18 Massacres of the Ancient World

18 Massacres of the Ancient World

Larry Holzwarth - January 5, 2019

When looking for examples of a group massacring their enemies mercilessly, often when they are all but defenseless, one need look no further than the Bible. The Old Testament and Hebrew Bible are rife with the tales of slaughter and mayhem. They are of course not alone, the citizenry of ancient towns were put to the sword in numerous instances, in multiple civilizations around the world, leaving behind archaeological evidence which provides scholars with an understanding of what occurred, though the motives are unclear. In some of the biblical narratives, the slaughter of the enemies of the Israelites is reported approvingly. In others, such as the slaughter of the Holy Innocents following the visit of the Magi to the young Jesus, the massacre is clearly reported with condemnation.

18 Massacres of the Ancient World
According to the gospel of Matthew the visit of the Magi led to the slaughter of all infant males of Bethlehem under the age of two. Wikimedia

Massacres of groups considered to be pagans continued beyond the days of the bible and the wars of antiquity, including for example the killing of more than 4,000 Saxons, considered to be pagans, on the order of the Emperor Charlemagne as part of his military campaign to convert Lower Saxony to Christianity in 782. The Druids in Britain were largely destroyed in a massacre in Anglesey known as the Menai massacre, which led to the forced imposition of Roman religion in what was then Britannia, destroying not only the population, but their shrines and schools. The Romans themselves were the victims of massacres at the hands of the Huns and in Asia Minor on the order of Mithridates when at least 80,000 were murdered in multiple locations in a carefully planned mass liquidation.

Here are some of the grisly massacres of antiquity, including some of those described in the bible.

18 Massacres of the Ancient World
When Moses discovered the disobedience of the Israelites he destroyed the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments, and ordered a massacre of some of his followers. Wikimedia

1. Moses commanded the massacre of those who worshipped the Golden Calf

The biblical story of the Golden Calf, made by Moses’ brother Aaron as the former was attending God on Mount Sinai, includes a massacre which is often overlooked, and another which did not happen. According to the story related in chapter 32 of Exodus an angry God, aware of what the Israelites were doing, told Moses that he would destroy the Israelites and Moses would become the father of a new people. Moses successfully dissuaded God from carrying out his promise, and God “repented of the evil He said He would do unto His people”. Moses returned to the Israelites, destroyed the stone tablets upon which God had written the Commandments, and then destroyed the Golden Calf in fire, ground the remains to dust, put them in water, and forced the Israelites to drink.

The Levites had not worshiped the idol, and Moses called the Levites to him, commanding them to arm themselves and, “go from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor”. According to the account in Exodus, chapter 32:26-28, the Levites did as Moses commanded, “and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men”. The Golden Calf and the incident of Israelite disobedience is referred to in later books of the Hebrew Bible, including in Nehemiah Chapter 9, but the ensuing massacre of three thousand by the Levites is not recounted there. Instead the passage stresses the forgiveness of the sin of idolatory.

18 Massacres of the Ancient World
According to the Hebrew Bible, Moses led or commanded several massacres of people as described in the books of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and others. WIkimedia

2. Og and the massacre of the Bashan

Another massacre laid to the ancient Israelites, recorded in the book of Numbers as well as in Deuteronomy and referenced in Psalms, was the massacre of King Og, his army, and the people of the Bashan, a realm of sixty cities which were fortified by walls and numerous smaller towns. The people occupying Bashan were Amorites, according to Genesis descendants of Ham, son of Noah. The lands they occupied were in the area of Canaan, in the highlands between the Dead Sea and Hebron. In the book of Amos they are described as powerfully built, “like the height of cedars” and subsequent interpretations refer to them as giants. Nonetheless the Israelites took Og and his army in battle.

In the words of Moses, “So the Lord our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors…there was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them, the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan” (Deuteronomy 3). The book goes on to report that the Israelites destroyed, “…every city, men, women, and children”. The discussion of the kingdom of Og describes the Israelites plundering the sacked cities and carrying off the livestock and other goods and property of the Amorites to add to their own treasure. Whether the massacre of Og’s kingdom is an historical account or Mosaic fiction is disputed among scholars of the bible and history.

