Ancient Rome

 

The Siege of Masada

Gary Edward Forsythe: Assistant Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago. Author of The Historian L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi and the Roman Annalistic Tradition.  Robert A. Guisepi:  Author of Ancient Voices

(Re-printed by permission)

 

"Remember, Roman, that it is for thee to rule the nations. This shall be thy task, to impose the ways of peace, to spare the vanquished, and to tame the proud by war." 


Flavius Josephus

AD 72

When Bassus was dead in Judea, Flavius Silva succeeded him as procurator there; who when he saw that all the rest of the country was subdued in this war, and that there was but one only stronghold that was still in rebellion, he got all his army together that lay in different places, and made an expedition against it. This fortress was called Masada. It was one Eleazar, a potent man, and the commander of these Sicarii, that had seized upon it. He was a descendant of that Judas who had persuaded many of the Jews, as we have formerly related, not to submit to the taxation when Cyrenius was sent into Judea to make one; for then it was that the Sicarii got together against those that were willing to submit to the Romans, and treated them in all respects as if they had been their enemies, both by plundering them of what they had, by driving away their cattle, and by setting fire to the houses; for they said, that they differed not at all from foreigners, by betraying, in so cowardly a manner, that freedom which the Jews thought worthy to be contended for to the utmost, and by owning that they preferred slavery under the Romans before such a contention. Now, this was in reality no better than a pretence, and a cloak for the barbarity which was made use of by them, and to colour over their own avarice, which they afterwards made evident by their own actions; for those that were partners with them in their rebellion, joined also with them in the war against the Romans; yet went they farther lengths in their impudent undertakings against them; and when they were again convicted of dissembling in such their pretences, they still more abused those that justly reproached them for their wickedness. And indeed that was a time most fertile in all manner of wicked practices among the Jews, in so much that no kind of evil deeds were then left undone; nor could any one so much as devise any bad thing that was new, so deeply were they all infected, and strove with one another in their single capacity, and in their communities, who should run the greatest lengths in impiety towards God, and in unjust actions towards their neighbours; the men of power oppressing the multitude, and the multitude earnestly labouring to destroy the men of power. The one part were desirous of tyrannizing over others, and the rest of offering violence to others, and of plundering such as were richer than themselves. They were the Sicarii who first began these transgressions, and first became barbarous towards those allied to them, and left no words of reproach unsaid, and no works of perdition untried, in order to destroy those whom their contrivances affected. Yet did John demonstrate by his actions, that these Sicarii were more moderate than he was himself, for he not only slew all such as gave good counsel to do what was right, and treated them as the most bitter enemies that he had among all the citizens; but, he filled his entire country with ten thousand instances of wickedness, such as a man who was already hardened sufficiently in his impiety towards God, would naturally do; for the food was unlawful that was set upon his table, and he rejected those purifications that the law of his country had ordained; so that it was no longer a wonder if he, who was so mad in his impiety towards God, did not observe any rules of gentleness and common affection towards men. Again, what mischief was there which Simon the son of Gioras did not do? or from what kind of abuses of free men did those abstain who had set him up for a tyrant? What friendship or kindred were there that did not make them more bold in their murders? for they looked upon the doing of mischief to strangers only as a work beneath their courage, but thought barbarity towards their nearest relations would be a glorious demonstration thereof. The Idumeans also strove with these men, which should be guilty of the greatest madness; for they, vile wretches as they were, cut the throats of the high priests, that so no part of a religious regard to God might be preserved; they thence proceeded to destroy utterly the last remains of a political government, and introduced the most complete scene of iniquity in all instances that were practicable; under which scene, that sort of people that were called Zealots grew up, and who indeed corresponded to the name; for they imitated every wicked work; nor if history suggested any evil thing that had formerly been done, did they avoid zealously to pursue the same; and although they gave themselves that name from their zeal for what was good, yet was it an ironical description of the evil deeds done by them in their brutal nature, or because they thought the greatest mischiefs to be the greatest good. Accordingly they all met with such ends as God deservedly brought upon them in way of punishment, for all such miseries have been sent upon them as man's nature is capable of undergoing, till the utmost period of their lives, and till death came upon them in various ways of torment; yet might one say justly that they suffered less than they had done, because it was impossible they could be punished according to their deserving. But to make a lamentation according to the deserts of those who fell under these men's barbarity, this is not a proper place for it; I therefore now return again to the remaining part of the present narration.

