By Anne Leader
On 5 June 70 CE during the Siege of Jerusalem, Titus and his Roman legions breached the city’s middle wall, the decisive event of the First Jewish-Roman War that culminated in the destruction of the Second Temple. The future Emperor (r. 79-81) had led attacks since mid-May, when he turned his attention to breaking through Jerusalem’s surrounding fortification walls. During a secret attack, Roman forces, unable to breach the Antonia Fortress, set fire to the Temple Mount. It seems unlikely that Titus intended to destroy the Temple from the start, considering it had been recently renovated by Herod the Great (r. 37-4 BCE). The Roman general’s plan was likely to seize the building and rededicate it to the Roman Emperor (Titus’ father Vespasian, r. 69-79) and the Roman pantheon. The Temple succumbed to the flames in the beginning of August, a loss mourned by Jews to this day with the commemorative fast of Tisha B’Av (ninth day of Av).
For the Romans, however, The Sack of Jerusalem, fully completed by 7 September, was a great victory. The triumphant return and military parade was commemorated with the construction of the Arch of Titus at the end of the Roman Forum. The monument was ordered by Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96) to honor his brother who had died unexpectedly in 81 CE. The monument – a large round-headed arch – is of the type made famous by Roman architects throughout the empire. The Arch of Titus is the oldest such arch to survive in Rome, and its form has inspired later monuments from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to the Millennium Gate in Atlanta, GA.
The Spoils of Jerusalem and Titus in Triumph, Arch of Titus, ca. 82 CE, Rome
Excavated stones from the Western Wall of the Temple Mount destroyed by Roman battering rams, 70 CE, Jerusalem
Model of Second Temple as rebuilt by Herod, Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Arch of Titus, ca. 82 CE, Via Sacra, Rome
Ostia Vespasian, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome
Titus, Glyptothek, Munich, no. 338
Bust of Roman Emperor Domitian. Antique head, body added 18th century. Musée du Louvre (Ma 1264), Paris. Formerly in the Albani Collection in Rome.