18 Massacres of the Ancient World
A depiction of Scipio Aemilianus standing before the ruins of Carthage after the destruction of the ancient city. Wikimedia

3. The sack of Carthage left over 350,000 defenders dead or massacred

The Battle of Carthage and its subsequent fall to and destruction by the Romans was the signature event of the Third Punic war, which was fought during the second century BCE. In 149 a Roman army arrived before the city and demanded its surrender. The Carthaginians agreed to surrender hostages to the Romans, as well as to the payment of tribute, but they refused to allow the Romans to occupy the walls of the city. Roman troops remained outside of Carthage while the inhabitants strengthened the fortifications and walls, as well as manufacturing weapons for use in the city’s defense. The situation remained a virtual stalemate for two years.

When the Romans launched their final assault on Carthage approximately four to five hundred thousand were residing in the city, though not all of them were involved in the military defense. The final assault consisted of street fighting from building to building, the Romans advancing over the rooftops and along the streets, with fierce resistance from the defenders continuing for a week. When the fighting ended the population of Carthage was gone, except for about 50,000 captured into Roman slavery. The remaining 350,000 to 450,000, including civilian women and children were dead. The Romans destroyed the city and its battlements, executing about 900 Roman prisoners who had deserted, though the oft reported plowing under of the city’s remains and salting of its agricultural fields is not recorded in contemporaneous annals of the event.

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Ruins of a Roman fortress near Masada, where Jewish Zealots slaughtered first the Roman garrison, and later each other. Wikimedia

4. The fortress of Masada was the site of a massacre and a mass suicide

The Sicarii were a sect of Jewish Zealots who opposed both Roman rule and the established Jewish government, making them hostile to both sides during the Great Jewish Revolt in 66 CE. The Sicarii seized the Roman fortress at Masada, which had been built as a mountain bastion by Herod the Great and was garrisoned by Roman troops at the outset of the revolt. The Sicarii massacred the garrison to a man, though the number of troops who fell is unknown. The Sicarii then used the fortress as a base for raiding, and as the Roman-Jewish war went on Jewish refugees fleeing the Romans took sanctuary within its walls. In 72 CE the fortress contained about 960 people when it was besieged by Romans.

After a siege of about three months, during which siege works were built for the Romans by Jewish prisoners of war, the Romans were prepared to launch a final assault on the fortress. When they entered the city through the use of a siege ramp built by the Jewish slaves, the Romans discovered that the refugees within had been slaughtered by the Sicarii, who then killed each other after setting most of the buildings within the fortifications afire. Josephus reported that the killings had been done through the drawing of lots in order to circumvent the Jewish proscription against suicide, and that only the last survivor had actually killed himself, the rest had been homicides. Recent archaeological studies have indicated that the account of Josephus was inaccurate and incomplete, and the mass killings at Masada are questioned by modern scholars.

18 Massacres of the Ancient World
A 1420 rendition of the island of Milos in the Aegean Sea. Wikimedia

5. The destruction of Melos and the Melian gendercide

The city of Melos remained officially neutral during the Third Peloponnesian War fought between Sparta and Athens during the fifth century BCE. The Melians, like the Spartans, were of Dorian descent, and in a nod to their shared ethnicity they provided support to the Spartans in the form of food and money, but were not active combatants. In response the Athenians conducted raids on Melian territory and demanded tribute from the city, a demand which was refused. The Athenians accordingly besieged the city, demanding its surrender and a Melian alliance against Sparta in 416 BCE. Melos, which was on an island, resisted and the Athenians who controlled the area surrounding the city withdrew most of their troops to other service.

When the Melians were forced to surrender to the remaining Athenians, unable to break the siege and facing starvation, the Athenians had too few troops to ensure that they could maintain security over the captives. The Melian men of adult age were gathered together and executed by the Athenians, and the women and children sold into slavery, with 500 Athenian colonists moved to the island. A decade later the Spartans, related ancestrally to the Melians, removed the Athenian colonists and restored the island to Spartan control. How many of the Melian men were killed by the act of gendercide perpetrated by the Athenians and how many died of hunger is unknown, but the term Melian hunger became a watchword for extreme starvation.

