Siege of Jerusalem (70 CE)

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Siege of Jerusalem (70 CE)
Part of the First Jewish–Roman War
Map indicating progress of the Roman army during the siege
Progress of the Roman army during the siege.
Date14 April – 8 September 70 CE
(Template:Age in months, weeks and days)
LocationLua error in Module:Coordinates at line 492: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).

Decisive Roman victory

  • Main rebel Judean forces subdued.
  • City of Jerusalem and the Temple of Jerusalem destroyed.
  • Further Roman expansion into the Levant
Roman rule of Jerusalem restored
Roman Empire

Remnants of the Judean provisional government

Commanders and leaders
Julius Alexander
Simon bar GioraTemplate:Executed John of GiscalaTemplate:POW
Eleazar ben SimonTemplate:KIA
70,000 15,000–20,000 10,000
Casualties and losses
Unknown 15,000–20,000 10,000
According to Josephus, 1.1 million non-combatants died in Jerusalem, mainly as a result of the violence and famine, but this number exceeds the entire pre-siege population of Jerusalem. Many of the casualties were observant Jews from across the world such as Babylon and Egypt who had travelled to Jerusalem wanting to celebrate the yearly Passover but instead got trapped in the chaotic siege.[1]
He also writes that 97,000 were enslaved.[1]
Matthew White, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things (Norton, 2012) p.52,[2] estimates the combined death toll[clarification needed] for the First and Third Roman Jewish Wars as being approximately 350,000

The siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE was the decisive event of the First Jewish–Roman War, in which the Roman army captured the city of Jerusalem and destroyed both the city and its Temple. The Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus, with Tiberius Julius Alexander as his second-in-command, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem, which had been controlled by Judean rebel factions since 66 CE, following the Jerusalem riots of 66, when the Judean provisional government was formed in Jerusalem.

The siege of the city began on 14 April 70 CE, three days before the beginning of Passover that year.[3][4] The Jews enjoyed some minor victories, one highpoint being when sappers from Adiabene managed to tunnel under the city and set bitumen fires in the tunnels, which collapsed with the Roman siege engines falling into the crevices.[5]

The siege lasted for about five months; it ended in August 70 CE on Tisha B'Av with the burning and destruction of the Second Temple.[6] The Romans then entered and sacked the Lower City. The Arch of Titus, celebrating the Roman sack of Jerusalem and the Temple, still stands in Rome. The conquest of the city was complete on approximately 8 September 70 CE.

Josephus places the siege in the second year of Vespasian,[7] which corresponds to year 70 of the Common Era.


Despite early successes in repelling the Roman sieges, the Zealots fought amongst themselves, and they lacked proper leadership, resulting in poor discipline, training, and preparation for the battles that were to follow. At one point they destroyed the food stocks in the city, a drastic measure thought to have been undertaken perhaps in order to enlist a merciful God's intervention on behalf of the besieged Jews,[8] or as a stratagem to make the defenders more desperate, supposing that was necessary in order to repel the Roman army.[9]

Titus began his siege a few days before Passover,[3] on 14 April,[4] surrounding the city with three legions (V Macedonica, XII Fulminata, XV Apollinaris) on the western side and a fourth (X Fretensis) on the Mount of Olives, to the east.[10][11] If the reference in his Jewish War at 6:421 is to Titus's siege, though difficulties exist with its interpretation, then at the time, according to Josephus, Jerusalem was thronged with many people who had come to celebrate Passover.[12]

The thrust of the siege began in the west at the Third Wall, north of the Jaffa Gate. By May, this was breached and the Second Wall also was taken shortly afterwards, leaving the defenders in possession of the Temple and the upper and lower city. The Jewish defenders were split into factions: John of Gischala's group murdered another faction leader, Eleazar ben Simon, whose men were entrenched in the forecourts of the Temple.[3] The enmities between John of Gischala and Simon bar Giora were papered over only when the Roman siege engineers began to erect ramparts. Titus then had a wall built to girdle the city in order to starve out the population more effectively. After several failed attempts to breach or scale the walls of the Fortress of Antonia, the Romans finally launched a secret attack. [3]

When Romans reached Antonia they tried to destroy the wall which protected it. They removed four stones only, but during the night the wall collapsed. "John had used his stratagem before, and had undermined their banks, that the ground then gave way, and the wall fell down suddenly." (v. 28) [13]

Titus had raised banks beside court of the Temple: on north-west corner, on north side, on west side (v. 150). [14]

Jews then attacked Romans on the east, near Mount of Olives, but Titus drove them back to the valley. Zealots set the north-west colonnade on fire (v. 165). Romans set on fire next one. The Jews wanted it to burn (v. 166).

