Harmony of the Gospel (Conservative Version) shorter form Chapters 57-63
|Chapter 57||Historical texts|
Now Titus went in the front of the army in a decent manner according to Roman form, and marched through Samaria to Gophna, a city formerly taken by his father, and then garrisoned by Roman soldiers: when he had lodged there one night, he marched on in the morning; and when he had gone a full day’s march, he pitched his camp at that valley which the Jews, in their own tongue, call “the Valley of Thorns,” near a certain village called Gabaothsaul, which means, “the Hill of Saul,” about three and three-quarter miles distant from Jerusalem. There he chose six hundred select horsemen, and went to take a view of the city, to observe its strength and how courageous the Jews would be when they saw him, and before they came to a direct battle, whether they would be terrified and submit; for he had been truthfully informed that the people who had fallen under the power of the rebels and the robbers greatly desired peace; but, being too weak to rise up against the rest, they did nothing.
Now, as long as he rode along the straight road which led to the city, no one came out of the gates; but when he diverted and left that road, and led the band of horsemen obliquely toward the tower Psephinus, an immense number of the Jews leaped suddenly out from the Women’s Towers through the gate opposite the monuments of queen Helena, and intercepted his cavalrymen; and kept those who still ran along the road from joining those who had come down from it. They intercepted Titus also, with a few others, and cut them off from the rest.
Now it was impossible for him to go forward, because all the places had ditches dug in them from the wall, to protect the surrounding gardens, and were full of gardens divided by walls, and many hedges; and to rejoin his own men, he saw was also impossible, because of the multitude of the enemy; and many of his men had no idea that Titus was in any danger, but supposed he was still among them. So he saw that he must courageously save himself, and turned his horse about, and shouted to those around him to follow, and he ran with violence into the midst of his enemies, to force his way through them to his own men. He had neither helmet, nor breastplate, for he went out not to fight, but to view the city, yet none of the arrows touched his body, as if all of them missed him on purpose, and only made a noise as they passed, without hurting him. He overthrew many of those who met him head on, and made his horse ride over them. The enemy made a great shout at the boldness of Titus, and exhorted one another to rush him. Yet those he marched against fled in great numbers; while those in the same danger with him kept close to him, though they were wounded on their backs and sides; for they each had only one expectation of escape, if they could assist Titus himself open a way, that he might not be surrounded by his enemies before he got away from them. Now, two of his men were killed: one, at a distance from him, the enemy surrounded, and slew with their arrows and his horse also; the other, they slew as he leaped down from his horse, and carried off his horse. But Titus escaped with the rest, and came safe to the camp. So this success of the Jews’ first attack elated them with a false expectation; and gave them courage for the future.
But now, as soon as the legion at Emmaus joined Caesar at night, he moved from there, when it was day, and came to a place called Scopus, the Prospect, where the city could already be seen, with a plain view of the great Temple. This place, on the border of the north quarter of the city, and slightly more than eight tenths of a mile distant from it, was a broad plain, and quite appropriately named Scopus. Here Titus ordered a camp to be fortified for two legions who were to be together; but ordered another camp a farther two hundred twenty yards distant behind them to be fortified for the Legio quinta Alaudae, the Fifth Legion Larks; for he thought that, by marching in the night, they might be tired, and might deserve to be thus protected from the enemy, and might therefore fortify themselves with less fear; and, as they were now beginning to build, the Legio decima Fretensis, the Tenth Legion of the Sea Straits, which came through Jericho, had already arrived at the place where a group of armed men lay in wait to guard that pass into the city, which had been taken before by Vespasian. These legions had orders to camp at a distance of two thirds of a mile from Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives, which lies near the city on the east side, and divided from it by a deep valley named Kidron.
Now, Eleazar, the son of Simon, appeared very angry at John’s insolent attempts every day against the people; for this man never stopped murdering; but the truth was that he could not bear to submit to a tyrant younger than himself who had set himself up after him. So desiring to gain the entire power and dominion for himself, he had revolted from John, and taken to his assistance Judas the son of Chelcias, and Simon the son of Ezron, who were among the men of greatest power; with him also was Hezekiah the son of Chobar, a person of eminence. Each of them was followed by a great many of the Zealots. Eleazar was he who had first separated the Zealots from the people, and made them retire into the Temple; they had seized the inner court of the Temple, the Court of the Priests, and laid their arms on the holy gates, and over the holy fronts of that court; and they were of good courage because they saw that they had plenty of provisions, for here there was a great abundance of goods consecrated for sacred use only, wine, oil, flour, grain, and first fruits, which they had no scruples about using and committing sacrilege; yet they were still afraid because of their own small number; and when they laid up their arms there, they did not move from that place. But while the three separate parties in the city were constantly dashing against each other, John had also committed sacrilege by using timbers donated by King Agrippa at great expense, and consecrated solely for building the Temple twenty-eight feet higher to honor God, beams admirable for their straightness and huge size, by cutting them up in preparation for building siege towers to oppose his adversaries in the Temple. But God himself demonstrated that his efforts would prove useless to him, by bringing the Romans on him before he had them erected.
The rebels with astonishment now saw the Romans pitching three separate camps; and this foreign war, now so violently and suddenly come upon them, stopped them; and they began to think of coming to an awkward kind of agreement; and when they had gotten together, they said, “What are we doing, and what do we mean, by allowing three fortified walls to be built to coop us in, so that we shall not be able to breathe freely—while the enemy is securely building a kind of city in opposition to us and while we sit still within our own walls, and have become only spectators of what they are doing, with our hands idle, and our armor set aside, as if they were going about something for our good and advantage?”
Then they exclaimed, “It seems we are only courageous against ourselves, while the Romans are likely to gain the city without bloodshed by our rebellion!”
Thus they encouraged one another, and immediately took their armor and ran out on the Tenth Legion Fretensis east of the city on the Mount of Olives, and with a prodigious shout fell on the Romans with great eagerness as they were fortifying their camp and were caught in different parties performing their separate works, having largely laid aside their arms, thinking that the Jews would not have dared to make a sally on them, and that even had they been disposed to do so, they supposed that the rebellions of the Jews against each other would have distracted them. So the soldiers of the legion were unexpectedly put to confusion when some of them quickly abandoned their works and immediately moved off, while many ran to their arms but were overtaken and smitten and slain before they could turn back on the enemy.
The Jews grew still more and more in number, encouraged by the good success of those who first made the attack; and, as long as they had such good fortune, they seemed to themselves and to the enemy to be many more than they really were. This wild kind of confused fighting also at first put the Romans to making a desperate stand, who had been constantly used to fighting skillfully and in good order, maintaining their ranks, and obeying orders given; for this reason the Romans were caught unexpectedly, and were obliged to give way to the assaults made on them. Now when these Romans were overtaken, stood their ground, and turned back on the Jews, they put a stop to the onslaught, and sounded the pursuit; yet, through their own vehement pursuit of the Jews without any care for their own safety, they were wounded by them; and as still more and more Jews sallied out of the city, the Romans at length were thrown into confusion and put to flight, and ran away from their camp.
The entire legion would have been in danger, if Titus had not been informed and sent reinforcements immediately. Reproaching them for cowardice, he bought back those running away, and assaulted the Jews on their flank with the select troops who were with him, slaying a considerable number, and wounding more, and, putting them all to flight, made them run hastily away down into the valley; and suffering greatly on the downslope, after they got over it, the Jews turned and faced the Romans, having the valley between them, and there fought them; but, shortly after noon, Titus deployed the reinforcements he had sent, and those with the cohorts, to prevent more sallies by the Jews, and sent the rest of the legion back away from the city up out of the valley to the upper part of the mountain, the Mount of Olives, to fortify their camp, while he continued the fight. This movement of troops running back up the mountain seemed to the Jews to be a flight; and when the watchman on the wall gave a signal by shaking his garment, a fresh multitude of Jews came out with mighty violence, like the running of the most terrible wild beasts. And truthfully, none who opposed them could withstand their furious attacks; but, as if they had been shot out of an engine, they broke and shattered the enemies’ ranks, who fled, and ran away back to the mountain; except Titus himself, and a few others with him, halfway up the incline.
Now these, his Friends, despising the danger, and unwilling to leave their general, implored him to give way to these Jews who are so fond of dying, and not risk such dangers like a common soldier, by venturing to turn back on the enemy so suddenly; because he was general in the war, and lord of the habitable earth, on whose preservation the public affairs do all depend. Titus seemed not to hear, but opposing those Jews running on him he smote them on the face, and, when he had forced them back, he slew them, and fell on great numbers of them marching down the hill from the city, thrusting forward and throwing them back and up. They were so amazed at his courage and his strength, that in their flight they could not charge away from him straight back up toward the city, but withdrew from him on both sides, and crowded after those who were fleeing back up the hill westward toward the city to get out of the valley; but he fell on their flank, and put a stop to their fury.
In the meantime, disorder and terror again fell on those fortifying their camp at the top of the hill when they saw those below them running away up toward them, so much that the whole legion scattered, thinking the sallies of the Jews were invincible, and that Titus himself had fled; assuming that if he had stayed the rest would never have made such a run back up the mountain. Thus a kind of panic fear surrounded them, some scattering one way, and some another, before some of them saw their general in the very midst of a battle, and, greatly concerned for him, loudly alerted the entire legion to the danger he was in, feeling that they did worse than run away, by deserting Titus. So they used their utmost force against the Jews, and charging straight down the slope from the Mount of Olives, they drove them in heaps to the bottom of the valley. The Jews turned to fight them; but since they were retreating, the Romans were now above the Jews and had the ground advantage, and they drove them all down into the valley, and Titus also pressed those near him; and now, while he, and those who had been with him from the start, opposed the enemy, who now retreated back up into the city and barred the gates, and thus kept them from doing further mischief, he sent the legion back to fortify their camp, so that Titus himself twice delivered that entire legion when it was in jeopardy, and gave them opportunity to fortify their camp.
The war outside now ceased for a while, and with that, the rebellion within revived.
And now, with the approach of the setting of the sun on Thursday afternoon and evening, on the preparation of the eve of the Feast of Unleavened Bread which now had come, which is Passover—on ten April, the preparation of the eve of Friday eleven April A.D. 70, in the year A.M. 3830 of the Jewish Calendar, the fourteenth day after the first sighting of the new moon, Friday being always the day of preparation of the Sabbath—in the lunar month Xanthicus, which is Nisan, the day when it is believed the Jews were first freed from the Egyptians, with the approach of the setting of the sun in the afternoon of Thursday ten April from the ninth to the eleventh hour of the day, 3 P.M. to 5 P.M., on this day Eleazar and his party opened the gates of the court of the Temple, and admitted into it those of the people who desired to worship God.
Now when the siege started at Passover, on Thursday the eve of Friday, the eve of the very same day we observe as Good Friday, thousands who had flocked from all parts of Judea at the time of the Passover were now trapped inside the city. Eusebius says that it may be necessary to state, how Josephus records—in the very words of that writer—that the multitude of those people who at the time of the Passover thronged into Jerusalem, as if to a prison, about three hundred thousand who flocked from all parts of Judea at the time of the Passover, who had no love for Christ or for Christians, violators of the heart of the law of Moses and the prophets, who did not hear them, were shut up in Jerusalem as in a prison, and were forced to live in tents in Bezetha.
Now this vast multitude is indeed gathered from remote places, but the entire nation was now shut up by fate as in a prison in preparation for their punishment, and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants. Josephus calculates ninety-seven thousand, in addition to eleven hundred thousand, which is one million one hundred thousand, and both numbers together yield a total sum of one million one hundred and ninety-seven thousand Jews in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, on Thursday before sundown the eve of Friday that year, beginning the sixth day of the week, the day of preparation.
For it was indeed appropriate, just and right, and also a cause of weeping, that, in those very days in which they had inflicted sufferings on the Savior and benefactor of all men, Jesus, the Christ of God, the very days on which they willingly perpetrated the Savior’s passion, shut up as in a prison, destruction should overtake them, as an exhibition of the divine justice—that they should meet with destruction and be thus shut up as being inside a prison, and receive the destruction meted out at the hands of divine justice according to their words, “Let his blood be on us, and on our children!”
And that this city could contain so many people in it is evident from the number of them taken two years before, in A.D. 68, under Cestius Gallus, who, desiring to inform Nero of the strength of the city, who was otherwise disposed to scornfully despise that nation, petitioned the high priests, if the thing were possible, to take the number of the whole multitude; which they did, to the number of three million.
If any one compares the words of our Savior with the accounts of Josephus concerning the whole war, one cannot fail to wonder, and admit that the foreknowledge and the prophecy of our Savior were truly divine. It is fitting to add the true prediction of our Savior in which he foretold these events:
These things took place in this manner in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, A.D. 70, in accordance with the prophecies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who by divine power saw them beforehand as if they were already present, and wept and mourned according to the statement of the holy evangelists, who give the very words which he uttered. And let us also weep with him. For, when before his passion Jesus drew near to the descent of the Mount of Olives, and saw the city, he wept over it, saying,
And then, as if speaking concerning the people, he says,
Remember for what cause this came upon them, how he had said to them, in truth,
And he said to his disciples,
Recall also these words that he said,
Now, Eleazar and his party, who had seized the inner court of the Temple with a great many of the Zealots who followed them and laid their weapons on the holy gates and over the holy fronts of that inner court, opened the gates of the outer court of the Temple, and admitted into it those of the people who desired to worship God during the preparation of the Passover before the setting of the sun on Thursday ten April that year. But John of Gischala, using this festival as a cloak for his own treacherous purposes, armed with concealed weapons the least conspicuous members of his own party, most of whom were not purified, but unclean, and sent them with great zeal into the Temple to seize it; and once they were in, they threw off their outer garments, revealing their armor, thus causing a very great disorder and disturbance about the holy house; and while the people who had no part in the rebellion supposed the attack was against all without distinction, the Zealots thought it was against themselves only. So they quickly stopped guarding the gates, and leaped down from their battlements before they could be engaged in combat, and fled into the subterranean caverns of the Temple; while the people trembling at the altar and about the holy house were pressed together, and trampled, and beaten mercilessly with both wooden and iron weapons by these who were supposed to be fellow Jews. Those attackers having disputes with others slew many unresisting persons out of personal enmity and hatred, as if they opposed the rebels; and all who had formerly offended any of these plotters were identified and led away to be slaughtered; and then, after horribly brutalizing the innocent, they granted a truce to the guilty who returned from the caverns, letting them go. These followers of John also now seized this inner Temple and all the warlike engines there, and together with Eleazar’s Zealots they challenged Simon; and the Abomination of Desolation now stood in the Temple of God, as will now be shown. And thus that rebellion, which had been divided into three factions, was now two.
But Titus, intending to pitch his camp nearer to the city than Scopus, positioned opposite the Jews as many of his choice cavalry and infantry as he thought sufficient to prevent sallies from the city, while he ordered the whole army to level the distance to the wall. Its walls were high and a series of high towers sixty feet high dominated the position, but for the Romans there would be one advantage: there was no valley in front of them. It was the logical place to attack Jerusalem. So they threw down all the hedges and walls the inhabitants had made about their gardens and groves of trees, and cut down all the fruit trees between them and the wall of the city, and filled up all the hollow places and the chasms, the ravines, and demolished the rocky cliff faces, the precipices, with iron instruments; and thereby prepared the way and made all the place a level desolation from Scopus to Herod’s monument, which adjoined the Serpent’s Pool.
This was done in four days; and desiring to bring safely to the camp the baggage of the army with the rest of the multitude that followed him, he set the strongest part of his army opposite the wall on the north quarter of the city, against the western part of it, and made his army seven ranks deep, with the infantry in front and the horsemen behind, each of these in three ranks, while the single rank of archers stood in the midst between them, making seven ranks: the horsemen, the archers, and the infantry. And now, as sallies by the Jews were checked by so great a body of men, both the beasts that bore the burdens and belonged to the three legions, and the rest of the multitude, as they marched were secure. But Titus himself was only a quarter mile from the wall, four hundred and forty feet, at the part with the Corner, near the tower Psephinus, where the north circuit of the wall bent and extended itself toward the west; but the other part of the army fortified themselves at the tower Hippicus, and was also at the same distance, four hundred and forty feet, a quarter mile away from the city. However, the Legio decima Fretensis, the Tenth Legion remained in its place on the Mount of Olives, a distance of two thirds of a mile from Jerusalem.
Now the multitude of the rebels with Simon, son of Giora, were ten thousand, besides the Idumeans. Those ten thousand had fifty commanders, over whom Simon was supreme. The tower Phasaelus was now converted by them to a house, where Simon exercised his tyrannical authority. The Idumeans who paid him homage were five thousand, and had eight commanders.
John of Gischala, who had seized the Temple, had six thousand armed men, under twenty commanders; the Zealots also who had come to him and ceased their opposition were two thousand four hundred and had the same commander they had formerly, Eleazar, son of Simon, together with Simon the son of Arinus. These now under John, together with him opposed the tyrant Simon, son of Giora.
Now, while these two factions fought one against another, both sides continued to prey on the people; and those of the people who would not join them in their wicked practices, were plundered by both factions. Simon held the upper city, and the great wall as far as Kidron, and all of the old wall that bent from Siloam to the east, and went down to the palace of Monobazus, king of the Adiabeni, beyond Euphrates; he also held that fountain, Siloam, and the Acra, which was the lower city, and all that reached to the palace of queen Helena, the mother of Monobazus: but John held the Temple and the parts adjoining it for a great way, also Ophlas, and the Valley of Kidron; and when the areas between their possessions were burnt by them, a desolate space was left in which they might fight each other; for this internal rebellion did not cease even when the Romans were camped near their very walls. But although they had grown wiser at the first Roman onset, this lasted only a while; for they resumed their previous madness, separated, and fought against each other with all their strength, and did everything the besiegers could desire; for during the whole period of the entire siege they never suffered from the Romans anything that was worse than what they made each other suffer, nor was there any misery endured by the city resulting from these men’s actions that was new, but it was most of all unhappy just before it was overthrown.
Remember the words that the multitude of the Jews uttered, when they begged for the release of the robber and murderer, but begged that the Prince of Life should be taken out of their midst, “Not this man, but Barabbas. Give us Barabbas!”. Barabbas was a robber who had committed murder in rebellion at that time. And now they were dominated by these robbers and murderers, who despised repentance and mercy in rebellion.
While this was the condition of the city inside, Titus went round the city outside with some chosen horsemen, and looked for a proper place to batter the walls: for the place was inaccessible from the valleys, and on the other side the first wall appeared too strong to be shaken by the engines, but being in doubt as to where he could possibly make an attack on any side, he then thought the best assault position was at the monument of John Hyrcanus the high priest, where the first fortification was lower, and the second was not joined to it, the builders having neglected to build the wall strong where the new city was sparsely inhabited; here also was an easy passage to the third wall, through which he thought to take the upper city, and, through the tower of Antonia, the Temple itself.
But as he was going round about the city, Nicanor, one of his Friends, was wounded with an arrow on his left shoulder as he approached too near the wall with Josephus and attempted to discuss terms of peace with those on the wall; for he was known to them. But when Titus saw their vehement rejection of anyone who approached to negotiate their protection, he was provoked to press the siege. At the same time he gave his soldiers leave to fire the suburbs, and ordered timber brought to raise earthwork embankments against the city; and when he had separated his army into three parts to begin those works, he placed the archers and those who threw javelin-darts among the banks being raised; and he placed in front of them those engines that threw javelins, and arrows and stones, to prevent the enemy from sallying out against the works, and to hinder those on the wall from obstructing them. So the trees were cut down immediately, and the suburbs left nakedly exposed. But now while the whole army was earnestly engaged in carrying the timber to raise the embankments, the rebellious Jews were not idle; and it happened that while these were very busy opposing their enemies outside the city, the people of Jerusalem, who all the while had been plundered and murdered by them, were now encouraged, thinking they would have a respite, and that now, if the Romans got the victory, they would be avenged on the authors of their miseries.
However, John, fearing Simon, held back, even while his own men were eager to sally outside against their enemies. But Simon, in contrast, was not inactive, for he lay near the place of the siege; he brought his engines of war, and deployed them at intervals on the wall, both those they had previously taken from Cestius Gallus in the uprising, and those they had gotten after seizing the garrison in the tower of Antonia. But they were so unskilled that these engines were largely useless to them; but a few former deserters to the Romans, who afterward had returned from their ranks and joined themselves to the rebels, had been taught by the Romans how to use them, which they did, though awkwardly. So they hurled stones and arrows at those making the banks; they also ran out on them by companies, and fought with them.
Now those Romans at work covered themselves with hurdles spread over their embankments, and their engines opposed the Jews when they made their excursions. These engines, prepared for all the legions, were admirably constructed; but still more extraordinary ones belonged to the Legio decima Fretensis, the Tenth Legion: those that threw arrows, and those that threw stones, were more forcible and larger than the rest, with which they not only repelled the excursions of the Jews, but also drove away those on the walls. Now, the stones were the weight of a talent, seventy-five to eighty-five pounds, and were hurled a distance of about a quarter mile and farther. The blow could not be withstood, not only by those who first stood in the way, but by those who were beyond them for a great space. The Jews, at first, were alerted to the coming of the stone before it came, not only by its bright, white color, but also by the great noise it made when the engine was let go and the stone came flying from it; then the watchmen sitting on the towers shouted in their own country language, “THE SON COMES!”: so those in its way stood off and threw themselves on the ground; and the stone fell down and did them no harm. But the Romans then managed to blacken the stone so it would not be so easily seen, and then aimed with success; and so they destroyed many with one blow. These dropped on them as hailstones from heaven, and the judgment of God like a plague. And now Jesus the son of Ananus, a plebeian and an husbandman, for seven years and five months had continued his melancholy cry, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” and his cry was loudest at the festivals, up to the very moment he saw his prediction fulfilled in earnest in the siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, “Woe, woe, to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!” and as he was uttering these very same predictions—and just as he added at the last, “Woe, woe, to myself also!”—there came a stone out of one of the engines and smote him, and killed him immediately; and he gave up the ghost. And the stones continued to drop on them. Yet, with all this distress from the stones, the Jews did not permit the Romans to quietly raise their banks, but shrewdly and boldly exerted themselves, and repelled them by night and day.
And now, on finishing the Roman works, the workmen measured the distance from the wall by lead and a line, which they threw to it from their embankments; for they could not otherwise measure it themselves, because the Jews would shoot at them; and when they found that the engines could reach the wall, they brought them there. Then Titus set his engines at proper distances, so near to the wall that the Jews might not be able to repel them, and gave orders to go to work; and when a deafening noise echoed round about from three locations and a sudden great noise of outcry was made by the citizens in the city, and no less a terror fell on the two factions of the rebels themselves, both of them, seeing the common danger they were in, managed to agree on defense.
So the warring factions inside cried out to each other that they were aiding their enemies, and instead, to lay aside their enmities, and unite against the Romans, in spite of the fact that God did not grant them lasting concord in their present situation. In agreement, Simon, by proclamation, gave leave to those who came out of the Temple, to go up on the wall; and John too gave them the same leave, though he could not believe Simon was in earnest. So both sides laid aside their hatred and their separate quarrels, and formed themselves into one body; they then ran round the walls, and, having a vast number of torches, threw them at the machines, and showered arrows constantly on those who pushed those machines which battered the wall; the bolder sort leaped out by troops on the hurdles covering the machines, and pulled them to pieces, and fell on those soldiers, and beat them, not so much by any skill, as by the boldness of their attacks. However, Titus himself sent reinforcements to those hardest beset by the enemy, placing horsemen and archers on all sides of the engines, who beat back those who shot stones or arrows from the towers, and then set the engines to work with greater force; yet the wall did not yield to these blows, except where the battering-ram of the Legio quinta decima Apollinaris, Apollo’s Fifteenth Legion moved the corner of a tower, while the wall itself remained intact and unharmed above it; nor could the fall of that part of the tower easily break down any part of the wall itself together with it.
And now the Jews paused in their sallies for a while. But when they saw the Romans dispersed at their works and in their separate camps, who thought the Jews had withdrawn for weariness and fear, they suddenly made a sally out through an unseen gate at the tower Hippicus, at the same time bringing fire to burn the works, and boldly went up to the Romans at the very fortifications themselves: and here the boldness of the Jews was too much for the discipline of the Romans. This fight about the machines was very hot, while the one side tried hard to set them on fire, and the other side to prevent it; both sides were shouting, and many in the forefront of battle were slain. However, the furious assaults of the Jews like madmen were now too much for the Romans; and the fire catching hold of the works, all those endangered works and the engines themselves would have been burned, had not many select soldiers from Alexandria stood against them to prevent it, with greater courage than they themselves supposed they had, outdoing in this fight those of greater reputation before them. Titus then took the stoutest of his cavalry and attacked the enemy, himself slaying twelve of those at the forefront of the Jews; then the rest of the multitude on seeing this, gave way, and he pursued them, driving them all into the city, and he saved the works from the fire.
By Titus’s orders a certain Jew taken alive was crucified before the wall, to see if the rest would be frightened, and relax their obstinacy. But after the Jews had retired, John, who was commander of the Idumeans—not John of Gischala, the tyrant and leader of the Zealots—this John, a man of great eminence, both for his actions and his conduct, who was commander of the Idumeans, was talking to a soldier of his acquaintance before the wall, when he was wounded by an arrow shot at him by an Arabian, and died immediately, leaving the greatest lamentation to the Jews, and sorrow to the rebels.
Now, Titus had ordered the erection of three towers over seventy feet high, so that, by setting men on them at every embankment, from there he might drive away those on the wall; but on the next night, about midnight, it happened that one of these towers fell down, making a very great noise, and fear fell on the army; and they, supposing the enemy was coming to attack, all ran to their arms. And with that, a very great disturbance and a tumult arose among the legions; and as nobody knew what had happened, and seeing no enemy appear, they were afraid of one another; and with great earnestness everyone demanded of his fellows the password of the watch, as though the Jews had invaded their camp. And now they were like people under a panic fear, before Titus was informed of what had happened, and ordered that all should be made aware of it; and only then, and with some difficulty, was the disturbance cleared up.
Now, these towers were very troublesome to the Jews; and it was not practicable to take them, nor to overturn them, they were so heavy, nor to set them on fire, because they were covered with plates of iron. So they retired out of the reach of the Roman arrows, and no longer tried to prevent the impact of the rams, which, by continually beating upon the wall, gradually prevailed against it; so that the wall was already giving way to the Nico, which means “Victor”, for that was the name the Jews themselves called the greatest of the Roman engines, because it conquered all things; and at last a breach was being opened in the wall. Now, the Jews had long grown weary of fighting and keeping guard; and being careless, a great many had grown lazy and retired that night to lodge at a distance inside the outer wall; and for other reasons they had also thought it was superfluous to guard the wall, two other fortifications still remaining inside: this delusion was a judgment from God. It was then that the Romans mounted the breach that Nico had made, and all the Jews guarding that wall quickly abandoned their posts and retreated to the second wall, and those Romans who had gotten over that wall opened the gates and received all the army inside like a flood. And thus the Romans got possession of this first wall, on Sunday four May A.D. 70, the fifteenth day of the siege, on the seventh day of the month Artemisius, which is Iyyar, when they demolished a great part of it, as well as the northern parts of the city, which had also formerly been demolished by Cestius.
And now Titus pitched his camp inside the city, but out of the reach of the Jews’ arrows, at that place called “the Camp of the Assyrians”, having seized all that lay as far as the Kidron. When he began his attacks on the second wall, the Jews divided themselves into several bodies, and courageously defended that wall; John and his faction from the tower of Antonia, and from the northern portico of the Temple, and they fought the Romans before the monument of King Alexander Jannaeus; Simon’s army also took for their share the spot of ground near John’s monument, and fortified it as far as that gate through which an aqueduct brought water in to the tower Hippicus. However, the Jews frequently made violent sallies in bodies together out of the gates, and there fought the Romans; and whenever they were pursued to the wall, they were beaten, lacking the skill of the Romans; but when they fought them from the walls, they were too hard for them; the Romans being encouraged by their power joined to their skill, the Jews by their boldness nourished by their fear and that hardiness natural to them under calamities; the Jews were also encouraged still by the expectation of deliverance, as were the Romans by expectations of subduing them in a short time. Neither side grew weary; but all day long there were attacks and fights on the wall, and constant sallies out in bodies, nor was there any sort of combat that was not then used. And the night itself did not part them; no, the night itself passed without sleep on both sides, and was more uneasy to them than the day; both sides lay in their armor during the nighttime, being ready at the first appearance of light to go to battle, when they began to fight in the morning, while the one feared the wall should be taken, and the other that the Jews should make sallies on their camps.
Now, among the rebel Jews their ambition was to risk the foremost dangers, and thus please their commanders. Above all, they had a great veneration and dread of Simon, regarded by every one under him to such a degree that, at his command they were very ready to kill themselves with their own hands.
What made the Romans so courageous, was their usual custom of conquering and being undefeated, their constant wars and continual combat exercises, and the grandeur of their dominion; and now their chief encouragement, Titus himself, everywhere present with them all; for it appeared a terrible thing to grow weary while Titus was there, who fought bravely as well as they did, and was himself an immediate eyewitness of those who behaved valiantly, and he who was to reward them also. At present it was an esteemed advantage for anyone’s valor to be known by Titus; and on this account many of them displayed a more eager willingness than strength to match it, and there were many who were ambitious to gain reputation.
And now the Jews were unconcerned by what they themselves suffered from the Romans, and cared only about what damage they could do them; and death itself seemed a small matter to them, if only at the same time they could kill any one of their enemies. But Titus took care to secure his own soldiers from harm, as well as to have them overcome their enemies. He also said that reckless violence was madness; and that the only true courage was that joined with good military conduct. He therefore commanded his men to take care, when they fought their enemies, that they received no harm from them at the same time, and they would show themselves to be truly valiant men.
And now Titus brought one of his engines to the middle tower of the north part of the wall, and because of his anger at the deceit and obstinacy of the Jews he caused the engine to be worked more strongly than before; and he took this second wall there on the fifth day after taking the first; and when the Jews had fled from him, he entered with a thousand armed men, and those of his choice troops, at a place where the wool merchants, the braziers, and the cloth market were, and where the angled narrow lanes indirectly led to the wall. And now, Titus did not immediately demolish a larger part of the wall, nor, on coming in, did he lay waste what was left according to the law of war.
When he came in, he did not permit his soldiers to kill any of those they caught, nor to set fire to their houses; for he greatly desired to preserve the city for his own sake, and the Temple for the sake of the city; and now, out of the expectation he had that he could make the Jews ashamed of their obstinacy by not being willing to afflict them more than he needed, when he was able to do so, he did not widen the breach of the second wall to make a safer retreat as occasion demanded; for he did not think they would lay snares for him who did them such a kindness; no, he immediately gave leave to the rebels, if they chose, to fight without any harm to the people in any area they might designate, away from the populace, and promised to restore the people’s effects to them.
Now the people for a long time had been ready to comply with his proposals; but to the rebel fighting men, this humanity seemed a mark of weakness; and they imagined he only made these proposals because he was not able to take the rest of the city. They also threatened death to the people, if any one of them should say a word about a surrender. Moreover, they immediately cut the throats of those who talked of a truce. And now, in answer, they instantly attacked those Romans who had come inside the wall. Some of them they met in the narrow streets, and some they fought against from their houses, while they made a sudden sally out at the upper gates, and assaulted any Romans found beyond the wall, so that those Romans who guarded the wall were finally so frightened, that they leaped down from their towers, and retreated into their separate camps: and a great shouting noise was made by the Romans inside, surrounded on every side by their enemies; and by those Romans outside, in fear for those left in the city. Thus the Jews grew increasingly more numerous, and had a great advantage over them, by their full knowledge of those narrow lanes; and they wounded a great many of them. These Romans were now forced to resist as best they could, as the Jews fell on them and drove them out of the city; for they were not able to get out in great numbers through the breach in the wall, it was so narrow. It is probable that all of them would have been cut to pieces, if Titus had not sent help and ordered the archers to stand at the upper ends of these narrow lanes; and he himself stood facing the greatest multitude of his enemies, and with his arrows he put a stop to them, to hinder them from coming on his men, before all his soldiers had finally retreated out of the city.
And thus the Romans were driven out, after they had held the second wall. Consequently, the fighting men in the city were elated, and began to think the Romans would never dare to come into the city any more; and that, if they themselves remained in it, they would never again be conquered; but God had blinded their minds for the guilt of their transgressions, nor would they see how much greater forces the Romans had than those who had now been expelled, no more than they discerned how a famine was creeping upon them; for so far they had fed themselves on the public miseries, and drunk the blood of the city. But now for a long time poverty had seized the better part of it, and a great many had already died for want of necessities; although the rebels actually supposed the destruction of the people benefited themselves; for they wanted none saved except those who were against a peace with the Romans and were resolved to live in opposition to them; and they were pleased when the multitude of those with a contrary opinion were consumed, as if they had been freed from a heavy burden; this was their attitude toward those in the city, while they covered themselves with their armor and thwarted the Romans when they were trying to get into the city again, by making a wall of their own dead bodies against that part of the wall that was cast down. Thus they valiantly defended themselves for three days.
But on the fourth day they could not resist the vehement assaults of Titus, but were compelled by force to flee where they had fled before; so he quietly took possession of that second wall again and demolished it entirely: and when he had put a garrison into the towers on the south parts of the city, he considered how he might assault the third wall.
Titus now resolved to relax the siege a little while, to afford the rebels time to consider; and to see if the demolishing of their second wall would not make them a little more compliant; or if they were not somewhat afraid of a famine, because the spoils they had gotten by violence would not be enough for them for long; so he used this time to form his plans. Since the appointed time had come when he must distribute the maintenance pay to the soldiers, he ordered the commanders to assemble the army in battle array, in the face of the enemy, and then give every one of the soldiers their pay. So the soldiers, according to custom, each opened their cases of arms, and paraded with their breastplates on; and the cavalry led their horses in fine trappings. Then the places before the city shone very splendidly for a great way; nor was there anything so pleasing to Titus’s own men, or so terrible to the enemy as that sight; for the whole old wall and the north side of the Temple were full of spectators, and the houses full of onlookers; nor was there any part of the city not covered with their multitudes; no, such terror seized the hardiest of the Jews themselves when they saw all the army in the same place, together with the fineness of their arms and the good order of their men, that the rebels would have changed their minds at that sight, if the crimes they had committed against the people had not been so horrible that they despaired of forgiveness from the Romans; but believing death by torture must be their punishment if they did not go on in defense of the city, they thought it much better to die in war. Their fate so dominated them that the innocent were to perish with the guilty, and the city was to be destroyed with the rebels in it.
The Romans spent four days distributing the maintenance pay to each of the legions; but on the fifth day, with no signs of peace from the Jews, Titus divided his legions, and began to raise banks, both at the tower of Antonia and at John’s monument. His plans were now to take the upper city at that monument and the Temple at the tower of Antonia; for if the Temple were not taken it would be dangerous to hold the city itself; so at each of these places he raised his embankments, each legion raising one. But the Idumeans, and those in arms with Simon, made sallies on those working at John’s monument, putting some halt to them; while John’s party, and the multitude of Zealots with them, did the same to those before the tower of Antonia. These Jews were now too hard for the Romans, not only in direct fighting, because they stood on higher ground, but because they had now learned to use their own engines; for constant use day after day by degrees had improved their skill; for they had three hundred engines for javelins and arrows, and forty for stones, with which they made it more tiresome for the Romans to raise their banks, and slowed their work; but then Titus, knowing the city would be either saved or destroyed for himself, did not fail to also urge the Jews to repent; so he mixed good counsel with his siege works; and being aware that exhortations are frequently more effectual than arms, he urged them to surrender the city, already practically taken, and save themselves; and he sent Josephus to speak to them in their own language; for he imagined they might yield to persuasion by one of their own.
So Josephus went round the wall, and tried to find a place out of range of their arrows, yet within hearing, and implored them, in many words, to spare themselves, to spare their country and their Temple, and not to be more hardhearted in these circumstances than foreigners themselves. Their own forefathers, men far superior to themselves, had yielded, because they knew that God was with the Romans, and now they cannot fight both famine and the siege of conquest. While Josephus was making this exhortation to the Jews, many of them ridiculed him from the wall, and many reproached him; some shot arrows at him; but when he could not persuade them by open good advice, he had recourse to their own history, reminding them of Pharaoh and the ten plagues, and the Philistines, and Sennacherib, and the king of Babylon, and Antiochus Epiphanes, and Aristobulus and John Hyrcanus, and of Antigonus, Herod and Sossius; that those who inhabit this holy place ought to commit the disposition of all things to God; and after these things he cried out aloud, “As for you, what have you done of those things recommended by our Legislator! And what have you not done of those things he has condemned! How much more impious you are than those who were so quickly taken! You have not avoided so much as those sins usually done in secret; I mean thefts, and treacherous plots against men, and adulteries. You are quarreling about violence and murders, and invent strange ways of wickedness. No, the Temple itself has become the waste receptacle of all, and this divine place is polluted by the hands of those of our own country; a place nevertheless reverenced by the Romans when it was at a distance from them, when they have permitted many of their own customs to give place to our Law. And, after all this, do you expect Him whom you have so impiously abused to be your supporter? To be sure then you have a right to be petitioners, and to call on Him to assist you, so pure are your hands!”
He then reminded them of the king of Babylon, who took the city and burned the Temple, and said, “Yet I believe the Jews of that age were not so impious as you are. Thus, I cannot but suppose that God has fled out of his sanctuary, and stands on the side of those against whom you fight. Now, even a man, even if only a good man, will flee from an impure house, and hate those in it; and you persuade yourselves that God will abide with you in your iniquities, who sees all secret things, and hears what is kept most private! Now, what crime is there, I pray you, that is so much as kept secret among you, or is concealed by you! No, what is there that is not open to your very enemies! For you grandly display your transgressions, and fight with one another; and you make a public show of your injustice, as if it were virtue! However, there is a place for your supervised probation, if you are willing to accept it, and God is easily reconciled to those who confess their faults, and repent them. O hardhearted wretches that you are, throw down all your arms, and take pity on your country already going to ruin; turn from your wicked ways, and have regard for the excellency of that city you are going to betray, and to that excellent Temple with the donations of so many countries in it. Who could bear to be the first to set that Temple on fire! Who could be willing that these things should be no more! And what can deserve more to be preserved! O senseless creatures, more stupid than the stones themselves! And if you cannot look at these things with discerning eyes, yet however, have pity on your families, and set before every one of your eyes your children, and wives, and parents, who will be gradually consumed either by famine or by war.”
And he said he was willing to die if only they would return to a sound mind after his death.
As Josephus was speaking thus with a loud voice, the rebels would neither yield to what he said, not did they deem it safe for them to change their behavior; but the people had a great inclination to desert to the Romans; accordingly, some of them sold what they had, even their most precious treasures which they had stored away securely, for very little, and swallowed down pieces of gold, that they might not be found out by the robbers; and when they had escaped to the Romans, they went to stool, and had the means to provide plentifully for themselves; for Titus let a great number of them go away into the country, wherever they pleased; and the main reasons why they were so ready to desert were, that now they should be freed from those miseries they had endured in that city, and yet should not be in slavery to the Romans. However, John and Simon, with their factions, more carefully watched these men’s going out than they did the coming in of the Romans; and, if any one afforded even the least shadow of suspicion of such an intention, his throat was cut immediately.
Remember the words of Jesus, how he had said,
He also says to those who honor him,
Now, Eusebius in his history says that he passes over the particular calamities that befell the Jews from the sword and other means used against them, and deems it only enough to add the calamities they endured from the famine, so that readers of his history might know in some measure that the divine vengeance did not long delay to visit them for their iniquity against the Christ of God. Let us, then, go through the tragedy of events which then occurred.
The richer classes, whether they stayed in the city or attempted to get out of it, were equally destroyed in both cases; for they were put to death on the pretext that they were going to desert, that the robbers might get what they had. The madness of the rebels also increased together with their hunger from the famine; both of those miseries every day inflamed them more and more; for wherever grain was seen, the robbers came running, and they searched private houses; and if they found any persons with food, they tortured them, because they denied they had any; and if they found none, they tormented them worse, supposing they had more carefully concealed it. If the bodies of these miserable wretches were in good condition, they supposed they were in no need of food at all; but if they were wasted away, they walked off without searching any further; nor did they think it proper to kill them, seeing they would very soon die of themselves for want of food. Many sold what they had for one measure of wheat, if they were richer, but of barley, if they were poorer. Then they shut themselves up in the inmost rooms of their houses, and ate the grain they had gotten; some without grinding it, because of the extremity of want they were in, and others baked it as bread, as both necessity and fear dictated; no table was set for a meal, but they snatched the bread out of the fire, half-baked, and very quickly ate it.
