Titus, Flavius Vespasianus°

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TITUS, FLAVIUS VESPASIANUS, ° emperor of Rome, 79–81 c.e., destroyer of the Second *Temple in 70. Titus was the son of *Vespasian and accompanied him to Judea when he was appointed by *Nero to suppress the uprising there (66). Arriving in Judea with legions from Alexandria, Titus took an active part in the conquest of Galilee, under the command of Vespasian. He captured Jotapata (where he spared the life of *Josephus, who had been in command) and other cities, including Tarichea and Gamala, leaving Giscala (גּוּשׁ חָלָב) the only Galilean city still to be subdued. Seeking the surrender of the city without resort to battle, he succumbed to a ruse of its commander *John of Giscala, who asked for surrender negotiations to be delayed until after the Sabbath and used the opportunity to escape to Jerusalem together with those of his followers who survived the pursuit of Titus. When Vespasian became emperor in 69, he entrusted Titus with the suppression of the revolt. Titus was in Egypt at the time, and left by sea for Caesarea, where he organized his forces.

At Jerusalem

Titus had at his disposal four legions, supplemented by auxiliary forces, including the army of *Agrippa ii. *Tiberius Alexander acted as the Roman commander's chief adviser and assistant. Moving on Jerusalem, he encamped on Mount Scopus shortly before Passover, 70, and after surveying the scene decided to make his way to the city's walls through the less densely populated new city. He gave orders for embankments to be built from which to attack the (outer) wall, for which purpose most of the trees in the vicinity were uprooted.

The Roman soldiers were constantly harassed by the Jews, who succeeded in undermining and destroying the embankments. The enraged Titus led a cavalry charge against the Jews, in which he personally killed 12 of his opponents (Jos., Wars, 5:287ff.; Suetonius, Titus, 5). Titus then launched his attack on the second wall, from an area known as the "Assyrian Camp," the Romans being obliged to storm the wall for a second time, after it was recaptured from them by the Jews. Titus gave instructions that everything was to be destroyed. Realizing that the city could not be conquered by storm, Titus decided to vanquish its citizens by starvation, calling for the erection of a further wall to seal off all access to and from the Jews concentrated in the Temple area. At the same time the Romans again erected embankments, which necessitated the carrying of logs over great distances. Many Jews who sought to escape the rigors of the famine were caught and severely tortured by the Romans, who even disemboweled their victims in the hope of extricating gold which they believed the Jews to have swallowed (Jos., Wars, 5:548ff.).

The daily sacrifices in the Temple, which had continued without interruption, finally ceased on the 17th day of Tammuz. At various stages during the battle for Jerusalem, Josephus was sent by Titus to appeal to the Jews to surrender. The Jews scornfully rejected his pleas, but in the end some members of the high priestly families were persuaded to surrender (Jos., Wars, 6:96ff.). Titus harangued his own troops, offering prizes to the first of them to scale the wall surrounding the Temple court, which he set about battering as a prelude to his final assault on the rebels.

Destruction of the Temple

Various degrees of responsibility have been assigned to Titus for the events that followed his order (on the Ninth of Av) to set the Temple gates on fire. Josephus (ibid.) relates that (on the eve of the Ninth of Av) Titus called a council of war to determine the Temple's fate, and after hearing divided opinions, decided that it should be preserved. Josephus ascribes the actual setting alight of the Temple to the unauthorized act of a Roman soldier who flung a burning torch at the Temple, and states that Titus' subsequent efforts to persuade his soldiers to extinguish the flames were in vain, their desire for revenge allegedly overcoming their sense of discipline. *Sulpicius Severus, however, maintains that the destruction of the Temple was the premeditated act of Titus, based on his conviction that its fall would be accompanied by that of the rebellious people, whose fount of strength it was. His source is thought to be the lost writings of Tacitus, to which he lent a Christian interpretation. This version appears to approximate the truth rather than that of Josephus, which was probably written with the desire to clear Titus of blame.

The Temple's destruction signaled the end of organized Jewish resistance and Titus, after capturing also the upper city, ordered the destruction of the whole city and its walls. Only three towers were left as a reminder of past glory. Titus was hailed as emperor by his soldiers; he distributed awards and held a three-day victory celebration and other festivities, including gladiatorial contests, at which many of the Jews who had been taken prisoner were killed. He held similar festivities in the capital and other cities of Syria, from where he continued his journey through the Euphrates area to Alexandria and Rome. In Antioch he rejected a request to have the Jews banished from the city. Josephus ascribes this to his humanitarian feelings (Wars, 7:100ff.) but more probably, it was to avoid incurring the enmity of the Jews in various parts of the empire toward Rome. He took with him the two leaders of the revolt, John of Giscala and Simeon b. Giora, together with a large number of young and healthy prisoners, who were included in the victory procession given by Rome to conquerors, at which sacred vessels taken from the Temple were also displayed. An arch (depicting scenes from the procession) was erected to commemorate Titus' victory over the Jews, and is still to be seen in Rome (Arch of *Titus).