Jews also trapped some Roman soldiers when they wanted to climb over the wall. They had burned wood under the wall when Romans were trapped on it (v.178-183). Meanwhile, in the city, Jews starved and some ate their own children (v. 206-212) One woman "...slew her son, and then roasted him, and ate the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed". [15]

After Jewish allies killed a number of Roman soldiers, Titus sent Josephus, the Jewish historian, to negotiate with the defenders; this ended with Jews wounding the negotiator with an arrow, and another sally was launched shortly after. Titus was almost captured during this sudden attack, but escaped.

Overlooking the Temple compound, the fortress provided a perfect point from which to attack the Temple itself. Battering rams made little progress, but the fighting itself eventually set the walls on fire; a Roman soldier threw a burning stick onto one of the Temple's walls. Destroying the Temple was not among Titus's goals, possibly due in large part to the massive expansions done by Herod the Great mere decades earlier. Titus had wanted to seize it and transform it into a temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor and the Roman pantheon. However, the fire spread quickly and was soon out of control. The Temple was captured and destroyed on 9/10 Tisha B'Av, sometime in August 70 CE, and the flames spread into the residential sections of the city.[3][11] Josephus described the scene:

As the legions charged in, neither persuasion nor threat could check their impetuosity: passion alone was in command. Crowded together around the entrances many were trampled by their friends, many fell among the still hot and smoking ruins of the colonnades and died as miserably as the defeated. As they neared the Sanctuary they pretended not even to hear Caesar's commands and urged the men in front to throw in more firebrands. The partisans were no longer in a position to help; everywhere was slaughter and flight. Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom.[16]

Catapulta, by Edward Poynter (1868). Siege engines such as this were employed by the Roman army during the siege.

Josephus's account absolves Titus of any culpability for the destruction of the Temple, but this may merely reflect his desire to procure favor with the Flavian dynasty.[16][17]

The Roman legions quickly crushed the remaining Jewish resistance. Some of the remaining Jews escaped through hidden tunnels and sewers, while others made a final stand in the Upper City.[18] This defense halted the Roman advance as they had to construct siege towers to assail the remaining Jews. Herod's Palace fell on 7 September, and the city was completely under Roman control by 8 September.[19][page needed][20] The Romans continued to pursue those who had fled the city.

Destruction of Jerusalem

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts (1850).
Stones from the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (Jerusalem) thrown onto the street by Roman soldiers on the Ninth of Av, 70

The account of Josephus described Titus as moderate in his approach and, after conferring with others, ordering that the 500-year-old Temple be spared. According to Josephus, it was the Jews who first used fire in the Northwest approach to the Temple to try and stop Roman advances. Only then did Roman soldiers set fire to an apartment adjacent to the Temple, starting a conflagration which the Jews subsequently made worse.[21]

Josephus had acted as a mediator for the Romans and, when negotiations failed, witnessed the siege and aftermath. He wrote:

Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), [Titus] Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as they were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.[22]
And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judaea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again. But though he [a foreigner] were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it.[23]

Josephus claims that 1.1 million people were killed during the siege, of which a majority were Jewish. Josephus attributes this to the celebration of Passover which he uses as rationale for the vast number of people present among the death toll.[24] The revolt had not deterred pilgrims from Jewish diaspora communities from trekking to Jerusalem to visit the Temple at Passover, and a large number became trapped in the city and perished during the siege.[25] Armed rebels, as well as the frail citizens, were put to death. All of Jerusalem's remaining citizens became Roman prisoners. After the Romans killed the armed and elder people, 97,000 were still enslaved, including Simon bar Giora and John of Giscala.[26] Of the 97,000, thousands were forced to become gladiators and eventually expired in the arena. Many others were forced to assist in the building of the Forum of Peace and the Colosseum. Those under 17 years of age were sold into servitude.[27] Josephus' death toll assumptions were rejected as impossible by Seth Schwartz (1984), as according to his estimates at that time about a million people lived in Palestine, about half of whom were Jews, and sizable Jewish populations remained in the area after the war was over, even in the hard-hit region of Judea.[28] Titus and his soldiers celebrated victory upon their return to Rome by parading the Menorah and Table of the Bread of God's Presence through the streets. Up until this parading, these items had only ever been seen by the High Priest of the Temple. This event was memorialized in the Arch of Titus.[27][24] Some 700 Judean prisoners were paraded through the streets of Rome in chains during the triumph, among them John of Giscala, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Simon bar Giora, who was executed.[29]