It was a miserable case, that the more powerful had more than enough food, and the weaker were lamenting for lack of it. But the famine overcame all other considerations, and of all things it is most destructive of modest decency and human respect; for what was worthy of reverence was despised; children pulled the very morsels their fathers were eating out of their very mouths, and so the mothers did to their infants; and when those most dear to them were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might have preserved their lives; and even while they ate this way, they were not concealed; but the rebels everywhere came on them immediately, and snatched away from them what they had gotten from others; for when they saw any house shut up, this was a sign to them that the people inside had gotten some food, and they broke open the doors, and ran in and took what they were eating, almost up out of their very throats, by force; old men who gripped their food tightly were beaten; and if women hid in their hands what they had, their hair was torn for this; no respect was shown either to the aged or to infants, but they lifted up children who clung to the morsels they had gotten, and dashed them down on the floor; but they were still more barbarously cruel to those who had prevented their coming in and had actually dared to swallow down what they were going to seize, as if they had been unjustly defrauded of their rights. They also invented terrible methods of torment to discover where any food was: they stopped up the private parts of the miserable wretches, and drove sharp stakes up their anuses!, and a man was forced to endure what is terrible even to hear, to make him confess that he had only one loaf of bread, or that he might uncover a handful of concealed barley meal; and these tormentors were not themselves hungry; for it would perhaps have been less barbarous if necessity had compelled them; but this was done as a way of keeping in practice through training by exercising their madness, and to prepare provisions for themselves for the following days. These men also confronted those coming back inside, who had crept out of the city by night, as far as the Roman guards, to gather some plants and herbs that grew wild; and when they had gotten clear of the enemy, these men then snatched from them what they had brought back, even while they implored them, frequently by calling on the tremendous name of God, to give them back some part of what they had brought back, even though these men would not give them the least crumb; and they were told to content themselves with the fact that they were only robbed, and not also killed at the same time.
These were the afflictions which the lower classes suffered from these tyrants’ guards; but men who were dignitaries, counsellors, magistrates, scholars and Teachers of the law of Moses, nobles and rich, were carried before the tyrants themselves; some were falsely accused of treacherous plots, and so were destroyed; others were charged with conspiring to betray the city to the Romans: but the quickest and most available way of all was to bribe someone to affirm that they had resolved to desert to the enemy; and he who was utterly despoiled of what he had by Simon, was sent back again to John, and from those who had already been plundered by John, Simon got what remained, to such an extent that they drank the blood of the populace to one another, and divided the dead bodies of the poor creatures between them as their feast; and though they fought each other, on account of their ambition for dominion, yet they very well agreed in their wicked practices; for he who did not inform the other tyrant of what he had gotten by the miseries of others, only seemed, in this respect, to be far less guilty; and he who did not partake of what was gotten by the other tyrant, when he was informed of what he had got, grieved, as if at the loss of a valuable thing, that he had had no hand in such barbarity. It is therefore impossible to go distinctly over every instance of these men’s iniquity.
Now the work on Titus’s embankments had progressed a great way, in spite of the fact that his soldiers had been very much harassed from the wall. He then sent a party of cavalry, and ordered them to set ambushes for those Jews who went out to the valleys to gather food. Some of these Jews were indeed rebel fighting men, who were not content with what they got from the people by force; but the majority of them were poor people, who were deterred from deserting by concern for their relatives inside; for they could not expect to escape together with their wives and children without the knowledge of the rebels; nor could they think of leaving relatives to be slain by the robbers on their account: no, the severity of the famine made them bold in going out; so, when they were concealed from the robbers, nothing remained but being taken by the enemy; and when they were about to be taken, they were forced to defend themselves, out of fear of being punished, thinking it was too late to make any supplications for mercy after they had fought the Romans; so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures before they died, and then they were crucified before the wall of the city. So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught to the crosses, one one way and another another, for amusement, when their number was so great that they lacked both room for the crosses, and crosses for the bodies. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly pity them, while every day they caught five hundred Jews; no, some days they caught more; yet it did not appear safe for him to let those taken by force go their way; and to set a guard over so many, he saw, would make those who guarded them useless to him. The main reason he did not forbid that cruelty was that he expected the Jews might perhaps yield at the sight, out of the fear that they themselves might afterward be liable to the same cruel treatment, if they did not make supplication as deserters.
But the rebels were so far from repenting at this sad sight, that, on the contrary, they made the rest of the multitude believe otherwise, for they brought the relatives of those who had deserted up on the wall, with those of the populace who were very eager to go over to the Romans on the security Titus offered them, and showed them what miseries those who fled to the Romans endured; and told them that those who were caught were supplicants surrendering, and not those taken as prisoners. This sight kept within the city many who were so eager to desert, before the truth was known; yet some of them ran away immediately, expecting certain punishment, esteeming death from their enemies a more tolerable departure, compared with that by famine.
So Titus commanded that the hands of many of those caught should be cut off, that they might not be thought deserters, and might be believed on account of their calamity, and sent them in to John and Simon, with this exhortation, that they should now at length desist, and not force him to destroy the city, and they would have the advantages of repentance, even in their utmost distress; and that they would preserve their own lives, and so fine a city of their own, and that which was their peculiar Temple. He then went round about the banks that were cast up, and hurried them, to show that his words should shortly be followed by his deeds.
In answer, the rebels cast insults on Titus himself, and on his father also, and cried out with a loud voice, that they despised death, and did well in preferring it before slavery; that they would do all the damage to the Romans they could while they had breath in them; as for their own city, since he said they were to be destroyed, they had no concern about it; and that the world itself was a better temple to God than this; and that this Temple would yet be preserved by Him who dwelt there, Whom they still had as their assistant in this war, and therefore they laugh at all his threats, which would come to nothing; because the conclusion of the whole depended on God alone. These words were mixed with insults, and with them they made a mighty clamoring noise.
The Romans began to raise their embankments on Friday nine May A.D. 70, on the Day of Preparation, the twelfth day of the month Artemisius, which is Iyyar, and they labored hard continually for seventeen days to finish them by the twenty-ninth day of the same month Iyyar, on the Sabbath, that is, on Saturday twenty-six May A.D. 70; and four great banks were raised, one at the tower of Antonia, raised by the Legio quinta Alaudae, the Fifth Legion Gallica, opposite the middle of the pool Struthius; another by the Legio duodecima Fulminata, the Thunderbolt Twelfth Legion, about nine and a half yards from the other; but that of the Legio decima Fretensis, the Tenth Legion Fretensis was a great way off, on the north quarter, at the pool Amygdalon, and that of the Legio quinta decima Apollinaris, Apollo’s Fifteenth Legion about fourteen yards from it, at the high priest’s monument. And now, the engines were brought.
But John from within had made his own preparation and undermined the space near the tower of Antonia, as far as the embankments themselves, at the same time supporting the ground over this mine with beams laid across one another as he worked, so the Roman works stood on an uncertain foundation, an unstable foundation. Then he ordered materials daubed all over with pitch and bitumen brought in, and set on fire; and as the cross beams supporting the banks burned, the tunnel suddenly collapsed, and the embankments shook and fell into the ditch with a deafening noise. Now at first a very thick smoke and dust arose, as the fire was choked by the falling bank; but as the buried materials were gradually consumed, suddenly a plain fire broke out, which dismayed the Romans, and the shrewdness of the strategy discouraged them; and this accident, coming at a time when they thought they had already achieved their purpose, cooled their expectations for the time to come, and they thought the effort to extinguish the fire would be pointless, since the embankments were swallowed up and useless to them.
Two days after this, on Saturday thirty-one May, the Sabbath, the fifth day of the month Daesius, which is Sivan, Simon and his party made an attempt to destroy the other banks, on the north quarter and at the high priest’s monument, for the Romans had brought their engines to bear there, and already began to make the wall shake. And here, Tephtheus, from Garsis in Galilee, and Megassarus, descended from some of Queen Mariamme’s servants, and with them Chagiras son of Nabateus, from Adiabene, snatched some torches and without fear or delay, and acting as if they were friends of the Romans, ran suddenly on the engines and set their machines on fire; and despite javelins and arrows, and assaults on all sides with swords, they did not withdraw from danger before the fire had caught hold; but when the Romans came running from their camp to save their engines, the Jews hindered them from the wall, and fought those who tried to quench the fire without any regard for their own physical danger. So the Romans pulled the engines out of the fire while the hurdles covering them were on fire; but the Jews caught hold of the battering-rams through the flame itself, and held them fast, although the iron on them was red hot; and now the fire spread from the engines to the embankments, and prevented those who came to defend them, while the Romans were surrounded with the flame; and, despairing of saving their works from it, they retreated to their camp.
Then the numbers of these attacking Jews were increased by those in the city who came to their assistance; and being very bold with their success, their violent assaults were almost unbearable, and they proceeded as far as the fortifications of the enemy’s camp, and fought the guards. Now since the law of the Romans was to punish with death whoever abandoned his post for any reason whatsoever, that body of soldiers stood firm, preferring to die fighting to being put to death for negligence or desertion; then, many of the others, not guards, who had run away, seeing their desperate fight, out of shame turned back again; and setting their engines against the wall, they kept more of the multitude from coming out of the city; for the Jews now fought hand to hand with all they met, without regard for their own personal safety, and fell against the points of their enemy’s spears, and attacked them bodies against bodies; for by these courageous assaults they were now too difficult for the Romans; and the Romans gave way more to their boldness than to the sense of the harm they had received from them.
And now Titus came from the tower of Antonia where he had gone to look for a place to raise other banks, and severely reprimanded the soldiers for allowing their own walls to be in danger, like men besieged, when they had taken the walls of their enemies, while the Jews, already in a sort of prison, were allowed to sally out against them. Then with some chosen troops he went round the enemy, and fell on their flank himself; so the Jews, who had been frontally assaulted, wheeled about, and continued the fight. The armies also were now mixed together, and the blinding dust and the deafening noise so hindered them, that neither side could tell enemy from friend. However, the Jews did not flinch, not so much from real strength, as from desperation. The Romans also would not yield, because they esteemed glory, and their reputation in war, and because Titus himself went into danger in the forefront of the battle; and the Romans were so angry that they would probably have taken the whole multitude of Jews had they not retreated into the city. But now, seeing that the embankments were demolished, these Romans were deeply downcast at the loss of all their long efforts, and in only one hour’s time; and many despaired of taking the city with only their usual engines of war.
Titus now consulted with his commanders about what was to be done; and he heard each of their arguments. However, when they had spoken, Titus, in response to each of them, said first, that he did not think it fit for so great an army to lie entirely idle, and yet it was in vain to fight those who would eventually destroy each other; he also showed how impractical it was to cast up any more banks, lacking materials; and to guard against the Jews’ coming out was still more impractical; also, to invest the whole city with his army was not very easy, because of its extent and difficult position, and otherwise dangerous, from the sallies the Jews might make out of the city; for though they might guard the known passages out of the place, yet, when the Jews found themselves under the greatest distress, they would use those secret passages out that they knew well; and if any provisions were carried in by stealth, the siege would be delayed so much the longer. So one by one he answered each of their proposals.
He also admitted that he feared the length of time spent would diminish the glory of his success; for though it is true that time perfects every thing, yet, to do what we do in a little time, is still necessary to gain reputation: therefore his opinion was, that if they aimed for quickness with security, they must build a wall around the whole city; which he thought was the only way to prevent the Jews from coming out by any way, and then they would either entirely despair of saving the city, and surrender it to him, or be more easily conquered when the famine had further weakened them; for besides this wall, he would not rest with that, but take care to have embankments raised again when those who would oppose them had become weaker: but “if anyone thinks such a work too great to be finished without much difficulty, he ought to consider that it is not fitting for Romans to undertake any small work, and that none but God himself could accomplish any great thing with ease.” But this he said not of himself, for he was neither Jew nor Christian, but as a pagan Gentile he spoke the truth with his lips, giving glory to the one true God.
These arguments prevailed with the commanders. So Titus ordered that the army should be assigned to distributions of this work; and now a kind of divine fury came on the soldiers, so that what would naturally have required some months, was done in so incredibly short an interval that the whole was completed in three days, on Tuesday, three June A.D. 70. Now the length of this wall was five miles, less an eighth of a mile, eight thousand five hundred eighty yards, twenty-five thousand seven hundred forty feet. When Titus had encircled the city with this wall and posted the garrisons, he himself went round the wall at the first night watch, and observed how the guard was kept; the second watch he allotted to Alexander; the commanders of the legions took the third watch. They also cast lots among themselves who should be on watch in the night, and who should go all night long making the rounds of the spaces between the garrisons. So now all expectation of escape was cut off from the Jews, along with their liberty to go out of the city.
About this same time in Europe an alarming revolt in the Rhineland, for independence and freedom from forced conscription, was led by the Batavian general Julius Civilis. The revolt of Civilis was particularly problematic to the Romans, since it threatened the loss of an important and wealthy province, which would have weakened the Rhine frontier; unchecked, it could have renewed troubles in other regions of the empire, particularly Judea. On the moonless night of Saturday seven June A.D. 70, after two years of marshalling forces in preparation to fight, Civilis launched a surprise attack on the Romans gathered at Trier. There now followed three months of bloody struggle.
The prosecution of the war in Britain, which had been suspended for some years, was now resumed by Vespasian, who was on his way to Rome; and he sent there his cousin Petilius Cerialis, who by his bravery extended the limits of the Roman province. Cerialis was very familiar with local rebellions. Ten years prior, he had served in Britannia under Governor Paulinus against the rebel Queen Boudica, and had probably served with Civilis while he was stationed there as well.
In Jerusalem, all expectation of escape was now cut off from the Jews, along with their liberty to go out of the city. Then the famine widened its progress, devouring whole houses and families; upper rooms were full of women and children dying; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; children also and young men wandered about the marketplaces like shadows, all swollen with famine, and fell down dead wherever their misery finally seized them. Those who were sick themselves were not able to bury them; and those who were hearty and well were deterred from it by the great multitude of dead bodies, and their uncertainty about how soon they themselves should die, for many died as they were burying others, and many in anticipation went to their coffins before the fatal hour came! The famine choked all natural passions; under these calamities no lamentation was made, nor any mournful sounds; for those who were just going to die, looked with dry eyes and open mouths on those who had gone to their rest before them. A deep silence, a kind of deadly night, had also seized the city; while the robbers were yet still more terrible than these miseries; for they broke open houses which were nothing more than graves of dead bodies, and plundered what they had; and carrying off the covering of the bodies, they left laughing, and tested the points of their swords on these dead bodies; to prove their mettle, they thrust through some of those who were still alive and lying on the ground, who had been clinging to life; but those who implored them to lend their right hand, and their sword to dispatch them, they proudly refused, and left them to be consumed by the famine; and every one of these died with their eyes fixed on the Temple, leaving the rebels alive behind them.
Now at first the rebels ordered that the dead should be buried, paid for out of the public treasury, because of the stench. But afterward, when they could not do that, they had them thrown from the walls into the valleys below. However, when Titus, in making his rounds along those valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction oozing all about them, he gave a groan; and spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness that this was not his doing: and this was the sad case of the city itself.
But the Romans were very joyful, since none of the rebels could now make sallies out of the city, and were themselves without any consolation; and the famine already touched them as well. The Romans, besides, had huge supplies of grain and other necessities from Syria and the neighboring provinces; many would stand near the wall of the city, and show the people what great quantities of provisions they had, and make the enemy more keenly aware of their famine by the great plenty, even to the fullness of their bellies to satisfaction, which they had themselves.
However, when the rebels still showed no inclination of yielding, Titus, from his sympathy for the people who remained, and his earnest desire of rescuing from these miseries what was still left, began to raise his banks again, although materials for them were hard to come by; for all the trees about the city had already been cut down for making the former embankments. Yet the soldiers brought with them other materials from a distance of three and three-quarter miles, and raised banks in four parts, much greater than the former, though this was done only at the tower of Antonia. So Titus made his rounds through the legions, and hurried the works, and showed the robbers that they were now in his hands.
But these men, and these only, were incapable of repenting of the wickedness they had been guilty of, since they could still tear the dead bodies of the people as dogs do, and fill the prisons with those who were sick. So Simon would not permit Matthias, by whose help he had gotten possession of the city, to depart without torment. This Matthias was the son of Boethus, and one of the high priests, who had been very faithful to the people, and held in great esteem; so he had him brought before him, and condemned him to die for being on the side of the Romans, without giving him leave to make his defense. He condemned also his three sons to die with him: for the fourth had already anticipated him by running away to Titus before. And when Matthias begged that he might be slain before his sons, as a favor, for having arranged for the gates of the city to be opened to him, Simon ordered that he should be slain last: he charged Ananus, the son of Bamadus, and the most barbarous of all his guards, that he was not to be slain before he had seen his sons slain before his eyes, and facing the Romans. As a personal joke he also told him that he might now see if those to whom he intended to defect would send him any helpers or not; but he still forbade their dead bodies be buried. After slaughtering these, he also slew Ananias, a priest, the son of Masambulus, a person of eminency, also Aristeus, the scribe of the Sanhedrin, born at Emmaus, and with them fifteen men of prominence among the people. They also slew any who joined in lamenting these men, without any further examination.
Now when Judas, the son of Judas, one of Simon’s commanding officers entrusted by him to keep one of the towers, saw this, he called together ten of those under him, and most faithful to him, and spoke to them, “How long shall we bear these miseries; or, what expectation have we of deliverance by continuing to be faithful to such wicked wretches? Has not the famine already come against us? Are not the Romans in a way already in the city? Has not Simon become treacherous to his benefactors? And, is there no reason to fear he will very soon bring us to a similar punishment, while the security the Romans offer us is sure? Come, let us surrender this wall, and save ourselves and the city. Nor will Simon be very much harmed, if, now that he despairs of deliverance, he is brought to justice a little sooner than he thinks.”
Now these ten were persuaded by these arguments; so he sent off the rest of those who were under him, some one way and some another, so no discovery might be made of what they had resolved. So about 9 A.M., the third hour of the day, he called to the Romans from the tower; but they did not believe him, and delayed the matter, believing they should get possession of the city in a little time, without any hazard: but Simon was made aware of the matter, and as Titus was just coming with his armed men, Simon took the tower into his own custody, before it was surrendered, and seized these men, and put them to death in the sight of the Romans themselves; and when he had mangled their dead bodies, he threw them down before the wall.
In the meantime, as Josephus was going round the city, he was wounded in the head by a stone thrown at him, and fell down; the Jews immediately made a sally, and he would have been hurried away into the city if Titus had not immediately sent men to protect him; and, as they were fighting, Josephus was taken up, but heard little. So the rebels supposed they had now slain the one man they most desired to kill, and made a great noise of rejoicing.
However, Josephus soon recovered, and came out, and shouted that it would not be long before they should be punished for the wound they had given him. He also made a fresh exhortation to the people to come out, on the security that would be given them. This sight of Josephus greatly encouraged the people, on whose account alone they could dare to desert to the Romans, but brought a paralyzing fear on the rebels. Some of the deserters, having no other way, immediately leaped down from the wall, while others went out of the city with stones, as if they would fight them; but at once they fled away to the Romans: but here a worse fate accompanied them; for when they first came to the Romans, puffed up by the famine, and swelled like men in a dropsy, they all quickly overfilled those empty bodies, swallowing so much they burst, except those who knew enough to restrain their appetites, and, by degrees, took food into bodies unaccustomed to it.
Yet another plague seized those thus preserved; for one of the Syrian deserters was caught gathering pieces of gold out of the Jews’ excrements; for the deserters used to swallow pieces of gold, before they came out, because the rebels searched them all for these; for there was a great quantity of gold in the city, so much that what sold for twenty-five Attic drams was now sold in the Roman camp for twelve; but when this trick was discovered in one instance, the rumor filled their camps that the deserters came to them full of gold. So the multitude of auxiliary troops, Arabians, with the Syrians, descendants of Ishmael and the Greeks, ripped up those who came as supplicants, and searched their bellies. Josephus says that it seemed to him that no misery befell the Jews more terrible than this, since in one night’s time about two thousand of these deserters were thus dissected.
When Titus knew of this wicked practice, he would have surrounded those guilty of it with his cavalry, and shot them dead, had they not been so very many; and those liable to punishment would have been far more than those they had slain. However, he called together the commanders of the auxiliary troops he had with him, as well as the commanders of the Roman legions; for some of his own soldiers had also been guilty, as he had been informed; and with great indignation against both he threatened that he would put such men to death, if any of them were discovered to be so insolent again; moreover, he charged the legions to search for anyone suspected of this, and bring them to him; but it appeared that, for all their dread of punishment, the love of money was too much for them; but in reality it was God who had condemned the whole nation, and turned every course that was taken for their preservation to their destruction.
Therefore, this Abomination, which was forbidden by Titus under such a threat, was privately dared; and these barbarians would still go out, and meet those who deserted before anyone saw them; and looking about to see that no Roman spied them, they dissected them, and pulled this polluted money out of their bowels, which was found only in a few of them, while a great many were destroyed by the bare expectation of gain, which made many who were deserting go back again into the city.
Now, when John could no longer plunder the people, he resorted to sacrilege, and melted down many of the sacred utensils given to the Temple; also many vessels necessary for the ministers of holy things, the caldrons, dishes and tables; no, he did not even abstain from those pouring-vessels sent them by Augustus and his wife; for the Roman emperors had ever honored and adorned this Temple; while this man, a circumsized Jew, seized the donations of foreigners; and said to those with him that it was proper to use divine things without fear while they were fighting for the Divinity, and that those whose warfare is for the Temple should live off the Temple, and for this reason he emptied the vessels of sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept for pouring on burnt offerings, and reclined as lord in the inner court of the Temple and distributed it among the multitude, each of whom, in their anointing themselves and drinking, used more than a gallon of them: Josephus supposes that had the Romans delayed any longer in coming against these villains, the city would either have been swallowed up by earthquake, or swept away by a massive deluge, or else destroyed by the same kind of thunder that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha and devastated all the soil of the whole country around, for it had brought forth a generation of men much more atheistic than those who suffered such punishments; for it was by their madness that all the people came to be destroyed.
Manneus, the son of Lazarus, also ran away to Titus as a deserter at this very time, and told him that there had been carried out through the gate entrusted to his care no fewer than a hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty dead bodies, in the seventy-seven day interval between the fourteenth day of the month Xanthicus, which is Nisan, the same day of Passover when the Romans pitched their camp by the city, and the first day of the month Panemus, which is Tammuz—between Friday eleven April A.D. 70, and Thursday twenty-six June A.D. 70—which is an average of one thousand five hundred and five bodies every day through that one gate alone. This was itself an enormous multitude; and though this man himself had not been appointed officer of that gate, yet he was appointed to pay the public stipend for carrying these bodies out, and was obliged by necessity to number them, while the rest were buried by their relations, though their entire burial was only to take them away, and throw them out of the city.
After him, there also ran away to Titus many of the eminent citizens, who told him the entire number of the poor who were dead; that no fewer than six hundred thousand were thrown out at the gates, though the number of the rest still could not be determined; and they told him further, that when they were no longer able to carry out the dead bodies of the poor, they laid their corpses in heaps in very large houses, and shut them up there; also that a medimnus of wheat, one and a half bushels, was sold for a talent; and when, a while afterward, it was not possible to gather herbs, because the city was all walled around, some persons were driven to the terrible distress of searching the common sewers and old dung hills of cattle, and to eat the dung they found; and what they once could not endure to look at they now used for food.
As soon as the Romans heard all this, they pitied them; while the rebels, who also saw it, did not repent, but allowed the same distress to come on themselves, blinded by that fate which was already coming on the city, and on themselves also.
The miseries of Jerusalem grew worse and worse every day, and the rebels were still more irritated under these calamities, even while the famine preyed on them, after it had preyed on the people. The multitude of carcasses lying in heaps one after another, was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench, which hindered those who would make sallies out of the city and fight the enemy; but since those who were already used to ten thousand murders were to go in battle-array, and must necessarily tread on those dead bodies as they marched, they were not terrified, nor did they pity men as they marched over them; nor did they believe this affront offered to the deceased was a bad sign; but as their right hands were already polluted with the murders of their own countrymen, and they ran out in that condition to fight with foreigners, they did not go on with the war as if they had any expectation of victory, but they took a fierce animal glory in their despair of deliverance. And now the Romans, although suffering greatly in getting their materials together, after cutting down all the trees in the country for eleven and a quarter miles around the city, raised their embankments in twenty-one days. The most beautiful suburbs of the city, places once adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now a Desolation everywhere; for the war had utterly laid waste every sign of beauty; and if anyone who knew the place before, had suddenly come to it now, he would not have recognized it; but even though he was at the city itself, he still would have inquired about it.
And now that the banks were finished, they were also grounds for fear, to both the Romans and the Jews; for the Jews expected that the city would be taken, unless they could burn those embankments, as the Romans expected that, if these were once burned, they should never be able to take it; for there was a mighty scarcity of materials, and the bodies of the soldiers began to fail them with such hard labors, as also their souls fainted with so many episodes of failure. These considerations made the Romans keep a stronger guard about their banks than they had formerly done.
But now John and his party inside the tower of Antonia took steps for their own security, in case this wall should be thrown down, and went to work before the battering-rams were brought against them. Yet they did not clearly plan their attempts, but when they went out with their torches, they came back greatly discouraged, even before they got near the embankments; they were not coordinated, but went out in small bands, at separate intervals, and cautiously, without Jewish courage; defective in boldness, in violence of assault, in running together on the enemy, and in persevering, even when they do not at first succeed.
However, they now went out to attack, but with less motivation than usual, and as they began this their assault, at the same time they found the Romans battle-ready, and more courageous than ordinary, and that they guarded their banks both with their bodies and their entire armor, to such a degree on all sides, that they left no room for the fire to get among them, and that every one of their souls was in such good courage, that they would sooner die than desert their ranks; for besides the notion that all their expectations were cut off if their works were burned, the soldiers were greatly ashamed that, in this war, cunning should overcome courage, madness armor, multitude skill, and Jews Romans. As they came out of the city, the Romans now also had the advantage that their siege engines cooperated in throwing arrows and stones as far as the attacking Jews; so that each fallen man was an immediate obstacle to the next man, and the danger of going any farther dampened the zeal of their attempt; and some of those who had run under the arrows were terrified by the good close order of the enemy’s ranks before they ever came to a close fight, and others being pricked with their spears, turned back; and finally, reproaching themselves for cowardice, they retreated without doing anything. This futile attack was made on Thursday twenty-six June A.D. 70, the first day of the month Panemus, which is Tammuz.
So, when the Jews had retreated the Romans brought their engines, all the while stones were thrown at them from the tower Antonia, and they were being assaulted by fire and sword, and all sorts of arrows, which necessity demanded the Jews use; yet these Romans struggled hard to bring them, deeming this zeal of the Jews was to prevent any impacts on the Antonia, because its wall was weak, and its foundations rotten. However, that tower did not yield to blows from the engines; but the Romans bore the blows of the enemy’s arrows, which constantly came on them from above, and the stones, and did not themselves yield to any of those dangers, and so they brought their engines to bear; but then, some in desperation threw their shields over their bodies together, and partly with their hands, partly with their bodies, and partly with crowbars, they undermined its foundations, and with great pains removed four of its stones. Then night came, and put an end to this struggle for the moment; however, that night the wall was so shaken by the battering-rams where John had earlier undermined their banks, that the ground gave way, and the wall fell down suddenly.
This unexpected accident affected both parties, in unexpected ways; for though one might expect the Jews would be discouraged, having made no provision for it, they took courage, because the tower Antonia was still standing; and the unexpected joy of the Romans at the fall of the wall was quickly quenched by the sight of another wall, which John and his party had built inside it. However, this one seemed easier to get up to through the broken sections of the former wall that was now thrown down. This new wall appeared also to be much weaker than the tower of Antonia, so that the Romans imagined it had been erected so quickly that they should soon be able to overthrow it; yet no one dared now to go up to this wall; for whoever first attempted it would most certainly be killed.
And now Titus, on considering that the eagerness of soldiers in war is chiefly excited by expectations of success and by good words, and that exhortation and promises frequently make men forget the hazards they run, and sometimes even to despise death itself, he assembled the most courageous part of his army, and tried to do what he could with his men, by several methods of persuasion; he cited as happy the estate of those who die bravely in war, and contrasted as ignoble the state of those who die by sickness in their beds; and then he said, “As for that person who first mounts the wall, I should blush for shame if I did not make him to be envied by others, by those rewards I would bestow on him. If such an one escape with his life, he shall have the command of others, who are now only his equals; although it be true too, that the greatest rewards will accrue to those who die in the attempt.”
At this speech of Titus, the rest of the multitude were frightened at so great a danger. But there was one named Sabinus, who was the first who rose, who said he would voluntarily choose death for him. He was slender and black, and did not appear to be a powerful warrior; yet with zealous passion he insisted that he would make the assault. Then he, and no more than eleven others, marched up to the wall just about twelve noon, the sixth hour of the day, excited by a divine fury. Those who guarded the wall shot at them, and also rolled very large stones on them, which overcame some of those eleven with him. And though Sabinus was overwhelmed, yet he did not give up the violence of his attack before he had gotten up on top of the wall and put the enemy to flight. The Jews were astonished at his great strength, and imagining that more of them had gotten upon the wall than really had, they were put to flight. But then Sabinus stumbled over a large stone, and fell headlong on it with a very great noise. At this the Jews turned around, and when they saw he was alone, they shot arrows at him from every side as he got up on his knee and covered himself with his shield, and he wounded many who came to him, and at length he was covered with arrows before he gave up the ghost. The Jews dashed three of his partners to pieces with stones, and slew them as they reached the top of the wall; the other eight, being wounded, were pulled down and carried back to the camp. These things were done on the Sabbath, Saturday twenty-eight June A.D. 70, the third day of the month Panemus, which is Tammuz.
Now two days afterward, after sunset Sunday, beginning Monday thirty June, about midnight twelve of those men who were front guards keeping watch on the embankments got together, and called to them the standard-bearer of the Legio quinta Alaudae, the Fifth Legion Larks, and two others of a troop of cavalry, and one trumpeter: about 3 A.M., the ninth hour of the night, these went without noise through the ruins, to the tower of Antonia; and when they had cut the throats of the first guards of the place as they were asleep, they got possession of the wall, and ordered the trumpeter to sound his trumpet. At that sound, the rest of the guards on that wall jumped up and ran away before anyone could see how many had gotten up; for from the fear they were in, and the sound of the trumpet, they imagined a great number of the enemy had gotten up.
But as soon as Titus heard the signal he ordered the army to put on their armor immediately, and came there with his commanders, and ascended first of all, and the chosen men with him. And as the Jews fled to the Temple, they fell into that mine John had dug under the Roman banks.
Then the rebels of both bodies of the Jewish army, the one belonging to John, and the other belonging to Simon, drove them away with the highest degree of force and alacrity, esteeming themselves entirely ruined if the Romans once got into the Temple; the Romans seeing the same thing as the beginning of their complete conquest. So a terrible battle was fought at the entrance of the Temple, while the Romans were forcing their way in order to get possession of that Temple, and the Jews were driving them back to the tower of Antonia; the arrows on both sides were useless in this battle, as well as the spears, and both sides drew swords and fought with all their strength hand to hand at random, mixed with one another and confounded in that narrow place; while the noise they made was a confusing din, because it was so very loud. Great slaughter was now made on both sides, and the combatants trod on the bodies and armor of those who were dead, dashing them to pieces; but those in the first ranks were under the necessity of killing or being killed, without any way of escaping; for those who came from behind forced those before them to go on, on both sides, without leaving any space between the armies. At length the Jews’ violent zeal was too hard for the Romans’ skill, and the battle had already turned entirely that way; for the fight had lasted ten hours, from 3 A.M., the ninth hour of the night, to 1 P.M., the seventh hour of the day, Monday, while the Jews came in crowds all during the battle, motivated by the danger the Temple was in; the Romans having no more here than a part of their army; for those legions on which the soldiers depended had not come up. So the Romans thought it was enough at present to take possession of the tower of Antonia. When the Jews at last withdrew, the Romans did not sound the pursuit.
And now Titus ordered those of his soldiers with him to dig down and overthrow the foundations of that tower, and make ready also a broad, easy avenue for his army to come up.
Meanwhile, twelve days later, on the Sabbath, Saturday twelve July A.D. 70, the seventeenth day of Panemus, which is Tammuz, Titus was informed that, on that very day, that which is called the daily sacrifice had not been offered to God, for lack of men to offer it, and that the people were grievously troubled by this; he himself had Josephus brought to him, and commanded him to say the same things to John that he had said before, that he might come out with as many of his men as he pleased, to fight, without danger of destroying either his city or Temple; but that he desired that he not defile the Temple, nor by fighting there offend against God. Josephus stood where he might be heard, not only by John, but by many more, and then declared what Titus had charged him to say, in the common language of the Jews in Judea, earnestly praying them to spare their own city, and to prevent that fire now so ready to seize the Temple, and to resume again the offering of their usual sacrifices to God. When he had spoken, and had rebuked John for his sacrileges and murders, and again promised that the Romans shall still forgive him, he said, with groans, and tears in his eyes, “Are not both the city and the entire Temple now full of the dead bodies of your countrymen? It is God therefore, it is God himself who is bringing on this fire, to purge that city and Temple by means of the Romans, and is going to pluck up this city, which is full of pollutions.”
As Josephus spoke these words, his discourse influenced a great many of the upper class; but truly some of them were so afraid of the guards sent by the rebels, that they waited where they were, satisfied that both they and the city were already doomed to destruction. Some, watching for any opportunity to get quietly away, fled to the Romans. And then a great many fled to the Romans. These men also got together before the Romans in a great number, and calling out implored the rebels, with groans, and tears in their eyes, to receive the Romans entirely into the city, and again save their place of residence; but, if they would not agree, that they would at least depart out of the Temple, and save the holy house for their own use; for the Romans would not dare to set the sanctuary on fire, except under the most pressing necessity.
Yet the rebels still more and more contradicted them; and while they cast loud and bitter reproaches on these deserters, they also set their engines for throwing arrows, javelins and stones, on the sacred gates of the inner Temple, at effective intervals, so that all the space round about and within the outer court of the Temple, the Court of the Gentiles, might be compared to a burying ground, so great was the number of the dead bodies there; just as the holy house itself might be compared to a citadel or fortress stronghold. So, these men in their armor rushed over holy places that were otherwise unapproachable, while their hands were still warm with the blood of their own people, which they had shed; no, they proceeded to such great transgressions, that the very same outrage the Jews would naturally have had against Romans for such transgressions, the Romans now had against Jews, for their gross impiety with regard to their own Jewish religious customs. Indeed, there was not one of the Roman soldiers who did not look with sacred horror on the holy house, and adored it, and wished that the robbers would repent before their miseries became incurable.
Titus, now deeply affected, rebuked John and his party for polluting the holy house with the blood of both foreigners and Jews; and he said, “Why do you trample upon dead bodies in this Temple? And why do you pollute this holy house with the blood of both foreigners and Jews themselves? I appeal to the gods of my own country, and to every god that ever had regard for this place, for I do not suppose it to be regarded by any of them now; I also appeal to my own army, and to those Jews who are now with me, and even to you yourselves, that I do not force you to defile this your sanctuary; and if only you will change the place where you will fight, no Roman shall either come near your sanctuary, or offer any affront to it; no, I will endeavor to preserve for you your holy house, whether you will or not.”
But when Titus saw that these men, both the robbers and the tyrant, were neither to be moved by compassion toward themselves, nor had any concern that the holy house be spared, he proceeded, unwillingly, to go on again with the war against them. He could not bring all his army against them, the place was so narrow; but choosing thirty soldiers of the most valiant out of every hundred, and committing a thousand to each tribune, and making Sextus Cerealis their commander-in-chief, he gave orders to attack the guard of the Temple about 3 A.M., the ninth hour of that night, which is anciently the hour of the power of darkness; but now, in his armor, and preparing to go, the commanders, because of the greatness of the danger, suggested that he would do more by sitting above in the tower of Antonia, as a dispenser of rewards to soldiers who distinguished themselves in the fight, than by coming down and hazarding his own person in their front; for they would all fight stoutly while Titus looked on. Titus complied, and said that the only reason he did so was that he might be able to judge their courageous actions, and that no valiant soldier might be unnoticed and miss his reward; and no cowardly soldier might go unpunished; but that he himself, who was to be the dispenser of punishments and rewards to them, might be an eyewitness, and be able to give evidence of all that was done. So he sent the soldiers about their work at the designated hour, while he went out himself to a higher place in the tower of Antonia, where he might see what was done, and there waited with impatience to see the event.
However, the soldiers sent did not find the Temple guards asleep, as they expected; but were immediately obliged to fight with them hand to hand, as they rushed with violence on them with a great shout. Now, as soon as the rest of them in the Temple heard that shout of the watch, they ran out in troops on them. The Romans competed with each other over who should fight the most strenuously, both individual men and entire regiments, as being under the eye of Titus; and everyone concluded that this day would begin his promotion if he fought bravely. The great encouragements the Jews had to act vigorously were fear for themselves and for the Temple, and the presence of their tyrant, who exhorted some, and beat and threatened others to act courageously. Now, it so happened that this fight, which began at 3 A.M., the ninth hour of the night, was at length not over before it passed the fifth hour of the day, 11 A.M.; so that it appeared this fight was for the most part a stationary one; and that, in the same place where the battle began, neither party could say that they had made the other to retire.
In the meantime, the rest of the Roman army, in seven days’ time, had overthrown some foundations of the tower Antonia, and had made a ready, broad way to the Temple. Then the legions came near the first court, the Court of the Gentiles, and began to raise their embankments; but not without great pains and difficulty, and particularly by being obliged to bring their materials from the distance of twelve and a half miles: one near the northwest corner of the inner Temple, the Court of Israel; another at the northern edifice between the two gates; another one at the western portico of the outer court of the Temple; and the other against its northern portico.
In the meantime, the Jews were so distressed by the battles, and the war now creeping closer to the holy house, that they cut off those limbs of the body which they deemed to be infected, to keep the disease from spreading farther; for it was they who set on fire the northwest portico, which was joined to the tower of Antonia, and after that broke off about nine and a half yards of that portico, and thus it was they who made a beginning in burning the sanctuary; and then, two days after that, on Saturday nineteen July A.D. 70, the Sabbath, the twenty-fourth day of the same month Panemus or Tammuz, the Romans set fire to the portico that joined to the other, when the fire went seven yards farther. The Jews, in like manner, cut off its roof, nor did they entirely stop what they were doing before the tower of Antonia was parted from the Temple, even when it was in their power to have stopped the fire; no, they lay still while the Temple was first set on fire, and deemed this spreading of the fire to be for their own advantage. However, the armies were still fighting one against another about the Temple; and the war was fought by continual sallies of single units one against another.
But now every day the rebels in the Temple openly strove to beat off the soldiers on the banks, and three days later, on Tuesday twenty-two July A.D. 70, the twenty-seventh day of the same month Panemus, or Tammuz, they filled that part of the western portico between the beams, and the Court of the Gentiles, and the roof under them, with dry materials, and with bitumen and pitch, and then retreated from that place as though they were tired with the pains they had taken; at this, many of the most impulsive and reckless Romans, carried away with violent passions, and uttering loud whoops and yells, followed hard after them as they were retreating, and applied ladders to the portico, and suddenly got up to it; but the more prudent soldiers, when they grasped this unaccountable retreat of the Jews, stood where they were. However, the portico was full of those who had gone up the ladders when the Jews set it all on fire: and as the flames suddenly burst out everywhere, the Romans who were not in danger were panic-stricken, as those in the midst of the danger were in utmost distress when they perceived themselves surrounded with flames; some threw themselves down backward into the city, and some down among their enemies in the Temple; many leaped down to their own men, breaking their legs and shattering, fracturing, the bones of their limbs; but a great number who were going to take these violent methods, were prevented from doing so by the fire; though some anticipated the fire by using their own swords on themselves. However, the fire was suddenly carried so far that it surrounded those who would have chosen to perish otherwise. Titus himself could only pity those who thus perished, even though, by gross insubordination, they had got up there without orders, and without permission of their commanders, since there was no way of giving them any relief. For he cried out openly to them, and leaped up, and exhorted those who were about him to do their utmost to relieve them; yet this was some comfort to those who were destroyed, that everyone might see that person grieve for whose sake they came to their end. So every one of them died cheerfully, carrying with him these words and this intention of Titus as a memorial monument. Some had retreated into the wall of the portico, which was broad, and were saved from the fire, but then were surrounded by the Jews; and although they resisted them for a long time, they were wounded by them, and at length all fell down dead. After the Jews had destroyed those that got up to it, they also cut off the rest of that portico from the Temple. Now this portico was burned as far as the tower that John had built in the war he had made against Simon, over the gates that led to the Xystus. But the next day the Romans burned the northern portico entirely, as far as the east portico, whose common angle was built over the Kidron valley, and joined to it; on this account the depth was frightful. And this was the state of the Temple at that time.