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The story of the Magi and King Herod was recorded solely in Matthew, with no other biblical account referring to the visitors from the east and the slaughter which followed. Wikimedia

6. The slaughter of the Holy Innocents is a feast day of the Catholic Church

According to the story of the Nativity as rendered by the Gospel of Matthew (it is not recorded in other gospels), following the birth of Jesus an angel appeared to Joseph, warning him to move his wife and infant son to safety. The family fled to Egypt until the danger passed. The danger was the order of Herod the Great to execute all male children in and around Bethlehem that were under two years of age, in response to what he had learned from the Magi, who had visited him en route to pay homage to the newly born Jesus. Again, Matthew is the only of the gospels to mention the Magi, and nowhere does it specify their number as three, through it does mention the three gifts which they bore as gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When the Magi did not report back to Herod after visiting Jesus, he allegedly ordered the murders of the young male children. The number of boys killed by Herod’s minions were reported in Syrian lists as 64,000, Coptic texts more than double that number, while the Catholic Encyclopedia estimates the number as being less than forty, given the population of Bethlehem and the surrounding area. The estimate does not take into account that as in the case of Joseph and Mary, many non-residents were in the area as a result of the census being taken, with the city so crowded that there were no accommodations for the family and presumably many others as well. The story was likely a creation of Matthew, meant to serve as fulfillment of biblical prophecy, though some argue that the event was based on fact despite the lack of evidence beyond the gospel.

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Trade along the so-called silk road led to multiple ethnicities and multiple massacres in ancient China. Wikimedia

7. The Yangzhou and Guangzhou massacres in China

The Yangzhou massacre in China in the year 760 CE took place during the An Shi Rebellion against the weakening Tang Dynasty. It was directed almost entirely against foreign traders in Yangzhou, who were targeted by the rebel troops entering the region for the twin crimes of being foreigners and for having money. Nearly all of the victims were traders and merchants from Persia and Arab lands. How many were killed during the mostly xenophobic murder spree is unknown, but it was likely in the thousands, and possibly several thousand. Persian and Arab traders had by then come to dominate the trading stations along the Grand Canal, and their domination over local trade was widely resented, and the local citizenry joined with the rebel troops in exterminating them.

The Guangzhou massacre took place over a century later, which by then had seen a resurgence of the Arab and Persian traders and their return to dominance in the region. Many Chinese believed that the Tang Dynasty had been weakened by the influx of so many foreigners in their realm, and rebellious troops under Huang Chao, supported by the local Chinese, murdered thousands of Arab, Persian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian traders (most of the Arabs and Persians were Muslims) as well as Christians, destroying their wares and property. Arab sources reported a death toll of more than 200,000, and a Christian publication from the mid-nineteenth century estimated 120,000 were killed for the crime of being successful and foreign.

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Five Kings of the Midianites were slain, along with thousands of others, according to the biblical accounts in the Book of Numbers. Wikimedia

8. The extermination of the Midianites

The Book of Numbers recounts the Israelites’ destruction of the Midianites, a people descended from Abraham which were considered enemies by Moses, and who followed the false prophet Balaam. Moses gathered, according to Numbers, twelve thousand Israelite warriors and “they warred against the Midianites; and they slew all the males”. Still, Moses was unsatisfied with the simple killing of all the Midianite men, the number of which were slain not being recounted in the book. Five Midianite kings were among the casualties, “…namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian”. The women, children, and their possessions and livestock were taken captive back to Moses and their homes burned.

Moses was not satisfied, and considering that jealousy over women was the cause of the enmity between Midianite and Israelite, he ordered that they “kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that hath not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves”. The bible states that 32,000 Midianite virgins of all ages were thus kept alive as slaves for the Israelites. How many men, women, and male children were thus murdered by the Israelites under Moses’ command can only be estimated by the number of females left alive. The genocide was incomplete however, as Midianites appear in the chronologically later events in Judges.

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In the 21st century archaeologists unearthed evidence of genocide among the Pueblo dwellers in North America in ancient times. Wikimedia

9. The Sacred Ridge massacre near Durango, Colorado

In 2010 archaeologists announced the discovery of a North American genocide which occurred circa 800 BCE among the Anasazi Puebloan Indians. Based on the skeletal remains of humans and animals unearthed at the site, and including the detection of human blood on two headed axes found among them, archaeologists determined that the massacre was a planned event, caused by inter-tribal tensions as a result of a traumatic event, possibly a drought or famine brought on by drought. Evidence presented by the remains indicated the creation of killing pits, in which victims were killed and disemboweled, including children.

The number of people killed in the massacre has not been determined, but the more than 14,000 human skeletal fragments carry evidence of torture before death and of post-mortem mutilation, with limbs amputated and possibly carried away from the site as trophies. The village where the massacre took place contained at least twenty structures, which revealed that the village was burned following the mass killings, and that they took place in an event which was over relatively quickly. The speed of the massacre is evidence that it was a planned event, and carried out in a few days. Analysis of teeth from the remains indicated that the diet of the massacred people was different from other known tribes in the region. They were likely of a different ethnicity than the people who carried out the massacre, which was likely a contributing cause to the mass murder.