For now it was that the Roman general came, and led his army against Eleazar and those Sicarii who held the fortress Masada together with him; and for the whole country adjoining he presently gaine it, and put garrisons into the most proper places of it: he also built a wall quite round the entire fortress, that none of the besieged might easily escape; He also set his men to guard the several parts of it. He also pitched his camp in such an agreeable place as he had chosen for the siege, and at which place the rocks belonging to the fortress did make the nearest approach to the eighbouring mountain, which yet was a place of difficulty for getting plenty of provisions; for it was not only food that was to be brought from a great distance, and this with a great deal of pain to those Jews who were appointed for that purpose, but water was also to be brought to the camp, because the place afforded no fountain that was near it. When therefore Silva had ordered these affairs beforehand, he fell to besieging the place; which siege was likely to stand in need of a great deal of skill and pains, by reason of the strength of the fortress, the nature of which I will now describe.

There was a rock, not small in circumference, and very high, It was encompassed with valleys of such vast depth downward, that the eye could not reach their bottoms; they were abrupt, and such as no animal could walk upon, excepting at two places of the rock, where it subsides, in order to afford a passage for ascent, though not without difficulty. Now, of the ways that lead to it, one is that from the lake Asphaltitis, towards the sun-rising, and another on the west, where the ascent is easier: the one of these ways is called the Serpent, as resembling that animal in its narrowness and its perpetual windings; for it is broken off at the prominent precipices of the rock, and returns frequently into itself, and lengthening again by little and little, hath much ado to proceed forward; and he that would walk along it must first go on one leg and then on the other; there is also nothing but destruction, in case your feet slip; for on each side there is a vastly deep chasm and precipice, sufficient to quell the courage of everybody by the terror it infuses into the mind. When, therefore, a man hath got along this way for thirty furlongs, the rest is the top of the hill, not ending at a small point, but in a plain upon a mountain top. Upon this top, Jonathan the high priest first of all built a fortress, and called it Masada; after which the rebuilding of this place employed the care of king Herod to a great degree: he also built a wall round about the entire top of the hill, seven furlongs long; it was composed of white stone; its height was twelve, and its breadth eight cubits; there were also erected upon that wall, thirty-eight towers, each of them fifty cubits high; out of which you might pass into lesser edifices, which were built on the inside, round the entire wall; for the king reserved the top of the hill, which was of a fat soil, and better mould than any valley for agriculture, that such as committed themselves to this fortress for their preservation, might not even there be quite destitute of food, in case they should ever be in want of it from abroad. Moreover, he built a palace therein at the western ascent; it was within and beneath the walls of the citadel, but inclined to its north side. Now the wall of this palace was very high and strong, and had at its four corners towers sixty cubits high. The structure also of the edifices, and of the cloisters, and of the baths, was of great variety, and very costly; and these buildings were supported by pillars of single stones on every side; the walls and also the floors of the edifices were paved with stones of several colours. He also had cut many and great pits, as reservoirs for water, out of the rocks, at every one of the places that were inhabited both above and round about the palace, and before the wall; and by this contrivance he endeavoured to have water for several uses as if there had been fountains there. Here was also a road digged from the palace, and leading to the very top of the mountain, which yet could not be seen by such as were without; nor indeed could enemies easily make use of the plain roads; for the road on the east side, as we have already taken notice, could not be walked upon, by reason of its nature; and for the western road, he built a larger tower at its narrowest place, at no less a distance from the top of the hill than a thousand cubits; which tower could not possibly be passed by, nor could it be easily taken; nor indeed could those that walked along it without any fear, such was its contrivance, easily get to the end of it; and after such a manner was this citadel fortified both by nature and by the hands of men, in order to frustrate the attacks of enemies.