Now the number of those who perished by famine in the city was immense, and their miseries were unspeakable; for if even the shadow of a suggestion of any food appeared anywhere, a war began; the dearest friends fell to fighting one another, snatching from each other the most miserable supports of life. Nor would anyone believe that the dying had no food; but the robbers searched them as they were expiring, in case they had food concealed in their garments, and were only pretending to be dying: no, these robbers gaped with open mouths for want, and ran around stumbling and staggering like mad dogs, and reeling against the doors of the houses like drunken men; in their great desperation they rushed into the very same houses two or three times in one and the same day. Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable, that it forced them to chew everything, gathering and eating things that the most filthy animals would not touch; nor did they abstain from girdles and shoes, even gnawing the very leather they pulled off their shields: wisps of old hay became food for some; and some gathered up fibers, and sold a very small weight of them for four Attic drachmas.
And now I am going to relate a matter of fact, incredible, yet attested by multiple eyewitnesses, and horrible to hear.
A certain aristocratic woman named Mary, of the village Bethezub, eminent for her family and her wealth, who had fled away into Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude, was besieged there at this time. Pierced with famine, and outraged against the robbers, who took everything she had, and always seizing every piece of food she got, and did not kill her even when she violently reproached them, decided to avenge herself on them; she spoke tenderly to her son, a child sucking at her breast, and then she slew him, and roasted him, and ate half of him, and kept the other half by her, concealed. The rebels presently came in, and smelling the aroma of roasted meat, they threatened to cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had prepared. She replied that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them; and then uncovered what was left of her son. They were seized with horror and astonishment, and stood dumbfounded; then she said to them, “This is my own son; and what has been done was my own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you are so scrupulous, and abominate this my sacrifice, since I have eaten half, let the rest be reserved for me also.”
After this, those men left trembling, being never so frightened at anything as this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. The whole city was immediately filled with the news of this horrible act; and while each laid before their own eyes this miserable case, they trembled, as if this unheard-of act had been done by themselves. So those thus distressed by the famine desired very much to die; and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough to hear or see such miseries.
This sad instance was quickly told to the Romans; some of them could not believe it, and others pitied the distress the Jews were under; but this induced in many of them a hatred more than ordinary against the Jews; but Titus excused himself before God in this matter, and said that he had proposed peace and liberty to the Jews, as well as an oblivion of all their former insolent practices; but they, instead of concord had chosen sedition; instead of peace, war; and before satiety and abundance, a famine; that they had begun with their own hands to burn down that Temple, and therefore they deserved to eat such food as this; and said, “Men ought not to leave such a city upon the habitable earth to be seen by the sun, since it is they who still continue in a state of war against us, after they have undergone such miseries as these.”
As he said this he reflected on the desperate condition these men must be in; nor could he expect that such men could be brought to a sober mind, after they had endured those very sufferings, when in order to avoid them it was only probable that they might have repented; for they had voluntarily chosen to reduce their citizens to that extremity of desolation.
And now two of the legions had completed their embankments on Friday one August A.D. 70, the Day of Preparation, the eighth day of the month Lous or Loos, which is Av or Ab. So Titus ordered that the battering-rams should be brought and set against the western edifice of the inner Temple; for the firmest of all the other engines had already battered the wall for six days straight without making any impression on it; the vast size and strong connection of the stones had proved superior to the engine, and to the other battering-rams also. The workmen, despairing of all such attempts by engines and crowbars, and consumed with frustration, then brought their ladders to the porticoes. But when they had gotten up, the Jews fell on them and fought them, and at length got possession of these engines, and destroyed those who had gone up the ladders, while the rest were so intimidated by what those slain had suffered, that they retreated. When Titus perceived that his efforts to spare a foreign temple had resulted in the harm and killing of his soldiers, he gave orders to set the gates on fire.
And now the soldiers fired the gates, and the silver over them quickly carried the flames to the wood inside, and then it spread itself all of a sudden, and caught hold of the porticoes. This was Friday, the sixth day of the week, the Day of Preparation; the sun was going down, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The Jews, on seeing this fire all about them, their spirits together with their bodies sank, and they were so astonished, that they stood paralyzed as mute spectators only, watching the fire, without defending themselves or attempting to quench the flames. They did not grieve at the loss, but instead, as if the holy house itself were already on fire, they sharpened their passions against the Romans. This fire prevailed during that day and the next also, Friday and Saturday; for the soldiers were not able to burn together all the porticoes at one time, but only by sections.
The next day, Saturday two August, the Sabbath, on the ninth day of the month Lous or Loos, which is Av or Ab, Titus commanded part of his army to quench the fire, and to make a road for the easy marching up of the legions, while he himself gathered the commanders together; the principal six were: Tiberius Alexander, commander of the whole army; Sextus Cerealis the commander of the Legio quinta Alaudae, the Fifth Legion Larks; Larcius Lepidus, the commander of the Legio decima Fretensis, the Tenth Legion of the Sea Straits; Titus Frigius the commander of the Legio quinta decima Apollinaris, the Fifteenth Legion of Apollo; Eternius, leader of the two legions from Alexandria; and Marcus Antonius Julianus, procurator of Judea; and after these came all the rest of the procurators and tribunes, and Fronto, one of his Friends. Titus said that he was not in any case for burning down so vast a work, because this would harm the Romans themselves, and while it continued it would be an ornament to their government. Three of his generals boldly agreed with him: Fronto, Alexander, and Cerealis. When Titus had given orders to the commanders that the rest of their forces should lie still, but that they should make use of those who were most courageous in this attack, then this assembly was dissolved. So he commanded that those chosen men who were taken out of the cohorts should make their way through the ruins, and quench the fire.
Now it is true, that on this day, the Sabbath, the Jews were so weary, and so completely dismayed, that they refrained from any attacks; but on the next day, the first day of the week, Sunday three August, the tenth day of the month Av, they gathered their whole force together, and very boldly ran on those Romans who guarded the outer court of the Temple, through the east gate, and this about 7 A.M., the second hour of the day. These guards met the Jews’ attack with great bravery, and by covering themselves with their shields in front, like a wall, they drew their squadrons together, closing ranks; yet it was obvious that they could not stand very long, but would be crushed by the multitude of those who sallied out on them in the heat of their passion. However, Titus seeing from the tower of Antonia that this squadron was likely to give way, he sent some chosen cavalry to support them, and the Jews found themselves not able to withstand their assault; and with the slaughter of those in the forefront, many of the rest were put to flight; but as the Romans went off after them, the Jews turned back on them and fought them; and as those Romans came back on them, the Jews retreated again, up to about 11 A.M., the fifth hour of the day, when they were overcome, and shut themselves up in the inner court of the Temple.
Now a great number of false prophets were bribed by the tyrants then to impose on the people, who solemnly announced that they should wait for deliverance from God: this was to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such expectations. For a false prophet had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the Temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance.
So Titus retired to the tower Antonia, and resolved to storm the Temple the next day, early in the morning, with his whole army, and to encamp round about the holy house, and afterward to capture the rest of the city. Much of the upper and lower city still remained to be taken, the last wall of Jerusalem, all of the houses, the great towers of Herod, the hidden places underground, the caverns, and the tyrants. But God had long ago with certainty doomed the Temple to the fire, and now that fatal day had already come; it was still Sunday three August A.D. 70, the tenth day of the month Lous or Loos, which is Av or Ab, the same day on which it was formerly burned by the king of Babylon, although these flames now took their rise from the Jews themselves, as their cause; for when Titus retired, the rebels lay still for a little while, and then attacked the Romans again, when those who guarded the holy house fought with those who quenched the fire burning in the inner court of the Temple; but these Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the holy house itself; and one of the soldiers, without waiting for any orders, and without any concern or dread for so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched some of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the holy house on the north side.
As the flames shot upward the Jews made a great clamor, and ran together to prevent it, not sparing their lives or allowing anything to restrain their force, since that holy house was perishing, for whose sake they kept such a guard about it.
Someone came running to Titus and told him of this fire as he was resting himself in his tent after the last battle; he rose in great haste and ran as he was to the holy house, to put a stop to the fire; all his commanders followed after him, and after them the several legions in great astonishment; so a great clamor and tumult naturally arose, from the disordered moving of so great an army. Then Titus, with a loud voice called to the soldiers who were fighting, and gave a signal to them with his right hand, and ordered them to quench the fire; but they did not hear what he said, though he spoke so loud, for their ears were already deafened by the greater noise, which overwhelmed his words with sound; neither did they pay any attention to the signal he made with his hand, as some of them were still distracted with fighting, and others with passion; but as they were crowding into the Temple together, many were trampled, while a great number fell among the ruins of the porticoes which were still hot and smoking, and were destroyed in the same miserable way as those they had conquered: and when they neared the holy house, they acted as if they did not so much as hear Titus’s orders to the contrary, but encouraged those before them to “set it on fire! set it on fire!” fully in accord with the words of the Seventy-fourth Psalm. As for the rebels, they were already in too great distress to assist in quenching the fire; they were everywhere slain, and everywhere beaten; and a great part of the people, weak and without arms, had their throats cut wherever they were caught. Now round about the altar lay dead bodies heaped one upon another; and the steps going up to the whole wide paved space about it ran with a great quantity of their blood, where the dead bodies slain above on the altar fell down.
And now, since Titus was unable in any way to restrain the enthusiastic fury of the soldiers, and the fire progressed more and more, he went into the holy place of the Temple and stood in the holy place with his commanders, and saw it, with what was in it, which he found to be far superior to what the accounts of foreigners reported, and not inferior to what the Jews themselves boasted of and believed about it; but as the flame had not yet reached its inward parts, but was still consuming the rooms about the holy house, and Titus supposing that the house itself might yet in fact be saved, he came back out in haste and endeavored to persuade the soldiers to quench the fire, and ordered Liberius the centurion, and one of the spearmen about him, to beat the soldiers who were obstinate with their staffs, and restrain them; yet their passions overwhelmed any regard they had for Titus and the dread they had of him who forbade them, as did their hatred of the Jews and a certain vehement inclination to fight them. Moreover, the expectation of plunder induced many to go on, with the assumption that all the places within were full of money, seeing that everything about the Temple was made of gold; and besides, one of those who went into the place with him, went ahead of Titus when he ran so hastily back out to restrain the soldiers, and threw the fire on the oiled hinges of the gate in the dark; and immediately the flame burst forth from within the holy house itself, as soon as the commanders retired, and Titus with them; and no one any longer forbade those outside to set fire to it; and so the holy house burned, leaving only the stones of the walls standing upright (stone does not burn, or turn to powdered ash).
So by Sunday three August A.D. 70, the tenth day of the month Lous, which is Av, the outer Temple court had been reached and, in the ensuing attack, while the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered, the cords, the cloths, the curtains, drapes and tapestries, the veil, and all captives butchered; ten thousand of those caught were slain without pity for age, or reverence for dignity; but children and old men, profane persons and priests, were all slain alike; so that this war made the rounds bringing all kinds of men to destruction, those who made supplication for their lives and those who defended themselves by fighting. The Temple was burned from the roof to the ground, the wood, the paneling, the silver and the gold, leaving only the stones of the walls and the form of its structure standing upright. The flame carried a long way, and made an echo, together with the groans of those slain; and because this hill was high, and the works at the Temple were very great, one would have thought the whole city was on fire. Nothing seemed greater or more terrible than this noise: a simultaneous combination of the shout of the Roman legions marching all together, and the sad clamor of the rebels now surrounded with fire and sword. The people also left above were beaten back on the enemy, under great dread, and made sad moans at their calamity; the multitude also in the city joined this outcry with those on the hill; and besides, many of those worn away by the famine, their mouths almost closed, when they saw the fire of the holy house, exerted their utmost strength, and broke into groans and outcries again: Perea, as well as the surrounding mountains also returned the echo, and augmented the force of the entire noise. Yet the misery itself was more terrible than this confusion; one would have thought the hill itself, on which the Temple stood, was seething hot, every part of it full of fire; that the quantity of blood was greater than the fire; and those slain more in number than those who slew them; for the ground could not be seen for all the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of these bodies, as they forcibly ran down those who fled from them. And it was only now that the multitude of the robbers was expelled from the inner court of the Temple by the Romans, and with much commotion got into the outer court, and from there into the city, while the remainder of the populace fled into the portico of that outer court. Yet two priests eminent among them, Meirus the son of Belgas, and Joseph the son of Daleus, who might have saved themselves by deserting to the Romans, or might have borne up with courage and taken their fortune with the others, threw themselves into the fire, and were burned together with the holy house.
And now the Romans, judging it in vain to spare whatever was round about the holy house, burned all those places, the remains of the porticoes, and the gates, except the one on the east side, and the other on the south; which they burned afterward. They also burned the treasury chambers, after plundering them, in which were deposited an immense quantity of money, an immense number of garments, and other precious goods, and there that all the riches of the Jews were piled together, while the rich had built there vaults for themselves to contain such furnishings. The soldiers also came to the rest of the porticoes in the outer court of the Temple, where the women and children, and a great mixed multitude of the people had fled, in number about six thousand. But before Titus had made any determination about these people, or given the commanders any orders about them, the soldiers in their rage set the porticoes on fire; and some were destroyed by throwing themselves down headlong, and some were burned in those porticoes themselves. Not one of them escaped with his life. For a false prophet had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the Temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. A great number of false prophets were bribed by the tyrants then to impose on the people, who solemnly announced that they should wait for deliverance from God: this was to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such expectations.
Thus the miserable people who had rejected their own true Prophet, Christ, though he had done so many signs before them, were readily persuaded by these deceivers, who had misrepresented God himself; while they did not heed those evident signs that had preceded the war, which had so plainly foretold their future desolation; but these men willfully misinterpreted some of these signs according to their own pleasure; and some of them they utterly despised, before their madness was made so plainly and undeniably evident, both by the taking of their city, and their own destruction. God sent on them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness might be condemned. But what most incited them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle, which was also found in their sacred writings, how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth:
The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of their wise men deceived themselves in their determination of its meaning. Josephus says,
But he was mistaken, as Eusebius says,
Now although anyone would be right in lamenting the destruction of such a work as this Temple, yet its fate had already been decreed, because they did not acknowledge the time of their visitation; for it was the same month and day in which the holy house was formerly burnt by the Babylonians.
Now the number of years of this Temple, from its first foundation, laid by king Solomon, to its destruction in A.D. 70, the second year of the reign of Vespasian, are reckoned to be one thousand one hundred and thirty years and seven months and fifteen days, which is from 960 B.C. to A.D. 70; and from the second building of it by Haggai and Zechariah in the days of Zerubbabel in the second year of Cyrus the king, to its destruction under Vespasian, there were six hundred and thirty-nine years and forty-five days, which is from 570 B.C. to A.D. 70.
And now all the soldiers had such vast quantities of spoils gotten by plunder from the treasury chambers of the Temple, in which were deposited an immense quantity of money, an immense number of garments, and other precious goods, and there that all the riches of the Jews were piled together, while the rich had built there vaults for themselves to contain such furnishings, such vast quantities of spoils gotten by plunder that in Syria a pound weight of gold was sold for half its former value.
On the fifth day afterward, the priests starving with the famine came down, and when they were brought to Titus by the guards, they begged for their lives; but he replied, that the time of pardon was over for them; that this very holy house, on whose sole account they could rightly expect to be preserved, was destroyed; and that it was appropriate that the priests of the house should perish with the house. So he ordered them to be put to death.
And now, with the flight of the rebels out of the Temple area into the city, and the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, the Romans brought their ensigns to the Temple, and set them by its eastern gate; and there they made Titus imperator. So great was the joy and attachment of the soldiers, that, in their congratulations, Titus was hailed as imperator by his troops; they unanimously saluted him by the title of Emperor with the greatest acclamations of joy; and there, in a final desecration of the Temple, sacrifice was made to the Roman standards in the Temple court. Finally, the Abomination of Desolation, according to the prophetic declaration, stood in the very Temple of God. In the end the Abomination of Desolation, declared by the prophets, was set up in the very Temple of God, so celebrated of old, when it was utterly destroyed by fire.
But this was not yet the end of the matter. Much of the upper and lower city still remained to be taken, the last wall of Jerusalem, all of the houses, the great towers of Herod, the hidden places underground, the caverns, and the tyrants. When the tyrants themselves, Simon and John, and those who were with them, found that they were encompassed and virtually walled round on every side without any method of escape, they desired to negotiate a treaty with Titus by word of mouth. Titus then came and placed himself on the western side of the outer court of the Temple, where there were gates above the Xystus, and a bridge connecting the upper city to the Temple which lay between Titus and the tyrants, and separated them and the multitude on either side, the uncircumsized Romans about Titus, and those of the Jewish nation about Simon and John; and he addressed the tyrants in a detailed discourse regarding their rejection of every one of his proposals, one by one; and he finished, saying, “And now, vile wretches, do you desire to negotiate a treaty with me by word of mouth? to what purpose is it that you would save such an holy house as this was, which is now destroyed? What preservation can you now desire after the destruction of your Temple? Yet you stand, still at this very time, in your armor; nor can you bring yourselves so much as to pretend to be supplicants, even in this your most utmost extremity! O miserable creatures! What is it you depend on? Are not your people dead? Is not your holy house gone? Is not your city in my power? And are not your own very lives in my hands? And do you still deem it a part of valor to die? However, I will not imitate your madness. If you throw down your arms, and deliver up your bodies to me, I grant you your lives; and I will act like a mild master of a family; what cannot be healed shall be punished, and the rest I will preserve for my own use.”
To this offer they replied that they could not accept it, because they had sworn never to do so; but desired leave to go through the wall that had been made about them, with their wives and children; they would go into the desert, and leave the city to him.
At this Titus had great indignation; that, when they were like men taken captive, they should pretend to make their own terms with him as if they were the conquerors! So he ordered this proclamation to be made: they should no longer come out to him as deserters, nor expect any further security; for henceforth he would spare no one, but fight them with his whole army; and that they must save themselves as well as they could: for he would henceforth treat them according to the laws of war.
So he issued orders to the soldiers to burn and plunder the city; who did nothing that day; but on the next day they set fire to the depository of the archives, to Acra, to the council house, and to the place called Ophlas; and the fire proceeded as far as the palace of queen Helena, in the middle of Acra: the lanes also were burned, as were those houses full of the dead bodies of those destroyed by famine.
And now the rebels rushed into the royal palace, where many of them had put their effects, because it was so strong, and drove the Romans away from it. They also slew all the people who had crowded into it, in number about eight thousand four hundred, and plundered them of what they had.
The next day the Romans drove the robbers out of the lower city, and set all on fire as far as Siloam. These soldiers were indeed glad to see the city destroyed, but missed the plunder, because the rebels had carried off all their effects and retreated into the upper city; for they were not yet at all repentant, but insolent, as if they had done well; for as they saw the city on fire, they put on joyful faces and appeared cheerful; as they said, in expectation of death to end their miseries. Since the people were now slain, the holy house burned, and the city on fire, there was nothing left for the enemy to do. Surrendering themselves was unthinkable, because of the oath they had taken, and they were not strong enough to fight any longer with the Romans on the square, being surrounded on all sides, like prisoners already; yet they were so used to killing people that they dispersed themselves outside the city, and lay in ambush among its ruins, to catch those who attempted to desert to the Romans; so, many deserters were caught, for they were too weak from lack of food to flee; and all were slain; and their dead bodies were thrown to the dogs.
Now every sort of death was thought more tolerable than the famine, so that, though the Jews now despaired of mercy, yet they would fly to the Romans, and also of their own accord themselves, willingly, would even fall among the murderous rebels. There was not any place in the city not entirely covered with dead bodies and full of the dead bodies of those who had been killed, who had perished either by the famine or the rebellion.
So now the last expectation which supported the tyrants, and that crew of robbers with them, lay in the caves and caverns underground; once they could fly there, they did not expect to be searched for, but were planning, that after the whole city was destroyed, and the Romans had gone away, they might come out again, and escape from them. This was no better than a dream; for they were not able to lie hidden from either God or the Romans. However, relying on these underground coverts, they set more places on fire than the Romans; and they killed without mercy those who fled into ditches when their houses were set on fire, and pillaged them also; and if they discovered anyone with food, they seized it and swallowed it down, along with their blood; no, they had now come to fighting one another about their plunder; and Josephus says he could only think that, if their destruction had not prevented it, their barbarity would have made them taste even the dead bodies themselves.
Now, when Titus perceived that the approach to the upper city was so steep that it could not possibly be taken without raising embankments against it, he divided the work among his army on Wednesday thirteen August A.D. 70, the twentieth day of the month Lous, which is Av. The four legions erected theirs on the west side of the city near the royal palace; the auxiliaries and the rest of the multitude with them erected theirs at the Xystus, reaching to the bridge and the tower of Simon which he had built as a citadel in his war against John.
At the same time the commanders of the Idumeans got together privately, and took counsel about surrendering themselves to the Romans; and sent five men to Titus, praying him to give them his right hand for their security. After some reluctance and delay, he gave them security for their lives, and sent the five men back; but as these Idumeans were preparing to march out, Simon perceived it, and immediately slew the five men who had gone to Titus, and put their commanders in prison; he had the Idumeans watched, and secured the walls with a more numerous garrison. Yet that garrison could not resist those who were deserting; for though a great number of them were slain, yet more escaped. These were all received by the Romans, because Titus himself failed to enforce his previous orders to kill them, and because even the soldiers grew weary of killing them, and because they expected to get some money by sparing them; for they left only the populace of Jerusalem, and sold the rest of the multitude, with their wives and children, every one of them at a very low price, because the number of those sold was so very immense, and the buyers very few; but of the populace more than forty thousand were saved, whom Titus let go, every one of them wherever he pleased.
It was at this time that one of the priests named Jesus, the son of Thebuthus, on being given security that he should be spared on the condition that he should deliver to Titus some of the precious things deposited in the lower vaults of the Temple, came out of it, and delivered from the wall a great many treasures, and not a few sacred ornaments of the Temple; two candlesticks like those in the holy house, with tables and cisterns, and vials, all made of solid gold, and heavy; veils and garments, with the precious stones, and a great number of other precious vessels for their sacred rites; the coats and girdings of the priests, with a great quantity of purple and scarlet stored for the veil; also a great deal of cinnamon and cassia, with a great quantity of other sweet spices, which used to be mixed and compounded together and offered as incense to God every day; all this, delivered to Titus, obtained from him for this man the same pardon he had allowed to those who had deserted of their own accord.
And now at Jerusalem the banks were finished in eighteen days’ time on Saturday thirty August A.D. 70, the Sabbath.
It was at this time also, on Saturday thirty August A.D. 70, in the Rhineland, after three months of bloody struggle, that the Batavian Revolt had finally been put down by forces under Petilius Cerialis, and the Batavian general Civilis was defeated. The Batavians were forced to rebuild their capital in a less defensible position, and a full Roman legion was stationed near the new Batavian capital at a newly built Roman fort just outside the capital, to guard against any further resistance. The Batavians were forced to give men and arms to the Roman Empire henceforth without interruption, as a levy, but no tribute or taxes was ever collected from them.
In Judea, on the same Saturday thirty August A.D. 70, the seventh day of the month Gorpieus, which is Elul, on the Sabbath, the Romans brought their machines against the last wall of Jerusalem; but for the rebels, some of them, despairing of saving the city, retired from the wall to the citadel; others went down into the subterranean vaults, though a great many of them still defended themselves against those who brought the engines for the battery; yet the Romans overcame them by their number and strength; and, principally, by going about their work cheerfully, while the Jews had become quite weak and dejected.
Now, as soon as a part of the wall was battered down, and some of the towers yielded to the impact of the battering-rams, those opposing them fled away, and such a terror, much greater than the occasion demanded, fell on the tyrants, that, before the enemy got over the breach, they were quite stunned, and were immediately for flying away; these men, so insolent and arrogant in their wicked practices before, were cast down and trembling; and such was the change made in those vile persons that they ran with great violence on the wall that encompassed them, intending to force away those who guarded it, and break through and get away; but when they saw that those who had formerly been faithful to them had gone away and fled wherever the great distress they were in persuaded them to flee, and those who came running before the rest told them that the western wall was entirely demolished, while others said the Romans had gotten in, and others that they were near, and looking for them, and now seeing only what was dictated by their fear and imagination, they fell on their faces, and greatly lamented their own mad conduct; and their nerves were so terribly unstrung, that they could not move or flee; and here one may chiefly reflect on the power God exercised on these wicked wretches, and on the good fortune of the Romans; for these tyrants now completely deprived themselves of the security they had in their own power; they roused themselves, and quickly came down from those very towers of their own accord, or rather, they were ejected out of them by God himself. So they now left these towers of themselves, towers in which they could never have been taken by force, nor by any other way than by famine, and fled immediately to that valley within the city under Siloam, where for a while they recovered from the dread they were in; and then ran violently against that part of the wall which lay on that side; but as their courage was too much depressed to make their attacks with sufficient force, and their power was now broken with fear and affliction, they were repulsed by the Roman guards; and dispersing themselves at distances from each other, they went down into the subterranean caverns. And thus the Romans, when they had taken such great pains against weaker walls, got by good fortune what they could never have gotten by their engines; for three of the towers were too strong for all mechanical engines whatever.
So the Romans, having now become masters of the walls, placed their ensigns upon the towers with joyful shouts for the victory they had gained, having found the end of this war much lighter than its beginning; for when they had gotten up on the last wall, without shedding any blood, they could hardly believe to be true what they found; but seeing no one to oppose them, they were uncertain what this unusual solitude meant. But when they went in numbers into the lanes of the city, with their swords drawn, they mercilessly slew those they overtook, and set fire to the houses where the Jews had fled, and burned every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they had come to the houses to plunder them, they found whole families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of the dead corpses of those who had died by the famine, and then they stood in mute horror, and went out without touching anything. But although they had pity for these, who were not combatants, yet they had none for those still alive, but every one they met they ran through with the sword, and blocked the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree that the flames in many of the houses were quenched with their blood. And though the slayers stopped at evening, yet it happened that the fire greatly prevailed in the night; and as all was burning, the dawn of that day came, that day of Sunday thirty-one August A.D. 70, the eighth day of the month Gorpieus, which is Elul; that day came upon Jerusalem, a city that had been liable to so many miseries during the siege, by producing such a generation of men who were the several occasions of its overthrow.
Of these men, Josephus says,
Now, when Titus had come into this upper city, he admired not only other places of strength in it, but in particular those strong towers which the tyrants, in their mad conduct, had relinquished; for when he saw their solid height, and the largeness of their individual stones, and their exact joints, also how great their breadth, and extensive their length, he expressed himself this way: “We have certainly had God as our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men, or any machines, do toward overthrowing these towers!”
At that time, he gave many such discourses to his Friends. To conclude, when he entirely demolished the rest of the city, and overthrew its wall, he left these towers as a monument of his good fortune, which had so tested his auxiliaries, and enabled him to take what could not otherwise have been taken by him; he also released those who had been bound and left in the prisons by the tyrants.
And now, since his soldiers were already quite tired with killing men, and yet there appeared to be a vast multitude remaining, still alive, Titus gave orders that they should kill none but those in arms who opposed them, but should take the rest alive. But, along with those they had orders to slay they slew the aged and the infirm; but those in their flourishing age, who might be useful, they drove together into the Temple, and shut them up within the wall of the Court of the Women; over which Titus set one of his freed men, and also Fronto, one of his own Friends, who was to determine everyone’s fate, according to their merits. So this Fronto slew all who had been rebels and robbers, who now betrayed and accused each other with harsh impeachments; but from the young men he chose the tallest and most beautiful, and reserved them for the triumph; the rest of the multitude over seventeen years of age, he put in bonds, and sent them to hard labor in the Egyptian mines. Titus also sent a great number into the provinces as a present, to be destroyed in the arena, by the sword and by wild beasts; but those under seventeen were sold as slaves, and the number of these alone was ninety thousand. Eleven thousand perished for want of food while Fronto was determining their fate; some without tasting any food, through the hatred their guards bore them; and others would not take any food when it was given. The multitude not imprisoned was also so very great, that they lacked even enough grain for their sustenance.
Now the number of those carried off captive during this whole war was estimated by Josephus at ninety-seven thousand; the number of those who perished during the whole siege was also eleven hundred thousand, that is, one million one hundred thousand, the greater part not belonging to the city itself but indeed of the same nation with the citizens of Jerusalem; for they had come up from all the country to the feast of Unleavened Bread, and were suddenly shut up by an army, which, from the start, caused such overcrowding among them that a destructive pestilence came upon them, and soon afterward a famine so severe that it destroyed them even more suddenly; so that the multitude of those who perished there exceeded all the destructions that either men or God ever brought on the world; for, to speak only of what was publicly known, the Romans slew some of them, some they carried off captive, and others they searched for underground, and when they found where they were, they broke up the ground and slew all they met. There were also over two thousand persons found dead there, slain partly by their own hands, and partly by one another, but mainly destroyed by the famine; but the stench of the dead bodies was so offensive to some, that they were forced to get away immediately, while others were so greedy of gain, that they would go in among the dead bodies lying in heaps, and tread on them; for a great deal of treasure was found in these caverns, and the expectation of gain made every way of getting it seem legitimate. Many also of those imprisoned by the two tyrants were now brought out; for they had continued their barbarous cruelty to the very end; yet God avenged himself on both of them, in ways wholly agreeable to justice. John, together with his brethren, desperately needing food in these caverns, now begged the Romans to give him their right hand for his security, which he had so often proudly rejected; but Simon struggled even harder with the distress that he was in, before he was forced finally to surrender himself: he was reserved for the triumph, and then was to be slain; and John was condemned to perpetual imprisonment, alive.
And thus was Jerusalem taken, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, on Sunday thirty-one August A.D. 70, the eighth day of the month Gorpieus, which is Elul. Having taken over the crushing of the Judean revolt for his father Vespasian, who left and became Emperor, it was Titus who defeated the Jews and destroyed their Temple.
According to Tacitus Titus took the Temple, slaying seven of its defenders with the same number of arrows; and, according to Suetonius, Titus being left to finish the reduction of Judea, in the final assault of Jerusalem, managed to kill twelve of the garrison with successive arrows, and the city was captured on his daughter’s birthday.
And now, as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because none remained to be objects of their fury, for they would not have spared any, had any other such work remained to be done, Titus gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, for it still stood, the stones remaining upright, but they should leave standing the three most imposing towers, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamme, and that section of the wall enclosing the city on the west side. This western wall was spared to afford a camp for those who were to be placed in garrison; the towers were also spared, to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which Roman valor had subdued. There was not left of the Temple one stone upon another, that was not thrown down; and all of that ancient threshing floor was swept clean and left Desolate, where the chaff was blown away; and only the western wall of the outer foundation, which Herod had built to cover the face of the cliff below and outside of the Temple area, remained, and it remains to this day. When Titus finally gave them permission to sack and burn the city, he was merely giving his official approbation to what was going to happen anyway. And now, the Romans set fire to the most outlying extremities of the city, burned them down, and entirely demolished its walls; all the rest of the wall was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those who razed it to the foundation, that nothing was left to make those who came there believe it had ever been inhabited.
After the destruction of the city, Titus paraded his army, arrayed in military trappings and splendor, decorating and promoting and rewarding with booty those who had distinguished themselves, and thanking his soldiers in general for their courage and obedience, as he chose to call their conduct during the campaign, thereby consoling and encouraging them, and thus inspiring and securing their continued loyalty.
Jerusalem was finally demolished. After an obstinate defense by the Jews, that city, so much celebrated in the sacred writings, and the glorious Temple itself, the admiration of the world, was reduced to ashes; contrary to the will of Titus, who had exerted his utmost efforts to extinguish the flames. The word spoken by John the prophet was fulfilled which he spoke, saying,
This was the end to which Jerusalem came, because of the madness of those who were for innovation in public affairs; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and mighty fame among all mankind. Upon her came all the righteous blood shed since the foundation of the world.
This all happened in accordance with the prophesies of Christ, who foresaw them by divine power, as if already present, and wept over them. Josephus says that the period from King David, who was the first of the Jews who reigned there, to this destruction under Titus, was one thousand one hundred and seventy-nine years, beginning 1109 B.C.; but from its first building as Jebus to this last destruction, was two thousand one hundred and seventy seven years, from 2107 B.C. to A.D. 70; yet neither its great antiquity, nor its vast riches, nor the spread of its nation over all the habitable earth, nor the greatness of the venerations paid to it on a religious account, were sufficient to save it from being destroyed. And thus ended the siege of Jerusalem.
This was indeed a great tribulation, a horrible distress, and there are many who say therefore that the Great Tribulation is past. But this Tribulation fell upon the Jews in Judea in Jerusalem for their sins, not on the whole face of the earth. These were only birth pains. Let no one deceive you in any way. The Lord himself has told us that the time of great Tribulation, that Day, like the siege of Jerusalem will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
Titus’s use of traditional Roman military tactics—defense walls, towers, catapults, and battering rams—in overtaking the city demonstrated that he was a capable, but not innovative, military leader. He was also greatly aided by the competence of Tiberius Alexander, his military advisor and former governor of Egypt, who was distinguished for his wisdom and loyalty. Titus had sometimes displayed a reckless interference, especially in the early stages of the siege, but these flaws were more due to inexperience than to military incompetence; he had underestimated the Jews and had not immediately erected a siege wall around Jerusalem. However, he also displayed remarkable energy in the field and the ability to inspire deep loyalty in his troops. As a result, Jerusalem was efficiently, if not brutally, overcome, and the large-scale campaign in Judea entrusted to Titus was effectively won, culminating in the capture and final destruction of Jerusalem in September of that year.
Indiscretion also played a part in his activities, particularly in his dalliance with Berenice. In Jerusalem, he had an affair with Berenice of Cilicia, the daughter of King Herod Agrippa the First, the thrice-married sister of Marcus Julius Herod Agrippa the Second, an Eastern monarch with a strong allegiance to Rome. Powerful, wealthy, and experienced in Eastern affairs, Berenice was a formidable match for Titus. Yet, as Cleopatra’s relationship with Marc Antony had earlier shown, involvement with an Eastern queen represented a threat to Roman stability that could not be tolerated. The Romans had memories of Cleopatra, and marriage to an Eastern queen was repugnant to public opinion. Marriage remained an impossibility.
Soon afterward Titus prepared to return to Rome, leaving to his successors the final operations after the campaign to root out remaining enemy forces or installations in Judea; and, on his quitting the province, with Titus there was cause for alarm when his victorious troops in Palestine, after his victory in Judea, urged him to take them with him to Italy; the soldiers would have detained him, earnestly begging him, and not without threats, either to stay, or take them all with him. There seems to have been some talk of the successful general revolting against his father; and it was suspected that they acted on his prompting. This occurrence gave rise to the suspicion that he was considering some sort of challenge to his father Vespasian, of his being engaged in a design to rebel, and claim for himself the government of the East; and the suspicion increased, when, on his way to Alexandria, he wore a diadem at the consecration of the ox Apis at Memphis; and, though he did it only in compliance with an ancient religious custom of that country, yet there were some who put a bad interpretation on it; but he returned alone.
THE SIEGE AND DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM.
|Chapter 58||Historical texts|
After the conquest of Jerusalem, tradition says that the Apostles and disciples of the Lord who were still alive gathered from everywhere together with those who were relatives of the Lord according to the flesh, for many of them were still alive. At this time, Linus was Episcopos of Rome. They all discussed together who ought to succeed James as Episcopos in Jerusalem; and they unanimously decided that Symeon, son of the Clopas mentioned in the Gospels, was worthy of the episcopal throne in Jerusalem; and by the blessing of the Lord, through the laying on of their hands, he was made Episcopos. It is said that he was a first cousin of the Savior, for the historian Hegesippus relates that Symeon’s father Clopas was the brother of Joseph the husband of Mary, the mother of the Lord.
In Rome Domitian was acting as Regent for his father Vespasian. During his father’s uprising against Vitellius in A.D. 69, he was in Rome, but he remained unharmed, though he was in the fighting there. And when his uncle Titus Flavius Sabinus, elder brother of Vespasian and city prefect of Rome, attempted to seize power from Vitellius on eighteen December A.D. 69, he was with Sabinus; and when Vitellius decided not to abdicate when his soldiers all cried out for him to stand fast, he went through the fighting on the Capitol complex. He managed to escape, but Sabinus was executed. Then, following the arrival of twenty thousand of his father’s troops led by Gaius Licinius Mucianus, the governor of Syria and ally of Vespasian, and after the execution of Vitellius, Domitian enjoyed the privilege of acting as Regent for a short time, beginning one January A.D. 70, the year 823 A.U.C in the Roman Calendar. The older Mucianus acted as Domitian’s junior colleague in this regency.
From his earliest years Domitian was consistently discourteous, of a forward, presumptuous disposition, and extravagant both in his words and actions. Even before Vespasian was acclaimed imperator, during the reign of Nero, when Caenis, his father’s concubine, on her return from Istria, offered him a kiss, as she had been accustomed to do, he imperiously presented her his hand to kiss. Again, later, being indignant that Vespasian’s brother’s son-in-law should be waited on by servants dressed in white, he exclaimed,
On first succeeding to power, and calling to mind the verse of Virgil,
Domitian felt such an abhorrence for the shedding of blood that he planned to publish a proclamation, “to forbid the sacrifice of oxen,” before his father’s arrival in Rome. But the older Mucianus, acting as his colleague in this regency, carefully kept Domitian in check.
General Gaius Licinius Mucianus, after the victory over Vitellius, had drawn all power into his own hands. He alone was canvassed and courted, and he, surrounding himself with armed men, and bargaining for palaces and gardens, ceased not, with his magnificence, his proud bearing, and his guards, to grasp at the power, while he waived the titles of empire. Before Vespasian’s return, Mucianus reduced the Praetorian Guard, greatly enlarged by Vitellius, to approximately its former size; and the legions on the frontiers were regrouped to remove from dangerous positions those who had fought for Vitellius.
While Domitian enjoyed the privilege of acting as Regent, Mucianus held the real authority, with the exception that Domitian, either at the instigation of his friends, or his own whim, risked several acts of power. In an attempt to equal his brother Titus’s military exploits, Domitian was eager to seek glory in suppressing the revolt of rebels against the new regime in Germany and Gaul. But he was prevented by Mucianus. The general lawlessness with which he exploited his position as the emperor’s son clearly showed what might be expected of him later.
In late summer, about the end of September, early October A.D. 70, Vespasian returned to Rome from Alexandria.
Suetonius considered Vespasian to be the “savior that would come out of Judea,” setting forth his opinion in writing,
Thus, even the Romans acknowledged the Jewish belief of the time that a savior would arise from Judea.
Josephus also thought this was fulfilled in Vespasian; that this and other mysterious prophecies had pointed to Vespasian and Titus; but the common people of the Jews, in those days, blinded as usual by ambition, had interpreted these mighty destinies as referring to themselves, and they could not be brought to believe the truth even by disasters foretold to them by the true Christ who had divine knowledge of the judgment which fell on them. For Vespasian did not rule the whole world, but only that part of it subject to the Romans. With better right it could be applied to Christ, the Anointed, to whom the Father said,
And it was at that very time, indeed, that the voice of his holy apostles went throughout all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Vespasian himself clearly felt the need to legitimize his new reign with vigor. He accumulated acclamations and salutations from his armies, and he allowed Titus to share them with him. He carefully and zealously publicized the number of divine omens that predicted and portended his accession to the throne, and he built up the titles surrounding his name.
Suetonius relates that when Vespasian was made emperor, he remembered the following omens:
An ancient oak tree, sacred to Mars, growing on the Flavian estate near Rome, put out a shoot on each of the three occasions when his mother gave birth, and these clearly had a bearing on the child’s future. The first slim shoot withered quickly, and the eldest child, a girl, died within the year. The second shoot was long and healthy, promising good luck, but the third seemed more like a tree than a branch. Sabinus, the father, also is said to have been greatly impressed by an inspection of a sacrificial animal’s entrails by the augur and to have congratulated his mother on having a grandson who would become emperor. She roared with laughter and said, “Imagine your going soft in the head before your old mother does!”
Later, during Vespasian’s aedileship, the emperor Gaius Caligula, furious because Vespasian had not kept the streets clean as was his duty, ordered some soldiers to load him with mud; they obeyed by stuffing into the fold of his senatorial toga as much as it could hold, an omen interpreted to mean that one day the soil of Italy would be neglected and trampled on as the result of civil war, but that Vespasian would protect it and take it to his bosom.
Then the incident in which a stray dog picked up a human hand at the crossroads, brought it into the room where Vespasian was breakfasting, and dropped it under the table; a hand, manus, signifying to the Romans the power that a husband has over a wife or a father over his children and slaves, as also the expression manus dei means the “hand of God”, and the representation of a hand on the Roman standard signifies the imperium, the right to command, and authority to use the force of the state to enforce its laws. (The dead hand of a decomposing corpse.)
On another occasion an ox shook off its plow-yoke, burst into Vespasian’s dining room, scattered the servants, and then, as if suddenly exhausted, fell at his feet and lowered its neck.
He also found a cypress tree lying uprooted on his grandmother’s farm, even though there had been no storm to account for it; yet the next day it had taken root again and was greener and stronger than ever.
In Achaia, Vespasian dreamed he and his family would begin to prosper from the moment Nero lost a tooth, and on the following day, while he was in the imperial quarters, a doctor entered and showed him one of Nero’s teeth which he had just extracted.
