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Fighting in the mountains


Roman portrait bust, said to be of Flavius Josephus. From Les Dossiers d' Archéologie (2001).
Roman portrait bust, said to be
of Flavius Josephus (from Les Dossiers d' Archéologie, 2001; ©!!!)
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-c.100) describes in his Jewish antiquities a terrible war between king Herod, who had only recently been appointed by the Roman leaders Mark Antony and Octavian, and his future subjects, who refused to acknowledge their new king. (Josephus calls them 'robbers'.) Fightings like these were very unusual; they may give us an impression of the war against the soldiers of the Jewish leader Simon bar Kochba (132-136).
 

Flavius Josephus, Jewish antiquities 14.421ff

Herod went in haste against the robbers that were in the caves [...]. These caves were in mountains that were exceeding abrupt, and in their middle were no other than precipices, with certain entrances into the caves, and those caves were encompassed with sharp rocks, and in these did the robbers lie concealed, with all their families about them. But the king ordered certain chests to be made, in order to destroy them, and to be hung down, bound about with iron chains, by an engine, from the top of the mountain, it being not possible to get up to them, by reason of the sharp ascent of the mountains, nor to creep down to them from above.

Now these chests were filled with armed men, who had long hooks in their hands, by which they might pull out such as resisted them, and then tumble them down, and kill them by so doing. But letting the chests down proved to be a matter of great danger, because of the vast depth they were to be let down, although they had their provisions in the chests themselves.

But when the chests were let down, and not one of those in the mouths of the caves dared come near them, but lay still out of fear, some of the armed men girt on their armor, and by both their hands took hold of the chain by which the chests were let down, and went into the mouths of the caves, because they fretted that such delay was made by the robbers not daring to come out of the caves. And when they were at any of those mouths, they first killed many of those that were in the mouths with their darts, and afterwards pulled those to them that resisted them with their hooks, and tumbled them down the precipices, and afterwards went into the caves, and killed many more, and then went into their chests again, and lay still there. But, upon this, terror seized the rest, when they heard the lamentations that were made, and they despaired of escaping. 

However, when the night came on, that put an end to the whole work. And as the king proclaimed pardon by a herald to such as delivered themselves up to him, many accepted of the offer. The same method of assault was made use of the next day; and they went further, and got out in baskets to fight them, and fought them at their doors, and sent fire among them, and set their caves on fire, for there was a great deal of combustible matter within them.

Now there was one old man who was caught within one of these caves, with seven children and a wife. These prayed him to give them leave to go out, and yield themselves up to the enemy; but he stood at the cave's mouth, and always slew that child of his who went out, till he had destroyed them every one, and after that he slew his wife, and cast their dead bodies down the precipice, and himself after them, and so underwent death rather than slavery: but before he did this, he greatly reproached Herod with the meanness of his family, although he was then king. Herod also saw what he was doing, and stretched out his hand, and offered him all manner of security for his life; by which means all these caves were at length subdued entirely.

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