As for the furniture that was within this fortress, it was still more wonderful on account of its splendour and long continuance; for here was laid up corn in large quantities, and such as would sustain men for a long time; here was also wine and oil in abundance, with all kinds of pulse and dates heaped up together; all which Eleazar found there, when he and his Sicarii got possession of the fortress by treachery. These fruits were also fresh and full ripe, no way inferior to such fruits newly laid in, although they were little short of an hundred years from the laying in these provisions, till the place was taken by the Romans; nay indeed when the Romans got possession of those fruits that were left, they found them not corrupted all that while; nor should we be mistaken, if we supposed that the air was here the cause of their enduring so long; this fortress being so high, and so free from the mixture of all terrene and muddy particles of matter. There was also found here a large quantity of all sorts of weapons of war, which had been treasured up by that king, and were sufficient for ten thousand men; there was cast iron, and brass, and tin, which shew that he had taken much pains to have all things here ready for the greatest occasions; for the report goes how Herod thus prepared this fortress on his own account, as a refuge against two kings of danger; the one for fear of the multitude of the Jews, lest they should depose him, and restore their former kings to the government; the other danger was greater and more terrible, which arose from Cleopatra queen of Egypt, who did not conceal her intentions, but spoke often to Antony, and desired him to cut off Herod, and entreated him to bestow the kingdom of Judea upon her. And certainly it is a greater wonder that Antony did never comply with her commands in this point, as he was so miserably enslaved to his passion for her than that Herod should have expected him to comply. So the fear of these dangers made Herod rebuild Masada, and thereby leave it for the finishing stroke of the Romans in this Jewish war.

Since therefore the Roman commander Silva had now built a wall on the outside, round about this whole place, as we have said already, and had thereby made a most accurate provision to prevent any one of the besieged running away, he undertook the siege itself, though he found but one single place that would admit of the banks he was to raise; for behind that tower which secured the road that led to the palace, and to the top of the hill, from the west, there was a certain eminency of the rock, very broad and very prominent, but three hundred cubits beneath the highest part of Masada; it was called the White Promontory. Accordingly Silva got upon that part of the rock, and ordered the army to bring earth; and when they fell to that work with alacrity and abundance of them together, the bank was raised, and became solid for two hundred cubits in height. Yet was not this bank thought sufficiently high, for the use of the engines that were to be set upon it; but still another elevated work of great stones compacted together was raised upon that bank; this was fifty cubits, both in breadth and height. The other machines that were now got ready were like to those that had been first devised by Vespasian, and afterwards by Titus, for sieges. There was also a tower made of the height of sixty cubits, and all over plated with iron, out of which the Romans threw darts and stones from the engines, and soon made those that fought from the walls of the place to retire, and would not let them lift up their heads above the works. At the same time Silva ordered that great battering ram which he had made to be brought thither, and to be set against the wall, and to make frequent batteries against it, which, with some difficulty broke down a part of the wall, and quite overthrew it. However, the Sicarii made haste, and presently built another wall within that, which should not be liable to the same misfortune from the machines with the other; it was made soft and yielding, and so was capable of avoiding the terrible blows that affected the other. It was framed after the following manner; They laid together great beams of wood lengthways, one close to the end of another, and the same way in which they were cut; there were two of these rows parallel to one another, and laid at such a distance from each other as the breadth of the wall required, and earth was put into the space between those rows. Now, that the earth might not fall away upon the elevation of this bank to a greater height, they farther laid other beams over across them, and thereby bound those beams together that lay lengthways. This work of theirs was like a real edifice; and when the machines were applied, the blows were weakened by its yielding, and as the materials by such concussion were shaken closer together, the pile by that means became firmer than before. When Silva saw this, he thought it best to endeavour the taking of this wall by setting fire to it; so he gave order that the soldiers should throw a great number of burning torches upon it; accordingly, as it was chiefly made of wood, it soon took fire and when it was once set on fire, its hollowness made that fire spread to a mighty flame. Now at the very beginning of this fire, a north wind that then blew proved terrible to the Romans; for by bringing the flame downward, it drove it upon them, and they were almost in despair of success, as fearing their machines would be burnt; but after this, on a sudden the wind changed into the south, as if it were done by Divine Providence, and blew strongly the contrary way, and carried the flame, and drove it against the wall, which was now on fire through its entire thickness. So the Romans, having now assistance from God, returned to their camp with joy, and resolved to attack their enemies the very next day; on which occasion they set their watch more carefully that night, lest any of the Jews should run away from them without being discovered.