In Judea, Vespasian had consulted the pagan god of Carmel and was given a promise by the augurs that he would never be disappointed in what he planned or desired, however lofty his ambitions. Also, a distinguished Jewish prisoner of Vespasian’s, Josephus by name, insisted that he would soon be released by the very man who had now put him in fetters and who would then be emperor.
Reports of additional omens also came from Rome: Nero had seemingly been warned in a dream shortly before his death to take the sacred chariot of Jupiter Optimus Maximus from the Capitol to the Circus, calling at Vespasian’s house as he went. Soon after this, while Galba was on his way to the elections which gave him a second consulship, there was a report that a statue of Julius Caesar turned of its own accord to face east; and at Bedriacum, when the battle was about to begin, two eagles fought in full view of both armies, but a third appeared from the rising sun and drove off the victor.
And in Egypt, after entering the temple of Serapis alone to consult the auspices and discover how long he would last as emperor, and after offering many sacrifices, on turning to leave, Vespasian saw his freedman Basilides, whose name means king, and for a long time nearly crippled from rheumatism and moreover still far away from him, approaching and extending to him the customary branches, garlands and bread which were symbols of kingship in Hellenistic Egypt, and almost at once dispatches from Italy brought the news of the defeat of Vitellius at Cremona and his assassination at Rome; and still rather bewildered in his new role of emperor, though he felt a certain lack of authority and what might be called the divine spark, yet both these attributes, the authority and the feeling of divinity, were seemingly granted him. As he sat on the tribunal, two laborers, one blind, the other lame, approached together, begging to be healed. He was informed that the god Serapis had promised them in a dream that if Vespasian would graciously consent to merely spit on the blind man’s eyes and touch the lame man’s leg with his heel, both would be made well. Vespasian had so little faith in his curative powers that he showed great reluctance in doing as he was asked, but his Friends persuaded him to try them, and, moreover, in the presence of a large audience; and the charm apparently worked. At the same time, certain soothsayers said that they had felt inspired to excavate a sacred site at Tegea in Arcadia, where a hoard of very ancient vases was discovered, all painted with a striking effigy, or likeness, of Vespasian.
Vespasian in December also received by law from the Senate a number of powers for which his Julio-Claudian predecessors had not sought explicit Senate approval but had implicitly assumed and exercised anyway. Whether similar grants by law had been made to Galba, Otho, and Vitellius before him or were to be made to Vespasian’s successors after him is not now known; but a fragment of the empowering law survives, the Lex de Imperio Vespasiani, and it includes a provision that can be said to confer on him a naked autocracy, complete sovereignty: by law of the Senate he was now answerable to no one on earth.
Returning now to Rome, under these auspicious omens, and with a great reputation, at every opportunity he henceforth accumulated imperial salutations and multiple consulships.
Upon his arrival in Rome, Vespasian faced the daunting task of restoring a city and a government ravaged by the recent civil wars.
Helvidius Priscus, an advocate of senatorial independence and a critic of the Flavian regime from the start, was the only man who presumed to salute him on his return from Syria by his common name Vespasian, and, when he came to be praetor, omitted any mark of honor to him, or even any honorable mention of him in his edicts, yet Vespasian was not angry, and allowed him great leniency. Helvidius and his friends had already expressed general misgivings about Vespasian’s government in the early months of A.D. 70. With Helvidius Priscus may be associated a group accused of posing as stoic philosophers who were later expelled from Italy for voicing their public opinions of opposition.
Vespasian had some difficulty with his sons at the beginning of his reign.
First, Domitian had been overbearing and irresponsible in the months before his father’s return. General Gaius Licinius Mucianus, acting as Domitian’s colleague during his regency after the victory over Vitellius, had drawn all power into his own hands, and had carefully kept the eighteen-year-old Domitian’s juvenile impulsiveness in check. Among other things, Domitian had been eager to seek glory in suppressing the revolt of rebels against the new regime in Germany and Gaul in an attempt to equal his brother Titus’s military exploits. But Mucianus was able to prevent him.
With his son Titus, there was apparent cause for alarm when his troops, after his victory in Judea, asked him to take them to Italy; but he returned alone, and without Berenice. Making what haste he could into Italy, Titus arrived first at Rhegium, and sailing from there in a merchant ship to Puteoli, he went to Rome with all possible speed. But eventually he returned alone. Presenting himself unexpectedly to his father, he said, by way of contradicting the strange reports that had been raised concerning him, “I am come, father, I am come.”
Titus thus returned to Rome; and he triumphed jointly with Vespasian.
A man of great promise and reputation, Vespasian, on the occasion of his own return in Rome, now celebrated the whole of the Judean campaign with a triumph over the Jews; Vespasian, Titus and their soldiers in Rome celebrated, participating in a lavish joint triumph. Domitian also participated, riding a white horse behind his father and brother, who were gloriously arrayed in the imperial chariot ahead of him. They paraded through the streets of their capital in a beautiful procession, which culminated in the punishment of the Jewish leaders: Simon son of Giora was executed and John of Gischala was sentenced to life imprisonment. The sacred vessels, the Table on which the bread of God’s Presence, the Showbread, had been put, the Menorah, the curtain, the veil in the Temple which separated the holy of holies from the holy place, and all the other objects that no one except the high priest, descended from Aaron, of the tribe of Levi, son of Israel, was allowed to see, were carried through the Roman streets.
Vespasian was so little fond of external and superficially added adornments, that, on the day of his triumph, being quite fatigued with the length and tediousness of the procession, he could not resist saying that it served him right, for having in his old age been so silly as to desire a triumph; as if it had either been expected by himself or more rightly was due his ancestors. Nor would he for a long time accept the tribunician authority, or the title of pater patriae, Father of his Country. And in regard to the custom of searching those who came to salute him, he had already dropped it even in the time of the civil war.
During the four years of war against the Jews, the Romans had taken ninety-seven thousand prisoners. Thousands of them were forced to become gladiators and were killed in the arena, fighting wild animals or fellow gladiators. Some, who were known as criminals, were burned alive. Others were employed at Seleucia, where they were forced to dig a tunnel. But most of these prisoners were brought to Rome, where they were forced afterward to build the Forum of Peace, a park in the heart of Rome, and the Colosseum, the Flavian Amphitheatre. The Menorah and the Table of the Showbread were exhibited in the temple of Concord.
The boundless riches from the treasury of the Jerusalem Temple were used to strike coins with the words IUDAEA CAPTA, which is, “Judaea captive”. The basic design elements of the coins struck in Rome or in its Empire are a palm tree and a seated figure of a female as an allegorical representative of Judea in an attitude of mourning, sometimes also represented as dominated by a powerfully erected, standing figure of a Roman male wearing imperial armor. Any Roman would be reminded of the victory of their emperor. The Jews were forced to pay an additional tax, a poll-tax, or head tax, called fiscus Judaicus. Hegesippus also reports that after the conquest of Jerusalem, Vespasian ordered a search be made for all descendants of David so that no member of the royal house should be left among the Jews, which resulted in another great persecution of the Jews, and of Christians who were assumed to be a sect of the Jews.
Now, when Vespasian arrived in Rome to rule, it was made abundantly clear and evident to everyone that Titus was to be the imperial heir. Although Titus was not allowed an independent triumph, the joint celebration was deliberate, as Vespasian wished to waste no time in establishing an heir-apparent to the throne.
Now, Titus had no son. Hence, if he still failed to produce or adopt an heir, the throne would eventually fall to Domitian. But while Titus was meticulously groomed to be emperor, Domitian was never granted any position of authority nor allowed to win any military glory for himself. It appears he was not deemed fit by his father to hold power.
Because Domitian had been overbearing and irresponsible in the months before his father’s return, he was kept firmly in a junior position during the remaining years of Vespasian's reign, and that of his brother Titus. Domitian, therefore, dedicated himself to poetry and the arts instead, though it is thought he harbored much resentment at his treatment, firmly persuaded in his own mind that Vespasian and Titus had denied him what rightfully should have been his rightful place as the imperial colleague over his elder brother. From that time Titus constantly acted as a colleague with his father, and, indeed, as Regent of the empire.
More important to Vespasian than any legal enactment, however, was the recognition of his extralegal authority, auctoritas, and the prestige of what many powerful aristocratic Roman families regarded as his upstart house, a house suddenly risen from a humble position to one of importance, and in consequence persistently seen by the aristocracy, even if not actually presumptuous, as being insufferably arrogant in tone or conduct. He actively promoted the principle of dynastic succession, insisting that the emperorship would fall to his sons; for, he was so supremely confident in his own horoscope, and those of his family, that he dared to declare to the Senate that his sons would succeed him or no one would, and thus, throughout his reign he was insistent that his sons would succeed him, one after the other, Titus having no male issue to succeed him.
Vespasian also deified his dead daughter Flavia Domitilla with the title of divinity, Augusta. Long before he became emperor, after an earlier mistress called Caenis, who had been a freedwoman of Antonia, sister-in-law to the emperor Tiberius, he had married one Flavia Domitilla, who bore him Titus and Domitian and a daughter of the same name, Flavia Domitilla. But both his wife and daughter, Vespasian’s wife and daughter, had died before he became emperor. And after he attained to empire, during the latter part of his reign, the earlier mistress of Vespasian, his favorite, called Caenis, also died; but all during his reign he kept several mistresses.
At every opportunity he accumulated imperial salutations and multiple consulships. After enjoying a triumph for victories over the Jews, Vespasian added during his reign eight more consulships to his former one, the one he had already earned. His first consulship had been in A.D. 51; on becoming emperor, he again held the consulate in A.D. 70 and thereafter, for brief periods on each occasion, every year of his reign except two, A.D. 73 and 78, a total of eight; and he gave frequent consulates to his two sons, Titus and Domitian; and he made it his principal concern, during the whole of his government, first to restore order in the state, which had been almost ruined, and was in a tottering condition, and then to improve it; throughout his reign making it his principal business to shore up the foundations of the commonwealth, which were in a state of collapse, and then to embellish it artistically with public works and buildings of admirable beauty intended to impress on the people and foreign visitors the idea that Rome and her empire embodied the very essence of power, glory and wealth, and the excellence of moral, spiritual, cultural and civic virtues, the highest ideals and aspirations of mankind.
It was in the same spirit of stabilization that Vespasian turned to military affairs; and he also re-established discipline in the army.
The first task was to restore discipline to the armies after the events of 68 and 69. The troops, whose discipline had become slack either from the exultation of victory or the humiliation of defeat, had been indulging in all sorts of wild excesses; the soldiers, one part of them emboldened by victory, and the other smarting with the disgrace of their defeat, had abandoned themselves to every kind of licentiousness and insolent behavior. He therefore disbanded many of Vitellius’s soldiers, discharging and dismissing large numbers of them; and he punished others; and he was so far from granting any extraordinary favors to the sharers of his success, to his own troops, that he was slow or late in paying them the gratuities due to them by law, even the victory bonus to which they were entitled.
He missed no opportunity of tightening discipline:
That he might not let slip any opportunity of reforming the discipline of the army, by way of making an example, when a young man luxuriously reeking of too much perfume came to him to return thanks for having appointed him to command a squadron of cavalry, he turned away his head in disgust, and crushed him with this sharp reprimand, “I had rather that you had smelled of garlic,” and cancelled the order, revoking his commission, saying, “I should not have minded so much if it had been garlic.”
When the men belonging to the fleet marine brigade, whose detachments were constantly on the march and travelled by turns of rotation between Ostia or Puteoli and Rome, petitioned for an addition to their pay by applying for a special shoe allowance under the name of shoe-money, Vespasian not only turned down the application, but, thinking it would serve little purpose to send them away without a reply, ordered them for the future to march and run barefoot, and so they did, and this has been their practice ever since.
His pagan contemporaries say that Vespasian was extremely covetous by nature, that his one serious failing was avarice, and the only thing deserving blame in his character was his love of money. On the other hand, some of them are of the opinion that he was urged to his rapacious policies by genuine necessity, and the extreme poverty of the state treasury, which he publicly noted in his addresses at the beginning of his reign. Although many particulars are missing, the Roman sources portray him as a ruler conscientiously committed to the methodical renewal of both city and empire.
While in Egypt he had been concerned with raising money; and his exorbitant taxations and extortions, coupled with sales of imperial estates to speculators, caused great discontent among the Egyptians. He now announced to the Senate that about three times the revenue of the empire was needed to restore the state, and both before and after his return to Rome he promoted his financial program.
His fiscal reforms and consolidation of the empire generated political stability and a vast Roman building program. During his reign he increased, and sometimes doubled, provincial taxation and revoked immunities granted to various Greek-speaking provinces and cities. He reclaimed public land in Italy from squatters and instituted various new taxes, including diverting into Rome’s treasury the tithing-tax paid by Jews of the Diaspora to the Temple at Jerusalem. While such measures were essential after the deficit incurred by Nero and the devastations of the civil wars, contemporary sources continued to charge Vespasian with avarice, a blood-sucking tyrant who devoured their substance. The measures he imposed are consistent with his characterization in the sources as both obdurate and avaricious. But such a charge is irrelevant to any emperor in the year 823 A.U.C., A.D. 70.
As for Rome itself, above all he resolved to rebuild the Capitol complex, burned in December of A.D. 69 by Vitellius, for Rome had become unsightly, since many buildings had burned or collapsed. Because the ruins of houses which had been burned long before were a great eyesore to the city, the emperor encouraged rebuilding on abandoned lots; he gave leave, to any one who would, to take possession of the vacant ground and build upon it, if the original owners failed to come forward, and the proprietors should hesitate to perform the work themselves. He personally inaugurated the restoration of the burned Capitol by being the first to put his hand to clearing the ground of the rubbish, and removed some of it by collecting the first basketful of rubble and carrying it on his own shoulder.
He restored the Capitol, and likewise began erecting several new buildings: a temple to Divus Claudius, the “deified Claudius”, on the Caelian Hill, begun by Agrippina but almost entirely demolished by Nero, a project designed to identify Vespasian as a legitimate heir to the Julio-Claudians, while distancing himself from Nero; he was able to build his Forum and the temple of Concord near the Forum, and to begin construction on the magnificent Flavian Amphitheatre in the center of the city, on finding that Augustus had projected such a work, located on the site of the lake over the foundations of Nero’s Golden House. After a colossal statue of Nero had been moved into it, it was called the Colosseum; and it was under Vespasian that construction on the Roman Colosseum was begun.
He likewise also undertook to replace and restore the three thousand bronze tablets which had been destroyed in the fire which consumed the Capitol, hunting high and low for copies of the inscriptions engraved on them. Those curious and ancient, beautifully phrased records contained the decrees of the Senate, from almost the first ancient building of the city, senatorial decrees as well as the acts of the people, plebis scita senatus consulta, “the people senate code”, which dealt with such matters as alliances, treaties and the privileges granted to individual persons, dating back almost to the foundation of Rome, traditionally 1 A.U.C., 753 B.C..
Claiming that he needed forty thousand million sesterces, forty billion, about three times the revenue of the empire, for these projects, and for others aimed at continuing the government and putting the state on more secure footing, Vespasian is also said to have revoked various imperial immunities, manipulated the supply of certain commodities to inflate their price, and increased provincial taxation. Not satisfied with reviving the duty-taxes which had been repealed in the time of Galba, he levied new and heavier taxes, increased the tribute of the provinces, and doubled that of some of them, and he likewise openly trafficked and engaged in business dealings which would have disgraced even a private citizen, buying great quantities of goods for the purpose of retailing them again at an inflated profit. As Suetonius claims, this is most likely true, because in financial matters Vespasian always put revenues to the best possible advantage, regardless of their source, and applied to the best purposes what he procured by bad means. However, the sum raised by Vespasian for public funds cannot be determined.
He made no scruple about extorting fees from candidates for public office, selling the great offices of the state, or selling pardons to persons under prosecution, whether they were innocent or guilty, and he is said to have deliberately advanced his greediest procurators to higher offices in which they could satisfactorily fatten their purses before he came down hard on them for extortion after they had acquired great wealth. He used them to oppressively soak up money like sponges, because it was his practice, according to the saying, to wet them when dry, only to squeeze them dry later when wet. The money went into the treasury, ostensibly to be used for state expenditures. Moreover, rumbles of internal dissension could be heard in the provinces too, and free cities, as well as certain of the subject kingdoms in alliance with Rome, were all in a disturbed state. He revoked the privilege of self-governance from Achaia, Lycia, Rhodes, Byzantium and Samos and deprived them of their liberties; and he reduced them to the form of provinces; the kingdoms of Thrace, also, and Cilicia, as well as Commagene, which before that time had been under the government of kings, he reduced to provincial status. He stationed legions as garrisons in Cappadocia on account of the frequent barbarian raids, and appointed a governor of consular rank, instead of a mere eques, a Roman knight.
Vespasian is said to have behaved most generously to all classes. We find the princeps offering financial interventions of support to senators not possessing the property qualifications of their rank, securing impoverished men of consular rank an annual pension of five hundred thousand sesterces; also rebuilding at government expense on a grander scale than before the many cities throughout the empire which had been burned or destroyed by earthquakes; and he entertained company constantly at his table, and put on lavish state dinners, often in great state and very sumptuously, to promote and assist the food trades.
In other matters the emperor displayed similar concern, proving himself a devoted patron of the arts and sciences by granting for the first time state salaries to teachers of Latin and Greek rhetoric. He granted to the Latin and Greek professors of rhetoric the yearly stipend of a hundred thousand sesterces each out of the state treasury. He also secured the financial freedom of superior poets and artists, and gave a noble gratuity to the restorer of the Coan of Venus, and to another artist who repaired the Colossus. He rewarded very handsomely, for his invention, someone who offered to convey some immense columns into the Capitol at a small expense by an ingeniously simple mechanical contrivance, but would not accept the service, saying, “Suffer me to find maintenance for the poor people.”
To enhance Roman economic and social life even further, he encouraged theatrical productions by building a new stage for the Theatre of Marcellus. In the games celebrated when the stage-scenery of the Theatre of Marcellus was repaired, he restored the old musical entertainments. He gave Apollinaris, the tragedian, four hundred thousand sesterces, and to Terpinus and Diodorus, the harpers, two hundred thousand; to some a hundred thousand; and the least amount he gave to any of the performers was forty thousand, besides many golden crowns. As in the Saturnalia he made presents to the men, which they were to carry away with them, so he did to the women on the Kalends of March; even so, he could not wipe off the odius reputation of his former stinginess. The Alexandrians constantly called him Cybiosactes; a name given to one of their most corrupt kings who was insatiably avaricious.
By his encouragement of science, he displayed a liberality without precedent under all the preceding emperors, since the time of Augustus. Pliny the Elder was now at the height of his reputation, for he was also a government minister in great favor with Vespasian; and it is probably owing to his advice that the emperor showed himself so much the patron of literary men. A writer mentioned frequently by Pliny, and who lived during this reign, was the general Licinius Mucianus, governor of Syria, a Roman eques, who treated the history and geography of the eastern countries, the same Licinius Mucianus who had dominated the regency of Domitian before the arrival of Vespasian in Rome. Juvenal, who had begun his Satires several years before, continued to vehemently condemn the flagrant vices of the times, lust and luxury, rooted in the pervasive licentiousness which had so long prevailed.
Vespasian restored the weakened and depleted ranks of the senatorial and equestrian orders, the senators and the knights, which had been greatly reduced by the havoc made among them at different times by frequent murders and fallen into disgrace because of persistent apathy, and reformed them by reviewing their memberships and replacing undesirables with the most eligible Italian and provincial candidates available. Having expelled the most unworthy, he chose in their places the most honorable persons in Italy and the provinces. And when some heated remarks passed between a senator and a Roman eques, to let it be known that these two orders, the senatorial and the equestrian, differed not so much in privileges as in dignity, he declared publicly that senators ought not to be treated with grossly offensive abuse at any time, unless they were the aggressors, and then it was fair and lawful to return it.
He reduced the enormous backlog of pending court cases at Rome. The business of the courts had overwhelmingly accumulated, partly from old lawsuits still undecided, because of interruptions in the course of justice during the recent civil wars, and partly from the increase of new suits arising from the disorders of the times. He therefore chose qualified members of the aristocracy by lot for a board of commissioners, to provide for restitution in the settlement of war-compensation claims for what had been seized by violence during the war; and others, he empowered with extraordinary jurisdiction, to make emergency decisions in cases belonging to the centumviri, the centumviral court, The Hundred Men, or more simply, the Hundred, thus greatly reducing the caseload to as small a number as possible, otherwise, the lives of the litigants could scarcely allow sufficient time for their disposition, and they would have been dead before they were summoned to appear.
He showed good-natured tolerance of offensiveness that could do no harm, but with opponents he considered dangerous or irreconcilable, he could be ruthless. Yet he felt little inclination to execute anyone whom he feared or suspected. He never rejoiced at the death of any man; no, he would shed tears, and sigh, at the just punishment of the guilty, grieving that they had chosen to do wrong. Suetonius’s researches showed him that it was scarcely found that so much as one innocent party ever suffered punishment during Vespasian’s reign, except without his knowledge or while he was absent from Rome, by deliberate defiance of his wishes, contrary to his inclination, or when he was imposed upon by misinforming him about the facts in the case.
A man of strict military discipline and simple tastes, Vespasian proved to be a conscientious and generally tolerant administrator. More importantly, following the upheavals of A.D. 68-69, his reign was welcome for its general tranquility and restoration of peace. The policies of his reign, though sensible, reveal no great imagination, compared with those of later emperors such as Trajan or Hadrian. Yet it was justly believed by his contemporaries that Vespasian had prevented the dissolution of the empire by putting an end to civil war, and that it was fitting that the Latin word pax, “civil peace”, should be a principle motif on his coinage. In Vespasian Rome found a leader who made no great breaks with tradition, yet his ability to rebuild the empire and especially his willingness to expand the composition of the governing class helped to establish a positive working model for those afterward who have been called the Five Good Emperors of the second century of the Christian Era. Tacitus, too, offers a generally favorable assessment, citing Vespasian as the first man to improve after becoming emperor.
He enjoyed a good state of health, though he used no other means to preserve it than repeated friction, as much as he could bear, on his neck and other parts of his body, in the ball-court attached to the baths, besides fasting one day in every month. He was physically broad and strong-limbed, and his features suggested a man in the act of straining himself, which is reflected in the rugged and uncompromising features of his portrait busts. When the emperor desired one of the city wits to say something droll about himself, the man facetiously answered, “I will, when you have finished relieving your bowels.”
He cultivated a bluff and even coarse manner, characteristic of the humble origins he liked to recall. This was popular, as also were his great capacity for hard work and the simplicity of his daily life, which was taken as a model by the contemporary aristocracy.
He was astute and ambitious, vigilant, active, and persevering, and he was untiring in the management of public affairs. From the beginning of his reign, he built up a powerful party quickly, and many of his initial appointments were dictated by nepotism or the desire to reward past services. After he became emperor, he used to rise in the winter very early, often before daybreak. Having read over his letters, and the briefs of all the departments of the government offices, he admitted his Friends; and while they were paying him their compliments, he would put on his own shoes, and dress himself with his own hands. Then, after dispatching the business brought before him, he rode out, and afterward retired to relax, reclining on his couch with one of his mistresses, for he kept several of them after the death of Caenis. Coming out of his private apartments, he went to the bath, and then entered the dining-room. He never seemed more good-humored and indulgent than at that time, and his attendants always seized that opportunity to ask a favor.
Vespasian was nearly always good-natured, making frequent jokes; in fact Roman contemporaries thought he was a man of considerable wit, although it often took a low and vulgar form, and he would sometimes use indecent language, like that addressed by crude, athletic youths to young girls about to be married. Yet there are some things related of him that Romans thought not lacking in cleverly inventive pleasantry. Once, being reminded by Mestrius Florus, that plaustra was a more proper expression than plostra, the next day he greeted him by the name of Flaurus instead of Florus. A certain lady pretending to be desperately in love with him, prevailed on him to admit her to his bed; and after he had gratified her desires, he gave her four hundred thousand sesterces. When his steward desired to know how he would have the sum entered in his accounts, he replied, “For Vespasian’s being seduced.”
He endured with great patience the freedom used by his Friends, the satirical allusions of advocates, and the petulance of philosophers. He was little disposed to keep up the memory of affronts or quarrels, nor did he harbor any resentment on account of them, but he showed good-natured tolerance of harmless offensiveness. Licinius Mucianus, who had been guilty of notorious acts of lewdness, who had managed Domitian’s regency, whom Pliny admired as a writer, and who, presuming on Vespasian’s great services, treated him very rudely, he reprimanded only in private; and when complaining of his conduct to a common friend of theirs, Vespasian concluded with these words, “However, I also am a man.”
Salvius Liberalis, in pleading the cause of a rich man under prosecution, on presuming to say, “What is it to Caesar, if Hipparchus possesses a hundred millions of sesterces?” he commended him for it.
When Demetrius, the Cynic philosopher, who had been sentenced to banishment, met him on the road, and refused to rise up or salute him, no, even snarling at him with offensively abusive language, he only said, “good dog”, calling him a cur.
In other affairs, from the beginning to the end of his government, he conducted himself with great moderation and clemency. He was so far from concealing the obscurity of his ancestry, that he frequently made mention of it himself. According to Suetonius, he was born in the hamlet of Falacrina, just beyond Reate, near where he used to spend his summers at a retreat on his country estates. When some affected to trace his pedigree to the founders of Reate, and a companion of Hercules, whose monument is still to be seen on the Salarian road, he laughed at them for it.
He arranged a very splendid marriage for the daughter of his enemy Vitellius, and gave her, besides, a suitable fortune and a carriage outfitted with horses, attendants and equipment.
In the time of Nero, in great consternation after he was forbidden access to the court, and asking those about him what he should do, or where he should go, one of those whose office it was to introduce people to the emperor, on thrusting him out, bid him go to Morbonia, to “Plagueville”. But when this same person came afterward to beg his pardon, he only vented his resentment by using nearly the same words to him.
He was so far from being influenced by suspicion or fear to seek the destruction of anyone, that, when his Friends advised him to beware of Metius Pomposianus, because it was commonly believed, on his horoscope being cast, that he was destined by fate to the empire, instead of doing away with him as a potential threat, he made him consul, thus promising for himself the security that now Pomposianus was deeply in debt to him, out of the gratitude he owed him for the benefit thus conferred.
By this time the Apostle Bartholomew had carried the Gospel through the most barbarous countries of the East, penetrating into the remoter Indies, baptizing neophytes and casting out demons. According to local tradition, the Gospel of Saint Matthew was taken to India by Saint Bartholomew. A copy of it was found in India by Saint Pantænus in the third century. Saint John Chrysostom said the Apostle also preached in Asia Minor with Saint Philip, and suffered there for the faith, but not mortally. Saint Bartholomew’s last mission was in Greater Armenia. There, in a place obstinately addicted to the worship of idols, about A.D. 71, he was crowned with a glorious martyrdom, condemned by the governor of Albanopolis to be crucified. The tradition that he was flayed alive as a part of his crucifixion, without any contradiction might very well have been the form of his death. This double punishment was in use not only in Egypt, but also among the Persians.
By A.D. 71, finally, the lengthy unrest in Gaul was forcibly put down. This sedition which had begun with Vindex in the last days of Nero’s reign, and, more recently in A.D. 69, had resurged with the attempted grassroots Gallic secession under Julius Civilis, commander of the Batavian auxiliaries, was successfully quelled under Vespasian’s generals, Licinius Mucianus and Petilius Cerealis, his cousin.
Meanwhile, Vespasian chiefly reacted with witticisms on the subject of his own shameful means of raising money, in order to wipe off the odium of it by some joke, and turn it into a ridiculous subject.
When one of his ministers, much in his favor, requested a stewardship for some person, under the pretense that he was his brother, he deferred granting his petition, in the meantime sending for the candidate; and having squeezed out of him as much money as he had previously agreed to give to his friend at court, he appointed him immediately to the office. When the minister soon afterward renewed his petition, Vespasian said, “You must find another brother; for the one you adopted is in truth mine.”
Once, during a journey, suspecting that his mule-driver had alighted to shoe his mules only in order to arrange an opportunity for allowing a person they met, who was engaged in a lawsuit, to speak to him, he asked him how much he got for shoeing his mules, and insisted on having a share of the profit.
When his son Titus blamed him for even laying a tax on stale urine, commonly used for bleaching cloth because of its ammonia, he held to his nose a piece of the money he received in the first instalment, and asked him if it stunk. And when he replied, “no”, he said, “And yet it is derived from urine.”
When some deputies came to inform him that a large statue, which would cost a vast sum, was ordered to be erected for him at public expense, he told them to pay down immediately, holding out the hollow of his hand, and saying, “Here is a base, ready for the statue.”
These are but examples of his wit in the face of public criticism of a policy of graft to restore the state treasury, build monumental public works, and support the upper class elite, senators, teachers, writers and artists, at the expense of the provinces, the cities and the people, sucking them dry and eating up their income.
His son Titus was himself the beneficiary of considerable intelligence and talent, endowments carefully cultivated at every step of his career, from his early education to his role under his father’s principate. Titus also received tribunician power.
Tradition records that Titus was skilled as a forger. Taking on the care and inspection of all offices, he dictated letters, wrote proclamations in his father’s name, and solemnly delivered his speeches in the Senate in place of the quaestor, the magistrate in charge of the public treasury and expenditure.
Titus became virtually a partner in Vespasian’s rule, not only accumulating consulates and imperatorial salutations with his father but also, in being given command of the Praetorian Guard as prefect, was made Commander of the Praetorian Guard.
In A.D. 72, Titus, the son of Vespasian and chief commanding general credited with the destruction of Jerusalem, was appointed Praetorian prefect with responsibility for the army at Rome, a particularly important and lucrative post since military loyalty was indispensable to the success of the new regime. It seems clear that not only did Vespasian need a trusted colleague in this post but also one who would not hesitate to do his work for him by using unsavory methods of intimidation as his enforcer. Titus quickly assumed command of the Pretorian Guards, although no one but a Roman knight had ever been their prefect before; and being in charge of them we learn from Suetonius that he was “somewhat arrogant and tyrannical”, that he conducted himself with great haughtiness and violence; and, without scruple or delay, he got rid of all those suspicious characters whom he had most reason to suspect, after sending his emissaries unannounced into the theaters and camp, to demand, as if by the general consent of every loyal person there, and in their name, as though tried by popular pressure and not by trial, that the suspected persons should be delivered up to immediate punishment; and they were executed. By these acts, although Titus, son of the emperor, provided for his own future security, yet for the present he incurred the hatred of the people so much, that there was hardly anyone who ever came to the rule of empire with a more odious character, or more universally disliked, than Titus.
A certain amount of ill-repute can be expected for Vespasian’s Roman enforcer, but apart from the account of these acts, as related by the historian Suetonius, only a single instance of justice of this kind survives, making any further evaluation of Titus’s role difficult for the historian who with prejudice distrusts singular historical accounts by unimpeachably reputable sources not corroborated or duplicated by other sources as verification.
Besides his cruelty, Titus was suspected of giving way to habits of luxury, as he often prolonged his revels up to midnight with the most riotous revelers of his acquaintances. He was suspected of lewdness, because of the swarms of catamites and eunuchs about him and his well-known attachment to queen Berenice, who reportedly received from him a promise of marriage.
On the other hand, Titus is also portrayed during these years as a capable and diligent administrator who attended Senate meetings, requested advice, and generally mixed well with all parties. Yet the sources appear to offer no indication that he was ever considered a “co-ruler” with Vespasian.
After the dispersion of the Apostles during the persecution which arose after the martyrdom of Saint Stephen in Jerusalem, it is an established historical fact that Saint Thomas went to India, where he labored for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. The Roman Breviary states that he preached in Ethiopia and Abyssinia, as well as in Persia and Media. In Meliapour, which is also called Mylapore, before he died, he erected a very large cross. At the foot of this cross was a rock where Saint Thomas, while praying fervently, suffered his martyrdom by a blow from the lance of a pagan priest and died at Meliapour. Thomas the Apostle was killed by a spear in Mylapore, Madras, India in A.D. 72. This happened, according to the Roman Breviary, at Calamine, which is in fact Meliapour, for in the language of the people the word Calurmine means “on the rock (mina)”. The name was given the site in memory of the Apostle’s martyrdom. The descendants of his disciples in India are called Thomas Christians.
Vespasian, having been consul for the first time in A.D. 51, on becoming emperor again held the consulate in A.D. 70 and thereafter, for brief periods on each occasion, every year of his reign except two, A.D. 73 and 78, a total of eight consulships; and he gave frequent consulates to his two sons, Titus and Domitian; he also likewise in A.D. 73 assumed the censorship, the office of censor, head of the census and supervisor of public manners and morals. It was in 73 that Vespasian and Titus became censors; and Titus was his father’s colleague in the censorship of 73 and in several consulships afterward.
Vespasian made it his principal concern, during the whole of his government, first to restore order in the state, and then to improve it; throughout his reign making it his principal business to stabilize the foundations of the commonwealth, and then to embellish it artistically with public works and buildings of admirable beauty intended to impress on the people and foreign visitors the idea that Rome and her empire embodied the very essence of power, glory and wealth, and the excellence of moral, spiritual, cultural and civic virtues, the highest ideals and aspirations of mankind. However, the Romans in general and the imperial court did not share these ideals and aspirations, as Paul noted in his Letter to the Romans, written to the established Christian Assembly there.
The corrupted manners of the Romans had now grown to an enormous height of depravity, through the unbounded license of the times; and, to the honor of Vespasian, he discovered great zeal in his endeavors as censor to effect a national reformation of morals. He induced the Senate to enact specific measures to counteract the debauched and reckless style of living then in fashion. He obtained a decree of the Senate that any woman, who formed a union with the slave of another person, should also lose her freedom and be treated as a bondwoman herself, a slave; and that usurers should not be allowed to undertake legal proceedings for recovery of money loaned to youths while they lived with their father’s family, not even after their fathers were dead.
Although little is known about the details of their censorship, in the office of censor there are some suggestive indications that they probably carried out extensive reorganization of the provincial communities, including some of the taxation reforms. They bestowed Latin rights on all Spain, throughout the whole Iberian Peninsula, which meant that all city magistrates obtained Roman citizenship, bringing profit to the imperial treasury as a result; and there is no doubt that Roman citizenship was granted liberally elsewhere. In addition they recruited to the Roman Senate many new members, provincial as well as Italian; and this too brought in more profit.
With the Senate, Vespasian succeeded in maintaining friendly relations, despite the discords of the early months, and the open hostility of Senator Hevidius Priscus and his supporters. To the historian Tacitus, Vespasian was “the only emperor who had changed for the better.”
In the spring of A.D. 73, the final drama involving the Jews in Judea as related by Josephus reached its climax at the fortress of Masada, situated on a steep fourteen-hundred-foot prominence and besieged by the Legio decima Fretensis, the Tenth Legion of the Sea Straits, and several thousand auxiliaries under the command of Lucius Flavius Silva, the governor of Judea. This was the last phase of the so-called “mopping up” operation to root out remaining enemy forces or installations in Judea, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Silva ordered the Tenth Legion Fretensis to build camps around the fortress, and to add siege walls. Over a period of months, in a massive engineering feat, the Romans built an enormous ramp to the walls of the fortress and winched up their siege engines. The end came in April, on the fifteenth day of the month Xanthicus, which is Nisan, on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, the day after the observance of the feast of the LORD's Passover, when more than nine hundred of Masada’s defenders chose suicide over inevitable defeat; all but two women and five children. The women, having hidden themselves and the children from the defenders of Masada, and from the Romans, in their underground cavern heard the noise of the great shout of the Romans suddenly exulting over the capture of that fortress; and they came out, and informed them what had been done, as it was done; and the second woman clearly described all of what had been said by the defenders and what was done, and the manner in which it had been done.
The Romans did not believe them, before they opened the palace, and there they saw the bodies of the dead, in room after room, slain by the dagger of the assassins in the hands of their own defenders. Miserable men indeed were they, whose distress and defiance chose for them in violation of Moses to slay their own wives and children with their own hands, as the better choice among the many evils that they saw before them; for they despaired of the mercy of God, utterly unmindful of their guilt in rejecting him, and despised with insolence and contempt the security offered by Silva, if only they would submit and save their lives; neither did Eleazar ben Jair the commander of the sicarii and the robbers once think of fleeing away, nor would he permit anyone else to do so. God himself in righteous judgment of the sins of that people withdrew his mercy and no longer restrained their insolence, that all generations might see the guilt of that whole generation in rejecting him. This Eleazar ben Jair, after setting before their eyes an imagination of what he said the Romans would do to them, their children, and their wives, if they got them in their power, it was he who took counsel about having them all murdered. And they chose by lot ten men, and these ten murdered all of the others; and then they chose by lot one among themselves, and the one murdered the nine, and finally the last one murdered himself. It was the day after Passover, in the year A.M. 3833, on the Sabbath, which is Saturday, eight April, A.D. 73, when they inflicted on themselves, and by their own hand, the judgment of heaven, through a defiant act of blasphemous sacrilege against the holiness of God. And the Romans took no pleasure in the fact, that here their enemies were dead. And God is just in his judgments, and righteous altogether. And this was the end of that war. The whole conflict is set forth by Josephus in the seven books of The Wars of the Jews, and abbreviated by Eusebius in chapters five through twelve of the third book of his Church History; and is only briefly mentioned by the Romans Suetonius, Tacitus and Cassius Dio.
About this same time, or shortly thereafter, the second book of Esdras called fourth Ezra was also written, that portion now called the third through the fourteenth chapters, in response to the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple, declaring the guilt of the nation for its sins against God:
Although Vespasian had in various ways avoided making Titus his own equal, over the two years A.D. 73 and 74 the son became the military arm of the new principate and is described by Suetonius as particeps atque etiam tutor imperii, “sharer and even protector of the empire”. As his father’s enforcer of state security he incurred unpopularity, worsened by his involvement with Berenice.
According to tradition, the two Apostles Saint Simon Zelotes and Saint Jude went to evangelize Armenia and Persia. Almost all the lands of the then known world, even as far as Britain, have been mentioned; according to the Greeks, Simon, surnamed Zelotes, preached the Gospel on the Black Sea, in Egypt, in Mauritania, Northern Africa, and even in Britain, in which latter country he was crucified, A.D. 74. According to Eusebius, Jude earlier had returned to Jerusalem in the year 62, and assisted at the election of his brother, Saint Simeon, as Episcopos of Jerusalem. The Abyssinians relate that Saint Simon suffered crucifixion as the Episcopos of Jerusalem, after he had preached the Gospel in Samaria. According to the Latin Passio Simonis et Judae (“The Passion of Simon and Jude”), Simon labored in Persia, and was there martyred at Suanir. According to another tradition both Jude and Simon were beheaded with an axe in Beirut, in the Roman province of Syria, about A.D. 65. Another tradition attests that they suffered martyrdom in the city of Suanir in the year 47. Still another tradition says that Jude, the brother of James, commonly called Thaddeus, was crucified at Edessa, A.D. 72, and that Simon the Zealot, Episcopos of Jerusalem, was crucified in A.D. 74.
Berenice, sister of the Syrian king Herod Agrippa the Second, at the height of her powers now visited Rome in A.D. 75 with her brother Agrippa and openly lived with Titus for a time in the palace, and expected to become his wife. Yet, marriage remained an impossibility. An eastern queen represented a threat to Roman stability that could not be tolerated by the Senate and the people of Rome. Titus reluctantly had to dismiss her. Tradition records that Titus was feared as the next Nero, a perception that may have developed from his association with Berenice, allegations of his heavy-handedness as Praetorian prefect, and tales of sexual debauchery. With respect to his natural disposition, and moral behavior, the expectations entertained by the public were not flattering. He was excessively addicted to luxury; he had revealed a strong inclination to cruelty, and a sympathy for brutality and humiliation in his enjoyment of the games in the arena; and he lived in the habitual practice of lewdness, as unnatural as it was unrestrained. He was supposed, besides, to have a grasping and greedy disposition; for it is certain, in causes which came before his father, that he used to offer his interest for sale, and take bribes. In short, people publicly expressed an unfavorable opinion of him, and said he would prove to be another Nero.
In A.D. 75, Sarmatian tribes overran Parthia’s northern borders, deposing the local Parthian nobles. Internal havoc continued to take its toll. It is therefore accurate to describe Parthia as a state in decline. Although the Romans themselves had also overextended and faced problems of their own, the declining stability in Parthia left it vulnerable.
There were occasional political problems in Rome as well:
Titus having no male issue, Vespasian throughout his reign was insistent that his sons would succeed him, one after the other, first Titus, then Domitian; and it was probably over hereditary succession that he quarreled with certain inflexibly idealistic senators such as Helvidius Priscus. An advocate of senatorial independence and a critic of the Flavian regime from the start, Helvidius and his friends had already expressed general misgivings about Vespasian’s government in the early months of A.D. 70; yet Vespasian was not angry, and was lenient toward him. But now Helvidius proceeded to bitterly stand against him and condemn with the most offensively abusive and demeaning language, as a commander would reprimand an outrageously insubordinate and undisciplined officer of questionable loyalty and foul moral character. Feeling himself thus debased to the level of a common foot-soldier by Priscus’s insufferable rudeness, Vespasian, outraged, banished him to exile.
