would be the new emperor. When he learned that Galba had been called to the throne, he despatched his son Titus to receive his command in regard to the Jews. While Titus was on his way, Galba met a violent death, and Otho succeeded to the throne. Titus returned to his father at Cæsarea without going to Rome. Being thus in suspense while the empire was in such a state of change, they refrained from carrying on the war. For they thought it unwise to attack a foreign country while filled with apprehension for their own.

But Jerusalem during the interval did not remain at rest. Another war broke out, which was caused by Simon, son of Gioras, a Gerasan by birth. He was not as artful as John, who was now master of the city, but was his superior in bodily strength and daring, qualities which had led Ananus the high-priest to drive him from the territory of Acrabattene, which he once held. Thus expelled, he betook himself to the brigands, who had seized on Massada.

At first he was regarded by them with suspicion, but gradually he gained their confidence and joined them in laying waste the country about Massada. He could not, however, induce them to attempt larger conquests, so he withdrew to the mountainous districts, and there gathered robbers from all quarters around him in such numbers that he was emboldened to descend to the lowlands. Becoming at length very formidable, he was joined by many men of rank, and overran the Acrabattene territory as far as Idumea. He fortified a village called Nain, and deposited much booty and provisions in caves nearby, and made it evident that he soon intended to attack Jerusalem.

The Zealots, alarmed at his designs, marched out in considerable force against Simon, but were routed and chased into the city. He did not, however, attempt to take the city, but at the head of twenty thousand men marched towards Idumea, in order first to subdue that province.

The Idumeans assembled twenty-five thousand men and met Simon at the frontier, where for a whole day a battle was fought, but neither party gained the victory. The next day Simon returned to Nain, and the Idumeans disbanded to their homes.

Not long after, however, Simon returned with a larger force, and, encamping at a village called Thecoe, he sent one of his followers, named Eleazar, to persuade the garrison of Herodium, which was near by, to surrender. Eleazar was admitted by the garrison, but when he spoke of surrender, the soldiers indignantly rushed upon him with drawn swords; upon which he threw himself from the ramparts into the ravine below and was killed.

The Idumeans, now much alarmed at Simon's strength, thought it well to find out how strong his forces were before they gave him battle. For this purpose James, one of their generals, offered his services. But in his heart he meditated treachery. He went to Simon and promised to betray the Idumeans on condition of receiving a post of honor under him. Simon consented, and loaded James with presents, who returned to his own people and frightened them by telling them stories about the great numbers of the enemy, and said it was better to surrender without a struggle. He then sent a message to Simon, inviting him to advance. Upon the approach of his army, James sprang upon his horse and took to flight, followed by a number of his dupes. Seeing this, the whole multitude was seized with a panic, and before a blow was struck they hastily dispersed to their homes.

Simon made himself master of the city of Hebron, where he obtained immense booty, and from this point advanced through Idumea, laying waste the entire country. Besides his regular forces, he had forty thousand followers, so that his supplies were not sufficient for such a multitude. They therefore stole all they could find, and passed over the whole district like a swarm of locusts, leaving no sign of life or vegetation behind them.

The Zealots, afraid to meet Simon again in open warfare, placed ambushes in the passes, and captured Simon's wife with a numerous band of attendants. With these they returned to the city, thinking that Simon would lay down his arms and beg them to give him back his wife. Her seizure, however, only roused Simon's ire. He advanced to the walls of Jerusalem, and vented his rage upon every one he could capture without the city. Old and unarmed men who ventured outside to gather herbs or wood were seized, tortured, and put to death. Many of them Simon sent back into the city with their hands cut off, telling them to say that Simon had sworn an oath that unless the people restored his wife to him without delay he would break down the wall and inflict a like punishment on every one within it. These threats so terrified not only the people, but also the Zealots, that they sent his wife back to him. Simon was then somewhat soothed, and paused in his career of slaughter.

It was now the spring of the year 69, and Vespasian broke up from winter quarters in Cæsarea and advanced upon those places in Judea which had not yet submitted to his arms. He subdued two provinces called Gophnitis and Acrabattene, and advanced with his cavalry as far as the walls of Jerusalem. Cerealis, one of his generals, meanwhile entered Idumea, and took Caphetra, Capharabim, and Hebron. There remained nothing now to conquer except Herodium, Massada, and Macherus, which were held by the brigands, and Jerusalem itself. But not yet did Vespasian think it wise to attack the capital. He laid waste the country about it, and returned to Cæsarea.

Simon had remained in Massada while Cerealis laid waste Idumea. He then marched forth again, entered Idumea, and drove a number of the unhappy people to Jerusalem, pursuing them to the city. He again encamped without the walls, and put to death all who came in his way. Thus, to the people was Simon more formidable than the Romans, and the Zealots within more oppressive than either. The unfortunate city was in the most dreadful condition. The Galileans, who belonged to John's party and who had raised him to power, were allowed by him to commit every excess. They robbed, murdered, and committed every crime. Thus was the city besieged within and without. Those who stayed were tyrannized over by John and his party; those who fled were massacred by Simon.

At length John's party divided. The Idumean portion of it detached themselves and made an attack upon the tyrant, as well from envy of his power as from hatred of his cruelty. An engagement took place, in which many Zealots fell, and the rest were finally driven into the temple. There they assembled in great numbers, and John prepared to lead them against the people and the Idumeans. The latter did not so much dread the attack, but feared lest the Zealots should steal from the temple by night and set fire to the city. A council was therefore held with the chief priests, and it was resolved that they should call in Simon to their aid,—a measure which only added to the miseries of the city by admitting a second tyrant.

Simon was admitted, and was received with acclamations by the people as their savior and guardian. His first care was to collect a lot of plunder left in the city by John, and then he attacked the temple. The Zealots posted themselves on the colonnades and battlements, and from the advantage of their higher position ably defended themselves against their assailants, and created great slaughter in the ranks of Simon. To increase their advantage they reared four large towers, that they might hurl their missiles from a still greater height. Upon these they put engines of war and their archers and slingers. These made great havoc among Simon's troops, so that he, although he still held his ground, in some measure relaxed his assaults.

In the mean while, the great empire of Rome itself was torn by civil dissensions. The emperor Galba was murdered, and Otho ascended the throne. But this honor was disputed by Vitellius, who was chosen emperor by the legions of Germany. Otho was conquered by the troops of Vitellius, and committed suicide. Vitellius then marched in triumph to Rome. But the army under Vespasian declared that he should be emperor. Mucianus, the president of Syria, also declared for Vespasian, as did the legion of the East and of the central provinces. Vespasian took possession of Egypt, and sent one of his generals, Antonius Primus, and Mucianus, into Italy. They overcame the army of Vitellius, took possession of Rome, and put the emperor to death.

Vespasian thus became emperor of Rome, and, delighted that the prophecies of Josephus had come true, he loaded him with honors and delivered him from his bonds. When he felt secure of his throne he again turned his attention to the rebellious capital of Judæa, and sent his son Titus to complete the subjugation of Palestine by the conquest of Jerusalem.