Jerusalem
Jerusalem Photo by Daniel Bar-On
Text size
related tags

On this day in 70 C.E., the Roman siege of Jerusalem ended as rebel forces in the city were vanquished. The siege and conquest of Jerusalem was the climax of the Great Revolt, which began four years earlier with a number of attacks by Jewish rebels in the Land of Israel against Roman authorities. After Syrian-based legionnaires failed to put down the unrest, responsibility for quelling the rebellion fell to the Roman general Vespasian, accompanied by his son Titus. They slowly made their way south from the Galilee beginning in 67 C.E., conquering town after town.  When Vespasian returned to Rome to become emperor in 69 C.E., Titus took over the leadership of the counter-offensive.

Titus began his assault on Jerusalem in March of 70 C.E. with the help of four Roman legions who trapped between 600,000 (according to Tacitus) and 1 million people (the estimate of Josephus) in the city. The residents’ situation was significantly worsened by the fact that the Jewish extremist group, the Sicarii, burned the Jewish population’s stocks of food as part of a strategy meant to force them to fight the Romans rather than negotiate surrender.

Following the destruction of the Third Wall and the Antonia Fortress, the Romans set themselves to conquering the Temple. Titus supposedly intended to leave the grand structure – just built in the preceding century by Herod the Great – intact to turn it into a temple to Jupiter, but a Roman soldier threw a torch into it and burned it to the ground famously on the 9thof Av. By this point in late August of 70 C.E., many Jews fled the city and others moved to the upper city to make a final stand. The upper city fell on September 7 (although some sources say it happened September 26).

According to Josephus, the former Jewish general who defected to the Romans and became the great historian of the “Jewish Wars,” Titus killed most of the residents of the city, and ordered the razing of all but its tallest structures. Titus went on to succeed his father as emperor when Vespasian died in 79 C.E. His conquest of Jerusalem is commemorated by and dramatically depicted in the Arch of Titus, which tourists can visit today in Rome. (On another historical note, Titus also had a love affair with the Jewish Queen Berenice, daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who joined him in Rome during Vespasian’s rule.)