Though Vespasian had indeed banished Helvidius Priscus in 75, afterward, about A.D. 76, he ordered him to be put to death; the executioners went forth from him and departed; yet he would gladly have saved him notwithstanding, and accordingly gave order that messengers be dispatched to fetch back the executioners, and would have saved him, had he not been deceived at that moment by a false account brought to him, that Priscus had already perished, and cancelled the order to the messengers; and he was executed.
In Britain important advances were made; the kingdom of Brigantia in northern England had been incorporated in the province, the pacification of Wales had been completed, and in A.D. 78 General Gnaeus Julius Agricola began the seven years’ governorship that was to lead Roman arms into the Scottish Highlands.
In 78 Vespasian executed Eprius Marcellus, one of his earliest and most efficient supporters, accused of a conspiracy that may have been directed at Titus’s association with the Jewish princess Berenice; and being offered the opportunity, Eprius committed suicide.
All are agreed that he had such confidence in the astrological calculations based on his own horoscope and that of his sons, that, after several conspiracies against him, he told the Senate that either his sons would succeed him, or no one. It is said that he once saw in a dream a balance in the middle of the porch of the Palatine house exactly poised; in one pan of it stood Claudius and Nero, in the other, himself and his sons Titus and Domitian. He had no one to interpret.
In 79 Titus suppressed a conspiracy, doubtless concerned with the succession. Aulus Alienus Caecina, formerly general under Vitellius, a man of consular rank, was condemned by Titus for conspiracy; for Titus had discovered a private document in the handwriting of Caecina, containing an account of a plot hatched among the soldiers; he invited him to supper, and, on his departure, immediately after he had gone out of the room, ordered that he be stabbed. Indeed, he was provoked to this act by his perception of an imminent danger. Caecina was executed in A.D. 79.
Vespasian was nearly always good-natured. By Roman standards he was a man of considerable wit, making frequent jokes. Not even when he was under immediate apprehension and peril of death could he resist joking. For when, among other marvels portending his death, the doors of the mausoleum of the Caesars suddenly flew open, and a blazing star called a hairy star appeared in the heavens, one of these prodigies, he said, concerned Julia Calvina, who was of the family of Augustus, open to everyone; and the other, the king of the Parthians, who wore his hair long. And during his ninth and last consulship Vespasian visited Campania; and being seized, while in Campania, with a slight indisposition, and bothered by slight attacks of fever when his distemper first seized him, he said, “I suppose I shall soon be a god.”
He hurried back to Rome. Immediately returning to the city, he soon afterward went on to Cutiliae, and his estates in the country, to his summer retreat near Reate, where he constantly used to spend the summer, where now he made things worse. Here, though his disorder much increased, and he injured his bowels by too free use of the cold waters, by bathing and swimming in cold water and irritating his stomach, yet he carried on with his imperial duties as usual; he nevertheless attended to the dispatch of business, and even received a deputation at his bedside, and gave audience to ambassadors in bed, before he had a sudden episode of diarrhea.
At last, being suddenly taken ill by a violent bout of diarrhea, to such a degree that he was ready to faint, and in fact almost fainted, he cried out, “An emperor ought to die standing upright.”
He struggled to rise, muttering that an emperor ought to die at least on his feet; in endeavoring to rise, in his last illness he said, “Vae, puto deus fio”, which is, “Oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god”; and collapsed in the arms of attendants who went to his rescue. The occasion is said to have inspired his deathbed quip: “Dear me! I must be turning into a god.” His deathbed joke was, “Oh my, I must be turning into a god!” And thus, after contracting a brief illness, he died in the hands of those who were helping him up.
Many say this was twenty-three June, A.D. 79, when he had lived sixty-nine years, seven months and seven days; others say it was the eighth of the Kalends of July, which is the twenty-fourth of June, being sixty-nine years, one month, and seven days old; and after his death he was immediately accorded deification.
In contrast to his immediate imperial predecessors, Vespasian died peacefully, at Aquae Cutiliae near his birthplace in Sabine country; and, when Vespasian died, on his death his son Titus promptly and peacefully succeeded him to the rule as emperor.
The ancient historians who lived through the period such as Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus and Pliny the Elder speak well of Vespasian while condemning the emperors that came before him. Eusebius says of Vespasian’s policy regarding Christians that Vespasian had attempted nothing to our prejudice during his reign. Yet Vespasian upon his arrival in Rome in A.D. 70 had soon ordered a search be made for all descendants of David so that no member of the royal house should be left among the Jews, which then resulted in another great persecution of the Jews, and of Christians who were assumed to be a sect of the Jews. His biographer Suetonius claims that throughout Vespasian’s reign his firm policy was first to restore stability to the tottering state, and then to adorn it. But, despite his buildings and his generosity to needy friends, he probably bequeathed a substantial surplus of public money to his successors. And he left the treasury with a surplus, and the common people as poor as they had been before.
Vespasian, Roman emperor, died on twenty-three or twenty-four June A.D. 79. When Vespasian had reigned for about ten years, emperor from A.D. 70 to 79, his son Titus succeeded him as emperor; and it was after Vespasian’s death that Titus assumed full imperial powers.
At Vespasian’s funeral, Favo, the principal mimic, impersonating him, and imitating, as actors do, both his manner of speaking and his gestures, asked aloud of the procurators how much his funeral and the procession would cost. And being answered, “ten millions of sesterces,” he cried out to give him only a hundred thousand sesterces, and that they might throw his body into the Tiber, if they would. But in fact, public deification did follow his death, as did his interment in the Mausoleum of Augustus alongside the Julio-Claudians.
|Chapter 59||Historical texts|
Titus, in full, Titus Vespasianus Augustus, his original name being Titus Flavius Vespasianus like his father, was born thirty December A.D. 39. He was the conqueror of Jerusalem in 70, and Roman emperor from 79 to 81. He triumphed with his father in 70, bore jointly with him the office of censor beginning in 73, and was, besides, his colleague. Consequently, Titus shared in virtually every honor with the emperor during the A.D. seventies before Vespasian died, including the tribunicial power; not only in the tribunician authority, having the full authority of a Roman tribune, but also in seven consulships, seven joint-consulships, and a share of the office of censor.
When Titus eventually acceded to the throne in A.D. 79 nothing changed for Domitian. He was granted honors, but nothing else. Relations between the two brothers were most obviously cool and it is largely believed that Titus shared his deceased father’s opinion that Domitian was not fit for office.
Domitian was insatiable in his lusts, calling frequent commerce with women, as if it was a sort of exercise, klinopalaen, bed-wrestling; and it was reported that he plucked the hair from his concubines, and swam about in company with the lowest prostitutes. His brother’s daughter Flavia Julia was offered him in marriage when she was a virgin; but being at that time enamored of Domitia, he obstinately refused her. Yet not long afterward, when she was given to another, he was ready enough to debauch her, and that even while Titus was living.
Titus Flavius Vespasian the younger, having his father’s name, was the first prince who succeeded to the empire by hereditary right; and, after his return from Judea, having constantly acted as colleague with his father in the administration, he seemed to be as well qualified by experience as he was by ability for conducting the affairs of the empire. Before becoming emperor, tradition records that Titus was feared as the next Nero, a perception that may have developed from his association with Berenice, his alleged heavy-handedness as Praetorian prefect, and tales of sexual debauchery. But now, with a degree of virtuous resolution without prior example in history, he no sooner took into his hands the entire reins of government than he renounced every vicious immoral attachment. This turned out in the end to his advantage, and enhanced his praises to the highest pitch when he was found to possess no vicious propensities, but, on the contrary, the noblest virtues. Instead of wallowing in luxury, as before, he became a model of temperance; instead of cruelty, he displayed the strongest proofs of humanity and benevolence; and in place of lewdness, he exhibited a transition to the most unblemished chastity and virtue. In a word, the Romans had never known so sudden and great a change in the character of any mortal; and he had the peculiar glory to receive the appellation, the name and title of, “the darling and delight of mankind.”
The suddenness of his transformation raises immediate suspicions in the hearts of cynical people, yet it is difficult to know whether the historical tradition is suspect or if Titus was in fact adept at exchanging one persona for another. Once in office, however, both emperor and his reign were portrayed in universally positive terms. It is true that the ancient sources tend to heroicize Titus, yet based on all of the available evidence, his reign must be considered a positive one.
Under a prince of such a disposition, the government of the empire could only be conducted with the strictest regard for public welfare. Titus after becoming ruler committed no act of murder or of amorous passion; but showed himself upright, though plotted against; and self-controlled, though Berenice came to Rome again. He now dismissed her a second time, with mutual regret, upon his accession to the throne; he immediately sent Berenice away from the city, much against both their inclinations. This may have been because he had really undergone a change; for, to wield power as assistants to another is a very different thing for men from exercising independent authority themselves. In the former case, they are careless about the good name of the sovereignty and in their greed misuse the authority it gives them, thus doing many things that make their power the object of envy and slander; but actual monarchs, not false, knowing that everything depends on them, have an eye to good reputation also. It was undoubtedly this realization that caused Titus to say to someone whose society he had previously affected: “It is not the same thing to request a favor of another as to decide a case yourself, nor the same to ask something of another as to give it to someone yourself.”
He pursued the course of the Vespasian reform, begun in the previous reign, with the most ardent application; he capably continued the work of his father in establishing the Flavian dynasty and he maintained a high degree of economic and administrative competence in Italy and beyond. In so doing, he firmly established the role of the emperor as a dedicated, paternalistic autocrat, a model for rule that would serve Trajan and his successors well.
Titus was responsible for many architectural achievements during his tenure, including the Colosseum and plans for the Arch of Titus. It is clear that Titus sought to present the Flavians as the legitimate successors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Proof came through the issuing of a series of restoration coins of previous emperors, the most popular being Augustus and Claudius.
In money matters he was frugal and made no unnecessary expenditures, yet he did not punish anyone for following a different course. He violated no private right; and if ever a mortal man refrained from injustice, he did; no, he would not accept the allowable and customary gifts and contributions. Yet, in outstanding generosity, he was inferior to none of the princes before him. In the eyes of his pagan contemporaries his entertainments were of a kind more pleasing and enjoyable rather than extravagant orgies; and he surrounded himself with such excellent Friends, that the succeeding princes adopted them as most serviceable to themselves and the state. He was outstandingly good-looking, cultivated, and affable; Suetonius called him “the darling of the human race.”
He was so far from treating with any extraordinary kindness some of his old eunuchs who had been revelers with him, even though they were such accomplished dancers that they exercised an overwhelming power on the stage, gaining names of fame for themselves, that he would not so much as witness their accomplished performances in the crowded theatre.
His relations with his brother Domitian were bad, but in other ways his short rule was unexpectedly popular in Rome. Though Domitian was continually plotting against him, almost openly stirring up the armies to rebellion, and scheming to get away, yet Titus could not endure to put him to death, or to banish him from his presence; nor did he treat him with less respect than before. But from his first accession to the empire, he constantly declared him his partner and colleague in it, and that he should be his successor; begging of him sometimes in private, with tears in his eyes, to return the affection he had for him.
He appeared to be by nature extremely benevolent. He issued an edict confirming all gifts that had been bestowed upon any persons by the former emperors, thus saving them the trouble of petitioning him individually about the matter; for whereas all the preceding emperors after Tiberius, according to the example he had set for them, would not admit grants made by former princes to be valid, unless they each, one-by-one, individually received the reigning emperor’s personal authorization, he instead confirmed them all by one general edict, without waiting for any applications respecting them. Of all who petitioned for any favor, he sent none away without confident expectation. And when his ministers explained to him that he promised more than he could perform, he replied, “No one ought to go away downcast from an audience with his prince.”
Once at supper, reflecting that he had done nothing for anyone that day, he broke into that most memorable and admirable saying: “My friends, I have lost a day.”
In particular, he treated the people on all occasions with so much courtesy, that, on presenting a show of gladiators, he declared that he would conduct it not according to his own whim, but that of the spectators; and he did so, accordingly. He denied them nothing, and quite frankly encouraged them to ask what they pleased in the games. Supporting the cause of the Thracian team among the gladiators, he frequently joined in the popular demonstrations in their favor, but without compromising his dignity or doing anything wrong.
Having declared that he accepted the office of Pontifex Maximus, Chief Priest of Rome, for the purpose of preserving his hands undefiled, he faithfully adhered to his promise. For from that moment he was neither directly nor indirectly concerned in the death of any person, though he was sometimes justifiably irritated. He swore that he would perish himself, rather than be the cause of the destruction of any man. When two men of Patrician rank were convicted of aspiring to the empire, he only advised them to desist, saying that the sovereign power was determined by fate, and he promised them that if there was anything else that they desired of him, he would grant it. He also immediately sent messengers to the mother of one of them, who was at a great distance, and in deep anxiety about her son, to assure her of his safety. No, he not only invited them to dine with him, but the next day, at a show of gladiators, he purposely placed them close by him; and handed to them the weapons of the combatants to hold for his inspection. It is said likewise, that having had their nativities cast, their horoscopes, he assured them that a great calamity was impending, for both of them, but from another hand, and not from his.
During his reign Titus put no senator to death, nor was anyone else in fact ever slain by him during his rule. He himself never entertained cases based on the charge of maiestas nor allowed others to do so; for he declared: “It is impossible for me to be insulted or abused in any way. For I do nothing that deserves censure, and I do not care what is reported falsely. As for the emperors who are dead and gone, they will avenge themselves in case anyone does them a wrong, if they are in very truth demigods and possess any power.”
He also instituted various other measures designed to render men’s lives more secure and free from trouble, and he banished the informers from the City.
Among the calamities of the times, were the crowds of informers and their agents; a tribe of unscrupulous evildoers who had greatly increased under the license of former reigns. He frequently ordered these treacherous betrayers to be scourged or beaten with rods in the Forum, and then, after he had compelled them to pass through the Amphitheatre as a public spectacle, commanded them to be sold as slaves, or else banished to some rocky islands. And to discourage such practices for the future, among other things he prohibited legal actions to be successively brought over and over again under different laws for the same cause, or inquiry into the status of deceased persons after a certain number of years.
In his reign also a second false Nero appeared, who was an Asiatic named Terentius Maximus. He resembled Nero both in appearance and in voice, for he too sang to the accompaniment of the lyre. He gained a few followers in Asia, and in his eastward advance to the Euphrates River gathered a far greater number, and finally sought refuge with Artabanus the Second, the Parthian leader, who, because of his anger against Titus, not only received him but began making preparations to restore him to Rome.
Meanwhile, war had again broken out in Britain, and General Julius Agricola overran the whole of the enemy’s territory there. He was the first of the Romans we know to have discovered the fact that Britain is surrounded by water. It seems some soldiers, after rebelling, and slaying the centurions and a military tribune, took refuge in boats, and putting out to sea sailed round the western portion of the country as the wind and the waves happened to carry them; and since they approached again from the opposite direction, without realizing where they were, they put in again at the camps on the first side. After they were seized, Agricola immediately sent others to attempt the voyage around Britain, and learned from them, too, that it was an island. As a result, Titus received the title of Imperator for the fifteenth time, and Agricola received triumphal honors from Titus in Rome.
During the first beginning of the reign of this emperor some dreadful accidents happened, among them the first eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the memory of men. Vesuvius stands opposite Neapolis near the sea. Ancient writers, before this time, spoke of Vesuvius as being covered with orchards and vineyards, the middle of which was dry and barren.
This is what befell. In the seventy-ninth year of the Christian Era, 832 A.U.C., in Campania, remarkable and frightful occurrences took place; for a great fire suddenly flared up at the very end of the summer. Once Vesuvius was equally high at all points, and the fire rose from the center of it. Thick columns of smoke appeared, resembling what Tacitus plainly describes as numbers of huge men, quite surpassing any human stature—such creatures, in fact, as the Giants are depicted to have been—now on the mountain, now in the surrounding country, and again in the cities, wandering over the earth day and night and also swiftly gliding through the air. After this, terrible droughts and sudden and violent earthquakes occurred, so that the whole plain round about heaved and the peaks thrust suddenly up into the air.
There were frequent rumblings, some of them subterranean, that resembled thunder, and some on the surface, that sounded like bellowings; the sea also joined in the roar and the sky re-echoed it. Then suddenly, twenty-four August A.D. 79, a thunderous crash was heard, as if the mountains were tumbling in ruins; and first, huge stones were hurled aloft, rising as high as the very summits and falling down from heaven upon men, then came a great quantity of fire and endless smoke, so that all the air was darkened and the sun was entirely hidden, as if eclipsed, turning day into night and light into darkness. Some thought the Giants were rising again in revolt, for many of their forms were perceptible in the smoke at this time and, moreover, a sound like trumpeting horns was heard, while others believed the whole universe was dissolving into chaos or fire. Therefore they fled, some from the houses into the streets, others from outside into the houses, now from the sea to the land, and now from the land to the sea; for in their terror they thought any place where they were not was safer than where they were.
The eruption was accompanied by an earthquake, which destroyed several cities of Campania. Furthermore, it buried two entire cities, in particular Pompeii and Herculaneum, the former place while its populace was seated for safety in the theatre, while the lava, pouring down the mountain in torrents, in various directions overwhelmed the surrounding plains.
Among those to whom this dreadful eruption proved fatal was Pliny, the celebrated naturalist, whose curiosity to examine the phenomenon led him so far inside the outer edges of the danger, that, after doing so, he was suddenly overcome and could not escape.
While this was going on, an inconceivable quantity of ashes was blown out, which covered both sea and land and filled all the air. It caused much injury, of various kinds, at random, to men and farms and cattle, and in particular it destroyed all fish and birds. The burning ashes were carried not only over the neighboring country, but the actual amount of dust, all told, was so great that some of it reached as far as the shores of Africa and Egypt and Syria, and it also reached north to Rome, filling the air overhead and darkening the sun, and occasioning much fear there too, which lasted for several days, since the people did not know and could not imagine what had happened, but also, like those who were more close at hand, and witnessed the eruption, believed that the whole world was being turned upside down, that the sun was disappearing into the earth and the earth was being lifted to the sky. Now, these ashes at the time did the Romans no great harm, but later, they brought on them a terrible plague.
Tacitus relates that Mount Vesuvius has inexhaustible fountains of fire, for here alone have the fires broken out, whereas all the outlying areas of the mountain even now remain untouched by fire. Consequently, since the outside is never burned, while the central part is constantly growing brittle and being reduced to ashes, the peaks surrounding the center to this day still retain their original height, but the whole section that is on fire, having been consumed, in the course of time has settled and become concave; thus the entire mountain resembles a hunting arena—if we can compare great things to small. Its outlying heights support both trees and vines in abundance, but the crater is left abandoned entirely to the fire and sends up smoke by day and a flame by night; in fact, it gives the impression that quantities of incense of all kinds are being burned in it because of the smoke that rises. Now this goes on all the time, sometimes to a greater, and sometimes to a lesser extent; but the mountain often throws up ashes whenever there is an extensive settling in the interior, and discharges stones whenever it is ruptured by a violent venting of gas. It also rumbles and roars because its vents are not all grouped together but are narrow and concealed.
Such is Vesuvius, and he says these phenomena usually occur there every year. But all the other occurrences that have taken place there in the course of time, however notable they may have seemed to those who on each occasion observed them, because they were unusual, nevertheless would be regarded as trivial in comparison with what happened at this time, even if all had been combined into one. This is according to the account of Tacitus.
However, while Titus was absent from Rome and in Campania attending to the catastrophe that had befallen that region, which has ever since been celebrated for its volcano, in the following year, A.D. 80, a second conflagration, above ground, spread over very large sections of Rome; a devastating fire again destroyed large sections of the city, which continued during three days and three nights. Rome burned. It consumed the temple of Serapis, the temple of Isis, the Saepta, the temple of Neptune, the Baths of Agrippa, the Pantheon, the Diribitorium, the theatre of Balbus, the stage building of Pompey’s theatre, the Octavian buildings together with their books, and the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, all of these with their surrounding temples; and besides the fire a terrible pestilence, a plague, such as was scarcely ever known before. Hence the disaster seemed to be not of human but of divine origin; for anyone can estimate, from the list of buildings, how many others must have been destroyed. Men were in anguish and cursed the one true God of heaven for their pains and sores, Him whom Christians worship and adore, and did not repent of their deeds; nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. When the Acts of Nero’s reign were reversed after his death, an exception was made regarding the persecution of the Christians, and they continued to be persecuted.
Amid these many great disasters, Titus not only showed the concern which might be expected from a prince but even the affection of a father for his people; the one while comforting them by his proclamations, and the other while relieving them to the utmost of his power. In response to the eruption of Vesuvius the previous year in A.D. 79, Titus spent large sums to relieve distress in that area; he chose by lot, from among the men of consular rank, commissioners for repairing the losses in Campania. He accordingly sent two ex-consuls to them to supervise the restoration of the region, and bestowed on the inhabitants not only general gifts of money, but also the property of those who had lost their lives and left no heirs. The estates of those who had perished by the eruption of Vesuvius, and had left no heirs, he applied to the repair of the ruined cities. As for himself, with regard to the public buildings destroyed by fire in the City, he declared that nobody should be a loser but himself, saying, “I am ruined.”
Accordingly, he applied all the ornaments of his palaces to the decoration of the temples and purposes of public utility, and appointed several men of the equestrian order to superintend the work. Likewise, the imperial purse contributed heavily to rebuilding Rome. He accepted nothing from any private citizen or city or king, although many kept offering and promising him large sums; but he restored all the damaged regions from funds already on hand. Thus, for the relief of the people during the plague, he employed, in the way of sacrifice and medicine, all means available to him, both human and divine.
As a result of these actions, Titus earned a reputation for generosity and geniality. Even so, his keen financial intelligence must not be under-estimated, for he left the treasury with a surplus, as he had found it, and dealt promptly and efficiently with costly natural disasters. The A.D. third-century Greek historian, Cassius Dio, offered perhaps the most accurate and concise judgment of Titus’s economic policy: “In money matters, Titus was frugal and made no unnecessary expenditure.”
In other areas, the brevity of Titus’s reign has obscured discernment of any major emphases or trends in policy. As far as can be discerned from the limited evidence, senior officials and amici were well chosen, and his legislative activity tended to focus on popular social measures, with the army as a particular beneficiary in the areas of land ownership, marriage, and testamentary freedom to leave an inheritance to any beneficiary. In the provinces, Titus continued his father’s policies by strengthening roads and forts in the East and along the Danube.
In the same year, A.D. 80, Titus also set out to establish an imperial cult in honor of Vespasian. The temple, in which this cult was housed, the first imperial cult that was not connected with the Julio-Claudians, was begun by Titus; but it was not completed by him.
He also sought legitimacy through various economic measures, which he enthusiastically funded. His success was won largely by lavish expenditure, some of it through purely personal and very substantial generous giving but also by allocating some of the public bounty, such as the assistance to Campania after Vesuvius erupted in 79 and the rebuilding of Rome after the fire in 80. Vast amounts of capital were poured into extensive building projects in Rome, especially the Flavian Amphitheatre. He also pressed forward the speedy construction of new imperial warm baths to the south-east of the Amphitheatre and close to it, and began work on the celebrated Arch of Titus, a memorial to his Jewish victories, next to the Jewish quarter. Large sums were directed to Italy and the provinces as well, especially for road building.
In A.D. 81, when he finally completed the construction of the Flavian Amphitheatre, popularly known as the Colosseum, in celebration of additions made to the structure, he opened it with ceremonies lasting more than a hundred days. Having dedicated his Amphitheatre, Titus entertained the people with most magnificent spectacles, providing a grand one hundred day festival, with sea fights staged on an artificial lake, infantry battles in which men died, wild beast hunts, and similar activities. There, too, on the first day there was a gladiatorial exhibition and wild-beast hunt, the lake in front of the images having first been covered over with a platform of planks and wooden stands erected around it. On the second day there was a horse-race, and on the third day a naval battle between three thousand men, followed by an infantry battle. The names the combatants used were the “Athenians” and the “Syracusans”. The “Athenians” conquered the “Syracusans”, made a landing on the islet and assaulted and captured a wall that had been constructed around the monument. These were the spectacles that were offered, and they continued for a hundred days; but Titus also furnished some things that were of practical use to the people. He would throw down into the theatre from aloft little wooden balls variously inscribed, one designating some article of food, another clothing, another a silver vessel or perhaps a gold one, or again horses, pack-animals, cattle or slaves. Those who seized them were to carry them to the dispensers of the bounty, from whom they would receive the article named. He likewise exhibited a naval fight in the old Naumachia, the name of an arena built to be flooded, besides a combat of gladiators; and in one day brought into the theatre five thousand wild beasts of all kinds to be killed in sport. To omit no opportunity of acquiring popularity, he himself sometimes made use of the baths he had erected, without excluding the common people.
Most of what he did was not characterized by anything noteworthy, but in dedicating the hunting-theatre and the baths that bear his name he produced many remarkable spectacles. There was a battle between cranes and also between four elephants; animals both tame and wild were slain to the number of nine thousand; and women (not those of any prominence, however) took part in killing them. (It has been said that pagan Rome, because of the games, finally exterminated many species of rare wild animals in Europe, the Middle East, and north Africa.) As for the men, several fought in single combat and several groups contended together both in infantry and naval battles. For Titus suddenly filled this same theatre with water and brought in horses and bulls and some other domesticated animals that had been taught to behave in the liquid element just as on land. He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea-fight there, impersonating the Corcyreans and Corinthians, killing each other in combat, for sport; and others gave a similar exhibition outside the city in the grove of Gaius and Lucius, a place which Augustus had once excavated for this very purpose.
After he had finished these exhibitions of violence and death, and had wept so bitterly on the last day that all the people saw him, he performed no other deed of importance; but the next day, in the consulship of Flavius and Pollio, after the dedication of the buildings mentioned, amid all these favorable circumstances, he was cut off by an untimely death; the Roman Suetonius says his death was more to the loss of mankind than himself. At the close of the public spectacles, he wept bitterly in the presence of the people, and then retired into the Sabine country, rather melancholy because a sacrificial animal victim had made its escape while he was sacrificing, and loud thunder had been heard while the atmosphere was serene.
While he and his brother were on the way, travelling outside Rome, at the first resting-place on the road, he was seized with a fever; and being carried forward in a litter, they said that he drew back the curtains, and looked up to heaven, complaining heavily that his life was taken from him, though he had done nothing to deserve it, for there was no action of his that he had occasion to repent of, except one. What that was, he neither disclosed himself, nor is it easy for us to guess. Mystery surrounded the last minutes before Titus’s death. But Domitian was not even to wait for his brother to die. Whether or not he had a hand in Titus’s death, Domitian did not wait for his brother to die. As Titus lay dying, he quickly returned to Rome and hastened to the Praetorian camp to be proclaimed emperor—so certain was he that his brother would be dead!—and there he had himself proclaimed emperor by the soldiers, and he was hailed as emperor.
Titus died on thirteen September, or fourteen September, A.D. 81, amid rumors that Domitian had poisoned him. But others insist that it is more likely he died of natural causes, from illness.
As soon as the news of his death was published, all the people mourned for him as for the loss of some near relative. On news of Titus’s death, the Senate assembled in haste, before they could be summoned by proclamation, and locking the doors of their Senate house at first, but afterward opening them, they gave Titus such thanks, and heaped upon him such praises, now that he was dead, as they had never done while he was alive and present among them; the Senate chose first to honor the dead emperor before elevating his brother, an early indication perhaps of Domitian’s future troubles with the aristocracy. His ascension to the throne came on the following day, fourteen September A.D. 81, 834 A.U.C.. With Titus dead, he was confirmed emperor by the Senate. At any rate, after waiting an extra day, Domitian received Imperium, the title Augustus, and tribunician power along with the office of Pontifex Maximus and the title pater patriae, Father of his Country.
Later, rumors circulated that Domitian may have had a hand in his brother’s death, possibly by poison. Gossip also ran rampant that the new emperor had at one point even plotted to overthrow his brother and take the throne for himself.
Suetonius records that Titus died on his way to the Sabine country of his ancestors, and that he passed away at the same watering-place that had been the scene of his father’s death, in the same villa where his father had died before him, on the Ides of September, the 13th of September; Titus Flavius Vespasianus died in September, A.D. 81 after only twenty-six months in office, having ruled two years, two months, and twenty days after he had succeeded his father; and in the one-and-fortieth year of his age. He was born in A.D. 39, was Roman Emperor from A.D. 79 to 81, and, had he lived for a longer time, Suetonius says that it is probable that his authority and example would have produced the most beneficial effects upon the manners of the Romans.
The common report is that he was put out of the way by his brother, for Domitian had previously plotted against him; but some writers state that he died a natural death. A competing tradition persistently implicated his brother, Domitian, as having had a hand in the emperor’s demise. His sudden death at age forty-one was supposedly hastened by Domitian, who became his successor as emperor, but the evidence is highly contradictory and any wrongdoing is difficult to prove, from the available evidence. The tradition is that, while he was still breathing and possibly had a chance of recovery, Domitian, in order to hasten his end, placed him in a chest packed with a quantity of snow, pretending that the disease required, perhaps, that a chill be administered, to break the fever. At any rate, he rode off to Rome while Titus was still alive, entered the camp, and received the title and authority of emperor, after giving the soldiers all that his brother had given them. Titus, as he expired, said: “I have made but one mistake.”
There is some disagreement on the meaning of Titus’s last words: “I have made but one mistake.” What this was he did not make clear, and no one else recognized it with certainty. Some have conjectured one thing and some another. Some imagine that he alluded to the connection which he had formerly had with his brother’s wife. Suetonius himself wrote that he
Suetonius did not believe this was the case because if she had had an affair, she would have boasted about it. The prevailing view in contrast agrees with those who say that he referred to his taking his brother’s wife, Domitia. But Domitia solemnly denied it on oath; which she would never have done, had there been any truth in the report; no, she would certainly have gloried in it, as she was forward enough to boast of all her scandalous intrigues. Some others, those not overly fond of the new emperor, took a more negative view of these words, that Titus meant he should have killed Domitian when he had the chance; and say that what he meant as his mistake was that he had not killed Domitian when he found him openly plotting against him, but had chosen rather to suffer that fate himself at his rival’s hands, and like a conquered general had actually surrendered the empire of the Romans to a man like Domitian, whose character will now be made clear.
Domitian himself delivered the funeral eulogy and had Titus deified.
Cassius Dio suggested that Titus’s reputation was enhanced by his early death. Again, his satisfactory record may also have been due to the fact that he survived his accession but a very short time, that is, short for a ruler, for he was thus given no opportunity for wrongdoing. For he lived afterward only two years, two months and twenty days, in addition to the thirty-nine years, five months and twenty-five days he had already lived at that time. In this respect, indeed, he is regarded as having equalled in reputation the long reign of Augustus, since it is maintained that Augustus would never have been loved had he lived a shorter time, nor Titus had he lived longer. For Augustus, though at the outset he showed himself rather harsh because of the wars and the factional strife, was later able, in the course of time, to achieve a brilliant reputation for his kindly deeds; Titus, on the other hand, ruled with mildness and died at the height of his glory, whereas, if he had lived a long time, it might have been shown that he owes his present fame more to good fortune than to merit, but we do not know. According to his contemporaries, he was found to possess no vicious propensities as emperor, but, on the contrary, the noblest virtues. There are too many who would prefer that he had failed in his resolve to be a good example to the people, and relapsed, so that his reputation for a good reign might be damaged, and his integrity not be a reproach to their own lack of moral and spiritual principle. It is beyond dispute that whatever good men do comes from almighty God, as does their ability to change their behavior to natural moral virtue.
Meanwhile, the holy Apostles of our Savior were scattered across the whole world. They traveled into every land, Teaching their message of salvation in the power of Christ, who had told them,
After the martyrdoms of Peter and then Paul, Linus, a Roman, was the first who received the episcopate at Rome, the first to be appointed Episcopos of Rome, whom Paul mentions in his second epistle from Rome to Timothy, in the salutation at the close of the epistle, saying,
And after Linus, Cletus, also called Anacletus, was elected to succeed him, and he was Episcopos of Rome, A.D. 76 through 88, during the reigns of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian.
But the rest of the Apostles, who were harassed in innumerable ways with an intent to destroy them, and driven from the land of Judea, had gone forth to preach the gospel to all nations, relying on the aid of Christ, when he said,
The whole body, however, of the Assembly at Jerusalem, having been commanded twelve years before by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, had removed from Jerusalem, and dwelt at a certain town eastward in Perea beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Those who believed in Christ at that time, having removed here from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself and the whole land of Judea, as Lot had removed from Sodom, the divine justice finally overtook them, the Jews, for their crimes against Christ and his Apostles, during the second year of the reign of Vespasian, totally destroying the whole generation of these evil-doers from the earth, leaving their descendants to mourn. Remember the words of our Lord, how he said,
And recall the words of the Apostle Paul,
And now Titus was dead, and eleven years and fourteen days had passed since the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.
Domitian was emperor.
|Chapter 60||Historical texts|
Titus Flavius Domitianus, the emperor of Rome and persecutor of the Christian Assembly, the Church, plainly known as Domitian, was born twenty-four October A.D. 51, the younger son of Vespasian and the younger brother and successor of the Emperor Titus. Domitian was twenty-nine years old when he took over the emperorship on the death of his brother, and he reigned as Roman Emperor from A.D. 81 to 96. After he became emperor, he had the assurance to boast in the Senate that he himself had bestowed the empire on his father and brother, and they had restored it to him. His first act was to enact Titus’s deification, no doubt reluctantly. In fact Domitian claimed that Vespasian and Titus had both denied him what should have rightfully been his rightful place as imperial colleague. He may have held a grudge against his brother and his father, but he understood that his own interests were best served by further celebrating the Flavian house. Construction of the temple begun by Titus in A.D. 80 to house the imperial cult of his father Vespasian was continued by Domitian.
Early in his reign, Domitian proved to be an able administrator and did not ignore the welfare of the people. Before his accession to the imperial authority, and for some time afterward, he scarcely ever gave the least grounds for being suspected of covetousness or avarice; but, on the contrary, he often provided practical proofs, not only of his justice, but his liberality.
He rebuilt many noble edifices which had been destroyed by fire, and among them the Capitol, which had been burned a second time, in 80; but all the inscriptions were in his own name, without the least mention of the original founders.
Before the Flavians came to power, much of Rome needed rebuilding, mostly due to fire, decay, and the failure of previous emperors to do anything about it. The great fire of A.D. 64, the civil wars of A.D. 68-69, the burning of Rome in December of 69, and another devastating fire in A.D. 80 had left Rome badly in need of repair. Domitian restored the gutted ruins of many public buildings, including the Capitol which had burned in A.D. 80; he responded by erecting, restoring, or completing some fifty structures, including the restored temple of Jupiter on the Capitol. He likewise erected a new temple to Jupiter the Guardian, Jupiter Custos, in the Capitol, and a Forum, now called the Forum of Nerva, as also the temple of the Flavian family, a new stadium, and an odeum for rhetoric, a concert hall for musicians and poets, and a naumachia, a place designed to be flooded for mock sea battles; the sides of the Circus Maximus, which had been burned, were rebuilt out of the stone dug from it.
For himself, because he did not like the old imperial palace, he built a magnificent new Flavian Palace on the Palatine Hill for official functions, and to the south he constructed the Domus Augustana where he held numerous banquets and receptions. Domitian also built several monuments in honor of Titus and finally completed the temple of Vespasian and Titus, changing the name of the structure to include his brother’s name and setting up his cult statue in the temple itself. In front of one of Rome’s Jewish quarters an arch was erected to honor Titus. Another arch was built on the Forum Romanum, where it can still be seen. His building program, ambitious and spectacular, was hardly matched by any other emperor.
He was tall in stature, his face modest, and very ruddy; he had large eyes, but was near-sighted; and naturally graceful in his person, particularly in his youth, except that his toes were bent somewhat inward. He was so aware of how much the modesty of his countenance commended him to others, that he once made this boast to the Senate, “So far, you have approved of both my disposition and my countenance.”
His baldness so much annoyed him, that he considered it an affront to himself if any other person was reproached with being bald, either in jest or in earnest; though in a small tract he published, addressed to a friend, “Concerning the Preservation of the Hair,” he uses for their mutual consolation the following words:
He so shrank from suffering any kind of fatigue, that he scarcely ever walked through the city on foot. In his military expeditions and on a march, he seldom rode horseback, but was generally carried in a litter. He had no inclination for personal military training exercises with arms, but he was very expert in the use of the bow. Many have often seen him kill a hundred wild animals, of various kinds, at his Alban retreat, and shoot his arrows into their heads with such dexterity, that he could, in two shots, plant them like a pair of horns, in each. He would sometimes aim his arrows at the hand of a boy, standing at a distance, as a mark, arm outstretched, fingers spread wide, with such precision that they all passed between the boy’s fingers, without hurting him.
In the beginning of his reign, he gave up the study of the liberal sciences, though he took care to restore, at great expense, the libraries which had been burned, collecting manuscripts from all parts of the empire, and sending scribes to Alexandria, either to copy or correct them. Yet he never took the trouble of reading history or poetry, or of employing his pen even for his own private purposes. He studied nothing but the Commentaries and Acts of Tiberius Caesar. His letters, speeches, and edicts, were all drawn up for him by others, yet he could converse with elegance, and sometimes expressed himself in memorable sentiments.
He once said, “I could wish that I was only as handsome as Metius fancies himself to be.”
And regarding the head of someone whose hair was partly reddish, and partly grey, he said that it was “snow sprinkled with mead.”
He remarked that the lot of princes was very miserable, “for no one believed them when they discovered a conspiracy, before they were murdered.”
In the beginning of his reign, he used to spend an hour by himself every day in private; and during that time he did nothing else but catch flies, and stick them through the body with a sharp pin. When someone inquired whether anyone was with the emperor, Vibius Crispus significantly answered, “Not so much as a fly.”
When he had leisure, he amused himself with dice in the morning, even on days that were not festivals. He went to the bath early, and then ate an enormous midday dinner, consuming so much that he seldom ate more at the evening meal than a Matian apple, with a draft of wine in a small flask. He gave frequent and splendid entertainments, but they were soon over, for he never prolonged them after sunset, and indulged in no revelry afterward. For, during the entire evening before bed-time, he did nothing else but walk by himself in private.
Soon after his advancement to the empire, and during his second consulship, he had a son by his wife Domitia Longina. It is enough to say that Domitian had had affairs with several married women. Domitia had been married to a senator, Aelius Lamia, but he was persuaded to divorce her; no, rather, she had divorced him so she could marry Domitian. He lost his son in the second year after becoming emperor, A.D. 82; and Domitian put away his wife Domitia by divorce, for being desperately in love with Paris, the actor, under suspicion of having committed adultery with him. He planned to put her to death, a common practice at the time, but the people began persistently requesting him to take her back to himself; he temporarily left his wife to live with his niece Flavia Julia, the daughter of his brother Titus; but a short time afterward, being unable to bear the separation, he took Domitia back to himself again, under the pretense of finally complying with the people’s persistently urgent requests to do so; and whom, the year following, A.D. 83, he honored with the title of Augusta, a title of divinity. And on taking his wife again, after the divorce, he declared by proclamation that he had recalled her to his pulvinar: among other meanings, besides a couch and a marriage bed, the pulvinar is a cushioned seat reserved for the visit of a god.
By those around him, at least early in his reign, he was viewed as being generous, possessing self-restraint, considerate of all of his friends, and conscientious when dispensing justice.
In Rome however, things were different. In legislation he was severe. In A.D. 83 Domitian displayed that terrifying pedantic adherence to the very letter of the law which should make him so feared by the people of Rome; and as censor he incurred critical censure for attempting to curb vices from which he himself was not immune.
As emperor, Domitian was to become one of Rome’s foremost personal managers of every aspect and detail of Roman life and culture, especially concerning the economy. Shortly after taking office, he raised the silver content of the denarius by about twelve percent, to the level earlier established by Augustus.
On another front, Domitian sought to promote grain production by calling for empire-wide limitations on viticulture, the growing of grapes for wine. On the occasion of a great abundance of wine, accompanied by a scarcity of grain, and supposing that the tillage of the ground was neglected for the sake of attending too much to the cultivation of vineyards, he published a proclamation forbidding the planting of any new vines in Italy, and ordering the vines in the provinces to be cut down, nowhere permitting more than one half of them to remain. But he did not persist in the execution of this project. This edict ordaining destruction of half the provincial vineyards was typical: it was designed to encourage the growing of grain and to limit the importing of wine into Italy, while, at the same time, no increased production was permitted; but Domitian was unable to carry the matter through. Pliny the Younger’s letters to Trajan afterward show that Domitian’s administrative decisions were not usually revoked, but this edict met with immediate opposition and was never implemented.