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The Jie people were all but exterminated in ancient Chinese wars against them led by Ran Min. Wikimedia

10. Ran Min ordered the extermination of the Jie and Wu Hu people in ancient China

The Jie people of ancient China and the Wu Hu opposed the rule of General Ran Min in the fourth century CE, leading to a war in what is now northern China. The Jie had helped form the Later Zhao Dynasty, and supported by the Wu Hu fought against Ran Min in a war which went badly for them. After Ran Min scored a decisive victory over the forces deployed against him at the Battle of Xiangguo he extended his previously announced order to exterminate the Jie people to the Wu Hu. The Jie had been condemned at the beginning of the war, and Ran Min pronounced that it was the duty of all Chinese to kill all Jie indiscriminately, including men, women, and children. As his military campaign swept over the lands of the Jie and the Wu Hu the order was carried out.

Ran Min’s take no prisoners campaign killed all of the Wu Hu and Jie they encountered as they overran their farms, villages, and towns, and in the larger cities the civilians loyal to Ran Min launched a campaign of murder which killed the refugees of the war taking shelter there. Many of the Wu Hu fled to Mongolia and elsewhere, but over 100,000 were killed during the scourge. The Jie people were virtually wiped out in China, an example of a nearly total genocide. During the year of the war and the ensuing massacres, at least 200,000 were brutally massacred, with mass graves dug and the bodies unceremoniously disposed of within. Ran Min claimed total eradication of the Jie people, though subsequent Chinese history contains references indicating that some of them survived the genocide.

18 Massacres of the Ancient World
Following the Thessalonica Massacre Theodosius was barred from the cathedral in Milan by Ambrose, though eventually a reconciliation was reached. Wikimedia

11. The Thessalonica massacre evolved from an arrest of a man for sodomy

In the spring of 390 CE the Gothic magistrate of Illyricum, a region which included Thessalonica, arrested a local celebrity of charges of sodomy with another man. The public reacted with outrage, demanding his release. When the magistrate, a man named Butheric, refused rioting broke out in Thessalonica, and Butheric and several other Roman officials in the city and nearby region were killed. Roman Emperor Theodosius I learned of the revolt in the region and dispatched Gothic troops to quell it, with the orders to deal with the rebels harshly. The emperor’s original orders were for the troops to treat all of the inhabitants of the city as if they were in rebellion against the empire, executing them without trial and without mercy.

As the Gothic troops neared the city the emperor reconsidered, and sent a messenger to head off the army before it arrived, with instructions to arrest the ringleaders of the uprising, but not to punish the unoffending residents of Thessalonica. By the time the messenger encountered the troops they had already entered the city and carried out the original instructions from Rome. Several thousand of the city’s inhabitants had been slaughtered by the Gothic troops in the name of the emperor. Theodosius was rebuked by the church for the massacre, and was not allowed to enter into any Christian churches, effectively excommunicating him, until he agreed to a change in Roman law under which those sentenced to suffer the death penalty were granted a thirty day period before it was carried out. Modern historians place the death count at Thessalonica at around 7,000.

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The ruins of Istakhr, destroyed by the forces and with the approval of the Prophet Muhammad. Wikimedia

12. The Muslim massacre of the ancient Persian city of Istakhr

The ancient city of Istakhr in present day Iran emerged as a Achaemenid city of the Persian Empire on the end of a caravan road which connected it to the Persian city of Persepolis and the trade rich Indus Valley. The city thrived on the brisk trade with both. In 649 CE Muslim Arabs conquered the city, and the new masters imposed restrictions on the Persians including repression of Zoroastrian beliefs, and demands for the support of Islam. For two years the residents of the city and its environs endured the repressive rule of the Arabs before rising in revolt against them. The Persian revolt was put down harshly by the Arabs, who then took punitive measures against the population of the city.

Muslim Arab settlers were moved to the city to replace the population, which was simply massacred by the Arabs. The price imposed by the Arabs for the act of rebellion against them was the killing of over 150,000 Persian civilians, many of whom had little or no culpability in regards to support of the brief rebellion. The Istakhr massacre took place against the backdrop of the Arab conquest of Persia, and was but one of several incidents of mass killings of the civilian communities in Persia. The city continued to exist under the Arabs and then once again under the Persians until it was sacked in the early eleventh century, reducing it to a village, and eventually to ruins. The massacre of 651 is largely forgotten to all but Iranians today.

