…the greatest site of physical destruction and renewal known to history…
Although the fortitude of the walled-city of Jerusalem and its people stretches through some 6,000 years, this project will consider events either side of the Roman destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Following a bitter five-month siege, the Roman legions of the future Emperor Titus finally conquered Jerusalem, and were then let loose on the city. The historian Josephus tells us of the carnage – claiming that 97,000 were taken captive, and over a million died in the city (The Jewish War 6.9.3) – as the Romans proceeded to level Jerusalem:
‘…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… Titus gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest importance… and so much of the wall as 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, as were the three towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valour had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, 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 there believe it 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.’ (The Jewish War 7.1.1)
After further rebellion – the Bar Kokhba Revolt – some sixty years later, the emperor Hadrian built a military post known as Aelia Capiolina on the Temple Mount. This would not be a ‘new Jerusalem’, but instead a city recast in Rome’s own image and rebuilt for Rome’s own benefit. This was a pagan colony from which all Jews were now banned.
In taking this course of action, the Roman tratement of Jerusalem was highly unusual: why did they cast this city, and Jewish religion and society, into oblivion? What can these terrible events teach us about resilience? What lessons can we see in the future history of a people unjustly exiled and a city so terribly reduced?