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William Shepard

Titus Builds a Wall around Jerusalem

Titus held a council of war, in order to fix upon some plan of action. Some of his officers wished him to lead his whole army to the wall and endeavor to take the ramparts by storm. Others wished to rebuild the mounds; while others, more cautious still, wished the passes to be guarded and the city reduced by famine.

Titus, because he thought it would be useless to fight against desperate men who would soon destroy each other or be destroyed by famine, made up his mind to blockade the city, and to cut off all hopes of relief by surrounding the city with a wall. For he thought that if he contented himself with guarding the passes the Jews would find out hidden paths, by which they would get provisions into the city and thus prolong the siege. But if the city were surrounded by a wall every path would be thus blocked up, and the Jews would soon have to succumb to famine.

Accordingly, he set his soldiers to work; and so quickly did they labor and with such ready good will that the whole work was finished in three days,—an almost incredibly short time, when it is considered that the wall was very nearly five miles long. Around the wall, at certain distances from each other, thirteen forts were built. In these Titus placed garrisons, and during the night sentries paced up and down between the forts until daylight.

Thus all hope of escape and all means of getting food into the city were cut off from the Jews. Famine raged among them with terrible violence, and thousands upon thousands died. The houses were full of dying women and children, and the streets were choked with the bodies of the dead. The insurgents, suffering now themselves from the pangs of hunger, plundered the dead and became more cruel than ever to the living. Not a sound of mourning was heard throughout Jerusalem, for the people were too weak from hunger even to wail aloud, and an awful silence brooded over the city. Silently the people died by thousands, and their bodies, too numerous to bury, were hurled from the walls into the ravines below.

When Titus, as he went his rounds, beheld these multitudes of dead bodies, he groaned aloud, and, lifting up his hands, called God to witness that this was not his doing. His army, meanwhile, were in the highest spirits, because the insurgents were now too weak to attack them, and they themselves had plenty of food. Sometimes they would approach the ramparts and make their enemies feel their hunger all the more by showing them quantities of tempting viands.

Titus, touched with the suffering of the people, and anxious to save those who still survived, ordered some new mounds to be raised, although materials for them could only be procured with great difficulty. For all the trees for over ten miles around had been cut down in order to raise the first mounds. The new mounds were raised at four points opposite the Antonia.

The Roman general went the rounds of his legions and urged on the works, in order to show the insurgents that they were in his power. But nothing could subdue these men. Even their own sufferings did not soften their hearts, but, like dogs, they worried the people even after death, and crowded the prisons with the feeble.

The cruel Simon even tortured and put to death the feeble old Matthias, the chief priest, who had persuaded the people to let him into the city that he might aid them to conquer John. This good old man was accused of being a partisan of the Romans, and, without allowing him to utter a word in his defence, Simon condemned him to death, with three of his sons.

Matthias begged that he might be put to death before his sons, but the cruel Simon refused him even this, and ordered him to be slain last. And so the sons were butchered first, before the eyes of the father, in full view of the Romans; and then the aged priest was killed. After these, a priest named Ananias, and Aristeus, the secretary of the council, with fifteen eminent men, were executed. The aged father of Josephus was thrown into prison; and an order was sent throughout the city that none should converse together, or gather in small parties, for fear of treason. All who lamented together in parties were immediately put to death.

On seeing these cruelties, Judas, one of Simon's officers, who had custody of a tower, called ten of those under him together and said to them,—

"How long shall we tolerate these evils? Or what prospect of saving ourselves is there as long as we obey this wicked man? Is not famine already upon us? The Romans are all but in the town, and Simon is unfaithful even to his friends. Have we not now reason to fear him, while the Romans will surely give us protection? Come, then, let us surrender the ramparts, and save ourselves and the city.

The ten agreed with Judas in these views, and early in the morning they called to the Romans from the tower, and offered to surrender it. But the Romans, because they had been so often fooled before, were suspicious, and hesitated about coming at once. While Titus was slowly advancing to the wall with some troops, Simon, who had heard what was going on, came up to the tower, and seizing the ten men and Judas, he killed them in sight of the Romans, and threw their bodies over the ramparts.

It happened that as Josephus was going round the wall, trying to persuade the insurgents to surrender, he was struck on the head by a stone, and instantly dropped down senseless. On his fall the Jews sallied out, and he would have been dragged into the city had not Titus sent a body of soldiers to protect him. During the conflict that followed, Josephus was removed, not knowing what had happened.

The insurgents thought they had killed Josephus, and shouted aloud in their joy. And so news of his death was spread through the city, and was carried to the mother of Josephus, who was in prison, and she was very much cast down by the news. But she was not long distressed by these bad tidings, for Josephus quickly recovered from the stroke; and he again came before the wall and cried aloud,—

"I will have my revenge upon you before long for this wound."

And he again exhorted the people to accept the protection of the Romans; so that some leaped down at once from the ramparts, while others went out of the gates, carrying stones, as if they meant to hurl them at the enemy, and then quickly fled to them. When they came to the Roman camp they were swollen with hunger, and a good many of them ate so much that they died; but some knew that they must eat moderately at first, for their stomachs were tender, because they had had no food for days, so they ate but a little at a time, and in this way gradually became well and strong again.

But even these were doomed to death. For the Arabians and Syrians, who were with the Romans, found out that the deserters had gold hidden about their persons, and so began to kill and rob them in order to get their treasures. In one night two thousand were slain.

Titus was very angry on hearing of this outrage, and was on the point of putting his allies to death, but was kept from doing so because their numbers were far greater than the number of Jews slain. He, however, threatened with instant death any one caught thereafter in the act of killing a Jew. Still, the love of gold was stronger with many of the barbarians than the fear of punishment, so that what before they did openly they now did in secret. They went forward to meet deserters, and killed them in out-of-the-way places, where they could not be seen by the Romans. Fear of being thus slaughtered caused numbers of deserters to return to the city.

When the people of Jerusalem had been plundered of all they possessed, John began to strip the temple itself of its golden vessels and dishes and tables. He seized the rich offerings which in times past the Roman emperors had made, and even stole the sacred wine and oil and gave them to his followers to drink. The people looked upon this sacrilege with the greatest horror, and felt it even more than the sufferings the wicked John had brought upon them.

Most awful were the sufferings now within the city. It became like one vast sepulchre, and its dead far outnumbered its living. Over six hundred thousand bodies had been thrown over the ramparts. But still the insurgents, as if drunk with crime, tramped over the dead bodies, and manned the walls with wild despair, though everywhere death stared them in the face.