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Druid shrines, temples, groves, homes, and other structures were destroyed by the Romans, along with their people and culture. Wikimedia

13. The Romans destroyed the Druids in ancient Britannia

By the middle of the first century CE the Roman Empire extended as far north as what is now known as the Midlands in the United Kingdom, though the Welsh tribes were far from being subdued, and Roman patrols and trade were constantly disrupted by attacks of small bands. The guerrilla warfare induced Suetonius Paulinus, the Roman leader in Britannia, to lead his forces to the hinterlands of the empire to end forever the insolence of the natives refusing to be subjugated. He directed his forces to the island of what was then Mona – today Angelsey – to properly punish the rebels. The island of Mona was the sacred home of the Druids, with the majority of them living there. The Roman attack on the island was what relegated the Druids to history.

Men and women of all ages and children were struck down by the Roman infantry and cavalry, their bodies relegated to bonfires lit by the Romans. The defending Welsh tribesmen were cut down first, unable to stand on open ground against the discipline of a Roman legion, after which the Druids, whom the superstitious Romans regarded with fear, were killed despite not offering resistance. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that the Romans, “bore down upon them, smote all who opposed them to the earth and wrapped them in the flames…” All evidence of the Druid culture on the island was then destroyed by the Romans, who established a garrison to ensure that the survivors among the local tribes remained subdued.

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An 1890 view of the ancient city-state of Sparta, one of the many contending nations of the Peloponnesian War. Wikimedia

14. The gendercide of the male population of Hysiae

During the Peloponnesian War the armies of Sparta and Argos fought in the Battle of Hysiae in the year 417 BCE. The Spartans invaded Argos after a contingent of supporters of Sparta were evicted from Argive territory by an Athenian force commanded by Alcibiades, who was intent on establishing a democratic government in Argos following the Athenian model. The Spartans, led by King Agis II, failed to take the city of Argos but did capture the nearby fortress city of Hysiae, after destroying the Argive fortifications. The Spartans then, according to Thucydides, who was himself a veteran of the Peloponnesian War, seized all of the male population of Hysiae as hostages, demanding that the Athenians withdraw from Argos.

As Agis was unable to capture the city of Argos, reinforced as it was by the Athenians, and since the latter refused to withdraw as he demanded, he was saddled with hostages which relied on his supplies for sustenance. According to Thucydides, the Spartans could not simply release the hostages when they withdrew from the area and Agis ordered them executed. The entire male population of the conquered city of Argos was summarily killed by the Spartans, though the exact number of massacred remains unknown. The Spartans withdrew after leaving behind a garrison in the city of Orneae, which was subsequently ejected by the Athenians following a battle there the following winter, as the war between the Greek city states continued.

18 Massacres of the Ancient World
According to Muhammad it was the Archangel Gabriel, who also announced the impending birth of Jesus, who commanded the massacre of the Jews at Banu Qurayza. Wikimedia

15. The massacre of the fortress of Banu Qurayza

According to the Prophet Muhammad, the order to attack the fortress at Banu Qurayza originated with the Archangel Gabriel, who told the Prophet to direct his followers to destroy the tribe occupying it, despite the existence of a treaty between Muhammad and the Jewish occupants. Pressure from other Jewish tribes on the Banu Qurayza led them to violate the treaty, and Muhammad’s followers responded by attacking and seizing the fortress, following a siege which lasted just over three weeks. The leader of the Muhammadans, Sa’d ibn Mu’adh, directed that the surrendering Jews be taken into custody with, “the men should be killed, the property divided, and the women and children taken as captives”. Muhammad cited the judgment as being in accord with the will of God in approving it, and the women and children became slaves of his followers.

The male captives old enough to have reached puberty, determined by the presence of pubic hair on their bodies, were separated from the others and beheaded. The exact number of men thus massacred is unknown, and subsequent scholars of the Quran and Islam have disputed whether the massacre took place, calling it Jewish propaganda and worse. The most commonly cited number of men thus killed is between 600 and 900. A Muslim jurist named Tabari, a writer of history and commentary on the Quran in the late ninth and early tenth century gave detailed accounts of the event, though they have since been dismissed as deliberate falsifications. Others have cited the event as being referenced to in the Quran itself, an assertion which is also disputed.