However, neither did Eleazar once think of flying away, nor would he permit anyone else to do so; but when he saw their wall burned down by the fire, and could devise no other way of escaping, or room for their farther courage, and setting before their eyes what the Romans would do to them, their children and their wives, if they got them into their power, he consulted about having them all slain. Now, as he judged this to be the best thing they could do in their present circumstances he gathered the most courageous of his companions together, and encouraged them to take that course by a speech which he made to them in the manner following; 'Since we, long ago, my generous friends, resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God himself, who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice. And let us not at this time bring a reproach upon ourselves for self-contradiction, while we formerly would not undergo slavery, though it were then without danger, but must now, together with slavery, choose such punishments also, as are intolerable; I mean this upon the supposition that the Romans once reduce us under their power while we are alive. We were the very first that revolted from them, and we are the last that fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favour that God hath granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom, which hath not been the case of others, who were conquered unexpectedly. It is very plain that we shall be taken within a day's time, but it is still an eligible thing to die after a glorious manner, together with our dearest friends. This is what our enemies themselves cannot by any means hinder, although they be very desirous to take us alive. Nor can we propose to ourselves any more to fight them, and beat them. It had been proper indeed for us to have conjectured at the purpose of God much sooner, at the very first, when we were so desirous of defending our liberties, and when we received such sore treatment from one another, and worse treatment from our enemies, and to have been sensible that the same God, who had of old taken the Jewish nation into his favour, had now condemned them to detruction; for had he either continued favourable, or been but in a lesser degree displeased with us, he had not overlooked the destruction of so many men, or delivered his most holy city to be burnt and demolished by our enemies. To be sure we weakly hoped to have preserved ourselves, and ourselves alone, out of the whole Jewish nation still in a state of freedom, as if we had been guilty of no sins ourselves against God, nor been partners with those of others; we also taught other men to preserve their liberty. Wherefore, consider how God hath convinced us that our hopes were in vain, by bringing such distress upon us in the desperate state we are now in, and which is beyond all our expectations; for the nature of this fortress, which was in itself unconquerable, hath not proved a means of our deliverance; and even while we have still great abundance of food, and a great quantity of arms, and other necessaries more than we want, we are openly deprived by God himself of all hope of deliverance; for that fire which was driven upon our enemies did not of its own accord turn back upon the wall which we had built; this was the effect of God's anger against us for our manifold sins, which we have been guilty of in a most insolent and extravagant manner with regard to our own countrymen; the punishments of which let us not receive from the Romans, but from God himself, as executed by our own hands; for these will be more moderate than the other. Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted of slavery; and after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually, and preserve ourselves in freedom, as an excellent funeral monument for us. But first let us destroy our money and the fortress by fire; for I am well assured that this would be a great grief to the Romans, that they shall not be able to seize upon our bodies, and shall fail of our wealth also; and let us spare nothing but our provisions; for they will be a testimonial when we are dead, that we were not subdued for want of necessaries, but that, according to our original resolution, we have preferred death before slavery'.

