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Siege of Jerusalem
Part of the First Jewish-Roman War
Siege of JerusalemfiMap.PNG
Roman army progress during the siege of Jerusalem (70 AD)
Date February – August 70
Location Jerusalem, Judaea
31°46′41″N 35°14′9″E / 31.77806°N 35.23583°E / 31.77806; 35.23583Coordinates: 31°46′41″N 35°14′9″E / 31.77806°N 35.23583°E / 31.77806; 35.23583
Result Siege succeeds;
Jerusalem is returned under Roman rule
Vexilloid of the Roman Empire.svg Roman Empire File:Menorah Titus.jpg Jews of Judea
  • Saduccees
  • Peasantry
  • Factions of Idumeans
Titus Flavius Vespasianus Simon Bar Giora John of Gischala
Eleazar ben Simon
70,000 men 20-30,000 men 10,000 men
Casualties and losses
Unknown 30,000 10,000

The Siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD was the decisive event of the First Jewish-Roman War. 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 occupied by its Jewish defenders in 66 AD.

The siege ended with the sacking of the city and the destruction of its famous Second Temple. The destruction of both the first and second temples is still mourned annually as the Jewish fast Tisha B'Av. The Arch of Titus, celebrating the Roman sack of Jerusalem and the Temple, still stands in Rome.


Map of Jerusalem in 70; the Temple is in yellow

Template:Campaignbox First Jewish-Roman War Template:Refimprove section 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.

Titus surrounded 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.[1] He put pressure on the food and water supplies of the inhabitants by allowing pilgrims to enter the city to celebrate Passover, and then refusing to allow them back out. 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.

In mid-May Titus set to destroying the newly built Third Wall with a ram, breaching it as well as the Second Wall, and turning his attention to the Fortress of Antonia just north of the Temple Mount. The Romans were then drawn into street fighting with the Zealots, who were then ordered to retreat to the temple to avoid heavy losses. Josephus failed in another attempt at negotiations, and Jewish attacks prevented the construction of siege towers at the Fortress of Antonia. Food, water, and other provisions were dwindling inside the city, but small foraging parties managed to sneak supplies into the city, harrying Roman forces in the process. To put an end to the foragers, orders were issued to build a new wall, and siege tower construction was restarted as well.

Catapulta, by Edward Poynter (1868). Siege engines such as this would have been used by the Roman army during the attack.

After several failed attempts to breach or scale the walls of the Antonia Fortress, the Romans finally launched a secret attack, overwhelming the sleeping Zealots and taking the fortress. 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' 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. The fire spread quickly and was soon out of control. The Temple was destroyed on Tisha B'Av, in the beginning of August, and the flames spread into the residential sections of the city.[1]

The Roman legions quickly crushed the remaining Jewish resistance. Part of the remaining Jews escaped through hidden underground tunnels, while others made a final stand in the Upper City. This defence halted the Roman advance as they had to construct siege towers to assail the remaining Jews. The city was completely under Roman control by September 7 and 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. (Solomon's Temple dated to the 10th century BC, though the physical structure was Herod's Temple, about 90 years old at the time.) According to Josephus, the Roman soldiers grew furious with Jewish attacks and tactics and, against Titus' orders, set fire to an apartment adjacent to the Temple, which soon spread all throughout. However, Josephus may have written this in order to appease his coreligionists.

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.[2]
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.[3]

Josephus claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege, of which a majority were Jewish, and that 97,000 were captured and enslaved, including Simon bar Giora and John of Giscala.[4]

"The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination."[5]

Many fled to areas around the Mediterranean. 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 God's wrath.[6]



  • 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 during the First Jewish Revolt.
  • Temple of Peace: In 75, 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.[7]
  • Flavian Amphitheater: Otherwise known as the Colosseum built from 70 to 80 AD. Archaeological discoveries have found a block of travertine that bears dowel holes that show the Jewish Wars financed the building of the Flavian Amphitheatre.[8]
  • Arch of Titus: In around c.82, Roman Emperor Domitian constructed the Arch of Titus on Via Sacra, Rome, to commemorate the capture and siege of Jerusalem in 70, which effectively ended the Great Jewish Revolt, although the Romans did not achieve complete victory until the fall of Masada in 73.


  • Tisha B'Av


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.[9]

In later art

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.

  • The Franks Casket. The back side of the casket depicts the Siege of 70.
  • The Destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem by Nicolas Poussin (1637). Oil on canvas, 147 x 198,5 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Depicts the destruction and looting of the Second Temple by the Roman army led by Titus.
  • The Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus by Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1846). Oil on canvas, 585 x 705 cm. Neue Pinakothek, Munich. An allegorical depiction of the destruction of Jerusalem, dramatically centered around the figure of the High Priest, with Titus entering from the right.
  • The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, 70 by David Roberts (1850). Oil on canvas, 136 x 197 cm. Private collection. Depicts the burning and looting of Jerusalem by the Roman army under Titus.
  • The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez (1867). Oil on canvas, 183 x 252 cm. Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Venice. Depicts the destruction and looting of the Second Temple by the Roman army.

See also


  • Cawthorne, Nigel. History's Greatest Battles: Masterstrokes of War. pp. 31–37. ISBN 1-84193-290-6. 
  1. 1.0 1.1 Levick, Barbara (1999). Vespasian. London: Routledge, pp. 116–119. ISBN 0-415-16618-7
  2. Flavius Josephus. The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. Containing The Interval Of About Three Years. From The Taking Of Jerusalem By Titus To The Sedition At Cyrene. Book VII. Chapter 1.1
  3. Flavius Josephus. The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. BOOK VI. Containing The Interval Of About One Month. From The Great Extremity To Which The Jews Were Reduced To The Taking Of Jerusalem By Titus.. Book VI. Chapter 1.1
  4. Josephus, The Wars of the Jews VI.9.3
  5. "Milman, The History of the Jews, book 16". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  6. Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6.29
  7. "". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  8. ALFÖLDY, GÉZA (1995). "Eine Bauinschrift Aus Dem Colosseum.". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 109: 195–226. 
  9. Yoma, 9b

External links