The Wars of the Jews, 7.163–7.218

Flavius Josephus  translated by William Whiston

« J. BJ 7.96–7.162 | J. BJ 7.163–7.218 | J. BJ 7.219–7.251 | About This Work »

1631. Now Lucilius Bassus was sent as legate into Judea, and there he received the army from Cerealis Vitellius, and took that citadel which was in Herodium, together with the garrison that was in it; 164after which he got together all the soldiery that was there (which was a large body, but dispersed into several parties), with the tenth legion, and resolved to make war upon Macherus; for it was highly necessary that this citadel should be demolished, lest it might be a means of drawing away many into a rebellion, by reason of its strength; 165for the nature of the place was very capable of affording the surest hopes of safety to those that possessed it, as well as delay and fear to those that should attack it; 166for what was walled in was itself a very rocky hill, elevated to a very great height; which circumstance alone made it very hard to be subdued. It was also so contrived by nature, that it could not be easily ascended; 167for it is, as it were, ditched about with such valleys on all sides, and to such a depth, that the eye cannot reach their bottoms, and such as are not easily to be passed over, and even such as it is impossible to fill up with earth. 168For that valley which cuts it on the west extends to threescore furlongs, and did not end till it came to the lake Asphaltitis; on the same side it was also that Macherus had the tallest top of its hill elevated above the rest. 169But then for the valleys that lay on the north and south sides, although they be not so large as that already described, yet it is in like manner an impracticable thing to think of getting over them; 170and for the valley that lies on the east side, its depth is found to be no less than a hundred cubits. It extends as far as a mountain that lies over against Macherus, with which it is bounded.

1712. Now when Alexander [Janneus], the king of the Jews, observed the nature of this place, he was the first who built a citadel here, which afterwards was demolished by Gabinius, when he made war against Aristobulus. 172But when Herod came to be king, he thought the place to be worthy of the utmost regard, and of being built upon in the firmest manner, and this especially because it lay so near to Arabia; for it is seated in a convenient place on that account, and hath a prospect toward that country; 173he therefore surrounded a large space of ground with walls and towers, and built a city there, out of which city there was a way that led up to the very citadel itself on the top of the mountain; 174nay, more than this, he built a wall round that top of the hill, and erected towers at the corners, of a hundred and sixty cubits high; 175in the middle of which place he built a palace, after a magnificent manner, wherein were large and beautiful edifices. 176He also made a great many reservoirs for the reception of water, that there might be plenty of it ready for all uses, and those in the properest places that were afforded him there. Thus did he, as it were, contend with the nature of the place, that he might exceed its natural strength and security (which yet itself rendered it hard to be taken) by those fortifications which were made by the hands of men. 177Moreover, he put a large quantity of darts and other machines of war into it, and contrived to get everything thither that might any way contribute to its inhabitants’ security, under the longest siege possible.

1783. Now within this place there grew a sort of rue that deserves our wonder on account of its largeness, for it was no way inferior to any fig tree whatsoever, either in height or in thickness; 179and the report is, that it had lasted ever since the times of Herod, and would probably have lasted much longer, had it not been cut down by those Jews who took possession of the place afterwards. 180But still in that valley which encompasses the city on the north side there is a certain place called Baaras, which produces a root of the same name with itself; 181its color is like to that of flame, and towards the evenings it sends out a certain ray like lightning. It is not easily taken by such as would do it, but recedes from their hands, nor will yield itself to be taken quietly, until either the urine of a woman, or her menstrual blood, be poured upon it; 182nay, even then it is certain death to those that touch it, unless anyone take and hang the root itself down from his hand, and so carry it away. 183It may also be taken another way, without danger, which is this: they dig a trench quite round about it, till the hidden part of the root be very small, 184they then tie a dog to it, and when the dog tries hard to follow him that tied him, this root is easily plucked up, but the dog dies immediately, as if it were instead of the man that would take the plant away; nor after this need anyone be afraid of taking it into their hands. 185Yet, after all this pains in getting, it is only valuable on account of one virtue it hath, that if it be only brought to sick persons, it quickly drives away those called demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them. 186Here are also fountains of hot water, that flow out of this place, which have a very different taste one from the other; for some of them are bitter, and others of them are plainly sweet. 187Here are also many eruptions of cold waters, and this not only in the places that lie lower, and have their fountains near one another, 188but, what is still more wonderful, here is to be seen a certain cave hard by, whose cavity is not deep, but it is covered over by a rock that is prominent; 189above this rock there stand up two [hills or] breasts, as it were, but a little distant one from another, the one of which sends out a fountain that is very cold, and the other sends out one that is very hot; which waters, when they are mingled together, compose a most pleasant bath; they are medicinal indeed for other maladies, but especially good for strengthening the nerves. This place has in it also mines of sulfur and alum.