When he became emperor, Titus severed his relationship with *Berenice, sister of Agrippa ii, whose lover he had been while in Judea. Tacitus and Suetonius testify to the general approval he met with during his short reign, remarking on the great generosity he displayed when a number of disasters struck Rome and other parts of the empire. He is described by Suetonius as the "delight of the human race," whose death caused much sorrow to the whole world. Jewish scholars, however, see him as a ruthless enemy of their people, to whom he displayed no feelings of mercy or generosity, and the cruel treatment he meted out to his prisoners is reflected even in the writings of Josephus. In talmudic tradition he is termed "the wicked descendant of the wicked Esau," and is denounced for insulting and blaspheming the God of Israel and for not hesitating to enter and desecrate even the Holy of Holies (cf. Jos., Wars, 6:260). His name is engraved in Jewish memory as the destroyer of the Temple.

[Lea Roth]

In the Aggadah

After the fall of the Temple, Titus entered the Holy of Holies, his drawn sword in his hand, slashed the parokhet, and spreading out a Scroll of the Law on the top of the altar, had intercourse with two harlots he had brought in. Titus attributed the bloodstains on his sword to his having slain the Almighty (Git. 56b). Some of the sources, however, point out that in reality it was either the blood of the daily sacrifices or of those of the Day of Atonement (Lev. R. 22:3). Titus began to revile and blaspheme God, boasting that he had vanquished "the king in his own palace." He next collected all the vessels of the Temple, placed them in a net, and sailed for Rome. After he embarked a violent gale blew, and Titus claimed that God possessed power only over water since He had smitten the generation of the flood and Pharaoh by water. Thereupon the Almighty caused the sea to cease from its raging. When Titus landed, a tiny gnat entered his nose and fed on his brain for seven years, growing in size until it caused his death. When he died, the physicians opened his skull and found a creature resembling a sparrow weighing two selas, or according to another account, a young dove two pounds in weight. Its beak was of brass and its claws of iron. Before his death, Titus commanded that his remains be burnt and scattered over the seven seas so that the God of the Jews would not find him and bring him to trial.

When *Onkelos, who according to the Talmud was the son of Titus' sister, desired to convert to Judaism, he raised Titus from the dead to seek his guidance. Titus informed him that Israel is the most reputable nation in the other world, but that their observances are burdensome. He advised his nephew to attack them so that he would become a leader in the temporal world, since adversaries of the Jews become masters. Titus informed him that his punishment was, ironically, in accordance with his own wish that his body be burned and his ashes scattered (so as to escape *punishment after death). Every day his ashes are collected, sentence is passed, and he is burnt and his ashes scattered again over the seven seas (Git. 56b–57a; Lev. R. 22:3; arn27, 20f. et al.).

[Aaron Rothkoff]

In the Arts

From medieval times onward Titus has played a double role in literature, art, and music: as the lover of *Berenice and as the conqueror of Jerusalem. Literary exploitation of the first theme, based on *Josephus, Suetonius, and other ancient sources, mainly dates from the 17th century. Probably the earliest serious treatment of the Titus-Berenice romance was Bérénice (1648–51), a four-volume French novel by Jean Renault de Segrais which is said to have partly inspired the dramatic interpretations of Pierre Corneille and Jean *Racine. Racine's outstanding five-act tragedy, Bérénice, was performed eight days before Corneille's Tite et Bérénice in November 1670. The former's drama maintains that Titus finally gave up Berenice in deference to Roman public opinion, while the latter's (staged by Molière's troupe) makes Berenice voluntarily give Titus his freedom. The appearance of these two dramatic works gave rise to considerable interest and debate, not least on account of the topical theme of a monarch's conflict between love and duty. The contemporary literary discussions gave rise to an anonymous three-act prose comedy, Tite et Titus, ou Critique sur les Bérénice (Utrecht, 1673), and to Fatouville's parody, Bérénice (Paris, 1683). The works that followed include Thomas Otway's Titus and Berenice, a tragedy based on that of Racine, which was staged in London in 1677, and La clemenza di Tito (1734), an 18th-century text by Pietro Metastasio that was often copied or adapted by other writers. In the late 19th century, Heinrich Vollrat Schumacher wrote the German novel Berenice (18922), an abridged Hebrew version of which (Be-a'arat ha-Milḥamah, 1905) was published in Jerusalem. Hans Kyser's German tragedy, Titus und die Juedin (1911), was a significant modern treatment of the subject. Other works by 20th-century writers include John Masefield's play, Berenice (with Esther, 1922), which was based on Racine; Birinikah (1945), Eisig *Silberschlag's Hebrew translation of an unpublished German drama by Carl de Hass; and the U.S. novelist Leon Kolb's Berenice, Princess of Judea (1959) and Mission to Claudius (1963), the latter of which was illustrated by Jakob *Steinhardt.