Many Jews fled to areas around the Mediterranean. According to Philostratus, writing in the early years of the 3rd century, Titus reportedly refused to accept a wreath of victory, saying that the victory did not come through his own efforts but that he had merely served as an instrument of divine wrath.[30]


After the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the city and its Temple, there were still a few Judean strongholds in which the rebels continued holding out, at Herodium, Machaerus, and Masada.[31] Both Herodium and Machaerus fell to the Roman army within the next two years, with Masada remaining as the final stronghold of the Judean rebels. In 73 CE, the Romans breached the walls of Masada and captured the fortress, with Josephus claiming that nearly all of the Jewish defenders had committed mass suicide prior to the entry of the Romans.[32] With the fall of Masada, the First Jewish–Roman War came to an end.



  • Judaea Capta coinage: Judaea Capta coins were a series of commemorative coins originally issued by the Roman Emperor Vespasian to celebrate the capture of Judaea and the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by his son Titus in 70 CE during the First Jewish-Roman War.[33]
  • Temple of Peace: In 75 CE, the Temple of Peace, also known as the Forum of Vespasian, was built under Emperor Vespasian in Rome. The monument was built to celebrate the conquest of Jerusalem and it is said to have housed the Menorah from Herod's Temple.[34]
  • Flavian Amphitheater: Otherwise known as the Colosseum built from 70 to 80. Archaeological discoveries have found a block of travertine that bears dowel holes that show the Jewish Wars financed the building of the Flavian Amphitheatre.[35]
  • Arch of Titus: c. 82 CE, Roman Emperor Domitian constructed the Arch of Titus on Via Sacra, Rome, to commemorate the capture and siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which effectively ended the First Jewish–Roman War, although the Romans did not achieve complete victory until the fall of Masada in 73 CE.[36]


Perceptions and historical legacy

The Jewish Amoraim attributed the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem as punishment from God for the "baseless" hatred that pervaded Jewish society at the time.[37] Many Jews in despair are thought to have abandoned Judaism for some version of paganism, many others sided with the growing Christian sect within Judaism.[28]:196–198

The destruction was an important point in the separation of Christianity from its Jewish roots: many Christians responded by distancing themselves from the rest of Judaism, as reflected in the Gospels, which portray Jesus as anti-Temple and view the destruction of the temple as punishment for rejection of Jesus.[28]:30–31