Before his accession to the imperial authority, and during some time afterward, Domitian seldom ever provided the least grounds for being suspected of covetousness or avarice. To all about him he was generous, even profusely so, and he recommended nothing more earnestly than to avoid doing anything harsh. He would not accept the property left to him by those who had children. He also cancelled a provision for a legacy bequeathed by the will of Ruscus Caepio, who had ordered his heir to make a present of a sum of money every year to each of the newly elected senators on their first assembly. He established forms of statutes of limitation. He exonerated all those who more than five years before had been under prosecution from the treasury, suits still pending; and he would not permit lawsuits to be renewed, unless done within a year, with the additional condition that the prosecutor should be banished if he could not make good his case. He pardoned the secretaries of the quaestors for what was past, for having engaged in trade according to custom, contrary to the Clodian law restricting the private business dealings of the scribes of quaestors. The portions of commandeered land left unassigned after it was divided among the veteran soldiers, he granted to the ancient possessors, as belonging to them by prescription. He put a stop to false prosecutions by informers in the treasury against property owners for the purpose of unjustly seizing their estates, by severely punishing the prosecutors. And much notice was taken of this saying of his: “A prince who does not punish informers, encourages them.”
But now Domitian was determined to equal the military achievements of his predecessors. While the military abilities of Vespasian and Titus were genuine, those of Domitian were not. Partly as an attempt to correct this political weakness, Domitian frequently became involved in his own military exploits outside of Rome. He wanted to be known as a conqueror. Although, unlike Vespasian and Titus, he was not a military man, he considered himself one, and constantly sent messages to the generals in the field with advice and recommendations. He personally undertook several expeditions, some from choice, utterly unprovoked and unnecessary, and some from genuine necessity, because of threats to the empire from enemies foreign and domestic.
In the same year A.D. 83 he completed the conquest of the Agri Decumates in the reentrant angle of the Rhine, the lands beyond the upper Rhine and upper Danube, which his father Vespasian had begun. Having no personal experience himself and hoping to claim some credibility with the army, he embarked on a victorious campaign to Germania to engage the Catti in A.D. 83. This campaign against the Chatti was unprovoked, and he was bitterly aware of the ridicule that greeted his sham triumph over Germany. He also claimed a triumph in A.D. 83 for subduing the Catti in Gaul, but that conquest was illusory. Tacitus derided Domitian’s victory against the Chatti as a “mock triumph”. More campaigns against the Catti followed in western Germany, from A.D. 83 through 85. Moving against tribes like the Chatti, he drove the empire’s frontier to the rivers Lahn and Main, building border fortifications called limes in Germany. The greatest threat, however, remained on the Danube, from the Dacians under King Decebalus.
Meanwhile, despite the results of his shallow military achievements, shortly after his initial victories over the Catti, in A.D. 84 he raised the pay of the army from three hundred to four hundred gold sesterces, a fact that would naturally make him popular with the soldiery. He earned the respect of the army when he became the first emperor since Augustus to give them a raise, although by that time a pay raise had perhaps become very well necessary, as over time inflation had reduced the soldiers’ effective income.
Domitian’s brother Titus had an only child, a daughter by his second marriage, Flavia Julia; and she had incestuously married Flavius Sabinus, who was her cousin, and Domitian’s cousin. In A.D. 84, Domitian put Flavius Sabinus to death, one of his own cousins, simply because, on his being chosen to that office at the consular election, the herald, in proclaiming his consulship, had called him imperator instead of consul: by a blunder, the public crier had proclaimed him to the people not consul, but emperor. The execution of his cousin Flavius Sabinus on this frivolous pretext as being immediate evidence of a subversive plot against him was an isolated event, not part of a general pattern of executions; and his widow Flavia Julia was afterward seen publicly as Domitian’s mistress; after Sabinus’s death in A.D. 84 she lived openly as mistress of her uncle Domitian. But after she had lost both her father and her husband, he loved her most passionately, and openly; so much that she was with child by him. And he was the occasion of her death, by forcing her to procure a miscarriage, an abortion, killing both the mother and the child.
In A.D. 85, Annianus, who was the first Episcopos of Alexandria, died, after having filled that office for twenty-two years. He was succeeded by Avilius, who was the second Episcopos of that city, who had been ordained by St. Luke some time before his death in 84.
According to the tradition of the Christian Assembly, the holy Evangelist and Apostle Saint Luke, after the repose of the body of his teacher Saint Paul, spread the Gospel of Christ in Italy, Dalmatia, Gaul, and especially, Macedonia, in which he had labored before for several years. He also evangelized Achaia, which borders on Macedonia. Then, when he was already quite elderly, the Apostle Luke undertook a journey to Egypt. And having first passed through all of Libya, he arrived in Egypt, and there he labored greatly and endured many afflictions for the sake of the holy name of Jesus, and in the Thebaid of Egypt he converted many to Christ. In the city of Alexandria, he ordained a certain Abilius, called Avilius, as Episcopos and designated him to (eventually) succeed Annas, Annianus, who had been ordained by the Evangelist Mark, and had faithfully carried out his ministry as Pope of Alexandria for twenty-two years.
Then, returning to Greece, St. Luke again set up Christian assemblies there, primarily in Boetia, ordained Presbyters and Deacons, and healed those sick of body and soul. Like the Apostle Paul, his friend and mentor, Saint Luke fought the good fight, finished his course and kept the Apostolic Faith to the end. At the age of seventy-four or eighty-four, about the year 84, it is said that he died a martyr’s death in Achaia, hanged and crucified on an olive tree instead of a cross. His precious body which had been a temple of the Holy Spirit of truth was buried in Thebes, the principal city of Boetia.
Then in A.D. 85, Annianus, who was the first Episcopos of Alexandria, died, after having filled that office for twenty-two years. He was succeeded by Avilius, who was the second Episcopos of that city, having been designated by St. Luke to succeed Annianus when he died.
Meanwhile, Cnaeus Julius Agricola, seven years the governor of Britain, was successfully campaigning against the Picts. He had already won some victories in various parts of Britain and now advanced into northern Scotland where at Mons Graupius he gained a significant victory over the Picts in battle. Then in A.D. 85 Agricola was suddenly recalled from Britain; the emperor recalled Agricola, a victorious general in Britain, because he became too popular with the people, the army, the Senate, and the Praetorians, making it conceivable that the undefeated general would eventually challenge Domitian’s government if he should continue to win outstanding victories. The possibility that he was virtually on the brink of actually achieving the final conquest of Britain as the crowning achievement of his military career has been the subject of much speculation, and we will never know; it is certain that recalling Agricola from Britain made the possibility that he would be the one to achieve the final conquest of Britain impossible. It appears that Domitian, so eager to prove himself a great conqueror, was in fact jealous of Agricola’s success.
In his book On Britain and Germany Agricola’s son-in-law Tacitus recounts the tenuous relationship between Agricola and Domitian. The general’s victories in Britain put the emperor in a precarious position, as he was torn between pride and jealousy, torn between keeping up appearances to the public with pride in a Roman victory, and jealousy because of his own failure as a commander. He tells us that Agricola was received by Domitian with the smile on his face that so often masked a secret disquiet; that he was bitterly aware of the ridicule that had greeted his own sham triumph over Germany. On returning to Rome, the general was offered the governorship of Syria, but he refused. And now, the Roman general Cnaeus Julius Agricola, in spite of his having received triumphal honors from Titus, for the rest of his life lived not only in disgrace but in actual want, because the deeds which he had wrought were thought by Domitian too great for a mere general, but belonged only by right to an emperor, to one who was favored by the gods. The circumstances surrounding the recall of Agricola and the popular suspicions that this had been done only because of jealousy, only further fueled Domitian’s hunger for military glory. This time he turned his attention to the kingdom of Dacia.
The Dacians under their king Decebalus had crossed the Danube onto the northern frontier in raids in which they even killed the governor of Moesia, Oppius Sabinus, a man of consular rank. On hearing of the death of Oppius Sabinus, Domitian sent the first of two expeditions against the Dacians. The emperor visited Moesia in A.D. 85 shortly after Sabinus had been killed by the invaders. Domitian led his troops to the Danube region, but to Cornelius Fuscus, prefect of the Pretorian cohorts, he entrusted the conduct of that war. Cornelius Fuscus eagerly sought some means of trying to avenge Sabinus’s death. At first these armies suffered another defeat at the hands of the Dacians. However, the Dacians were eventually driven back. Fuscus successfully drove the Dacians back across the border in mid-85, prompting Domitian to return to Rome soon after and celebrate an elaborate triumph, and Domitian returned to Rome, leaving his armies to fight.
As emperor, Domitian was hated by the aristocracy. His reach extended well beyond the economy. Two years before, in A.D. 83 Domitian had begun to display that terrifying adherence to the very letter of the law which should make him so feared by the people of Rome. In spite of his private vices, and his own personal lack of moral values, he now set himself up as a reformer of morals and religion. Now late in A.D. 85, in a move to increase his power over the Senate, Domitian proclaimed himself censor perpetuus, “perpetual censor”; he made himself censor for life, which granted him near unlimited power over the assembly, with a general supervision of conduct and morals. The move was without precedent and, although largely symbolic, it nevertheless revealed Domitian’s obsessive interest in all aspects of Roman life. Domitian’s administration is judged by some historians to have been sound and efficient, though at times his policy was deemed to be excessively pedantic; for example, he insisted on spectators at public games being properly dressed in togas.
But Domitian was more and more being understood as a tyrant, who did not even refrain from having senators who opposed his policies assassinated. But his strict enforcement of the law also brought its benefits. Corruption among city officials and within the law courts was reduced. In the administration of justice he was diligent and assiduous; and he frequently sat in the Forum as a natural course, to cancel those judgments of the court of the Centumviri, The Hundred Men, which had been procured through favor, or interest. He occasionally cautioned the judges of the court of recovery to beware of being too ready to admit claims for freedom brought before them. He set a mark of infamy on the records of judges convicted of taking bribes, as well as on the records of their legal advisors. He likewise incited the tribunes of the people to prosecute a corrupt aedile for extortion and to desire the Senate to appoint judges for his trial. He likewise took such effectual care in punishing magistrates of the city, and governors of provinces, guilty of misconduct in public office, that they never were at any other time more moderate or more just; for the general standard of justice rose to such an unprecedented level of unrelenting strictness, that Suetonius emphatically points out since the end of his reign how many of these provincial governors and magistrates have been charged with judicial corruption, and crimes of various kinds.
Having taken on himself the reformation of public conduct, he restrained the presumptuous abuse by the common populace of sitting indiscriminately with the knights in the amphitheatre in disregard of their dignity and authority. He suppressed scandalous libels, published to defame persons of rank, of either sex, and inflicted on their authors a mark of infamy on their personal records. He expelled a man of quaestorian rank from the Senate, for compromising the dignity of his position by practicing mimicry and dancing. He barred infamous women of bad character from the use of litters, and the right of receiving legacies, or inheriting estates. He struck from the list of judges a Roman knight for taking again to himself his wife, whom he had divorced and prosecuted for adultery.
Seeking to impose his intuitive sense of morals, he attempted to raise the standards of public morality by forbidding male castration. He prohibited the castration of males, and reduced the price of the eunuchs who were still left in the hands of the dealers in slaves, and, admonishing homosexual senators, he penalized senators who practiced homosexuality. He condemned several men of the senatorian and equestrian orders, on the basis of Scantinian law, charging them with maiestas, “the degradation of the majesty of the Roman people”; also censuring the Vestal Virgins for, among other indiscretions, incest.
During his reign three Vestal Virgins, convicted of immoral behavior, were put to death for maiestas. It is true that these stringent rules and punishments had once been observed by an approving Roman society. But “times had changed”: that dishonestly indirect expression which avoids blaming the people directly for their own insolent behavior, making them, instead, misled, innocent dupes and victims of a faceless, impersonal, pervasively immoral cultural climate; and quite simply it means that moral standards once admired and praised by the people as standards of Roman virtue were no longer popular but generally held in contempt; and the public now tended to see punishments of the Vestals for immoral acts of incest as mere acts of cruelty; due to the flagrant vices of the times, lust and luxury, rooted in the pervasive licentiousness which had so long prevailed; which his father Vespasian as imperial censor had zealously attempted to correct in his campaign to effect a wholesome national reformation of morals. The lewdness of the Vestal Virgins, which had been overlooked by his father and brother, he punished severely, but in different ways: offences committed before his reign, with death, and those since its commencement, according to ancient custom. For to the two sisters called Ocellatae, he gave liberty to choose the mode of death which they preferred, and banished their paramours; but Cornelia, the president of the Vestals, was acquitted of a charge of incontinence, which is unrestrained sexual behavior.
And to preserve pure and undefiled reverence due the gods, he ordered the soldiers to demolish a tomb, which one of his freedmen had erected for his son out of stones designated for the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and to sink in the sea all the bones and relics buried in it.
But he did not long persevere in this course of Roman clemency and justice, for he soon more readily fell into cruelty than into avarice. It seems certain that his own increasing cruelty and ostentation were the chief grounds of his unpopularity, rather than any military or administrative incompetence.
Domitian’s financial difficulties are a much disputed question. Shortly after taking office, he had raised the silver content of the denarius by about twelve percent, only to devaluate it now in A.D. 85, when the imperial income must have proved insufficient to meet military and public expenses. But the finances of the empire were further organized to the point that imperial expenditure could at last be reasonably forecast. The economy, therefore, offered a ready outlet for Domitian’s autocratic tendencies. Always worried about state finances, he at times displayed near neurotic meanness.
His building program had been heavy: Rome received a new Forum, later called Forum Nervae, and many other works. Then there were the expenses of Domitian’s new house on the Palatine Hill and his vast villa on the Alban Mount. Meanwhile, the increased army pay was a recurrent cost. With the augmentation of pay lately granted to the troops, and having exhausted the imperial treasury by the expense of his buildings and public spectacles, he made an attempt at reducing the size of the army, in order to lessen military costs. But after reflecting that this measure would expose him to the assaults of the barbarians, while it would not be enough to extricate him from his financial embarrassments, he had recourse to plundering his subjects by every form of extortion. Confiscations and the rigorous collection of taxes soon became necessary. Cruelty came earlier in his reign than greed, but eventually he regularly confiscated the property of his victims. The estates of the living and the dead were confiscated and held on the grounds of any accusation, by anyone who preferred to do so. The unsupported allegation of any one person, relative to a word or action construed to refer to the dignity of the emperor, was also sufficient. Inheritances, to which he had not the slightest claim, were confiscated, if there was found so much as one person to say that he had heard from the deceased when living that he had made the emperor his heir.
He was able to maintain to the end of his reign the debased currency standard of A.D. 85, which was still higher than the standard under Vespasian. There were failures, but he also left the treasury with a surplus, perhaps the best proof of a financially sound administration, built on the ruinous injustice of a corrupt policy of extortion of confiscated estates and inherited fortunes. Probably only his confiscations averted state bankruptcy in the last years of his reign. And under his rule Rome itself became yet more cosmopolitan.
Beyond Rome, Domitian taxed provincials rigorously and was not afraid to impose his will on officials of every rank. Consistent with his concern for the details of administration, he also made essential changes in the organization of several provinces and established the office of Curator to investigate financial mismanagement in the cities. Other evidence points to a concern with civic improvements of all kinds, from road building in Asia Minor, Sardinia and near the Danube to building and defensive improvements in North Africa.
There had been two years of campaigns against the Catti in western Germany from A.D. 83 to 85. After several battles with these Chatti and the Daci, Domitian had celebrated a double triumph in 85. In the First Dacian War, initial success against the aggressors of Decebalus by Domitian’s Praetorian prefect, Cornelius Fuscus, allowed the emperor to celebrate his second triumph at Rome in A.D. 86.
However, Cornelius Fuscus was killed trying to avenge the death of Oppius Sabinus from Dacian raiders the previous year. Early in 86, Fuscus embarked on an expedition into Dacia. As Fuscus’s men marched into Dacia, the forces of Decebalus attacked from all sides, and Fuscus attempted to rally his men, but was unsuccessful; which resulted in the complete destruction of the Fifth Legion Alaudae, the Fifth Legion Larks, near Tapae; Fuscus was killed, and the Legio quinta Alaudae was completely destroyed; and the battle standard of the Praetorian Guard was lost. To the Roman Praetorians, the loss of that standard was more devastating than the destruction of an entire legion. They grieved more over its loss than over the loss of their men. It was a tall stick or pole, a long rod, decorated and worshiped by them, and it did nothing either good or bad; it took no revenge on those who had seized it, and it could not save itself when it was lost. The Praetorian cohorts would be restored, and another standard made for their worship, but the Fifth Alaudae was never formed again.
An ardent supporter of traditional Roman religion, Domitian also closely identified himself with Minerva and Jupiter, publicly linking Jupiter to his regime through the Ludi Capitolini, the Capitoline Games, which he began in A.D. 86. Domitian liked the Games, in particular, chariot races, even adding two new teams of drivers to them, Golden and Purple. Held every four years in the early summer, the Games consisted of chariot races, athletics and gymnastics, and music, oratory and poetry. Contestants came from many nations, and no expense was spared; the emperor himself awarded the prizes. In the same manner, Domitian offered frequent and elaborate public shows, always with an emphasis on the innovative: in fact he loved public entertainments of any kind, especially those involving women combatants and dwarves. He frequently entertained the people with the most magnificent and costly shows, not only in the Colosseum, but in the Circus; where, besides the usual races with chariots drawn by two or four horses harnessed side by side, he exhibited a mock military engagement between both horse and foot, and a sea-battle in the Colosseum, with deaths on both sides. The basement of the Colosseum built by his father was flooded and used for a naval battle. To the four former teams in the Circensian games, he added two new ones, the Gold and the Scarlet. The people were also entertained with the chase of wild beasts. There were wild beast hunts and the combat of gladiatorial contests held even at night by torchlight. Nor did only men fight in these spectacles, but women too; and there were competitions to the death between infantry and cavalry.
He constantly attended the Questorian Games, the games given by the quaestors, those in charge of the public treasury and expenditures, games which for some time had been discontinued, but were revived by him; and on those occasions, he always gave the people the liberty of demanding two pairs of gladiators out of his own school of gladiators, who appeared last in the program dressed in elegant court livery. Whenever he attended the shows of gladiators, a little boy dressed in scarlet, with a grotesquely small head, stood at his feet, with whom he used to talk very much, and sometimes with great seriousness. We have been assured that he was overheard asking this boy if he knew why in his latest appointment he had made Metius Rufus governor of Egypt.
Making a vast new lake near the Tiber, and building seats round it, he presented the people with naval battles, performed by fleets almost as numerous as those usually employed in real engagements. And he witnessed them himself during a very heavy rain. He likewise celebrated the Secular games, fixing their numerical dating not from the year in which they had first been exhibited by Claudius, as, for example, the twenty-fifth, twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh Secular games, and so on, but from the time of Augustus’s first celebration of them forty years before, numbering the same ones instead as, for example, the sixty-fifth, sixty-sixth, sixty-seventh Secular games, and so on. In these, on the day of the Circensian sports, in order to have a hundred races performed, he reduced each course of laps from seven rounds to five.
He even likewise founded and instituted, in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus, a solemn contest in music to be performed every five years, besides horse-racing and gymnastic exhibitions, with more prizes than were later allowed in the reign of Trajan: a festival of music, horsemanship, and gymnastics, to be held every five years. There was also a public performance in elocution, rhetoric both Greek and Latin; and besides the musicians who sung to the harp, there were others who played pieces in concert, solos without vocal accompaniment.
Young girls also ran races in the Stadium, at which he presided wearing his imperial buskins, dressed in a purple robe made according to the Grecian fashion, and on his head a golden crown bearing the effigies, or figures, of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva; with the flamen of Jupiter, and the college of priests sitting by his side in the same dress, except that their crowns also had his own image on them. He also celebrated on the Alban Mount every year the Quinquatrus, the festival of Minerva, for which he had appointed a college of priests, and out of it was chosen by lot persons to preside as their president, whose chief duty was to entertain the people with extraordinary hunts of wild beasts, and stage-plays, besides sponsoring contests for prizes in oratory and poetry.
He made many novel changes in common practices. He prohibited actors from acting in the public theater, but permitted them to practice their art in privately owned houses of wealthy patrons. Three times he bestowed on the people a bountiful largess of three hundred sesterces for each man; and, at a public show of gladiators, a very plentiful feast. He abolished the imperial custom of Sportula, the little baskets of food once distributed to the spectators of the games at state expense, and revived instead the old practice of regular banquets. At the festival of the Seven hills of Rome, he distributed large covered baskets of prepared foods, big hampers of provisions, to the senatorian and equestrian orders, and smaller baskets to the common people, prompting and encouraging them to eat by setting the example for them with his first taste, the inaugural bite. The day after, he scattered among the people a variety of cakes and other delicacies to be scrambled for, food showered down on the public from ropes stretched across the top of the Colosseum; and when most of them fell on and around the seats of the common crowd, he ordered five hundred tokens to be thrown into each row of the benches of the senatorian and equestrian orders. Thus the emperor sought to underscore not only Rome’s importance but also his own and that of the Flavian regime. However, while both Domitian and the public enjoyed these entertainments, their cost would eventually take a heavy toll on his and the empire’s finances. On the other hand, there were notable successes resulting from the policies of his administration. It might be fairer to criticize him for an entirely different matter: undue paternalism.
For a period of time during his administration, there was a strange mix of virtue and vice; his vices were balanced by his virtues; but, as we may reasonably suppose concerning his character, his virtues themselves at last degenerated into vices, he being inclined to avarice from a persistent lack of funds to avoid bankruptcy and establish a financially sound administration with a surplus balance in the state treasury, and to cruelty through constant fear of assassination by ambitious men who had no fear of destabilizing the government at the risk of civil wars, and his own overwhelming, obsessive dread of death, his own mortality. Like the rest of mankind, he, through fear of death, was subject to lifelong bondage to him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.
He had long entertained a suspicion of the year and day when he should die, and even of the very hour and manner of his death; all of which he had learned from the Chaldeans, professional astrologers from Babylon, when he was a very young man. His father Vespasian once at supper laughed at him for refusing to eat some mushrooms, saying that, if he already knew his fate, then he would be more afraid of the sword. Being, therefore, in perpetual apprehension and anxiety, he was keenly alive to the slightest suspicions, to such a degree that he is thought to have withdrawn the edict ordering the destruction of the vines chiefly because the copies of it which were dispersed had the following lines written on them:
It was from the same principle of fear that he refused a new honor, devised and offered him by the Senate, though he was greedy for all such compliments. It was that, as often as he held the consulship, Roman knights, chosen by lot, should walk before him, clad in the Trabea, the purple-striped toga, with lances in their hands, among his lictors and his apparitors, the lictors being guards who carried the fasces as symbol of their office and attended chief magistrates, and the apparitors being civil court officials. As the time of the danger which he apprehended drew near, he became daily more and more disturbed in mind; so that he even lined the walls of the porticos in which he used to walk, and the gallery where he took his daily walks, with the stone called Phengites, moonstone, highly polished, so that by the reflection he could see every object behind him. His paranoia led him to take extreme measures such as employing informers, as did Nero before him. As a means to obtain information on possible plots or rebels, he ordered interrogators to cut off the hands, or scorch the genitals, of prisoners, piercing them with fire.
He complained that the lot of princes was very miserable, “for no one believed them when they discovered a conspiracy, before they were murdered.”
However, plots against the emperor did exist. In September of A.D. 87 several senators who were tools in a conspiracy were executed. The Senate was almost stripped entirely of its power, and his paranoia led to the execution of both senators and imperial officers for the most trivial of offences on the charge of maiestas. Out of jealousy, he had Sullustius Lucullus, governor of Britannia, executed for naming a new type of lance after himself, the lucullan, instead of naming it in honor of Domitian. But there are hints of more general trouble about A.D. 87.
His military and foreign policy was not uniformly successful. Domitian was the first emperor since Claudius to campaign in person. Both in Britain and in Germany advances were made by the Romans early in the reign, and the construction of the Rhine-Danube limes, the “fortified line”, owes more to Domitian than to any other emperor. In Britain, similar propaganda, of news of advances made, masked the withdrawal of Roman forces from the northern borders to positions farther south, a clear sign of Domitian’s rejection of expansionist warfare in the province. But consolidation in Scotland was halted by serious wars on the Danube, where Domitian never achieved an entirely satisfactory settlement and, worse still, lost two legions and many other troops. Difficulties with the Dacians which began the previous year in 86 continued three more years, from the midst of the current year A.D. 87 into A.D. 91. This was naturally held against Domitian at Rome, though admitted even by Tacitus to be due to the slackness or rashness of his commanders. It did not affect his popularity with the army, however, whose pay he had wisely raised by one-third in A.D. 84, from three hundred to four hundred sesterces.
The real issue was his own constitutional and ceremonial position. He continued his father’s policy of holding frequent consulates; he was consul ordinarius every year from 82 to 88; but in any of them he scarcely had more than the title; for he never continued in office as consul beyond the Kalends of May, one May, about four and a half months, and for the most part only in the beginning of the year, to the Ides of January, thirteen January, about two weeks. He had become censor for life two years before, in 85, with consequent control over senatorial membership and general behavior; he wore triumphal dress in the Senate; and he presided, wearing Greek dress and a golden crown, over four yearly games based on the Greek model of the Olympic Games, the Olympics, with his fellow judges wearing crowns bearing his own effigy among effigies of the gods.
He was not a little pleased too, at hearing the acclamations of the people in the Colosseum on a day of festival, “All happiness to our lord and lady.”
But when, during the celebration of the Capitoline trial of skill, the whole concourse of people entreated him with one voice to restore Palfurius Sura to his place in the Senate, from which he had long been expelled, having then carried away the prize of eloquence from all the orators who had contended for it, Domitian did not condescend to give them any answer, but only commanded silence to be proclaimed by the voice of the crier.
With equal arrogance, when he dictated the form of a letter to be used by his procurators, he began it thus: “Our lord and god commands this and this”; and showing all the signs of someone drunk with power, he preferred to be addressed as “dominus et deus”, “master and god”. From this it became a rule that no one should style him otherwise either in writing or speaking. The emperor saw himself as an absolute ruler and took pride in being called master and god: “dominus et deus.” According to Suetonius, a grave source of offense was his insistence on being addressed as dominus et deus, “master and god”. He was the first of the emperors to deify himself during his lifetime by assuming the title of “Lord and God”. The temple begun by Titus in A.D. 80 to house the imperial cult of his father Vespasian, and completed by Domitian sometime during the fifteen years of his reign, was known near the end of his reign as the temple of Vespasian and Domitian. Roman temples dedicated to the imperial cult of each of the emperors were built after their deaths, when they were declared deified. Thus, Domitian now had a temple of worship to his father and to himself as a god while he lived.
In A.D. 88, twenty years after Nero’s death, during the reign of Domitian, there was a third Nero pretender. He was supported by the Parthians, who only reluctantly gave him up, and the matter almost came to war. And for hundreds of years after Nero’s death the Nero Redivivus Legend of Nero’s survival and return still persisted.
In the Body of Christ, the Christian Assembly, Anacletus died, A.D. 88 or 91. He had been Episcopos of Rome from A.D. 76 to 88 or perhaps to A.D. 91, and Clement of Rome was elected his successor, the third after St. Peter, from A.D. 88 or perhaps 91 to his death in 97.
Domitian soon returned to the Danube, where the Roman army won another decisive victory; Roman forces, under the newly appointed governor of Upper Moesia, Tettius Julianus, defeated the Dacians at Tapae in the Second Dacian War, most likely in A.D. 88. The time Domitian spent with the soldiers on the Danube only further increased his popularity with the army.
But matters remained far from settled. The crisis came on one January, A.D. 89, with the revolt of Lucius Antonius Saturninus, governor of Germania Superior, Upper Germany, who mutinied at Mainz. Saturninus was proclaimed emperor by two legions in Upper Germany. Much of Saturninus’s cause for rebellion was the increasing oppression of homosexuals by the emperor. Saturninus being a homosexual himself, he rebelled against the oppressor. But Lappius Maximus, the commander of Germania Inferior, Lower Germany, remained loyal. The rebellion was suppressed by the Lower German army. At the following Battle of Castellum, Saturninus was killed and this brief rebellion was at an end. Thus, Domitian quelled the civil war, begun by Lucius Antonius, governor of Upper Germany, without being obliged to be personally present at it, and with remarkable good fortune. For, at the very moment of joining battle, the Rhine suddenly thawing, the troops of the barbarians ready to join Antonius were prevented from crossing the river. Before the messengers who brought the news of it arrived, he had notice of this victory by some portents, presages, omens, intuitions and signs. For on the very day the battle was fought, a splendid eagle spread its wings round his statue at Rome, making most joyful cries. And shortly after, a rumor became common that Antonius was slain; no, many positively affirmed that they saw his head brought to the city. The revolt was promptly suppressed, and the mutiny by Lucius Antonius Saturninus, governor of Upper Germany, in A.D. 89 was stamped out. Lappius Maximus purposely destroyed Saturninus’s files in the expectation of preventing a massacre of his supporters. But Domitian wanted vengeance, and the rebel leaders were punished. On the emperor’s arrival Saturninus’s officers were brutally and mercilessly executed.
But later a number of executions followed, and the law of majestas, treason against majesty, was employed freely against senators. Domitian suspected, most likely with good reason, that Saturninus had hardly acted on his own. Powerful allies in the Senate of Rome more than likely had been his secret supporters. And so in Rome now the vicious treason trials returned, seeking to purge the Senate of conspirators.
However, later that same year, A.D. 89, after this interlude on the Rhine, Domitian’s attention was soon drawn back to the Danube. The Germanic Marcomanni and Quadi and the Sarmatian Jazyges were causing trouble.
After Cornelius Fuscus was killed at Tapae in A.D. 86 trying to avenge the A.D. 85 death of Oppius Sabinus and the Fifth Legion Alaudae was completely destroyed, in A.D. 89 Domitian sent his second expedition against the Dacians; the first one was in 85, after the killing of Oppius Sabinus by the Dacian invaders; and now, four years later, in 89, the second expedition, on the death of Cornelius Fuscus, prefect of the Pretorian cohorts, to whom he had entrusted the conduct of that war. But Domitian was forced reluctantly to conclude a truce with King Decebalus, offering Decebalus a settlement to avoid conflicts on two fronts while Domitian attacked the Marcomanni and Quadi. A treaty was agreed with the Dacians who were more than happy to accept peace. Difficulties with the Dacians were settled by making King Decebalus a client ruler. Then Domitian moved against the troublesome barbarians. In this First Pannonian War, Domitian attacked the Suebian Marcomanni and Quadi and defeated them. He also finally defeated the Chatti in Gaul. Domitian had earlier claimed a triumph in A.D. 83 for subduing the Catti in Gaul, but that conquest was illusory, and the whole campaign against them had been ridiculed as unnecessary. Final victory over them did not really come before now, with their defeat in A.D. 89.
After such victorious campaigns against the Germans, Domitian would often wear the costume of a victorious general in public, and also at times when he visited the Senate.
After several battles with the Chatti and Daci, he celebrated a double triumph. Afterward, he awarded himself the title of Germanicus, a cognomen, for his “success.” He even renamed two of the months after himself. After his two triumphs, when he assumed the cognomen of Germanicus, he called the months of September and October, Germanicus and Domitian, after his own names, because he commenced his reign in the one, and was born in the other: September becomes Germanicus, and October Domitianus.
He conferred some of the greatest offices on his freedmen and soldiers. He forbade two legions to be quartered in the same camp, and amounts of more than a thousand sesterces to be deposited by any soldier with the standards, because it was rumored that Lucius Antonius had been encouraged in his late project by the large sum deposited in the military chest by the two legions which he had in the same winter-quarters. He then made an addition to the soldiers’ pay, of three gold pieces a year, an increase from four gold pieces, to seven.
Domitian’s autocratic tendencies meant that the real seat of power during his reign resided with his court. The features typically associated with later courts, a small band of favored courtiers, a keen interest in the bizarre and the unusual, wrestlers, jesters, and dwarves, and a highly mannered, if somewhat artificial atmosphere, characterized Domitian’s palace too, whether at Rome or at his Alban villa, some twelve and a half miles outside of the capital. Courtiers included family members and freedmen, as well as Friends, amici—a group of politicians, generals, and Praetorian prefects who offered input on important matters. Reliance on amici was not new, yet the arrangement underscored Domitian’s mistrust of the aristocracy, most notably the Senate, whose role in government suffered as Domitian deliberately concentrated power in the hands of few senators while expanding the duties of the equestrian class. Domitian’s mistake was that he made no attempt to mask his feelings about the Senate. Inclined neither by nature nor by conviction to include the body in his emperorship, he treated this body no differently than any other. Senatorial grievances were not without basis: at least eleven senators of consular rank were executed and many others exiled, offering ample attestation of the emperor’s contempt for the body and its membership.
In A.D. 90, after censuring the Vestal Virgins for, among other indiscretions, incest, one was even buried alive; her lover was also executed. Cornelia, the president of the Vestals, who had formerly been acquitted upon a charge of incontinence, being a long time afterward again prosecuted and now condemned, he ordered to be buried alive; the head of the Vestal Virgins was walled up alive in an underground cell, after being convicted of the charge of immoral behavior, while her alleged lovers were beaten to death; her gallants were condemned to be whipped to death with rods in the Comitium, excepting only a man of Praetorian rank, to whom he granted the favor of banishment, because he confessed the fact while the case was doubtful and it was not yet proved against him, though the witnesses had been put to the torture.
Suetonius claimed in De Vitae Caesarium, The Lives of the Caesars, The Twelve Caesars, that Domitian was not evil to begin with; however, he believed that greed and fear of assassination made him extremely cruel. Historian Cassius Dio in his Roman History says the emperor was both bold and quick to anger. He was extremely vain and very self-conscious of being bald. By all accounts Domitian appears to have been a thoroughly nasty, ill-natured, disagreeable, mean and spiteful person, rarely polite, insolent, arrogant and cruel. By the end of his reign he was disfigured by baldness, corpulence, and the slenderness of his legs, which had lost much muscle tone from a long illness, like a pear standing on two sticks. He was treacherous as well as secretive, feeling no affection for anyone, except a few women. His paranoia had even extended to his wife, Domitia Longina. He had accused her of adultery, early in his reign, and planned to put her to death, a common practice for the time. Some accounts claimed she deserved it. Domitia had been married to a senator, Aelius Lamia, but he was convinced by her to divorce her so she could marry Domitian. Domitian had afterward temporarily left his wife to live with his niece Julia, Titus’s daughter by his second marriage, before he was finally convinced by others to return to his wife.
In Judea Domitian stepped up the policy introduced by his father to track down and execute Jews claiming descent from their ancient king, David. But if this policy under Vespasian had been introduced to eliminate any potential leaders of rebellions, with Domitian it was pure religious oppression. Even among leading Romans in Rome itself this religious tyranny found victims. Domitian’s ever greater religious zealotry was a sign of the emperor’s increasing tyranny. The Senate by then was treated with open contempt by him. In all likelihood, much of this was due to the malign influence of the genius of the emperor working on him, as it had worked on those before him. Whatever pagans sacrifice to the genius of the emperor they offer to a demon and not to God. A tree is known by its fruit.
At this time Christians used the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint, which was written and read by Jews, as the Greek language generally replaced Hebrew and Aramaic as the language of the people. In response to the rise of the Christian sect and the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, Jewish rabbis at the school of Jamnia in A.D. 90 now discussed rejecting the Septuagint in favor of selected Hebrew language scriptural texts, omitting certain books such as Baruch, Judith, the four Books of Maccabees, Sirach, and Tobit, some of these originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic or both, books which were relatively recent Jewish contributions of the third through the first centuries before Christ, which had become part of Jewish culture; and they simultaneously excluded as condemned and false the writings of those they call “heretics”, the minim, including Christians, also called nosrim, nozrim, “Nazarenes”, and cursed Christians in a synagogue service “benediction” against them and others. Palestinian texts of the Eighteen Benedictions from the Cairo Genizah present a text of the benediction which identifies the minim:
The response was a hearty “Amen”. While other specimens of the Palestinian liturgy show slight variation, the nosrim, usually translated as “Christians”, and minim are included in the best texts of this benediction. The fact remains that the nosrim were included with apostates and heretics and the wicked in the Genizah documents. Christians participating in synagogue services were unable to recite this benediction with the rest of the Jewish assembly lest they curse themselves.
Domitian, already considered by many in the government to be a difficult man and a poor ruler with questionable morals, also now in his reign enacted the first heavy persecution of Christians since Nero. Indeed, Domitian, having exercised his cruelty against many, and unjustly slain no small number of noble and illustrious men at Rome, and having, without cause, punished vast numbers of honorable men with exile and the confiscation of their property, at length established himself as the successor of Nero, in his hatred and hostility to God. He was the second that raised a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had attempted nothing to our prejudice, as having no such evil plans. Hegesippus reports that after the conquest of Jerusalem, Vespasian ordered a search be made for all descendants of David so that no member of the royal house should be left among the Jews, which resulted in another great persecution of the Jews, and of Christians who were assumed to be a sect of the Jews. This policy under Vespasian had been introduced to eliminate any potential leaders of rebellions, but with Domitian it was pure religious oppression. As his reign progressed and the pressures of ruling mounted, Domitian’s paranoia seized and dominated him. In order to pay for his extravagances he tightened the Jewish tax enacted by his father and seized the fortunes of senators and wealthy Romans. When the Acts of Nero’s reign were reversed after his death, an exception was made regarding the persecution of the Christians, and they continued to be persecuted. The Jewish revolt brought on them fresh unpopularity, and the subsequent destruction of the Holy City deprived them of the last shreds of protection afforded them by being confused with the Jews. Hence Domitian in his attack on the aristocratic party found little difficulty in condemning those who were Christians. To observe Jewish practices was no longer lawful; to reject the national religion, without being able to plead the excuse of being a Jew, was atheism, because the Jews do not worship or offer any sacrifice to any of the gods and goddesses of Rome. This was regarded by Romans and the government as treason and blasphemy, and a destabilizing threat to the established order of nature and the Empire and the Senate and the people of Rome. On one count or the other, as Jews or as atheists, the Christians were liable to punishment. Among the more famous Christian martyrs in this Second Persecution were Domitian’s cousin, Flavius Clemens, the consul, and Marcus Acilius Glabrio who had also been consul. Flavia Domitilla, the wife of Flavius Clemens, was banished to Pandateria. Pontia and Pandateria, now called Ponza and Ventotene, in Imperial Rome were places of exile, where emperors sent family members who annoyed them, or political enemies. But the persecution was not confined to such noble victims. We read of many others who suffered death or the loss of their goods.
Anacletus had been Episcopos of Rome from A.D. 76 to 88 or perhaps to A.D. 91, and Clement of Rome was elected his successor, the third after St. Peter, from A.D. 88 or perhaps 91, to his death in 97.
Some scholars, dismissing many reliable contemporary historical sources attesting the Domitian persecutions, claim that it is less easy from these sources to gauge Domitian’s attitude toward Christians and Jews specifically, asserting that reliable evidence for their persecution is difficult to find; that some Christians may have been among those banished or executed from time to time during the A.D. nineties, but that the documented testimony which these scholars are willing to accept as verifiable falls short of confirming any organized program of persecution under Domitian’s reign. They acknowledge that there is clear evidence that Jews were made to feel uneasy under Domitian, who scrupulously collected the Jewish tax and harassed Jewish tax dodgers during much of his rule, taxes which had been imposed by emperors since Vespasian for allowing them to practice their own faith, the fiscus iudaicus. And besides the exactions from others, this poll-tax on the Jews was in fact now levied with extreme rigor, both on those who lived according to the manner of Jews in the city, without publicly professing themselves to be such, and on those who, by concealing their origin, avoided paying the tribute imposed on that people. Many Christians were also tracked down and forced to pay the tax, based on the widespread Roman belief that they were Jews pretending to be something else. But Domitian was especially rigorous in exacting taxes from the Jews. Suetonius remembers, when he was a youth, that he was present when an old man, ninety years of age, had his person exposed to view in a very crowded court, in order that the procurator might, on inspection, satisfy himself whether he was circumcised and therefore whether he was required to pay the fiscus Judaicus. Some scholars claim that, as with Christians, such policies did not amount to persecution. In their view, this policy does help to explain the Jewish fears of expulsion present in the contemporary sources, but in their view it does not amount to persecution. Scholars who dismiss contemporary Roman and Christian sources offering evidence of persecution, claim that, “on balance, the tradition of Domitian as persecutor has been greatly overstated, yet given his autocratic tendencies and devotion to Roman pagan religion, it is easy to see how such stories could have evolved and multiplied.” So easily do they wave off eyewitness testimonies of rigorous persecution. This is a form of libel, itself a form of persecution. Such views represent Christians as unjust defamers of the Roman Emperor Domitian. His own Roman contemporaries do not themselves give Domitian such a tolerant judgment as these scholars—and they were eyewitnesses and historians from the beginning of his reign.
Meanwhile, the treason trials had already cost the lives of twelve former consuls. Ever more senators were falling victim to allegations of treason against the genius of the emperor. Members of Domitian’s own family were not safe from accusation by the emperor.
Death was staring us in the face.