This was Eleazar's speech to them. Yet did not the opinions of all the auditors acquiesce therein: but although some of them were very zealous to put his advice in practice, and were in a manner filled with pleasure at it, and thought death to be a good thing, yet had those that were more effeminate a commiseration for their wives and families; and when these men were especially moved by the prospect of their own certain death, they looked wistfully at one another, and by the tears that were in their eyes, declared their dissent from his opinion. When Eleazar saw these people in such fear, and that their souls were dejected at so prodigious a proposal, he was afraid lest perhaps these effeminate persons should by their lamentations and tears enfeeble those that heard what he had said courageously; so he did not leave off exhorting them, but stirred up himself, and recollecting proper arguments for raising their courage, he undertook to speak more sublimely to them, and that concerning the immortality of the soul. So he made a lamentable groan, and fixing his eyes intently on those that wept, he spake thus: 'Truly I was greatly mistaken, when I thought to be assisting brave men who struggled hard for their liberty, and such as were resolved either to live with honour, or else to die: I find that you are such people as are no better than others, either in virtue or in courage, and are afraid of dying, though you be delivered thereby from the greatest miseries, while you ought to make no delay in this matter, nor to await anyone to give you a good advice; for the laws of our country, and of God himself, have from ancient times, and as soon as ever we could use our reason, continually taught us, and our forefathers have corroborated the same doctrine by their actions, and by their bravery of mind, that it is life that is a calamity to men, and not death; for this last affords our souls their liberty, and sends them by a removal into their own place of purity, where they are to be insensible of all sorts of misery; for while souls are tied down to a mortal body, they are partakers of its miseries; and really to speak the truth, they are themselves dead; for the union of what is divine to what is mortal, is unsuitable. It is true, the power of the soul is great, even when it is imprisoned in a mortal body; for by moving it after a way that is invisible, it makes the body a sensible instrument, and causes it to advance farther in its actions, than mortal nature could otherwise do. However, when it is freed from that weight which draws it down to the earth and is hung on to it, and obtains its own proper place, it does then become a partaker of that blessed power, and those abilities, which are then every way incapable of being hindered in their operations. It continues invisible, indeed, to the eyes of men, as does God himself; for certainly it is not itself seen, while it is in the body; for it is there after an invisible manner, and when it is freed from it, it is still not seen. It is this soul which hath one nature, and that an incorruptible one also; but yet is it the cause of the change that is made in the body; for whatsoever it be which the soul touches, that lives and flourishes, and from whatsoever it is removed, that withers away and dies; such a degree is there in it of immortality. Let me produce the state of sleep as a most evident demonstration of the truth of what I say; wherein souls, when the body does not distract them, have the sweetest rest depending on themselves, and conversing with God, by their alliance to him; they then go everywhere, and foretell many futurities beforehand. And why are we afraid of death, while we are pleased with the rest that we have in sleep? And how absurd a thing is it to pursue after liberty while we are alive, and yet to envy it to ourselves where it will be eternal? We, therefore, who have been brought up in a discipline of our own, ought to become an example to others of our readiness to die. Yet, if we do stand in need of foreigners to support us in this matter, let us regard those Indians who profess the exercise of philosophy; for these brave men do but unwillingly undergo the time of life, and look upon it as a necessary servitude; and make haste to let their souls loose from their bodies; nay, when no misfortune presses them to it, nor drives them upon it, these have such a desire of a life of immortality, that they tell other men before hand that they are about to depart; and nobody hinders them, but everyone thinks them happy men, and gives them letters to be carried to their familiar friends; so firmly and certainly do they believe that souls converse with one another in the other world. So when these men have heard all such commands that were to be given them, they deliver their body to the fire, in order to their getting their soul a separation from the body in the greatest purity; and die in the midst of hymns of commendation made to them; for their dearest friends conduct them to their death more readily than do any of the rest of mankind conduct their fellow-citizens when they are going a very long journey, who at the same time weep on their own account, but look upon the others as happy persons, as so soon to be made partakers of the immortal order of beings. Are not we, therefore, ashamed to have lower notions than the Indians? and by our own cowardice to lay a base reproach upon the laws of our country, which are so much desired and imitated by all mankind? But put the case that we had been brought up under another persuasion, and taught that life is the greatest good which men are capable of, and that death is a calamity; however, the circumstances we are now in ought to be an inducement to us to bear such calamity courageously, since it is by the will of God, and by necessity that we are to die; for it now appears that God hath made such a decree against the whole Jewish nation, that we are to be deprived of this life of which we would not make a due use. For do not you ascribe the occasion of our present condition to yourselves, nor think the Romans are the true occasion that this war we have had with them is become so destructive to us all; these things have not come to pass by their power, but a more powerful cause hath intervened, and made us afford them an occasion of their appearing to be conquerors over us. What Roman weapons, I pray you, were those, by which the Jews at Caesarea were slain? On the contrary, when they were no way disposed to rebel, but were all the while keeping their seventh day festival, and did not so much as lift up their hands