In later art

'Siege and destruction of Jerusalem', La Passion de Nostre Seigneur c.1504

The war in Judaea, particularly the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, have inspired writers and artists through the centuries. The bas-relief in the Arch of Titus has been influential in establishing the Menorah as the most dramatic symbol of the looting of the Second Temple.[citation needed]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Josephus. BJ. Translated by Whiston, William. 6.9.3 – via PACE: Project on Ancient Cultural Engagement., Template:Perseus, .
  2. "Atrocity statistics from the Roman Era". Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Schäfer, Peter (2003). The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World: The Jews of Palestine from Alexander the Great to the Arab. Conquest Routledge. p. 129–130. ISBN 9781134403172.
  4. 4.0 4.1 War of the Jews Book V, sect. 99 (Ch. 3, paragraph 1 in Whiston's translation); dates given are approximations since the correspondence between the calendar Josephus used and modern calendars is uncertain.
  5. Si Shepperd, The Jewish Revolt AD 66-74, (Osprey Publishing), p. 62.
  6. The destruction of both the First and Second Temples is still mourned annually during the Jewish fast of Tisha B'Av.
  7. The Jewish War 6:4
  8. Ben-Yehuda, Nachman (2010). Theocratic Democracy: The Social Construction of Religious and Secular Extremism. Oxford University Press. p. 91. ISBN 9780199813230.
  9. Telushkin, Joseph (1991). Jewish Literacy. NY: William Morrow and Co. Retrieved 11 December 2017. While the Romans would have won the war in any case, the Jewish civil war both hastened their victory and immensely increased the casualties. One horrendous example: In expectation of a Roman siege, Jerusalem's Jews had stockpiled a supply of dry food that could have fed the city for many years. But one of the warring Zealot factions burned the entire supply, apparently hoping that destroying this "security blanket" would compel everyone to participate in the revolt. The starvation resulting from this mad act caused suffering as great as any the Romans inflicted.
  10. Sheppard, Si (20 October 2013). The Jewish Revolt AD 66-74. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 42. ISBN 9781780961842.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Levick, Barbara (1999). Vespasian. Routledge. p. 116–119. ISBN 9780415338660.
  12. Colautti, Frederico M. (2002). Passover in the Works of Flavius Josephus. BRILL. p. 115–131. ISBN 9004123725.
  13. Whiston, William (1895) [1895]. The Works of Flavius Josephus. A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. p. 28. ISBN 9781134371372.
  14. Whiston, William (1895) [1895]. The Works of Flavius Josephus. A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. p. 150. ISBN 9781134371372.
  15. Whiston, William (1895) [1895]. The Works of Flavius Josephus. A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. p. 206. ISBN 9781134371372.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Schäfer, Peter (2013) [1995]. The History of the Jews in Antiquity. Routledge. p. 191–192. ISBN 9781134371372.
  17. "A.D. 70 Titus Destroys Jerusalem". Christian History. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  18. Peter J. Fast (November 2012). 70 A. D.: A War of the Jews. AuthorHouse. p. 761. ISBN 978-1-4772-6585-7.
  19. Si Sheppard (20 October 2013). The Jewish Revolt AD 66–74. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78096-185-9.
  20. Dr Robert Wahl (2006). Foundations of Faith. David C Cook. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-7814-4380-7.
  21. Hadas-Lebel, Mireille (2006). Jerusalem Against Rome. Peeters Publishers. p. 86.
  22. Josephus. BJ. Translated by Whiston, William. 7.1.1 – via PACE: Project on Ancient Cultural Engagement..
  23. Josephus. BJ. Translated by Whiston, William. 6.1.1 – via PACE: Project on Ancient Cultural Engagement..
  24. 24.0 24.1 Goldberg, G J. "Chronology of the War According to Josephus: Part 7, The Fall of Jerusalem". Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  25. Wettstein, Howard: Diasporas and Exiles: Varieties of Jewish Identity, p. 31 (2002). University of California Press
  26. Josephus, The Wars of the Jews VI.9.3
  27. 27.0 27.1 "Titus' Siege of Jerusalem – Livius". Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Schwartz, Seth (1984). "Political, social and economic life in the land of Israel". In Davies, William David; Finkelstein, Louis; Katz, Steven T. (eds.). The Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period. Cambridge University Press. p. 24. ISBN 9780521772488.
  29. Civan, Julian: Abraham's Knife: The Mythology of the Deicide in Anti-Semitism, p. 68
  30. Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6.29
  31. Tropper, Amram D. (2016). Rewriting Ancient Jewish History: The History of the Jews in Roman Times and the New Historical Method. Routledge Studies in Ancient History. Taylor & Francis. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-317-24708-1. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  32. Josephus, Flavius (1974). Wasserstein, Abraham (ed.). Flavius Josephus: Selections from His Works (1st ed.). New York: Viking Press. pp. 186–300. OCLC 470915959.
  33. Andrea Moresino-Zipper (2009). Gerd Theissen; et al. (eds.). Die Judaea-Capta-Münze und das Motiv der Palme. Römisches Siegessymbol oder Repräsentation Judäas? (The Judaea Capta coin and the image of the palm tree: Roman symbol of victory, or representation of Judaea?). Jerusalem und die Länder: Ikonographie–Topographie–Theologie. Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus/Studien zur Umwelt des Neuen Testaments (NTOA/StUNT) (Book 70) (in Deutsch). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. pp. 61, 64–67. ISBN 9783525533901. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  34. "". Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  35. Alföldy, Géza (1995). "Eine Bauinschrift Aus Dem Colosseum". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. 109: 195–226.
  36. "The Arch of Titus". Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  37. Yoma, 9b
  38. Livingston, Michael (2004). "Introduction". Siege of Jerusalem. TEAMS Middle English Texts. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  39. Page, R. I. (1999). An Introduction to English Runes. Woodbridge. pp. 176–177.
  40. Soloveichik, Meir (12 July 2018). "How Rembrandt Understood the Destruction of Jerusalem (and Poussin Didn't)". Mosaic Magazine. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  41. Zissos, Andrew (31 December 2015). A Companion to the Flavian Age of Imperial Rome. Wiley. p. 493. ISBN 9781118878170. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  42. "David Roberts' 'The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70'". Jerusalem: Fall of a City—Rise of a Vision. University of Nottingham. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  43. McBee, Richard (8 August 2011). "Mourning, Memory, and Art". Jewish Ideas Daily. Retrieved 28 August 2018.

External links

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