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In A.D. 92, according to tradition, Antipas of Pergamum, a personal disciple of the Apostle John, was roasted to death in a brazen or copper bull during the persecutions of Emperor Domitian. The Hieromartyr Antipas, the priest-martyr Antipas, had been made Episcopos of the Christian Assembly of Pergamum by John during the reign of Nero. His witness to the Lord Jesus Christ by word and deed and miracles of healing began turning the people of Pergamum from offering sacrificial worship to idols that can neither see, nor hear, nor move, nor breathe. The pagan priests complained vehemently that he was misleading the people by causing them to commit apostasy from their faith in their ancestral gods by his personal example of moral and spiritual virtue, the firmness of his faith in his God, and his constant preaching about Jesus the Anointed One. When they demanded that he stop, he refused. He would not submit to their demand to stop preaching Christ and offer sacrifice to the idols. They became enraged and dragged him to the temple of Artemis, and there they threw him into a glowing, red-hot copper or brazen metal bull where they normally put their sacrifices to the idols to cast demons out of their own people. He loudly prayed God to receive his soul and strengthen the faith of the Christians, and begged God to forgive those who were inflicting on him this torment. He then departed as peacefully as if he fell asleep. It is said that he died during the persecutions under Nero or Domitian sometime after A.D. 68, most probably about the year 92.
The same year A.D. 92, the Sarmatians crossed the Danube and attacked the Roman frontier in an act of war; and this war continued to rage even after the emperor Domitian’s death. That against the Catti in A.D. 83 had been unprovoked, but this against the Sarmatians was necessary. The entire Twenty-first Legion, Legio vigesima prima rapax, the Rapacious Twenty-First Legion of the Imperial Roman army with its commander was cut off; and in a campaign lasting about eight months in 92, it was finally destroyed. Beyond this fact few other details are available. Being thus compelled to return again to the Danube, Domitian fought the combined forces of the Suebi and the Sarmatians with some measure of success in the Second Pannonian War.
By January, A.D. 93, Domitian was back in Rome, not to accept a full triumph but the lesser ovatio, a sign perhaps that the business along the Danube was still unfinished. Previously, after several battles with the Catti and Daci, he had celebrated a double triumph; but for his successes against the Sarmatians, walking in a grand public procession, on foot, he only bore the laurel crown to Jupiter Capitolinus. In fact, during the final years of Domitian’s reign, the buildup of forces on the middle Danube and the appointment and transfer of key senior officials over the next three years into 96 suggest that a third Pannonian campaign may have been underway, again directed against the Suebi and Sarmatians. Even so, there is no certain documented historical testimony showing evidence of actual conflicts with them which extends beyond A.D. 97 into the reign of emperor Nerva.
The years A.D. 93 to 96 are regarded by contemporary historians of the time as a period of terror unsurpassed up to then.
After the A.D. 89 revolt of the homosexual general Lucius Antonius Saturninus four years before, Domitian in 93 organized against all the wealthy and noble families a series of bloodthirsty proscriptions, which are formal public condemnations, interdictions, and banishments into exile. He seldom gave an audience to persons held in custody, unless in private, and alone, and he himself holding their chains in his hand. To convince his domestic servants that the life of a master was not to be attempted on any pretext, however plausible, he condemned to death Epaphroditus his secretary, because it was believed that he had assisted Nero, in his extremity, to kill himself.
So eager was Domitian to prove himself a great conqueror, that it also appears that he was in fact still jealous of the military successes and reputation of the forcibly retired general Cnaeus Julius Agricola. At the age of fifty-four, in spite of his having received triumphal honors from Titus, Agricola was finally murdered by Domitian for no other reason than this, that the deeds which he had done were regarded by him as too great for a mere general, but were more worthy of an emperor. Agricola’s death in A.D. 93 is rumored to have been the work of Domitian, by having him poisoned. His death at the young age of fifty-four, again, put Domitian in a difficult position. As Tacitus tells us, “Domitian made a decent show of genuine sorrow; he was relieved of the need to hate, and he could always hide satisfaction more convincingly than fear.”
Domitian erected so many magnificent gates and arches, surmounted by representations of chariots drawn by four horses abreast, and other triumphal ornaments, in different quarters of the city, that a wit inscribed on one of the arches the Greek word Axkei, “Enough!” He permitted no statues to be erected for him in the Capitol building, unless they were of gold and silver, and of a certain weight.
He filled the office of consul seventeen times, which no one had ever done before him; the seven middle occasions of his consulship he filled in a series of seven successive years; but in these he scarcely had more than the title before he relinquished it; for he never continued in that office beyond the Kalends of May, one May (about four and a half months), and for the most part only to the Ides of January, thirteen January (about two weeks).
In the twelfth year of this same reign, in A.D. 93, according to Eusebius, after Anencletus had been Episcopos of Rome twelve years, he was succeeded by Clement, whom the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, shows had been his fellow laborer, in these words:
About this same time rumor reached Clement, the Episcopos of the Assembly in Rome, and also those who have no connection with Christianity, that one or two persons were engaging in rebellion against the Presbyters of the Assembly in Corinth, so that the name of the Lord was being blasphemed with ridicule and contempt. At the time of Clement a rebellion against the authority of the Presbyters did take place at Corinth as abundantly attested by Hegesippus. Saint Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians was written about this time; Eusebius states that there is one extant letter of Clement, acknowledged by all as genuine, of considerable length and of great merit which he wrote in the name of the Assembly at Rome to the Assembly at Corinth. Here, while it speaks of the terrible trials of the Christians, it does not offer such denunciations of the persecutors as are found among the accounts of their contemporary Roman writers, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio regarding Nero, Claudius and Domitian. The Roman Christian Assembly continued loyal to the empire, and sent up its prayers to God that He would direct the rulers and magistrates in the exercise of the power committed to their hands.
He wrote the following encyclical epistle:
About the same period, during the same reign of Domitian, Jude the Apostle wrote the following letter of warning addressed to all believers:
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Domitian’s cruelties were not only excessive, but subtle and unexpected.
Having given orders that a collector of his rents be crucified, he then sent for him to come into his bed-chamber, made him sit down on the bed by him, and sent him away well pleased, and, so far as could be inferred from his treatment, in a state of perfect security, having condescended to give him the favor of a plate of meat from his own table; and the very next day he crucified him.
When he was on the point of condemning to death Aretinus Clemens, a man of consular rank, a former consul, and one of his Friends and emissaries, he retained him about his person in the same or greater favor than ever, being more than usually gracious to him; and at last, as they were riding together in the same litter, on seeing the man who had informed against him, he said, “Are you willing that we should hear this base slave of a scoundrel tomorrow?”; and afterward he executed the death sentence.
Contemptuously abusing the patience of men, he never pronounced a severe sentence without prefacing it with words which gave expectations of mercy; so that, at last, there was not a more certain token of a fatally dreadful conclusion, than a mild commencement of the proceedings against the accused.
He brought before the Senate some influential persons accused of treason, declaring that he should prove that day how dear he was to the Senate; and he so influenced them, that they condemned the accused to be punished according to the ancient usage. Then, as if alarmed at the extreme severity of their punishment, to lessen the odiousness of the proceeding, he interposed in these very words (for it is not irrelevant to the point of this narrative to give them precisely as they were delivered):
He put to death a student of Paris, the pantomime actor, though still a minor, and sick at the time, only because, both in person and in the practice of his art, he resembled his master, whom Domitian had suspected of committing adultery with his wife Domitia; as he did likewise Hermogenes of Tarsus for including some indirect reflections about him in his History, besides crucifying the scribes who had copied the work.
When he happened to overhear a Lanista, the master of a band of gladiators, saying that a Thracian was a match for a Murmillo, but not so for the exhibitor of the games, he ordered him to be dragged from the benches into the arena, and exposed to the dogs, with this label tagged onto him, “A Parmularian guilty of talking impiously.”
He put to death many senators, and among them several men of consular rank. Among their number were, Civica Cerealis, when he was proconsul in Africa, Salvidienus Orfitus, and Acilius Glabrio in exile, under the pretence of their planning to revolt against him. The rest he punished on very trivial pretexts; such as Aelius Lamia for some jocular expressions, which were of old date, and perfectly harmless; because, after Domitian had taken his wife from him, on commending his voice, Aelius joked in reply, “Alas! I hold my tongue. I am in training.” (For Roman pagans at the time commonly believed that sexual activity is detrimental to the strength of the voice.) And when Titus immediately advised Aelius to take another wife, he answered him this way: “What! have you plans to marry also?” And for this past witticism he was now punished. Salvius Cocceianus was condemned to death for celebrating the birthday of his uncle Otho, the emperor; Metius Pomposianus also, because he was commonly reported to have a horoscope predicting imperial dignity, and to carry about with him a map of the world on vellum, with extracts of the speeches of kings and generals from the historical writings of Livy, and for giving his slaves the names of Mago and Hannibal, the Carthaginian generals; Sallustius Lucullus too, his lieutenant in Britain, for permitting some lances of new design to be called “Lucullean”, as already mentioned; and Junius Rusticus, for publishing a treatise in praise of Paetus Thrasea and Helvidius Priscus, and calling them both “most upright men.” And with this last occasion alone as a pretext, he likewise banished all the philosophers from the city and Italy. He showed himself the tool of Satan, and demanded all men everywhere call him Lord and God.
Meanwhile, Menander, a magician who succeeded Simon Magus after his death, in his own conduct showed himself to be another instrument of diabolical power, no less than the former deceiver. He also was a Samaritan and, having made no less progress in his pretensions than Simon himself, he carried his sorceries on to no less an extreme than his master had done, and at the same time reveled in still more arrogant sorceries than he; saying that he himself is the Savior, who had been sent down from invisible worlds of the æons for the salvation of men; and also Teaching that no one could gain the overwhelming mastery over the heaven-forming angels themselves, unless he had first been initiated into and gone through the discipline of magic imparted by him, and had received a baptism conferred for that purpose from him; from which those who were deemed worthy would partake of perpetual immortality even in this present life, and would never more be subject to bodily death, but would remain here unchanged, and, without growing old, become in fact immortal. This account of their conceits can be easily confirmed from the works of Irenæus.
And Justin, in the same place in his narrative in which he mentions Simon Magus, also gives an account of this man, in the following words:
And it was indeed a diabolical strategy: to manifest so much zeal in defaming the great mystery of godliness by magic arts by means of such imposters, who assumed the name of Christian, and by these means to strive to tear asunder and demolish the doctrines of the Christian Assembly concerning the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead. But they who have called these men their saviors have fallen away from the stability of solid expectation, confident expectation found only in Jesus Christ the Son of the living God and Father.
However, the spirit of wickedness, the evil demon, being unable to shake certain others from their loving allegiance to the Christ of God, the Anointed of God, yet found them susceptible to his influential impressions in different respects, and so brought them over to his own purposes. The ancients quite properly call these men Ebionites, “poor ones”, because they cherish poor and mean opinions concerning Christ, considering him a plain and common man, who was justified only because of his advances in superior virtue, and who was only the fruit born of Mary by natural generation from sexual intercourse with a man. In their opinion the observance of the ceremonial law of Moses is absolutely necessary, seemingly on the ground that they cannot be saved by faith in Christ alone joined together with a virtuous way of life corresponding to his.
There were others, however, besides them, who have the same name of Ebionite, but avoid the absurdity of the opinions maintained by the first; not denying that the Lord was born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit, yet likewise also refusing to acknowledge his pre-incarnate existence, even though he was God, the Word, and Wisdom, and also turning aside into the same impiety as the former in displaying great zeal for observing strictly the ritual worship service of the law of Moses.
These men, moreover, think that all of the epistles of the Apostle Paul, whom they call an apostate from the law of Moses, ought to be rejected, using only the writing called The Gospel According to the Hebrews and deeming the others, written by Matthew and Mark and Luke, as having very little value.
They observe the Sabbath and the rest of the discipline of the Jews, just like them, but at the same time, they celebrate the Lord’s days, very much like us, as a memorial of his resurrection.
For these reasons, in consequence of such a course of ignorant behavior, they received their descriptive title, the name of Ebionites, which signifies the poverty of their understanding. For according to Justin and the others who have written about them this is what the Hebrews call a poor man. Moreover, no copy of The Gospel of the Hebrews now exists among men, it having been entirely lost save for a few quotations from its text, demonstrating that it was no part of the eternal Gospel of the Lord inspired and revealed through Jesus Christ by the breath of the Holy Spirit of God and approved by his Apostles as truth.
About this same time Cerinthus also appeared, the author of another heresy called by his name, Cerinthianism. By means of pretended revelations of marvelous things which he falsely claims were shown him by angels, he asserts that after the resurrection there will be set up an earthly kingdom of Christ, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem, that is, men, will again be subject to desires and pleasures. And as he himself was a voluptuary devoted to bodily pleasures and altogether sensual, he proposed that the kingdom of the Lord would consist of those things to which he was addicted, to gratify his appetite for delicious delicacies and sexual passion, in eating and drinking and marrying, or, under the cover of things by which he supposed these sensual delights might more decently be expressed, indulging his appetites with more social grace, as in festivals and sacrifices and the slaying of sacrificial animal victims from which the worshiper partakes, and celebrations of marriage feasts; and he drew many to his corrupt doctrines in opposition to the truth of God.
But Irenæus, in the first book of his work Against Heresies, adds more abominable false doctrines from the same man, deep things kept more secret; and in the third book relates a story which deserves to be recorded, handed down and received by tradition, on the authority of Polycarp, that the Apostle John once entered a public bathhouse to wash; but, learning that Cerinthus was within, he sprang from the place and fled from the door, for he could not endure to enter under the same roof with him. And he urged those who were with him to do the same, saying, “Let us flee, lest the bath fall in, as long as Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”
About this time also appeared, for a very short time, the heretical sect of those called the Nicolaitans. They boasted that Nicolaus was their author and founder, one of those Seven Deacons who, with Stephen, were appointed by the Apostles for the purpose of ministering to the poor. Clement of Alexandria, in the third book of his Stromata, relates the following things respecting him:
Again, it may be enough to have said so much concerning those who then, on the pretext of his words, attempted to twist and mutilate the truth, whose sectarian heresy afterward became suddenly entirely extinct more quickly than can be said.
There have been many like these, who, promoting their errors and falsehoods and demonic deceptions as truth, boldly proclaim that the chief Shepherds and leaders of the Assembly of the Lord, whom we are commanded by Christ and the scriptures to obey, have led the Assembly of the Lord into Great Apostasy from the truth, accusing them of teaching as doctrines the commandments of men, and of departing from the truth by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons through the pretensions of liars destitute of the truth. These are evil men and women who reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries, like Korah in rebellion against Moses, imposters who go on from bad to worse, individuals of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, deceivers and deceived, who by defaming the Shepherds of God’s people, and the doctrine of life, seek with confident expectation to lead astray ignorant and unstable persons out of the light of Christ into the dense darkness of their own errors, lies and falsehoods, even unto death, distorting the scriptures to their own destruction. They went out and away from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been truly of the truth and of us they would have continued to remain in fellowship with us; but they departed with their followers, establishing their own assemblies, that it might be plain to all that they all are not of us, nor are they of the truth revealed by God. For of necessity there must be divisions and factions among us in order that those who are genuine among us may be recognized. That is why it is written:
Domitian also, like them a manifest enemy of souls, claiming to be God, having shown great cruelty toward many, and unjustly put to death no small number of well-born and notable men at Rome, and having without cause exiled and confiscated the property of a great many other illustrious men, finally became a true successor to Nero himself in his hatred and enmity toward God. And while many ignorant scholars pretend otherwise in their prejudice against truth, and close their eyes to the evidence before them, he was in fact the second that stirred up a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had undertaken nothing prejudicial to us. After the conquest of Jerusalem, Vespasian had ordered a search be made for all descendants of David so that no member of the royal house should be left among the Jews, which resulted in another great persecution of the Jews, and of Christians who were assumed to be a sect of the Jews. This policy under Vespasian had been introduced to eliminate any potential leaders of rebellions, but with Domitian it was pure religious oppression. According to Tertullian the Apostle John was plunged into boiling oil and emerged unhurt, and from there was committed to his island exile.
The Apostle John’s exile to the island of Patmos took place under Domitian, and many believe that the beloved Apostle wrote the Book of Revelation around A.D. 95, in the fifteenth year of Domitian’s reign, after the emperor expelled the philosophers from Rome and Italy. It is said that the Apostle and evangelist John, who was still alive during that reign, in this persecution was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos as a consequence of his testimony to the divine Word, Jesus.
From what we see at that time, participation in the feasts held in honor of the divinity of Domitian the tyrant was made the test for the eastern Christians. Those who did not adore the image of this beast were slain; for he proved to be a beast like Nero, as if his mortal wound had healed. The Book of the Apocalypse was written in the midst of this storm, when many of the Christians had already perished and more were to follow them. Rome, the great Babylon, was drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. The author of the Book of Apocalypse joins to his sharp denunciation of the persecutors words of encouragement for the faithful by foretelling the downfall of the great city, a harlot who made the earth drunk with the wine of her whoredom, and steeped her robe in their blood.
We understand that Caius in The Disputation which is attributed to him, writes as follows respecting the heretic Cerinthus:
Also Dionysius, who was later Episcopos of the parish of Alexandria, in the second book of his work On the Promises, where he says some things which he draws from tradition concerning the Apocalypse of John, mentions this same man in these words:
This is according to the account of Dionysius.
Meanwhile, outside the Assembly of the Lord, among the opponents of the emperor Domitian was a group of doctrinaire senators, friends of Tacitus and Pliny, whose head was the younger Helvidius Priscus, whose father of the same name had been executed by Vespasian. Their Stoic views were probably the cause of Domitian’s expulsions from Rome on two occasions of those who posed as “philosophers”.
At least twelve former consuls were executed during his reign, but there is no reason to think they were Stoics.
He put to death the younger Helvidius, for writing a farce, in which, under the character of Paris and Oenone, he reflected on his having divorced his wife; and also Flavius Sabinus, one of his cousins, as already mentioned, because, on his being chosen at the consular election to that office, the public crier had, by a blunder, proclaimed him to the people not consul, but emperor.
Becoming still more savage after his success in the civil war, Domitian used the utmost diligence to discover those of the rebellious party who departed suddenly and secretly to avoid legal execution: many of them he racked with a newly invented torture, inserting fire through their private parts; and from some he cut off their hands. It is certain that only two of any note were pardoned, a tribune who wore the narrow stripe, and a centurion. To clear themselves of the charge of being connected with any rebellious project, they proved themselves to be guilty of prostitution, of sodomy, and as a consequence were unable to exercise any influence either over the general or the soldiers.
However, nothing affected him so much as an answer given by the astrologer Ascletario, and the astrologer’s fate afterward. On being betrayed by an informer, he did not deny having predicted some future events, confessing that he had a foreknowledge of them from the principles of his art. Domitian then asked him what end he thought he himself should come to. To which he replied, “I shall in a short time be torn to pieces by dogs.”
Domitian ordered him to be slain immediately, and to be carefully buried, to demonstrate the empty vanity of his art. But during preparations to execute this order, it happened that the funeral pyre was blown down by a sudden storm, and the body, half-burnt, was torn to pieces by dogs; and this being observed by Latinus, the comic actor, as he happened to pass by, he told it, along with other news of the day, to the emperor at supper.
Again, we say that he executed another niece’s husband, the consul Flavius Clemons, who was his last victim, on the charge of atheism because he was sympathetic to the plight of the Roman Jews. For among the more famous Christian martyrs in the Second Persecution were Domitian’s cousin, Flavius Clemens, the consul, and Marcus Acilius Glabrio who had also been consul. On one count or the other, as Jews or as atheists, the Christians were liable to punishment. His last victim, Flavius Clemens, his cousin-german, the son of an aunt, was a man whom the Roman Tacitus characterizes as below contempt for his lack of energy, whose sons, being then of very tender age, he had avowedly designated as his successors, and, discarding their former names, had ordered one to be called Vespasian, and the other Domitian; whose niece was Flavia Domitilla, the daughter of his sister. Nevertheless, Domitian suddenly put him to death on some very slight suspicion, almost before he had fully completed his consulship. The execution of his cousin Flavius Clemens in A.D. 95 convinced his closest associates that no one was safe. By this violent act he very much hastened his own destruction. Flavius Clemens was killed and his wife Flavia Domitilla banished for being convicted of 'godlessness'. Most likely they were sympathizers with Jews. It is most certain that they did not worship Domitian as God. Flavia Domitilla, the wife of Flavius Clemens, was banished to Pandateria, now called Ventotene, one of two places of exile, where emperors sent family members who annoyed them, or political enemies. But the persecution was not confined to such noble victims. We read of many others who suffered death or the loss of their goods.
Indeed, the Teaching of our faith flourished to such a degree at that time that even those writers far removed from our religious faith did not hesitate to mention in their histories the Domitian persecution, and the martyrdoms which took place during it. And moreover, they accurately indicate the time. For they record that in the fifteenth year of Domitian, which is A.D. 95, Flavia Domitilla, daughter of a sister of Flavius Clement, who at that time was one of the consuls of Rome, was sentenced to be exiled with many others to the island of Pontia, in consequence of testimony borne to Christ. And she was taken to Pandateria, which is Ventotene.
Becoming through these outrages against justice and civic virtue universally feared and odious, Domitian was at last removed by a conspiracy of his friends and favorite freedmen, in concert with his wife. A conspiracy, in which his wife joined, was formed against him.
Tertullian also has mentioned him in the following words:
For of the family of the Lord there were still living the grandchildren of the Apostle Jude, who is said to have been the Lord’s brother according to the flesh. This same Domitian had previously ordered the execution of all who were descendants of King David’s line, and an old tradition alleges that some heretics accused the descendants of Jude, the brother of the Lord, humanly speaking, claiming that they were of David’s family and related to Christ himself. Information was given that they belonged to the family of David, and they were brought to the Emperor Domitian by the Evocatus. These things are related by Hegesippus.
The Evocatus, that is, a member of the Praetorian or Urban cohorts at Rome who had served his time but continued as a volunteer, brought them before Domitian Caesar, who, like King Herod, was afraid of the coming of Christ. For Domitian feared the coming of Christ as Herod also had feared it. And he asked them if they were descendants of David, and they confessed that they were.
Then he asked them how much property they owned, how much money they had; and they both answered that they had only nine thousand denarii, half belonging to each of them; and this did not consist of silver, but a piece of land which was only thirty-nine acres, from which they raised their taxes and supported themselves by their own labor. Then they showed him their hands, exhibiting the hardness of their bodies and the callouses on their hands produced by continuous toil, as evidence of their own labor.
And when Domitian asked them about Christ and his kingdom, its nature and origin, of what sort it was and its time of appearance, where and when it was to appear, they answered that it was not of this world or earthly, not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but angelic and heavenly, a heavenly and angelic one, and that it would appear and be established at the end of the world when he shall come in glory to judge the living and the dead, to give to everyone according to his works and deeds.
On hearing this, Domitian did not pass judgment against them and condemn them but, despising them as simple sorts of no account, he let them go free and ordered that the persecution against the Church, the Christian Assembly, cease, and by a decree he put a stop to the persecution. But when they were released, after their release, peace now being established, they became leaders of the Christian assemblies, both for their testimony and because they were of the Lord’s family; and they ruled the assemblies because they were witnesses and were also relatives of the Lord; and they lived on after the reign of Domitian through the reign of Nerva into the time of Trajan due to the ensuing peace. And so it happened, that just before the end of his reign Domitian ceased to persecute Christians and Jews. Because he still had some remaining intelligence, and not due to the genius of the emperor, but the sovereign Spirit of God, he ceased, and even recalled those whom he had banished.
From the beginning of the year, in A.D. 96, during eight months together there was so much lightning at Rome, and such accounts of the phenomenon were brought from other parts, that at last he cried out, “Let him now strike whom he will.”
The Capitol was struck by lightning, as well as the temple of the Flavian family, along with the Palatine-house, and even his own bed-chamber. The tablet also, inscribed upon the base of his triumphal statue, was carried away by the violence of the storm, and fell upon a neighboring monument. The tree which just before the advancement of Vespasian had been prostrated, and rose again, suddenly fell to the ground. According to the pagan priests, the goddess Fortune of Praeneste, to whom it was his custom on new year’s day to commend the empire for the ensuing year, and who had always supposedly given him a favorable reply, at last returned him a melancholy answer, and not without mention of blood; either according to a dream he had or according to the interpretation of omens by the priests of her temple. He also dreamed that Minerva, whom he worshipped to superstitious excess, was withdrawing from her sanctuary, declaring that she could protect him no longer, because Jupiter had disarmed her.
Concerning the plotting and mode of his death, the common account is this. The conspirators being in some doubt when and where they should attack him, whether while he was in the bath, or at supper, Stephanus, a steward of Domitilla’s, then under prosecution for defrauding his mistress, offered them his advice and assistance; and wrapping up his left arm, as if it was hurt, in wool and bandages for some days, to prevent suspicion, at the hour appointed he concealed a dagger in them.
The day before his death, Domitian ordered some dates, served up at table, to be kept to the next day, adding, “If I have the luck to use them.”
And turning to those who were nearest him, he said, “Tomorrow the moon in Aquarius will be bloody instead of watery, and an event will happen, which will be much talked about all the world over.”
About midnight, Domitian was so terrified that he leaped out of bed. After the night passed, that very morning he tried and passed sentence on a soothsayer sent from Germany, who being consulted about the lightning that had lately happened, predicted from it a change of government. As Domitian scratched an ulcerous bleeding tumor on his forehead, with the blood running down his face, he said, “Would this were all that is to befall me!”
Then, on his asking the time of the day, they purposely told him it was the sixth hour of the day, instead of the fifth, noon, instead of 11 A.M., which was the hour he dreaded. Overjoyed at this information; as if all danger were now passed, and hastening to the bath, Parthenius, his chamberlain, stopped him, by saying that there was a person who had come to see him about a matter of great importance, which would allow no delay. At this, ordering all persons to withdraw, he retired into his chamber. The fifth hour of the day was passing away.
Stephanus then pretending to have made a discovery of a conspiracy, and being for that reason admitted, he presented to the emperor a memorial, which is a summary of the facts to be presented as grounds for an indictment against the accused, and while he was reading it in great astonishment, Stephanus stabbed him in the groin. But Domitian, though wounded, fought and struggled with him, making resistance. Then Clodianus, one of his guards, with Maximus, a freedman of Parthenius’s, and Saturius, his principal chamberlain, together with some gladiators, fell upon him and stabbed him in seven places. A boy who had the charge of the Lares in his bed-chamber, and was then in attendance as usual, gave these further particulars afterward: that he was ordered by Domitian, on receiving his first wound, to retrieve for him a dagger which lay under his pillow, and call in his domestics; but that he found nothing at the head of the bed, except the hilt of a poniard, and that all the doors were locked: that the emperor in the meantime got hold of Stephanus, and throwing him to the floor, struggled a long time with him; once, while endeavoring to wrench the dagger from him; again, while attempting to tear out Stephanus’s eyes, though his fingers were miserably mangled; and he was there slain. This is what the boy claims. And Domitian was slain on the fourteenth of the Kalends of October, fourteen days before one October, on the eighteenth of September; he was murdered, eighteen September, A.D. 96., in the forty-fifth year of his age, and the fifteenth of his reign, 849 A.U.C.. He was not slain by the sword, as his Chaldean astrologers had foretold; he was not slain at the fifth hour of the day. He had long entertained a suspicion of the year and day when he should die, and even of the very hour and manner of his death; all of which he had learned from the Chaldeans, professional astrologers from Babylon, when he was a very young man. His father Vespasian once at supper laughed at him for refusing to eat some mushrooms, saying that, if he already knew his fate, then he would be more afraid of the sword. He died instead by the dagger of the assassin, stabbed a full seven times, and also long after the arrival of the fifth hour of the day, passing just before the sixth hour.
His corpse was laid on a common bier and carried out by the public bearers, and buried by his nurse Phyllis, at his suburban villa on the Latin Way. But she afterward privately conveyed his remains to the temple of the Flavian family, and mingled them with the ashes of Julia, the daughter of Titus, whom she had also nursed.
The people showed little concern at his death, but the soldiers were roused by it to great indignation, and immediately endeavored to have him declared divus and ranked among the gods. They were also ready to revenge his loss, if there had been any to take the lead; but there was not one among them who would take it. However, they soon after effectively accomplished it, by resolutely demanding the punishment of all those who had been concerned in his assassination, as we shall relate.
In contrast, the Senate was so overjoyed, that they met in all haste, and in a full assembly reviled his memory in the most bitter terms; ordering ladders to be brought in, and his shields and images to be pulled down before their eyes, and dashed in pieces on the floor of the Senate-house, unanimously passing at the same time a decree to obliterate his titles everywhere, and abolish all memory of him.
It is said that Vespasian once saw in a dream a balance in the middle of the porch of the Palatine house exactly poised; in one pan of it stood Claudius and Nero, in the other, himself and his sons Titus and Domitian. According to the Roman Suetonius, the event corresponded to the symbol; for the reigns of the two parties were precisely of the same duration. However, this is not the only interpretation. Nero the persecutor of the Church was the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty; Domitian the persecutor of the Church was the end of the Flavian dynasty. Both had been placed in the balance of God.
|Chapter 63||Historical texts|
After Domitian had ruled fifteen years, on the very day he died Marcus Cocceius Nerva immediately succeeded to the empire; on the assassination of Domitian, eighteen September, A.D. 96, Nerva succeeded without delay to the sovereign power; but this was chiefly through the influence of Petronius Secundus, commander of the Praetorian cohorts, and of Parthenius, the chamberlain of the palace. Nerva had seen the anarchy that followed from the death of Nero; he knew that hesitating even for a few hours could lead to violent civil strife. Rather than decline the invitation and risk revolts, he accepted. The decision may have been hasty solely to avoid civil war, but neither the Senate nor Nerva appears to have been involved in the conspiracy against Domitian.
Emperor Marcus Cocceius Nerva was an old man when he came to power in A.D. 96, following the death of the tyrannical Domitian at the hands of an assassin. This thirteenth Roman emperor, noted for his kindness to the early Christians, was born at Narnia, in Umbria—according to Cassius Dio, born in A.D. 32, making him sixty-three years old, A.D. 32 to 96—or, according to Eutropius, born in A.D. 27, making him sixty-nine years old, A.D. 27 to 96.
His family originally came from Crete; but several of his ancestors rose to the highest dignities in the Roman state. His grandfather, Cocceius Nerva, who was consul seventy-four years before, in A.D. 22, was a great favorite of the emperor Tiberius, and was one of the most celebrated jurists of his age. We learn from Tacitus that he put an end to his own life. His grandson, the same Marcus Cocceius Nerva, is first mentioned as a favorite of Nero, who bestowed upon him triumphal honors thirty years before in A.D. 66, when he was praetor elect. The poetry of Nerva, which is noticed with praise by Pliny and Martial, appears to have recommended him to the favor of Nero. Nerva was employed in offices of trust and honor during the reigns of Vespasian and Titus, but he incurred the suspicion of Domitian, and was banished by him to Tarentum. Then on the assassination of Domitian, eighteen September, A.D. 96, Nerva immediately succeeded to the sovereign power by invitation of the Senate, which he accepted without delay.
Indeed, in some respects the accession was otherwise improbable, since it placed the Empire under the control of a feeble sexagenarian and long-time Flavian supporter with close ties to the unpopular Domitian. Still, Nerva had proven to be a capable senator, one with political connections and an ability to negotiate. In addition, he had no children, thus ensuring that the state would not become his hereditary possession. Although he appeared to be an unlikely candidate because of his age and weak health, Nerva was considered a safe choice precisely because he was old and childless. Furthermore, he had close connections with the Flavian dynasty and commanded the respect of a substantial part of the Senate.
In many respects, Nerva was the right man, and at the right time. His immediate accession following Domitian’s brutal assassination prevented anarchy and civil war, while his advanced years, poor health and moderate views were precisely the attributes necessary for a government that offered a transitional bridge between Domitian’s murderously tumultuous reign and the emperorships of the stable rulers to follow.
Nerva was immediately accorded the title Imperator Nerva Caesar Augustus. Following the accession of Nerva as emperor, the Senate passed damnatio memoriae on Domitian: his coins and statues were melted, his arches were torn down and his name was erased from all public records. The Roman Senate, according to the writers that record the history of those days, voted that the honors of Domitian should be cancelled and annulled by decree, and those whom he had unjustly banished should return to their homes and have their property restored to them. In many instances, existing portraits of Domitian, such as those found on the Cancelleria Reliefs, were simply recarved to fit the likeness of Nerva. This allowed quick production of new images and recycling of previous material. In addition, the vast palace which Domitian had erected on the Palatine Hill, known as the Flavian Palace, was renamed the “House of the People”, and Nerva himself took up residence in Vespasian’s former villa in the Gardens of Sallust.
Revenge of the Senate on the emperor Domitian would come in the form of an aristocratically based literary tradition that never missed an opportunity to factually vilify thoroughly both emperor and his rule. The Senate’s enthusiastic support for the damning of Domitian’s memory was no surprise to the people. Placing the situation in its proper context, however, by comparison, the emperor Claudius during his reign from A.D. 41 to 54 had executed thirty-five senators and up to three hundred equestrians, yet for all of that he was still deified by the Senate and declared a Divus, a god!
This body of men who deified emperors and decreed the return from exile and restoration of property to those whom Domitian had unjustly banished could not restore life to those he had slain and return them from the dead.
But Nerva had scarcely accepted the purple of his office from the assassins of Domitian before he discovered that his own feeble age was not able to eliminate the torrent of public disturbances which had multiplied under the long tyranny of his predecessor. His mild disposition was respected by decent Romans; but the degenerate Romans, the common, or vulgar, mob of Rome, required a more vigorous character than he could provide—they needed a different man whose overriding justice should strike terror into the guilty, a quality he lacked.
On taking office, Nerva made immediate changes. He ordered the palace of Domitian to be renamed the House of the People, while he himself resided at the Horti Sallustiani, the favorite residence of Vespasian.
The change of government was most welcome particularly to the senators, who had been harshly persecuted during Domitian’s reign. More significantly, he took an oath before the Senate that he would refrain from executing its members. As an immediate gesture of goodwill toward his supporters, Nerva publicly swore that no senators would be put to death as long as he remained in office. Believing in the Republic more than the Empire, Nerva vowed never to assassinate a senator, and he kept his word. He also released those who had been imprisoned by Domitian and recalled exiles not found guilty of serious crimes. He called an end to trials based on treason, released those who had been imprisoned under these charges, and granted amnesty to many who had been exiled. All properties which had been confiscated by Domitian were returned to their respective families. In addition, pantomime performances, suppressed by Domitian, were restored.
Despite Nerva’s measures to remain popular with the Senate and the Roman people, support for the dead Domitian remained strong in the army, which had called for his deification immediately after the assassination, for they had been allowed by Domitian to indulge in excesses. In an attempt to appease the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard, Nerva had dismissed their prefect Titus Petronius Secundus, who was one of the chief conspirators against Domitian, and replaced him with a former commander, Casperius Aelianus. But his impartial administration of justice met with little favor from the Praetorian cohorts, who had been allowed by Domitian to indulge in excesses of every kind with impunity.
Likewise, the generous donativum bestowed on the soldiers following his accession was expected to swiftly silence any protests against the violent regime change. However, the Praetorians considered these measures insufficient, and demanded the execution of Domitian’s assassins.
Nerva refused. Continued dissatisfaction with this state of affairs would ultimately lead to the gravest crisis of Nerva’s reign, as we shall relate.
While the swift transfer of power following Domitian’s death had prevented a civil war from erupting, Nerva’s position as an emperor soon proved too vulnerable, and his benign nature turned toward reluctance to assert his authority.
Nerva still allowed the prosecution of informers by the Senate, a measure that led to chaos. On his accession, he had ordered a halt to treason trials, but at the same time allowed the prosecution of informers by the Senate to continue. This measure led to chaos, as everyone acted in his own interests while trying to settle scores with personal enemies: the consul Fronto was led to make the famous remark that ultimately Domitian’s tyranny was preferable to Nerva’s anarchy.
Nerva’s reign was more concerned with the continuation of an existing political system than with the birth of a new age. Indeed, his economic policies, his relationship with the Senate, and the men whom he chose to govern and to offer him advice all show signs of Flavian influence. Nerva’s major appointments favored men whom he knew and trusted, and who had long served and been rewarded by the Flavians.
A number of elder statesmen emerged from retirement to help him govern the empire. The keynote of Nerva’s regime was a skillfully propagandized renunciation of the terrorist means by which Domitian had imposed his tyranny, and in Italy an agrarian reform measure and the last lex populi, “law of the people”, in Roman history were implemented.
Modern historians have characterized Nerva as a well-intentioned but weak and ineffectual ruler. In the area of economic administration Nerva, like Domitian, was keen on maintaining a balanced budget. The Roman Senate enjoyed renewed liberties under his rule, but Nerva’s mismanagement of the state finances and lack of authority over the army ultimately brought Rome near the edge of a significant crisis. Before long, Nerva’s expenditures strained the economy of Rome and necessitated the formation of a special commission of economy to drastically reduce their costs.
Nerva’s major appointments favored men whom he knew and trusted, and who had long served and been rewarded by the Flavians. Typical was Sextus Julius Frontinus. A consul under Vespasian and governor of Britain twenty years earlier, Frontinus came out of retirement to become curator of the water supply, an office that had long been subject to abuse and mismanagement. He helped to put an end to the abuses and published a significant work on Rome’s water supply, De aquis urbis Romae. Similarly, the emperor’s own amici were often senators with Flavian ties, men who, by virtue of their links to the previous regime, were valuable to Nerva for what they knew. Thus do we find the likes of Aulus Didius Gallus Fabricius Veiento, one of Domitian’s counselors of ill-repute, seated next to Nerva at an imperial dinner.
Nerva also sought to involve the Senate in his government, but this was not entirely successful. Nerva was less willing to consult the Senate as a whole. In many cases he preferred the opinions of his own consilium, and was less submissive than many senators would have liked. This attitude may have been responsible for hostile discontent among several senators. He continued to rely largely on Friends and advisors that were known and trusted, and by maintaining friendly relations with the pro-Domitianic faction of the Senate, he incurred hostility which may have been the cause for at least one conspiracy against his life.
The following year, early in A.D. 97, a conspiracy led by the senator Gaius Calpurnius Piso Crassus Frugi Licinianus failed, but once again Nerva refused to put the conspirators to death, much to the disapproval of the Senate.
In early 97, after appointing a commission of five consular senators to give advice on reducing expenditures, he proceeded to abolish many sacrifices, races, and games. The most superfluous religious sacrifices, games and horse races were abolished, while new income was generated from Domitian’s former possessions, including the auctioning of ships, estates, and even furniture. Large amounts of money were obtained from Domitian’s silver and gold statues, and similarly, Nerva forbade that similar images be made in his honor; he allowed no gold or silver statues to be made of himself.
Even so, there was some room for municipal expenditure. Having been proclaimed emperor solely on the initiative of the Senate, Nerva had to introduce a number of measures to gain support among the Roman populace. As was the custom by this time, a change of emperor was expected to bring with it a generous payment of gifts and money to the people and the army. Accordingly, a congiarium, a benevolent largess, of seventy-five denarii per head was bestowed on the citizens, while the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard received a donativum which may have amounted to as much as five thousand denarii per person.
Many instances of Nerva’s clemency and liberality are recorded by his contemporary, the younger Pliny. Nerva allowed no senator to be put to death during his reign, and practiced the greatest economy in order to relieve the wants of the poorer citizens. For the urban poor of Italy, to the poorest, Nerva granted allotments of land worth up to sixty million sesterces, and he exempted parents and their children from a five percent inheritance tax. He also made loans to Italian landowners on the condition that they pay interest of five percent to their municipality to support the children of needy families. The one imaginative innovation commonly attributed to Nerva’s government, the system of alimenta, or trusts for the maintenance of poor children in Italy, may have been instead the work of Trajan after him. These alimentary schemes were later extended by emperors Trajan, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. Furthermore, this was followed by a string of economic reforms intended to alleviate the burden of taxation from the most needy Romans. Numerous taxes were remitted and privileges granted to Roman provinces.
Specifically, it is most probable that he abolished the Fiscus Iudaicus, the additional tax which all Jews throughout the Empire had to pay under Domitian and the emperors before him. A somewhat lesser known type of Roman imperial coin that referred to the Jews are sestertii of the emperor Nerva that commemorate the reform of the Fiscus Iudaicus, Jewish Tax; for on the reverse of Nerva’s coins is a palm tree, symbolizing Judea, and by extension Judaism, some accompanied by the legend FISCI IVDAICI CALVMNIA SVBLATA—some of his coins bear the legend FISCI IUDAICI CALUMNIA SUBLATA, which can mean “abolition of malicious prosecution regarding the Jewish tax”. It may also be translated: “The removal of the wrongful accusation of the Fiscus Iudaicus.” Although there has been some debate as to the translation of this stamped legend, it refers to the end of abuses of the Jewish Tax that were rampant under Domitian.