against the citizens of Caesarea, yet did those citizens run upon them in great crowds, and cut their throats, and the throats of their wives and children, and this without any regard to the Romans themselves; who never took us for their enemies till we revolted from them. But some may be ready to say, that truly the people of Caesarea had always a quarrel against those that lived among them; and that when an opportunity offered itself, they only satisfied the old rancour they had against them. What then shall we say to those of Scythopolis, who ventured to wage war with us on account of the Greeks, rather than fight with us theirselves against the Romans. Wherefore you see how little their good-will and fidelity to them profited us, while they were slain, they and their whole families, after the most inhuman manner, which was all the requital that was made them for the assistance they had afforded the others; for that very same destruction which they had prevented the Greeks of Scythopolis from suffering at our hands, did they suffer themselves from them, as if they had been ready to be the actors against them. It would be too long for me to speak at this time of every destruction brought upon us; for you cannot but know, that there was not any one Syrian city, which did not slay their Jewish inhabitants, and were not more bitter enemies to us than were the Romans themselves; nay, even those of Damascus, when they were able to allege no tolerable pretence against us, filled their city with the most barbarous slaughters of our people, and cut the throats of eighteen thousand Jews, with their wives and children. And as to the multitude of those that were slain in Egypt, and that with torments also, we have been informed they were more than sixty thousand. Now these being indeed in a foreign country, and so naturally being unable to oppose their enemies, were killed in the manner forementioned; but as for all those of us who have waged war against the Romans, in our own country, had we not sufficient reason to have sure hopes of victory? For we had arms, and walls and fortresses so prepared as not to be easily taken, and courage not to be moved by any dangers in the cause of liberty, which encouraged us all to revolt from the Romans. But then, these advantages sufficed us but for a short time, and only raised our hopes, while they really proved to be the origin of our miseries; for all we had hath been taken from us, and all hath fallen under our enemies, as if these advantages were only intended to render their victory over us the more glorious, and were not disposed for the preservation of those by whom these preparations were made. And as for those that are already dead in the war, it is reasonable we should esteem them blessed, for they are dead in defending, and not in betraying their liberty; but as to the multitude of those that are now under the Romans, who would not pity their condition? and who would not make haste to die, before he would suffer the same miseries with them? Some of them have been put upon the rack, and tortued with fire and whippings, and so died. Some have been half devoured by wild beasts, and yet have been reserved alive to be devoured by them a second time, in order to afford laughter and sport to our enemies; and such of those as are alive still, are to be looked on as the most miserable, who being so desirous of death, could not come at it. And where is now that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation? which was fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many ten thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations, and hath nothing but that monument of it preserved, I mean the camp of those that have destroyed it, which still dwell upon its ruins; some unfortunate old men also lie upon the ashes of the temple, and a few women are there preserved alive by the enemy, for their bitter shame and reproach. Now, who is there that revolves these things in his mind, and yet is able to bear the sight of the sun, though he might live out of danger? Who is there so much his country's enemy, or so unmanly, and so desirous of living, as not to repent that he is still alive? And I cannot but wish that we had all died, before we had seen that holy city demolkished by the hands of our enemies, or the foundations of our holy temple dug up after so profane a manner. But since we had a generous hope that deluded us, as if we might perhaps have been able to avenge ourselves on our enemies on that account, though it be now become vanity, and hath left us alone in this distress, let us make haste to die bravely. Let us pity ourselves, our children, and our wives, while it is in our own power to shew pity to them; for we were born to die, as well as those were whom we have begotten; nor is it in the power of the most happy to avoid it. But for abuses, and slavery, and the sight of our wives led away after an ignominious manner, with their children, these are not such evils as are natural and necessary among men; although such as do not prefer death before those miseries, when it is in their power so to do, must undergo even them, on account of their own cowardice. We revolted from the Romans with great pretensions to courage, and when, at the very last, they invited us to preserve ourselves, we would not comply with them. Who will not, therefore, believe that they will certainly be in a rage at us, in case they can take us alive? Miserable will then be the young men, who will be strong enough in their bodies to sustain many torments; miserable also will be those of elder years, who will not be able to bear those calamities which young men might sustain. One man will see his wife outraged, or will be obliged to hear the voice of his son implore help of his father; when his hands are bound. But while our hands are still at liberty, and have a sword in them, let them then be subservient to us in our glorious design; let us die before we become slaves under our enemies, and let us go out of the world, together with our children, and our wives, in a state of freedom. This it is that our laws command us to do; this it is that our wives and children crave at our hands; nay, God nimself hath brought this necessity upon us, while the Romans desire the contrary, and are afraid lest any of us should die before we are taken. Let us therefore make haste, and instead of affording them so much pleasure, as they hope for in getting us under their power, let us leave them an example which shall at once cause their astonishment at our death, and their admiration of our hardiness therein'.

