The Sword, A Better Instrument of Death Than Disease

David Burchard History, Speeches 1 Comment

This is the speech of Titus, as recorded by Josephus, to his soldiers, as they prepare to make an assault on an interior Jerusalem wall, after the fall of the Antonia wall. The initial assault is sure to mean death to many Romans, yet it is to be made for decisive victory:

“O fellow soldiers, to make an exhortation to men to do what hath no peril in it, is on that very account inglorious to such to whom that exhortation is made; and indeed so it is in him that makes the exhortation, an argument of his own cowardice also. I therefore think that such exhortations ought then only to be made use of when affairs are in a dangerous condition, and yet are worthy of being attempted by every one themselves; accordingly, I am fully of the same opinion with you, that it is a difficult task to go up this wall; but that it is proper for those that desire reputation for their valor to struggle with difficulties in such cases will then appear, when I have particularly shown that it is a brave thing to die with glory, and that the courage here necessary shall not go unrewarded in those that first begin the attempt. And let my first argument to move you to it be taken from what probably some would think reasonable to dissuade you, I mean the constancy and patience of these Jews, even under their ill successes; for it is unbecoming you, who are Romans and my soldiers, who have in peace been taught how to make wars, and who have also been used to conquer in those wars, to be inferior to Jews, either in action of the hand, or in courage of the soul, and this especially when you are at the conclusion of your victory, and are assisted by God himself; for as to our misfortunes, they have been owing to the madness of the Jews, while their sufferings have been owing to your valor, and to the assistance God hath afforded you; for as to the seditions they have been in, and the famine they are under, and the siege they now endure, and the fall of their walls without our engines, what can they all be but demonstrations of God’s anger against them, and of his assistance afforded us? It will not therefore be proper for you, either to show yourselves inferior to those to whom you are really superior, or to betray that Divine assistance which is afforded you. And, indeed, how can it be esteemed otherwise than a base and unworthy thing, that while the Jews, who need not be much ashamed if they be deserted, because they have long learned to be slaves to others, do yet despise death, that they may be so no longer; and do make sallies into the very midst of us frequently, no in hopes of conquering us, but merely for a demonstration of their courage; we, who have gotten possession of almost all the world that belongs to either land or sea, to whom it will be a great shame if we do not conquer them, do not once undertake any attempt against our enemies wherein there is much danger, but sit still idle, with such brave arms as we have, and only wait till the famine and fortune do our business themselves, and this when we have it in our power, with some small hazard, to gain all that we desire! For if we go up to this tower of Antonia, we gain the city; for if there should be any more occasion for fighting against those within the city, which I do not suppose there will, since we shall then be upon the top of the hill (1) and be upon our enemies before they can have taken breath, these advantages promise us no less than a certain and sudden victory. As for myself, I shall at present wave any commendation of those who die in war, (2) and omit to speak of the immortality of those men who are slain in the midst of their martial bravery; yet cannot I forbear to imprecate upon those who are of a contrary disposition, that they may die in time of peace, by some distemper or other, since their souls are condemned to the grave, together with their bodies. For what man of virtue is there who does not know, that those souls which are severed from their fleshly bodies in battles by the sword are received by the ether, that purest of elements, and joined to that company which are placed among the stars; that they become good demons, and propitious heroes, and show themselves as such to their posterity afterwards? while upon those souls that wear away in and with their distempered bodies comes a subterranean night to dissolve them to nothing, and a deep oblivion to take away all the remembrance of them, and this notwithstanding they be clean from all spots and defilements of this world; so that, in this ease, the soul at the same time comes to the utmost bounds of its life, and of its body, and of its memorial also. But since he hath determined that death is to come of necessity upon all men, a sword is a better instrument for that purpose than any disease whatsoever. Why is it not then a very mean thing for us not to yield up that to the public benefit which we must yield up to fate? And this discourse have I made, upon the supposition that those who at first attempt to go upon this wall must needs be killed in the attempt, though still men of true courage have a chance to escape even in the most hazardous undertakings. For, in the first place, that part of the former wall that is thrown down is easily to be ascended; and for the new-built wall, it is easily destroyed. Do you, therefore, many of you, pull up your courage, and set about this work, and do you mutually encourage and assist one another; and this your bravery will soon break the hearts of your enemies; and perhaps such a glorious undertaking as yours is may be accomplished without bloodshed. For although it be justly to be supposed that the Jews will try to hinder you at your first beginning to go up to them; yet when you have once concealed yourselves from them, and driven them away by force, they will not be able to sustain your efforts against them any longer, though but a few of you prevent them, and get over the wall. As for that person who first mounts the wall, I should blush for shame if I did not make him to be envied of others, by those rewards I would bestow upon him. If such a one escape with his life, he shall have the command of others that are now but his equals; although it be true also that the greatest rewards will accrue to such as die in the attempt.”(3)

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  1. Pingback: Josephus, On That Most Diminutive Sabinus – Creaturely Consideration

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