The second theme, that of the destruction of Jerusalem, attracted many writers not only because of its theological implications for the Christian – who saw in the Jewish disaster the fulfillment of Jesus' prediction – but also by virtue of its sheer drama and pathos. The subject was mainly exploited by English and French poets during the Middle Ages. An early English (15th-century) poem on the theme, attributed to John Lydgate and Adam Davy, was Titus and Vespasian; or, The Destruction of Jerusalem. In France, Le livre Titus et Vespasianus, an epic chanson de geste, possibly dates from the 14th century. During the Puritan era, English writers anxious to circumvent religious objections to the staging of biblical plays often found it convenient to acknowledge their indebtedness to Josephus' Jewish Wars in preambles to works on the theme. William Heminge (or Hemings), son of an actor friend of Shakespeare, wrote a drama based on Josephus and *Josippon entitled The Jewes Tragedy, or their Fatal and Final Overthrow by Vespasián and Titus his Son … (1662). Two other 17th-century treatments were Joost van den Vondel's drama, Hierusalem Verwoest (1620), and an anonymous Mexican (Aztec) Auto de la destrucción de Jerusalén (published in 1907).

The Roman assault on Jerusalem inspired many notable works of the 19th and 20th centuries, several of which were written by Jews. Two English treatments were Lord *Byron's poem, "On the Day of the Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus" (in Hebrew Melodies, 1815), and The Fall of Jerusalem (1820), a dramatic poem by Henry Hart Milman, dean of St. Paul's. A work of the same period was Manoel Caetano Pimenta de Aguiar's Portuguese tragedy Destruiçãao de Jerusalem (Lisbon, 1817). Two treatments that followed were Titus; oder, Die Zerstoerung Jerusalems (1855), a four-act German verse drama by Julius Kossarski, and Az utolsó próféta ("The Last Prophet," 1869), a historical play by the Hungarian convert Lajos *Dóczy. The South African rabbi and author Judah Loeb *Landau's five-act Hebrew drama, Aḥarit Yerushalayim (1886), was written when the author was barely 20. Among 20th-century treatments were Sir Henry Rider Haggard's late novel, Pearl Maiden; A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem (1903), and J.A. Herbert's poetic Titus and Vespasian (1905), which was based on the 15th-century Bataile of Jerusalem. Max Jacob's French poem, Le siège de Jérusalem, drame céleste, appeared in 1914. The destruction of Jerusalem also forms the background to Lion *Feuchtwanger's trilogy about Josephus.

In art Titus is chiefly celebrated in the famous Arch of *Titus in Rome. Reliefs adorning the arch depict the victories and glory of Titus, most notably his campaign in Judea. A later, more stylized depiction of the fall of Jerusalem and the capture of the Temple by Titus is contained in a panel of the Franks Casket (c. 700 c.e.; British Museum), a remarkable example of early English carving in whalebone. Josephus' description of the triumphal procession after Jerusalem's fall inspired The Triumph of Caesar, a painting by Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506; Hampton Court Palace, England).

The subject has provided less significant inspiration in music. Metastasio's libretto, La clemenza di Tito, was first set by Antonio Caldara (1734) and subsequently by other 18th-century composers, including Scarlatti, Hasse, and Gluck. Mozart's setting of a libretto by C. Mazzola after Metastasio (La clemenza di Tito, 1791; Koechel 621) in the year of his death was already an anachronism in its time. This composition for Leopold ii's coronation as king of Bohemia was both Mozart's last opera and the last of its kind in European musical history to follow the baroque opera seria style.

See also *Josephus in the Arts.


Weynand, in: Pauly-Wissowa, 12 (1909), 2695–729, no. 207; Oxford Classical Dictionary (1970), s.v.Titus; R. Symes, Tacitus (1958), index; Reinach, Textes, index; Schuerer, Hist, index; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 5 (19512), 20, 180–202, 222–65. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 5 (1925), 60, 287. in the arts: C. Raphael, Walls of Jerusalem (1968), deals with the destruction of Jerusalem in history and legend; M. Roston, Biblical Drama in England (1968), 118–9, 173–5, 222.