Antiochus Strategos: The Sack of Jerusalem
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 lived in the monastary (lavra) of St. Sabas in Jerusalem, 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. On the contrary they destroyed persons of every age, massacred them like animals, cut them into pieces, mowed sundry of them down like cabbages, so that all alike had severally to drain the cup full of bitterness. Lamentation and terror might be seen in Jerusale. Holy churches were burned with fire, other were demolished, majestic altars fell prone, sacred crosses were trampled underfoot, life-giving icons were spat upon by the unclean. Then their wrath fell upon priests and deacons; they slew them in their churches like dumb animals.
Thereupon the vile Jews, enemies of the truth and haters of Christ, when they perceived that the Christians were given over into the hands of the enemy, rejoiced exceedingly, because they detested the Christians; and they conceived an evil plan in keeping with their vileness about the people. For in the eyes of the Persians their importance was great, because they were the betrayers of the Christians. And in this season then the Jews approached the edge of the reservoir and called out to the children of God, while they were shut up therein, and said to them: "If ye would escape from death, become Jews and deny Christ; and then ye shall step up from your place and join us. We will ransom you with our money, and ye shall be benefited by us." But their plot and desire were not fulfilled, their labours proved to be in vain; because the children of the Holy Church chose death for Christ's sake rather than to live in godlessness: and they reckoned it better for their flesh to be punished, rather than their souls ruined, so that their portion were not with the Jews. And when the unclean Jews saw the steadfast uprightness of the Christians and their immovable faith, then they were agitated with lively ire, like evil beasts, and thereupon imagined an other plot. As of old they bought the Lord from the Jews with silver, so they purchased Christians out of the reservoir; for they gave the Persians silver, and they bought a Christian and slew him like a sheep. The Christians however rejoiced because they were being slain for Christ's sake and shed their blood for His blood, and took on themselves death in return for His death....
When the people were carried into Persia, and the Jews were left in Jerusalem, they began with their own hands to demolish and burn such of the holy churches as were left standing....
How many souls were slain in the reservoir of Mamel! How many perished of hunger and thirst! How many priests and monks were massacred by the sword! How many infants were crushed under foot, or perished by hunger and thirst, or languished through fear and horror of the foe! How many maidens, refusing their abominable outrages, were given over to death by the enemy! How many parents perished on top of their own children! How many of the people were bought up by the Jews and butchered, and became confessors of Christ! How many persons, fathers, mothers, and tender infants, having concealed themselves in fosses and cisterns, perished of darkness and hunger! How many fled into the Church of the Anastasis, into that of Sion and other churches, and were therein massacred and consumed with fire! Who can count the multitude of the corpses of those who were massacred in Jerusalem?
Translated by F. Conybeare, "Antiochus Strategos' Account of the Sack of Jerusalem (614)," English Historical Review 25 , p 506-508. Reprinted in Deno Geanokoplos, Byzantium, (Chicago: 1984), 334-335, 266-67
Source: Medieval Sourcebook