Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 352 pages of information about Tacitus.

Thus, as we have already seen,[510] Titus pitched his camp before 11 the walls of Jerusalem and proceeded to display his legions in battle order.  The Jews formed up at the foot of their own walls, ready, if successful, to venture further, but assured of their retreat in case of reverse.  A body of cavalry and some light-armed foot were sent forward, and fought an indecisive engagement, from which the enemy eventually retired.  During the next few days a series of skirmishes took place in front of the gates, and at last continual losses drove the Jews behind their walls.  The Romans then determined to take it by storm.  It seemed undignified to sit and wait for the enemy to starve, and the men all clamoured for the risks, some being really brave, while many others were wild and greedy for plunder.  Titus himself had the vision of Rome with all her wealth and pleasures before his eyes, and felt that their enjoyment was postponed unless Jerusalem fell at once.  The city, however, stands high and is fortified with works strong enough to protect a city standing on the plain.  Two enormous hills[511] were surrounded by walls ingeniously built so as to project or slope inwards and thus leave the flanks of an attacking party exposed to fire.  The rocks were jagged at the top.  The towers, where the rising ground helped, were sixty feet high, and in the hollows as much as a hundred and twenty.  They are a wonderful sight and seem from a distance to be all of equal height.  Within this runs another line of fortification surrounding the palace, and on a conspicuous height stands the Antonia, a castle named by Herod in honour of Mark Antony.

The temple was built like a citadel with walls of its own, on 12 which more care and labour had been spent than on any of the others.  Even the cloisters surrounding the temple formed a splendid rampart.  There was a never-failing spring of water,[512] catacombs hollowed out of the hills, and pools or cisterns for holding the rain-water.  Its original builders had foreseen that the peculiarities of Jewish life would lead to frequent wars, consequently everything was ready for the longest of sieges.  Besides this, when Pompey took the city, bitter experience taught them several lessons, and in the days of Claudius they had taken advantage of his avarice to buy rights of fortification, and built walls in peace-time as though war were imminent.  Their numbers were now swelled by floods of human refuse and unfortunate refugees from other towns.[513] All the most desperate characters in the country had taken refuge there, which did not conduce to unity.  They had three armies, each with its own general.  The outermost and largest line of wall was held by Simon; the central city by John, and the temple by Eleazar.[514] John and Simon were stronger than Eleazar in numbers and equipment, but he had the advantage of a strong position.  Their relations mainly consisted of fighting, treachery, and arson:  a large quantity of corn was burnt.  Eventually, under pretext of offering a sacrifice, John sent a party of men to massacre Eleazar and his troops, and by this means gained possession of the temple.[515] Thus Jerusalem was divided into two hostile parties, but on the approach of the Romans the necessities of foreign warfare reconciled their differences.

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Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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