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July 21, 2019

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From the Archives - The Persians Sack Jerusalem, A.D. 614

One of the most protracted wars in history was that between the Romans and their enemies in what is now Iran, initially the Parthians and later the Persians. The struggle lasted some 700 years, from the time of Caesar, when the Parthians defeated the Triumvir Crassus and his army to the rise of Islam, which swept both out of the Middle East forever. In many ways the culminating struggle of this generational conflict was the last war between the two powers, which endured for nearly 25 years during the early seventh century, a struggle which began with an amazingly successful Persian onslaught that literally destroyed Roman authority in the East, only to be followed up by a remarkable resurgence of Roman power, on the very eve of the Islamic onslaught.

One of the most notable moments in this struggle was the Persian conquest of Jerusalem, in 614, as recorded by the monk Antiochus Stategos, who lived in the monastery of St. Sabas in the Holy City.

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 ballistae 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, ditches, and cisterns in order to save themselves; and the people fled in droves to churches and altars; where the Persians slew them. For the enemy entered the city 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. Like 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 infant, neither priest no monk, neither virgin nor widow . . . .

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 were swiftly pierced with arrows; the unresisting and quiet they slew without mercy. They listened not to the appeals of supplicants, nor pitied youthful beauty nor had compassion for the aged, 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 Jerusalem. 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.

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