Now as Eleazar was proceeding on this exhortation, they all cut him off short, and made haste to do the work, as full of an unconquerable ardour of mind, and moved with a demoniacal fury. So they went their ways, as one still endeavouring to be before another, and as thinking that this eagerness would be a demonstration of their courage and good conduct, if they could avoid appearing in the last class; so great was the zeal they were in to slay their wives and children, and themselves also. Nor indeed, when they came to the work itself, did their courage fail them, as one might imagine it would have done, but they then held fast the same resolution, without wavering, which they had upon the hearing of Eleazar's speech, while yet everyone of them still retained the natural passion of love to themselves and their families, because the reasoning they went upon appeared to them to be very just, that they were doing what was best to those that were dearest to them; for the husbands tenderly embraced their wives, and took their children into their arms, and gave the longest parting kisses to them, with tears in their eyes. Yet at the same time did they complete what they had resolved on, as if they were assisted by the hands of strangers; and they had for their comfort, the thought in doing this execution, of the miseries they were to suffer from their enemies. Nor was there at length anyone of these men found that scrupled to act his part in this terrible execution, but everyone of them dispatched his dearest relations. Miserable men indeed were they! whose distress forced them to slay their own wives and children with their own hands, as the lightest of those evils that were before them. So they being not able to bear the grief they were under for what they had done any longer, and esteeming it an injury to those they had slain, to live even the shortest space of time after them, they presently laid all they had upon an heap, and set fire to it. They then chose ten men by lot out of them, to slay all the rest; everyone of which laid himself down by his wife and children on the ground, and threw his arms about them, and they offered their necks to the stroke of those who by lot executed that melancholy office; and when these ten had, without fear, slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine, and after all should kill himself. Accordingly, all these had courage sufficient to be no way behind one another in doing or suffering; so, for a conclusion, the nine offered their nects to the executioner, and he who was the last of all took a view of all the other bodies, lest perchance some or other among so many that were slain should want his assistance to be quite dispatched, and when he perceived that they were all slain, he set fire to the palace, and with the great force of his hand ran his sword entirely through himself, and fell down dead near to his own relations. So these people died with this intention, that they would leave not so much as one soul among them all alive to be subject to the Romans. Yet was there an ancient woman, and another who was of kin to Eleazar, and superior to most women in prudence and learning, with five children who had concealed themselves in the underground conduits through which drinking waters passed, and were hidden there when the rest were intent upon the slaughter of one another. Those others were nine hundred and sixty in number, the women and children being withal included in that computation. This tragedy took place on the fifteenth day of the month Xanthicus.

Now for the Romans, they expected that they should be fought in the morning, when accordingly they put on their armour, and laid bridges of planks across from their banks, to make an assault upon the fortress, which they did; but saw nobody as an enemy, but a terrible solitude on every side with a fire within the palace, as well as a perfect silence. So they were at a loss to guess at what had happened. At length they made a shout, as if it had been at a blow given by the battering ram, to try whether they could bring anyone out that was within; the women heard this noise, and came out of their underground cavern, and informed the Romans what had been done, as it was done, and the one of them clearly described all both what was said, and what was done, and the manner of it; yet did they not easily give their attention to her, disbelieving in the magnitude of the deed; they also attempted to put the fire out, and quickly cutting themselves away through it, they came within the palace, and so met with the multitude of the slain, but could take no pleasure in the fact, though it were done to their enemies. Nor could they do other than wonder at the courage of their resolution, and the immoveable contempt of death which so great a number of them had shewn, when they went through with such an action as that was.


 

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* Because we believe primary sources of history far surpass secondary sources, most of the lives of the following individuals are taken from ancient historians such as Plutarch, Pliny, Suetonius and Tacitus