The significance of the meaning of the coin can be more precisely understood as referring to the charge of atheism and the harsh prosecutions that resulted in death, or the confiscation of property, or both, of that second group of people prosecuted by the tax under Domitian, the Jewish sympathizers and Gentile Christians, as these appear to have been the newly added victims in Domitian’s reign.
When Nerva came to power, he sought to bring an end to the excesses of Domitian’s reign and represented his predecessor as a tyrant. This is readily apparent on Nerva’s other coins. The most conspicuous ones are his gold, silver and bronze coins which bear an image of Libertas, Liberty, holding a rod and the cap of a freed slave, both implements used in the Roman ceremony to free slaves: imagery implying his message that the Roman people are now freed from Domitian.
One of Nerva’s specific reforms, also celebrated by the Fiscus Iudaicus coins, was to forbid people from accusing others of leading a Jewish life. The consequence of Nerva’s reform means that the Roman state prosecuted the tax under a purely religious definition of Judaism, rather than an ethnic one. And it was Nerva’s reform of the tax that led to sharper distinctions between Jew and Christian, based on their beliefs. There is some irony in the fact that Nerva’s Fiscus Iudaicus coinage, celebrating his reforms, was produced in small numbers and targeted a small segment of the Roman population, although the ultimate result of his reform was the growing distinction between Jew and Christian. As informers accusing people of being Jewish supporters and sympathizers stood to receive part of the proceeds after a successful trial, and accusation was also an expedient way to harm one’s political enemies, it was evidently the wealthy and politically powerful class of the Roman elite who had been subjected to the expanded abuses of this tax under Domitian. Accusations of leading a Jewish lifestyle, prohibited by Nerva’s reform, are distinctly different from accusations of actually being a Jew.
The mild and equable administration of Nerva is acknowledged and praised by all ancient writers, and formed a striking contrast to the bloody, sanguinary rule of his predecessor. He reduced taxes, brought exiles home, according to some writers he ended persecution of Jews and Christians and generally boosted Roman morale by his mild behavior. He discouraged all informers, recalled the exiles from banishment, relieved the people from some oppressive taxes, and granted toleration to the Christians.
It was at this time also that the Apostle John returned after his banishment to exile on the island of Patmos and resumed his residence at Ephesus, according to an ancient Christian tradition. A true account of John the Apostle preserved in memory says that after the tyrant’s death, he returned from the island of Patmos to Ephesus and used to go, when asked, to the neighboring Gentile districts to appoint Episcopes, reconcile Christian assemblies, or ordain someone designated by the Spirit. Then was fulfilled the word spoken to him in the exile by the angel,
Nerva is traditionally said to be the first of the Five Good Emperors, five successive rulers under whom the Roman Empire, according to contemporaries, “was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of wisdom and virtue”, from A.D. 96 to 180. Nevertheless, compared to his successors, he was an ineffective ruler. Nerva may have indeed truly lacked the necessary qualifications for a successful reign: more recent historians have concluded from all available evidence that Nerva’s real talents were in fact ill-suited to the emperorship.
Nerva, it would seem, was not, apparently, a great orator, and some historians and researchers have the impression that he functioned better in small groups, where his generally calm approach to problems will have impressed people. But whenever such a mild, unaggressive man takes on an important administrative job, the result is usually quite appalling, as history has shown. Rome was, indeed, spared catastrophe under his rule; but for all the fact that near-contemporary writers were prudent about what they said and how they said it, Nerva’s administration was fairly inept.
It was not long before the assassination of Domitian began to work against the new emperor. In October 97 these tensions came to a head, when the Praetorian Guards, dissatisfied that Domitian had not been deified after his death, and enraged at the loss of their benefactor and favorite, mutinied under Casperius Aelianus; the Praetorian Guard, led by Casperius Aelianus, laid siege to the Imperial Palace and took Nerva hostage. (He was either sixty-four or sixty-nine years old.) Taking the aging emperor as hostage, they demanded that Nerva hand over Domitian’s murderers. He was forced to submit to their demands, agreeing to hand over those responsible for Domitian’s death. They compelled Nerva to deliver into their hands Parthenius and their own commander Petronius, both of whom they put to death: Domitian’s former chamberlain, Titus Petronius Secundus, and Parthenius, were sought out and killed. And the emperor not only relented, but was forced to give a public speech of thanks to the mutineers for their actions; even giving a speech thanking the rebellious Praetorians. Nerva was unharmed in this assault, but his authority was damaged beyond recovery.
The situation was further aggravated by the absence of a clear successor, made more pressing because of Nerva’s old age and sickness. He had no natural children of his own and only distant relatives, who were unsuited for political office. A successor would have to be chosen from among the governors or generals in the empire and it appears that, by 97, Nerva was considering the legal adoption of Marcus Cornelius Nigrinus Curiatius Maternus, the powerful governor of Syria, as his son. This was covertly opposed by those who supported the more popular military commander Marcus Ulpius Traianus, commonly known as Trajan, a general of the armies at the German frontier.
Nerva had in fact little choice in regard to his successor. He realized that his position was no longer tenable without the support of an heir who had the approval of both the army and the people. Faced with a major crisis, he desperately needed the support of a man who could restore his damaged reputation. The only candidate with sufficient military experience, consular ancestry, and connections was Traian, Trajan. Any assertion that Nerva established, as if set by precedent, a tradition among the Five Good Emperors of succession through adoption has found little support among modern historians.
The mutiny led by Casperius Aelianus, as seen by some, was apparently never intended as a coup, but a calculated attempt to put pressure on the emperor. Shortly thereafter, he announced the adoption of Trajan as his successor. His authority compomised, Nerva used the occasion of a victory in Pannonia over the Germans in late October 97 to announce the adoption of Marcus Ulpius Traianus, governor of Upper Germany, as his successor. The excesses of his guards had convinced the physically weak and aging Nerva that the government of the Roman empire required greater energy both of body and mind than he possessed, and he accordingly adopted Trajan, who possessed both vigor and ability to direct public affairs, as his successor.
On twenty-seven October 97, he adopted Trajan as his son, making him emperor apparent, and with this decision he all but abdicated empire. Eusebius regarded the adoption of Trajan by Nerva as the actual beginning of the years of Trajan’s emperorship. Trajan, absent with his army, is said to have been unaware the adoption ceremony was taking place in Rome at the temple of Jupiter. The new Caesar was immediately acclaimed imperator and granted the tribunicia potestas, the tribunician power. Nerva’s public announcement of the adoption settled succession as fact; he allowed no time to oppose his decision. From the German victory, Nerva assumed the epithet Germanicus and conferred the title on Trajan as well, Marcus Ulpius Traianus Germanicus. The adoption of Trajan expanded his power base with a respected, reliable general as his successor. Trajan was formally bestowed with the title of Caesar; in Cassius Dio’s words:
By this action Nerva evinced clearly that he possessed good sense and a noble character.
Due to the lack of written sources on this period, much of Nerva’s life has remained obscure. Both Cassius Dio and Aurelius Victor emphasize his wisdom and moderation, with Dio commending his decision to adopt Trajan as his heir.
A more comprehensive text, presumed to describe the life of Nerva in closer detail, is the Histories, by the contemporary historian Tacitus. In the introduction to his biography of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola however, Tacitus speaks highly of Nerva, describing his reign as follows:
Because he reigned only briefly, Nerva’s own public works were few, completing instead projects which had been initiated under Flavian rule. Nerva also built granaries, made repairs to the Colosseum when the Tiber flooded, and continued the program of road building and repairs inaugurated under the Flavians. Projects which had been initiated under Flavian rule included extensive repairs to the Roman road system and the expansion of the aqueducts. This second program was administered by the former consul Sextus Julius Frontinus, who helped to put an end to abuses and later published a significant work on Rome’s water supply, De Aquis Urbis Romae. The only major landmarks constructed under Nerva were a granary, known as the Horrea Nervae, and a small Imperial Forum begun by Domitian, which linked the Forum of Augustus to the temple of Peace. Little remains.
In the military realm, Nerva established veterans’ colonies in Africa, a practice that was continued by the emperor Trajan after him. Normal military privileges were continued and some auxiliary units assumed the epithet Nervia or Nerviana. Beyond these details, we have little information, and any military action that may have occurred while Nerva was emperor is known to be sketchy at best.
At this time Clement still ruled the Christian Assembly of Rome as head of the Roman Assembly, being also the third who followed after Peter and Paul in the list of Episcopes who held the Episcopate there in Rome: Linus was the first, and after him came Anencletus as the second, and Clement was third, who now died in A.D. 97 and was succeeded by Evaristus, who was the fourth to succeed to Peter. According to Eusebius, Clement the Episcopos of Rome had committed the Episcopal government of the Assembly of Rome to Evarestus, and departed this life after he had superintended the Teaching of the divine word nine years in all, which we understand to be A.D. mid-88 through into 97. Others indicate perhaps seven years, from A.D. 91 into 97. The fact of the succession of shepherds by name is historically certain, even if the years are not.
On one January A.D. 98, as a reward for his service in administering the expansion of the aqueducts and helping put an end to abuses, Frontinus was named consul for the second time, and Nerva also made Trajan his consular colleague in 98, and Trajan shared the consulship with him—indeed, in order to secure the succession, Nerva in 98 took as his imperial colleague, Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, Trajan, his adopted son, governor of one of the German provinces, and associated him with himself in the government, the man who became emperor on Nerva’s death.
On one January A.D. 98, the beginning of his fourth consulship, Nerva suffered a stroke during a private audience. Shortly thereafter, three weeks later, he was struck by a fever. By early 98 Nerva, gravely weakened, dedicated the forum that Domitian had built to connect the Forum of Augustus with the Forum of Peace. It became known as the Forum of Nerva. Then, on twenty-five January 98, according to Victor, or twenty-seven or twenty-eight January 98, according to Dio, after a reign of sixteen months and nine days, Nerva died at his villa in the Gardens of Sallust; and Trajan became emperor.
Imperator Nerva Germanicus Caesar Augustus had reigned a little more than over a year when he died.
The three years of Nerva’s reign were A.D. 96, 97, 98; eighteen September 96 through twenty-seven or twenty-eight January 98, sixteen months and nine days, falling within three calendar years. It is not wrong by ancient standards of expression to say that he reigned three years, but by more recent historical standards this mode of expression is misleading, for uninstructed readers assume wrongly that three years means thirty-six months; but Nerva only reigned in three years, 96, 97, 98, and he reigned sixteen months and nine days, a little more than over a year when he died. He was succeeded by Trajan, the third of those known as the Five Good Emperors.
Eusebius the historian, dismissing Nerva with the words, “After Nerva had reigned a little more than a year, he was succeeded by Trajan”, regards Trajan as having the actual reign of empire those three years A.D. 96 into 98 after the death of Domitian; for he says in the third book of his Ecclesiastical History, chapter thirty-four, referring to the reign of Trajan,
This is no discrepancy or error. Nerva had already conferred on Trajan the title of Caesar in October of 97, the same year Nerva was made emperor. Recall that the civil year in ancient calendars begins with the autumnal equinox in September, so that Trajan’s “first year” began within the calendar period extending from the autumnal equinox, twenty-two September 95, up to the autumnal equinox of twenty-two September 96, the period within which Domitian died and Nerva acceded, eighteen September 96, four days before the equinox at the year’s end; for early in 96-97 Nerva had already considered legal adoption of a successor as his son; then Nerva died months after the autumnal equinox of twenty-two September 97 in January of 98 and thus “the third year of the above-mentioned” Trajan’s reign (dismissing Nerva) was A.D. 97-98 by Eusebius’s reckoning, according to the ancient calendar; this also places the death of Clement at or near the end of A.D. 97, “in the third year of the above-mentioned reign”. Eusebius thus expressed indirectly his opinion of the ineffectiveness of Nerva’s rule and the dominant influence of Trajan’s already significant power within the Roman military and his reputation within the Praetorian Guard at the time of Domitian’s death.
From his headquarters at Cologne, Trajan insisted that Nerva’s ashes be placed in the mausoleum of Augustus and asked the Senate to vote on his deification. He was deified by the Senate, and his ashes were laid to rest in the Mausoleum of Augustus.
Nerva was succeeded without incident by his adopted son Trajan, Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, governor of one of the German provinces, who became emperor on Nerva’s death; who was greeted by the Roman populace with much enthusiasm. When he entered Rome it was on foot with a show of humility as if he were a private citizen.
According to Cassius Dio, however, on the occasion of Trajan’s accession, the prefect of the Guard responsible for the mutiny against Nerva, Casperius Aelianus, was dismissed.
We are further told, according to Pliny the Younger, that Trajan dedicated a temple to Nerva in honor of him, yet no trace of it has ever been found; nor in the wake of his death was a commemorative series of coins issued for the Deified Nerva, but only later, ten years after his death. Two modern statues which commemorate Nerva can be found in towns associated with him. There is an equestrian statue in Gloucester, England, a town which was founded in his honor. It is at the entrance to Southgate Street. There is also a statue at his rumored birthplace, Narni in Italy, at Cocceio Nerva street.
His place in Roman history has been summarized as a necessary, but tumultuous temporary emergency measure before the accession of the Trajanic-Antonine dynasties. The choosing of an elderly man in poor health, presumably near death, may be evidence of such a transitional purpose in the minds of the leaders of the Senate. Moreover, even the one major public work completed during his reign, the Forum of Nerva, later ultimately became known as the Forum Transitorium, or transitional forum.
Trajan’s first winter, the winter of A.D. 97-98, as ruler of the far-flung empire, he spent not in Rome, but in Dacia, completing a military campaign.
Though Nerva had set at liberty those who had been condemned under the intolerant reign of Domitian because they had apostatized from the pagan faith of Rome and adopted the new religion of Jesus Christ, Nerva had failed to secure to his Christian subjects any lasting benefits, since our religion was not recognized by any public act as a religio licita; and this may more easily explain the severe persecutions under Trajan, the second of those called the Five Good Emperors. The holy doctrine of Christianity under the influence of the Holy Spirit had spread considerably, having peacefully been diffused under Nerva; and as soon as Trajan was seated on the throne, the fury of the enemies of the Christian Assembly, which had been held in check by Nerva, broke forth with increased violence under Trajan and the genius of the emperor.
In the Christian Assembly, during the first year of Trajan’s reign, and during the first year of the episcopacy of Evaristus in Rome, the Presbyter Kerdo, Cerdo, also called Cerdon and Kedron, succeeded the Episcopos Abilius, Avilius, who, after leading the Assembly of Alexandria, had ruled the Christian Assembly of Alexandria as Episcopos for thirteen years during the imperial reigns of Domitian and Nerva. He was the third in charge there who presided over that Assembly after Annianus, who was the first: Annianus, then Abilius, then Cerdon. At that time, before Cerdon’s elevation to that dignity, according to Eusebius, Clement still ruled the Assembly of Rome as head of the Roman Assembly, being also the third in the list of Episcopes who held the Episcopate there in Rome, who followed after Peter and Paul: Linus was the first, and after him came Anencletus as the second, and Clement was third, who died in A.D. 97 and was succeeded by Evaristus, who was the fourth.
After Nero and Domitian, under the emperor Trajan a persecution in separate places was incited against us in certain cities as a result of a popular revolt. We are informed also that Symeon, the son of Clopas, who was the second Episcopos of the Assembly of Jerusalem, died because of his witness. Hegesippus the historian also testifies to this fact. In speaking of certain heretics in his writing he adds that Symeon at this time was accused by them of being Christian; and though he was tortured in various ways for many days, he astonished both even the judge himself and his attendants to the highest degree; and finally he was terminated with sufferings like those of our Lord.
But it is better to hear Hegesippus himself, who gives an account of it as follows:
And the same writer says that when a search was made by Domitian for the descendants of David, his accusers were also taken into custody as descendants of that family. One might reasonably assert that Symeon was one of those witnesses who bore testimony to what they had both heard and seen of the Lord, if we judge from the length of his life, and from the fact that the Gospels make mention of Mary, the wife of Clopas, whose son was Symeon, as we have already demonstrated.
But the same historian says there were others also, the offspring of one of those regarded as brothers of the Lord, of the house and family of David, whose name was Judas, that is, Jude, and who, after they had professed and borne testimony on behalf of faith in Christ before Domitian, then lived on into the same reign of Trajan.
He writes this:
The same author, while recounting the events of that period, also records that the Assembly of the Lord up to that time had continued to be a pure and uncorrupted virgin; while if there were any who attempted to corrupt the sound norm of the doctrine of the saving Gospel, they lay skulking, up to then concealed in dark hiding places.
All of the Presbyters in Asia associated with John, the Lord’s disciple, testify that John Taught them the Truth, for he remained with them to the time of Trajan, and the Assembly at Ephesus is a true witness of the apostolic tradition. Through him the Holy Spirit expounded the true meaning of the Logos of God, His Truth, Intelligence and Wisdom.
Philo, a Hellenized Jew who lived from 20 B.C. to A.D. 50, a Jewish philosopher and Teacher, had used the Greek philosophical term Logos to mean an intermediary divine being, or demiurge. Philo accepted the Platonic concept of a distinction between imperfect matter, which is visible, and perfect Form, and therefore embraced the conclusion that intermediary beings were necessary to bridge the enormous gap between God and the material world; and he Taught that the Logos was the highest of these intermediary beings. In his writings Philo calls this intermediary “the first-born of God”; he also writes that “the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated”. He asserts that the reality at the heart of Plato’s concept of the Theory of Forms is located within the Logos, but that the Logos also acted on behalf of God in the physical world. In particular, Philo identifies the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament with the Logos; he also Taught that the Logos was God’s instrument in the creation of the universe. But his understanding was defective. Men were seeking God, groping in the darkness of intellect, in the hope that they might feel after him and perhaps even find him.
After him, the Apostle Paul by the Spirit of the Lord revealed even more clearly the doctrine of Jesus the Anointed One as the incarnation of the Word of God in his letters to the Galatians, the Ephesians and the Philippians. The Holy Spirit also in the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews declares the same Truth. The Word of God is the One Only God eternally begotten in the same Spirit of the Lord in the bosom of the Father, the one true God.
The Apostle John also answered those who revered John the Baptist as a prophet, but had not accepted Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, by emphasizing the testimony that John the Baptizer himself had given about Jesus; for he together with Andrew had followed John and heard his testimony; and he gave his testimony about the true identity of Jesus as the Word of God in opposition to the Gnostic doctrines of Mandaeanism many of them had adopted, and still profess to this day.
John, it is said, had used only the spoken word before he finally took to writing for the following reason. The three written Gospels then in general circulation also came into John’s hands. He welcomed them, it is said, and affirmed their accuracy, but noted that the narrative lacked only the account of what Christ had done at the beginning of his mission.
They say, then, that for this reason John was urged to record in his own Gospel the Savior’s deeds during the period passed over in silence by the earlier Evangelists; that is, the events before the Baptizer’s imprisonment. Thus John records what Christ did before the Baptist’s imprisonment, while the other three tell of events following. Once this is understood, the Gospels no longer seem to disagree, since John covers Christ’s early deeds and the others his later.
Of the undisputed writings of this Apostle, his Gospel, read by all the assemblies under heaven, must be recognized first of all.
This Gospel, which is known to all the congregations of the assemblies under heaven, must be acknowledged in the first place as genuine. But with good reason have the ancients placed it in the fourth position, after the other three Gospels; and this may be made evident in the following way.
Those great and truly divine men, the Apostles of Christ, were purified in their life, and adorned with every virtue of the soul; but they were uncultivated in speech. They were indeed confident in their trust in the divine and wonder-working power granted to them by the Savior, but they did not know how, nor did they attempt to proclaim the doctrines of their Teacher in studied and artistic language; but employing in their writings only the demonstration, the argument, of the divine Spirit, Who worked with them, and the wonder-working power of Christ, which was displayed through them, they published the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven throughout the whole world, paying little attention to the standards of composition of written works.
This they did because they were assisted in their ministry by one greater than man. Paul, for instance, who surpassed them all in vigor of expression and in richness of thought, committed to writing no more than the briefest epistles, although he had innumerable mysterious matters to communicate, for he had attained even to the sights of the third heaven, had been carried to the very paradise of God, and had been deemed worthy to hear unspeakable utterances there. And the rest of the followers of our Savior, the twelve Apostles, the seventy disciples, and countless others besides, were not ignorant of these things. Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity.
For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, was the first who committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated for the loss of his presence those whom he was obliged to leave. And when Mark and Luke after him had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry. And this indeed is true. For it is evident from the number of the observances of Passover in their writings that the three Evangelists recorded only the deeds done by the Savior for about three years after the imprisonment of John the Baptist, and indicated this in the beginning of their account. For Matthew, after the forty days’ fast and the temptation which followed it, indicates the chronology of his work when he says:
Mark likewise says:
And Luke, before commencing his account of the deeds of Jesus, similarly marks the time, when he says that Herod,
Therefore, it is said that the Apostle John, being asked to do it, for this reason gave in his Gospel an account of the period which had been omitted by the earlier evangelists, and of the deeds done by the Savior during that period; that is, of those which were done before the imprisonment of the Baptist. And this is indicated by him, they say, in the following words:
and again when he refers to the Baptist, in the midst of the deeds of Jesus, as still baptizing in Ænon near Salim; where he states the matter clearly in the words:
Accordingly, John in his Gospel, records the deeds of Christ which were performed before the Baptist was cast into prison, but the other three Evangelists mention the events which happened after that time. One who understands this can no longer believe the Gospels are at odds with one another, considering the fact that the Gospel according to John contains the first acts of Christ, while the others give an account of the latter part of his life. And John quite naturally omitted the genealogy of our Savior according to the flesh, because it had already been given by Matthew and Luke, and he began with the doctrine of his divinity, and included his promise of the giving of his flesh and blood as food and drink for eternal life to those who believe him, doctrines which had seemingly been reserved for him, as their superior, by the divine Spirit of God, doctrines which many had begun to deny, which he had heard Taught by the Lord himself, and knew were truth. These things may be enough, which we have said concerning the Gospel of John.
As for Luke, in the beginning of his Gospel, he himself states the reasons which led him to write it. He states that since many others had more rashly undertaken to compose a narrative of the events of which he had acquired perfect knowledge, he himself, feeling the necessity of freeing us from their uncertain opinions, delivered in his own Gospel an accurate account of those events in regard to which he had learned the full truth, being aided by his intimacy and his stay with Paul and by his acquaintance with the rest of the Apostles.
But of the writings of John, not only his Gospel, but also the first of his epistles, have been accepted without dispute both now and in ancient times. But the other two were disputed.
In regard to the Apocalypse, the Revelation, the opinions of most men were still divided, as over several of the other sacred scriptures, for sixteen hundred years, before the matter was finally settled definitively. But his Gospel and the first of his epistles were accepted without dispute from the beginning.
At this time, the disciple whom Jesus loved, Saint John, the Apostle and Evangelist, following his return from his exile on the island after the death of Domitian, was still living on in Asia Minor, directing and governing the assemblies there in that region. And sufficient proof that he was still alive to that time may be established by the testimony of two witnesses, who are known to have maintained the sound orthodox doctrine of the Church, the Christian Assembly, and should therefore be credited as worthy of trust; and indeed, such were Irenæus and Clement of Alexandria.
Irenæus, in the second book of his work Against Heresies, writes as follows:
And in the third book of the same work he attests the same thing in the following words:
Clement of Rome, in his book entitled What Rich Man can be saved?, likewise indicates the time.
An encyclical letter is ascribed to Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, which is called the First Epistle of John. He rejects the doctrine of those called docetists who deny that Jesus truly came in the flesh, that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and he rejects the lawlessness of antinomianism.
This is that error of unconditional eternal security. And many even now Teach this careless presumption as a false doctrine of perfect, unconditional and eternal security, believing that they can never fall away from the Lord, or be condemned by him afterward for their willful and unbridled acts of defiant disobedience and sin.
Eusebius says that it is proper to summarize the writings of the New Testament of the Lord acknowledged as genuine at that time. He says, first the holy fourfold grouping of the Gospels, and following them the book of the Acts of the Apostles. And after these must be listed the Epistles of Paul, but Eusebius does not name them or give their number, and next in sequence the acknowledged First Epistle of John, and likewise the First Epistle of Peter must be admitted as acknowledged. After them the Apocalypse of John, the Revelation, may be added, as seems proper; which some reject, but which others class with the accepted books. These then are the books recognized as genuine which belong among the sacred writings. He says those that are disputed, and yet well-known and approved as authentic by most, are the reputed Epistles called James and Jude, as also the Second Epistle of Peter, and those called the Second and Third Epistles of John, whether they are the work of the Evangelist or of someone else with the same name.
Among the spurious writings must be accounted both of the books called the Acts of Paul, and the Pastor, that is, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the Apocalypse or Revelation of Peter; and besides these, those called the Epistle of Barnabas, and what are called The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, the Didache; and it seems right to others to count as spurious the Apocalypse or Revelation of John, already mentioned as fully accepted by many. And others have also placed among the spurious works The Gospel According to the Hebrews, with which those Hebrews who have accepted Christ are especially pleased. All of these may be accounted as being among the disputed books. And this may be said to be all that concerns the books that are disputed.
He says it is necessary to also give a catalogue distinguishing those works which, according to ecclesiastical tradition, are true and genuine and well-authenticated writings, from those others not only not canonical but disputed, and yet at the same time recognized as genuine by most ecclesiastical writers; so that we may have the ability to know both these works, and those that, without any basis, are falsely claimed as genuine by the heretics, under the names of the Apostles: including, for instance, such books as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, another Gospel of Matthew, or of any others besides them, and those containing the Acts of Andrew and John and the other Apostles, which not one of those who belong to the succession of ecclesiastical writers has even condescended to mention in his writings. And further, the character of the style is very different from that of the apostolic usage, and both the thoughts and the purpose of the things set forth in them, in deviating so completely from sound orthodoxy, clearly show themselves with evident proof to be the fictions of heretics. For this reason they are not only to be placed even among the spurious writings, but all of them are to be utterly discarded as absurd and insolently opposed to genuine piety.
Thus far Eusebius, respecting those books which are accepted and those disputed, as differing from those which are heretical.
At this time at Antioch, where Evodius had been the first Episcopos, Ignatius was becoming well known as the second Episcopos of Antioch, known to us as Ignatius of Antioch, a personal disciple of John. Likewise at this time, Symeon was the second episcopal ruler after James the brother of our Savior to have charge of the Assembly in Jerusalem: first Peter the Apostle, after the Lord’s ascension to heaven, then James, made Episcopos of Jerusalem, and then Symeon, the second Episcopos of Jerusalem. When Symeon also had died a martyr as described, a certain Jewish convert by the name of Justus succeeded to the Episcopal throne in Jerusalem. There were great numbers of the circumcision at that time who believed and came over to the Christian faith in Christ, and Justus was one of them.
So great a persecution was at that time begun against our faith in most places that Pliny the Younger, Plinius Secundus, one of the most notably distinguished Roman governors, being disturbed and moved by the great number of martyrs, communicated with the emperor Trajan concerning the multitudes of those who were put to death for their faith. At the same time, he informed him in his communication that as far as he could ascertain he had not heard of their doing anything profanely wicked or contrary to the laws; except that they arose at dawn and sang hymns to Christ as to a God; but that adultery and murder and similar criminal excesses were renounced and totally abhorred by them, and in all things they acted in accordance with the laws.
To this, Trajan in reply issued the following decree: the intent of it was that no search should be made for any of the race of Christians, but when they openly present themselves they should be punished. With this the extreme violence of the persecution which had threatened to be a most terrible one seemed to be checked, but there were no fewer pretexts remaining for those who wished to harass us. Sometimes the people, sometimes the rulers in various places, would lay plots to ensnare us, so that without an obvious official state persecution, local persecutions took place in various provinces, and many of the faithful endured various forms of martyrdom.
The translation of an account from the Latin Apology of Tertullian reads as follows:
Such were the circumstances connected with these events at that time.
Saint Jerome, in his commentary on Galatians 6:10, relates a famous tradition about the Apostle John the Evangelist in extreme old age at Ephesus. He was customarily carried in the arms of his disciples into the congregation, and was unable to say anything except, “Little children, love one another.”
This he always did. Being wearied that he never varied from saying these same words, at last they asked: “Master, why do you always say these words?”
He replied, “It is the Lord’s command, and if this one only thing is done, it is enough.”
The Apostle Judas Iscariot, having committed apostasy and hanged himself, and Matthias, chosen in his place as a witness to the resurrection of the Lord from the beginning of his baptism by John, the holy Apostles and disciples of our Savior, being scattered over the whole world,
The time of John’s death has also in some measure been mentioned in a general way, some say A.D. 99 or 104, being very old, but the place of his burial is indicated long afterward by an epistle of Polycrates, who was Episcopos of the parish of Ephesus, addressed to Victor, Episcopos of Rome from A.D. 189 to 199. In this epistle he mentions both him and the Apostle Philip and his daughters thus in the following words:
The historian Hegesippus, while recounting the events of that period, also records that the Assembly of the Lord up to that time had continued to be a pure and uncorrupted virgin; while if there were any who attempted to corrupt the sound norm of the doctrine of the saving Gospel, they lay skulking, up to then concealed in dark hiding places. But when the sacred college of Apostles had become extinct from suffering death in various forms, and the generation of those who had been given the privilege of hearing with their own ears their inspired wisdom had passed away, then too a combined godless error arose from the fraud and delusions of heretical Teachers; who, because none of the Apostles was still living, began attempting with a bold face, to proclaim henceforth their false doctrine of gnosis, the “knowledge which is falsely so-called”, against the Gospel of truth. However, those whom the Apostles while living had ordained Shepherds of the Assembly, keeping watch over men’s souls, the dispensation being committed unto them, stood against them, as being men who guard the truth that has been entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and will remain with us for ever, committed to faithful men who are able to Teach others also.
About this time Polycarp, an intimate and close disciple of the Apostles, flourished as a man of eminence in Asia, having been entrusted with the Episcopate of the Assembly at Smyrna, under the hands of those who had been eyewitnesses and servants of the Lord. Also at the same time Papias became well known, Episcopos of the Assembly at Hierapolis, a man deeply skilled in all manner of learning, and thoroughly acquainted with the Scriptures. And Ignatius too, whose fame is celebrated by a great many even now, who was chosen as the successor to Peter at Antioch, the second to obtain the Episcopal office there, himself a disciple of the Apostle John.
According to tradition, about this time, A.D. 105, St. Evaristus, Episcopos of Rome died, and Alexander, a Roman and former disciple of Plutarch, was elected Episcopus of Rome, the fifth successor of Peter, Linus the first, Cletus the second, Clement the third, Evaristus the fourth, and now Alexander the fifth. He was chief shepherd in the church at Rome until he died, A.D. 115.
Tradition says that in A.D. 110 during the reign of Trajan (who died in 117) Ignatius was taken and sent by the Roman authorities from Syria to Rome, and was thrown as food to wild beasts in the arena, on account of his testimony to Christ.
And as he was conveyed on the journey through Asia in 110 under a most rigid military custody, he strengthened and fortified the assemblies in the various cities where he briefly stayed by oral homilies and exhortations, and especially to caution them above all to be even more on their guard against the heresies that were even then sprouting and beginning to prevail. He exhorted them to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostles which they had been Taught, whether by word or by letter; and, moreover, for the sake of greater security to attest that tradition in writing, to give it a fixed form.
So when he came to Smyrna, where Polycarp was, he wrote an epistle, that one to the Christian Assembly at Ephesus, in which he mentions their pastor Onesimus; and another to the Christian Assembly of Magnesia, situated on the Mæander River, in which he makes mention again of Damas the Episcopos; and another also to the Christian Assembly of the Trallians at Tralles, whose Episcopos, he states, was Polybius at that time.
With these must be included also his epistle to the Christian Assembly of Rome, which contains an exhortation to them not to rob him of his earnest confident expectation by refusing to endure his martyrdom. In confirmation of what has been said it is proper to quote briefly from this epistle. It is worthwhile to also here include brief extracts as specimens.
He writes as follows:
These things he wrote from Smyrna to the Christian assemblies of Ephesus, Magnesia and Tralles. And when he had left Smyrna he wrote again from Troas an exhortation to those at Philadelphia and Smyrna; and one in particular to Polycarp, who presided over the Smyrnæan Assembly, whom he designates as an apostolical man, and commending to him, like a true and good Shepherd, the flock at Antioch, earnestly requesting him to exercise diligent supervision of the Assembly.
Writing to the Smyrnæans, he employs the following words concerning Christ, without specifying the source:
Ignatius is a particularly important witness to the nature and structure of the early Church, the Christian Assembly. His “letter to the Smyrnaeans” declares that Christians all across the world are united in one universal Assembly which he calls “the Catholic Church”, the earliest instance of this phrase in surviving Christian literature.
His “letter to the Romans”, an important witness to Peter’s presence and leadership in Rome, acknowledges in the salutation that the Roman Church ranks “first in love”. The contrast between the salutation and tone of this letter and those of the letters written to the Asian Churches is significant. His special esteem and deference shown to the Church of Rome demonstrates that a basic consciousness of the primacy of the Church of Peter and Paul existed very early in the second century.
In his letter to the Trallians, it is taken for granted that each local Christian community is led by a single Bishop, a single Episcopos, assisted by a council of Presbyters (Priests) and several Deacons. According to Ignatius, “you cannot have a church without these”.
“The Letter to the Smyrnaeans”:
“The Letter to the Ephesians”:
“The Letter to the Romans”:
“The Letter to the Philadelphians”:
From Ignatius comes supporting evidence of hierarchy in the early church:
“The Letter to the Smyrnaeans”:
“The Letter to the Ephesians”:
Polycarp also makes mention of these letters in the epistle to the Philippians which bears his name, in these words as follows:
The holy martyrs Rufus and Zosimus had been taken with Ignatius, and they were slain in the arena two days before him.
And afterward he writes:
Irenæus also knew of his martyrdom and makes mention of his epistles in the following words:
The seven epistles of Saint Ignatius of Antioch considered by scholars to be the authentic texts are these:
The authenticity of the seven letters is guaranteed by Polycarp and Eusebius, who give the content and order of the letters.
This much respecting Ignatius. And in the Episcopate of the Assembly of Antioch Ignatius was succeeded by Heros.
Among those who flourished at that time was Quadratus of Athens, said to be distinguished for his prophetical gifts along with many others besides who were notable in those days, those of foremost rank among the successors of the Apostles. These also, being holy disciples of such great men, built up those congregations whose foundations were previously laid by the Apostles in every place; who augmented the means of the preaching of the Gospel more and more, and widely sowed the seeds of salvation and the kingdom of heaven throughout the whole world, both near, and far and wide.
For in fact the majority of the disciples of that time, animated by the divine word with a more ardent love for the divine word, had already first fulfilled the Savior’s commanding precept, having distributed their substance to the needy. Then leaving their country and setting out on long journeys they performed the office of evangelists for those who had not yet heard the word of the faith, while with their noble ambition to proclaim Christ they also gave to them the books of the four holy Gospels.
After only laying as preparation the foundations of the faith in foreign places, as the specific objective of their mission, and appointing others as Pastoral Shepherds of the flocks, and having entrusted them with the nurture of those that had recently been introduced into the Assembly, they themselves went on again to other regions, countries and nations, with the grace and the co-operation of God.
The Holy Spirit also continued working many wonders by His power through them, so that as soon as the first hearing of the Gospel, whole multitudes of men voluntarily, and eagerly, embraced the true faith of the religion of the Creator of the universe with their whole minds.
But since it is impossible for us to give the numbers of the names of all the individuals who became shepherding pastors or evangelists during the age of the first immediate succession of the Apostles in the assemblies throughout the world, we have recorded only the names of those of whom we have received an account from tradition, as contained in various commentaries in writings still extant, on those who have fittingly transmitted the apostolic doctrine to us.
We may mention as an example all that Ignatius has said in the epistles we have cited, and Clement in his epistle which is universally accepted by all, and which he wrote in the name of the Assembly of Rome to the Assembly of Corinth. In this epistle, after giving many thoughts drawn from the Epistle to the Hebrews, and also verbally quoting literally some of its wording, he most plainly demonstrates that this work is by no means a recent, late production.
For this reason, it seems probable that it was also counted with the other writings of the Apostles. For as Paul had addressed the Hebrews in his native language of his country, some say that the evangelist Luke, and others that Clement himself, translated the Epistle to the Hebrews. Eusebius says that Clement seems more probably like the truth, reasoning that the epistle of Clement and that to the Hebrews keep to the same characteristic features in regard to style and phraseology, and still further because the thoughts contained in both these works are not very different.
But it must also be observed that there is a second epistle ascribed to Clement. But we do not know that this is as highly esteemed and approved as the first, for we do not find that it has been quoted or cited by the ancients.
And other wordy and lengthy writings under his name have lately been reported by certain men, and some time ago those containing dialogues of Peter and Apion. But no mention of one syllable of them has been recorded by the ancients of the primitive church; for they do not even preserve the pure stamped impression of apostolic orthodoxy. The acknowledged writing of Clement is clearly obvious. We have spoken sufficiently also of the works of Ignatius and Polycarp.
There are five extant books of Papias, which bear the title Expositions of Oracles of the Lord, or Interpretations of our Lord’s Declarations. Irenæus also makes mention of these as the only works written by Papias, in the following words:
These are the words of Irenæus about Papias.
But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and an eyewitness of the holy Apostles, but he informs us by the words he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from their intimate friends, which he states as follows:
It is also appropriate to note that the name of John is twice mentioned by him. The first mention is in connection with Peter and James and Matthew, and the other Apostles, clearly meaning the Evangelist; but in a separate point of his discussion, after an interval, he mentions the other John, ranking him a place among others outside of the number of the Apostles, putting Aristion before him, and he plainly designates him with the name of Presbyter.
Here this proves that the statement of those is true, who assert there were two persons who bore the same name in Asia, and also that there were two tombs in Ephesus, and that both are called John’s, even to the present day; it is important to notice this. For if it is not admitted that the first saw the Revelation, it is probable that it was the second tomb which is ascribed by name to John.
And Papias also professes to have received the declarations of the Apostles from those who followed them in their company, but says that he himself was personally a hearer of Aristion and the Presbyter John. For as often as he mentions them by name, he also gives their traditions in his writings. This is no useless exercise.
It is also proper to add other passages from his works in which he relates some other wonderful events, together with other matters which he claims to have drawn from our recorded tradition.
Papias, a contemporary of Philip the Apostle who dwelt at Hierapolis with his daughters, says that he received a wonderful account from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that in his time one was raised from the dead. And he tells of another wonderful event that occurred, that of Justus, surnamed Barsabbas: that he drank a deadly poison, and experienced no injury, and suffered no harm, by the grace of the Lord. And this Justus is the one mentioned in the Book of Acts after the ascension of the Savior, where it records that the holy Apostles put forward him, together with Matthias, over whom they prayed, and cast lots, that one might be chosen to fill up their number in place of the traitor, Judas. The passage of scripture is as follows:
The same historian Papias also gives other accounts which he says he adds as received through unwritten tradition, certain similar strange parables and Teachings of the Savior, and some other things, which are rather more mythical fables. Among these belong the statement that there will certainly be a millennium period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that there would be a corporeal reign of the kingdom of Christ set up in material form on this very earth: an imaginative idea gotten through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, as if authorized by them, not correctly perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in their representative imagery. And this compiled account was the cause that so many of the ecclesiastical writers, urging in their own support the antiquity of the man, after him were carried away by a like opinion; as for instance Irenæus and any others who may have proclaimed similar views.
Papias inserts also in his own work other accounts as given by the authority of Aristion, already mentioned, with respect to our Lord, and also traditions as handed down from the Presbyter John; to which traditions we refer those who are eager to learn them; to which we must add, to the extracts from him we have already quoted, a tradition which he sets forth in regard to Mark, who wrote the Gospel.
These things are related by Papias concerning Mark.
But of Matthew he states in writing as follows:
And the same writer Papias made use of testimonies from the First Epistle of John and likewise from that of Peter. And he also relates another story of a woman, who had been accused of many sins before the Lord, which is also contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. And these things Eusebius believed necessary to observe in addition to what has been already stated.
As for the whole of the scriptures of the Jews and of the Apostles of the Lord as read by them and passed on to us from the time of the apostles, they are contained in the Holy Bible as it has been faithfully kept whole and entire by the power of the Holy Spirit and preserved by devout men and Shepherds of the church in the east and the west from the first century in both the Greek and Latin texts of the whole Bible, and translated into the tongues of the Gentile nations to this day.
The word of the Lord abides forever by the power of the Spirit of the Lord, who remains with us forever and leads us into all truth through his body, the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. That word is the Gospel which has been preached to you. The Gospel does not end. No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel, can avail against the Lord. The word of God is not chained. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. His Gospel endures forever!
And now, by the mercy of God, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Peace be with you.
Reading time about one hour forty-five minutes
Ad Gloriam Dei, 31 January 2019—developed by Michael Paul Heart and the editors of Conservapedia.
Revised on the eve of the Solemnity of Pentecost, 30 May 2020, by Michael Paul Heart