Antiochus Strategos: The Sack of Jerusalem (614)
Byzantine law granted toleration to Jews [Theodosian Code 16.8.21], although there were occasional attempts at forced conversion [Leo VI, Novels], but there was a general prejudice against Jews. The following account of the fall of Jerusalem to the Persians in 614, by the monk Antiochus Stategos, who live din the monastary (lavra) of St. Sabas inJerusalem, shows this attitude. It provides a Byzantine version of the later blood libel.
It also, of course, may reflect Jewish resistance to Byzantine restrictions an oppression.
Finally, it might be noted that, despite Antiochus’ account, the Persians of this period seem to have been significantly more tolerant of religious diversity than almost any contemporary government. They began the system, long continued and later known (under the Turks) as the Millet system by which each religious group governed itself in religious and family matters.
The beginning of the struggle of the Persians with the Christians of Jerusalem was on the 15th April, in the second indiction, in the fourth year of the Emperor Heraclius. They spent twenty days in the struggle. And they shot from their ballistas with such violence, that on the twenty-first day they broke down the city wall. Thereupon the evil; foemen entered the city in great fury, like infuriated wild beasts and irritated serpents. The men however, who defended the city wall fled, and hid themselves in caverns, fosses and cisterns in order to save themselves; and the people in crowds fled into churches and altars; and there they destroyed them.
For the enemy entered in a mighty wrath, gnashing their teeth in violent fury; like evil beasts they roared, bellowed like lions, hissed like ferocious serpents, and slew all whom they found. Lile mad dogs they tore with their teeth the flesh of the faithful, and respected non at all, neither male nor female, neither young nor old, neither child nor baby, neither priest no monk, neither virgin nor widow….
Meanwhile the evil Persians, who had no pity in their hearts, raced to every place in the city and with one accord extirpated all the people. Anyone who ran away in terror they caught hold of; and if any cried out from fear, they roared at them with gashing teeth, and by breaking their teeth on the ground forced them to close their mouths.
They slaughtered tender infants on the ground, and then with loud yelps called their parents. The parents bewailed the children with vociferations and sobbings, but were promptly despatched along with them. Any that were caught armed were massacred with their own weapons. Those who ran swiftly were pierced with arrows, the unresisting and quiet they slew without mercy. They listened not to the appeals of supplicants, nor pitied youthful beuty nor had compassion on old men’s age, nor blushed before the humility of the clergy.
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