1904. Now when Bassus had taken a full view of this place, he resolved to besiege it, by filling up the valley that lay on the east side; so he fell hard to work, and took great pains to raise his banks as soon as possible, and by that means to render the siege easy. 191As for the Jews that were caught in this place, they separated themselves from the strangers that were with them, and they forced those strangers, as an otherwise useless multitude, to stay in the lower part of the city, and undergo the principal dangers, 192while they themselves seized on the upper citadel, and held it, and this both on account of its strength, and to provide for their own safety. They also supposed they might obtain their pardon, in case they should [at last] surrender the citadel. 193However, they were willing to make trial, in the first place, whether the hopes they had of avoiding a siege would come to anything; with which intention they made sallies every day, and fought with those that met them; in which conflicts they were many of them slain, as they therein slew many of the Romans. 194But still it was the opportunities that presented themselves which chiefly gained both sides their victories; these were gained by the Jews, when they fell upon the Romans as they were off their guard; but by the Romans, when, upon the others’ sallies against their banks, they foresaw their coming, and were upon their guard when they received them. 195But the conclusion of this siege did not depend upon these bickerings; but a certain surprising accident, relating to what was done in this siege, forced the Jews to surrender the citadel. 196There was a certain young man among the besieged, of great boldness, and very active of his hand, his name was Eleazar; 197he greatly signalized himself in those sallies, and encouraged the Jews to go out in great numbers, in order to hinder the raising of the banks, and did the Romans a vast deal of mischief when they came to fighting; he so managed matters, that those who sallied out made their attacks easily, and returned back without danger, and this by still bringing up the rear himself. 198Now it happened that on a certain time, when the fight was over, and both sides were parted, and retired home, he, in way of contempt of the enemy, and thinking that none of them would begin the fight again at that time, staid without the gates, and talked with those that were upon the wall, and his mind was wholly intent upon what they said. 199Now a certain person belonging to the Roman camp, whose name was Rufus, by birth an Egyptian, ran upon him suddenly, when nobody expected such a thing, and carried him off, with his armor itself; while in the meantime, those that saw it from the wall were under such an amazement, that Rufus prevented their assistance, and carried Eleazar to the Roman camp. 200So the general of the Romans ordered that he should be taken up naked, set before the city to be seen, and sorely whipped before their eyes. Upon this sad accident that befell the young man, the Jews were terribly confounded, and the city, with one voice, sorely lamented him, and the mourning proved greater than could well be supposed upon the calamity of a single person. 201When Bassus perceived that, he began to think of using a stratagem against the enemy, and was desirous to aggravate their grief, in order to prevail with them to surrender the city for the preservation of that man. Nor did he fail of his hope; 202for he commanded them to set up a cross, as if he were just going to hang Eleazar upon it immediately; the sight of this occasioned a sore grief among those that were in the citadel, and they groaned vehemently, and cried out that they could not bear to see him thus destroyed. 203Whereupon Eleazar besought them not to disregard him, now he was going to suffer a most miserable death, and exhorted them to save themselves, by yielding to the Roman power and good fortune, since all other people were now conquered by them. 204These men were greatly moved with what he said, there being also many within the city that interceded for him, because he was of an eminent and very numerous family; 205so they now yielded to their passion of commiseration, contrary to their usual custom. Accordingly, they sent out immediately certain messengers, and treated with the Romans, in order to a surrender of the citadel to them, and desired that they might be permitted to go away, and take Eleazar along with them. 206Then did the Romans and their general accept of these terms; while the multitude of strangers that were in the lower part of the city, hearing of the agreement that was made by the Jews for themselves alone, were resolved to fly away privately in the night time; 207but as soon as they had opened their gates, those that had come to terms with Bassus told him of it; whether it were that they envied the others’ deliverance, or whether it were done out of fear, lest an occasion should be taken against them upon their escape, is uncertain. 208The most courageous, therefore, of those men that went out prevented the enemy, and got away, and fled for it; but for those men that were caught within, they were slain, to the number of one thousand seven hundred, as were the women and the children made slaves; 209but as Bassus thought he must perform the covenant, he had made with those that had surrendered the citadel, he let them go, and restored Eleazar to them.

2105. When Bassus had settled these affairs, he marched hastily to the forest of Jarden, as it is called; for he had heard that a great many of those that had fled from Jerusalem and Macherus formerly were there gotten together. 211When he was therefore come to the place, and understood that the former news was no mistake, he, in the first place, surrounded the whole place with his horsemen, that such of the Jews as had boldness enough to try to break through might have no way possible for escaping, by reason of the situation of these horsemen; and for the footmen, he ordered them to cut down the trees that were in the wood whither they were fled. 212So the Jews were under a necessity of performing some glorious exploit, and of greatly exposing themselves in a battle, since they might perhaps thereby escape. So they made a general attack, and with a great shout fell upon those that surrounded them, 213who received them with great courage; and so while the one side fought desperately, and the others would not yield, the fight was prolonged on that account. But the event of the battle did not answer the expectation of the assailants; 214for so it happened, that no more than twelve fell on the Roman side, with a few that were wounded; but not one of the Jews escaped out of this battle, but they were all killed, being in the whole not fewer in number than three thousand, 215together with Judas, the son of Jairus, their general: concerning whom we have before spoken, that he had been a captain of a certain band at the siege of Jerusalem, and by going down into a certain vault underground, had privately made his escape.

2166. About the same time it was that Caesar sent a letter to Bassus, and to Liberius Maximus, who was the procurator [of Judea], and gave order that all Judea should be exposed to sale; 217for he did not found any city there, but reserved the country for himself. However, he assigned a place for eight hundred men only, whom he had dismissed from his army, which he gave them for their habitation; it is called Emmaus, and is distant from Jerusalem threescore furlongs. 218He also laid a tribute upon the Jews wheresoever they were, and enjoined every one of them to bring two drachmae every year into the Capitol, as they used to pay the same to the temple at Jerusalem. And this was the state of the Jewish affairs at this time.

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