The Burning of the Temple. AD70
But then on the next day, Titus commanded part of his army to quench the fire, [consuming the gates] and to make a road for the more easy marching up of the legions, while he himself gathered the commanders together. Of those there were assembled the six principal persons: Tiberius Alexander, the commander [under the general] of the whole army; with Sextus Cerealis, the commander of the fifth legion; and Larcius Lepidus, the commander of the tenth legion; and Titus Frigius, the commander of the fifteenth legion: there was also with them Eternius, the leader of the two legions that came from Alexandria; and Marcus Antonius Julianus, procurator of Judea: after these came together all the rest of the procurators and tribunes. Titus proposed to these that they should give him their advice what should be done about the holy house.
Now, some of these thought it would be the best way to act according to the rules of war, and demolish it; because the Jews would never leave off rebelling while that house was standing; at which house it was that they used to get all together. Others of them were of opinion, that in case the Jews would leave it, and none of them would lay their arms up in it, he might save it; but that in case they got upon it, and fought any more, he might burn it; because it must then be looked upon not as a holy house, but as a citadel: and that the impiety of burning it would then belong to those that forced this to be done, and not to them.
But Titus said, that “although the Jews should get upon that holy house, and fight us thence, yet ought we not to revenge ourselves on things that are inanimate, instead of the men themselves;” and that he was not in any case for burning down so vast a work as that was, because this would be a mischief to the Romans themselves, as it would be an ornament to their government while it continued. So Fronto, and Alexander, and Cerealis, grew bold upon that declaration, and agreed to the opinion of Titus. Then was this assembly dissolved, when Titus had given orders to the commanders that the rest of their forces should lie still; but that they should make use of such as were most courageous in this attack. So he commanded that the chosen men that were taken out of the cohorts should make their way through the ruins and quench the fire. [i.e. the fire that burned the gates and some of the cloisters of the Temple structure.]
Now it is true, that on this day the Jews were so weary, and under such consternation, that they refrained from any attacks; but on the next day they gathered their whole force together, and ran upon those that guarded the outward court of the temple, very boldly, through the east gate, and this about the second hour of the day. These guards received that their attack with great bravery, and by covering themselves with their shields before, as if it were with a wall, they drew their squadrons close together; yet was it evident that they could not abide there very long, but would be overborne by the multitude of those that sallied out upon them, and by the heat of their passion. However, Caesar seeing, from the tower of Antonia, that this squadron was likely to give way, he sent some chosen horsemen to support them. Hereupon the Jews found themselves not able to sustain their onset, and upon the slaughter of those in the fore-front, many of the rest were put to flight; but as the Romans were going off, the Jews turned upon them and fought them, and as those Romans came back upon them, they retreated again, until about the fifth hour of the day they were overborne and shut themselves up in the inner court of the temple.
So Titus retired into the tower of Antonia, and resolved to storm the temple the next day, early in the morning, with his whole army, and to encamp round about the holy house, but, as for that house, God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire and now the fatal day was come, according to the revolution of the ages; it was the tenth day of the month Lous [Ab] upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon; although these flames took their rise from the Jews themselves and were occasioned by them; for upon Titus’s retiring, the seditious lay still for a little while, and then attacked the Romans again, when those that guarded the holy house fought with those that quenched the fire that was burning in the inner [court of the] temple; but these Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the holy house itself.
At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched somewhat out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the holy house, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward the Jews made a great clamour, such as so mighty an affliction required, and ran together to prevent it; and now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered anything to restrain their force, since that holy house was perishing, for whose sake it was that they kept such a guard about it. [10th of Ab was Sunday 5th August on the Roman Calendar of AD70]
And now a certain person came running to Titus, and told him of this fire as he was resting himself in his tent after the last battle; whereupon he rose up in great haste, and as he was, ran to the holy house, in order to have a stop put to the fire; after him followed all his commanders, and after them followed the several legions, in great astonishment; so there was a great clamour and tumult raised, as was natural upon the disorderly motion of so great an army. Then did Caesar, both by calling to the soldiers that were fighting, with a loud voice, and by giving a signal to them with his right hand, order them to quench the fire; but they did not hear what he said, though he spoke so loud, having their ears already dinned by a greater noise another way; nor did they attend the signal he made with his right hand neither, as still some of them were distracted with fighting, and others with passion; but as for the legions that came running thither, neither any persuasions nor any threatenings could restrain their violence, but each one’s own passion was his commander at this time.
[Flavius Josephus, (AD37 – 100) formerly Joseph ben Matthias, was present at the sacking of Jerusalem in AD70, and being a scholar, wrote voluminously about the Wars of the Jews. The episode quoted above comes from Book 6, Chapter 5, translated from the Greek by William Whiston in 1737]