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Much of what is known of the Peloponnesian War was recorded by Thucydides, who fought in it. Wikimedia

16. The gendercide of Scione following the Peloponnesian War

The Greek city of Scione had been settled when ships bearing the Achaeans from Troy back to their home were wrecked near Pallene about 700 BCE. By the time of the Peloponnesian War the city was heavily influenced by the Athenians. After the Spartans and the Athenians reached a truce in the year 423 BCE, the Scione attempted to free themselves from the control of Athens, and the Spartans promised to provide military and financial support. The Athenians, as reported by Thucydides, sent a fleet to isolate the city and reduce its defenses, but found the resistance of the Scioneaens to be far stronger than they had expected, in part due to the promises from Sparta that military assistance was forthcoming.

In 421 BCE the Athenians finally succeeded in forcing the city to surrender, and although terms of mercy had been promised they were not carried out. All of the women and most of the children were enslaved, with only the younger male children sent into slavery. Athens awarded the conquered land to the city of Plataea, one of its allies during the war against the Spartans, which had been razed by the Spartans in 427 BCE. The adult men and older male children were gathered together and executed by the victorious Athenians, by the sword, though the exact number of dead as a result of the massacre was not recorded by Thucydides. The city of Scione by the time of the Roman occupation of Greece had all but ceased to exist.

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Thebes was destroyed and its population either enslaved or executed at the order of Alexander the Great of Macedon. Wikimedia

17. The destruction of Thebes by Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great ordered the complete destruction of the Greek city state of Thebes as a means of setting an example to other rebellious Greek cities. Thebes had risen in rebellion to the Macedonians upon hearing the news that Alexander had died while besieging the city of Pelium, a rumor spread by Demosthenes, one of the most well-known and respected political leaders of Athens. Demosthenes incited the Thebans to revolt, provided Athenian weapons and support, and helped negotiate an alliance between other Greek cities against the Macedonians. Meanwhile a very much alive Alexander maneuvered his troops toward Thebes and sent emissaries to attempt to resolve the rebellion peacefully.

His peace feelers rejected, Alexander attacked the Theban army within the city in a battle during which the Thebans fought fiercely. Theban slaves were freed to join in the battle in support of their former masters, many of which went over to the side of the Macedonians. After destroying the Theban army and capturing the city Alexander ordered its complete destruction. The remaining 30,000 Thebans, those not killed in the fighting or in retribution by the Macedonian troops, were sold into slavery. The city was burnt to the ground, except for the house belonging to the poet Pindar, who had written poetry praising Alexander I of Macedon, of whom Alexander the Great was a descendant. About 6,000 were killed in Thebes and the aftermath, and the city ceased to exist.

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Simon bar Kokhba’s followers persecuted fellow Jews, Christians, Romans, Greeks, and others during the third Jewish-Roman War. Wikimedia

18. The Third Jewish-Roman War led to wholesale slaughter

The Third Jewish-Roman War, which was a revolt in Judea fought between 132 – 136 CE, saw the Jewish forces led by Simon bar Kokhba, who claimed the title of Prince of Judea and was believed by many of his followers to be the Messiah, a belief which he did nothing to discourage, attempt to depose Roman rule. In the beginning the revolt went well for the Jewish forces, and the reports to Rome of military defeats, and the massacre of Roman troops upon their capture at the hands of Jewish troops and citizens, led Emperor Hadrian to dispatch strong reinforcements to the region, which arrived in 134 CE. From that point until the end of the revolt, Jewish troops and civilians were brutally crushed by the Romans, their cities and towns destroyed, and their crops seized.

At least two Roman legions were so reduced by casualties that they were disbanded, the remaining troops absorbed into other Roman units. Total Roman casualties during the war are estimates, but were well over 100,000, and possibly more than twice that number. By comparison 580,000 Jews were killed during the revolt, approximately 400,000 of them in battle with the Romans, or executed after being captured in battle. Jewish Christians who refused to join in the revolt, which was led by Pharisees and Samaritans, were tortured and persecuted by their fellow Jews for their reticence. Bar Kokhba’s followers also persecuted the Greek and Roman civilians in the region throughout the revolt. Both sides committed multiple atrocities against the other during a war as brutal as any fought in the ancient world.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Book of Exodus”. The Bible, King James Version. Online

“The Book of Numbers”. The Bible, King James Version. Online

“The Book of Deuteronomy”. The Bible Gateway, King James Version. Online

“The First Genocide: Carthage, 146 BCE”. Ben Kiernan, 2004

“Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War”. George Cawkwell. 1997

“The Gospel According to Matthew”. The Bible, King James Version. Online

“A History of Chinese Civilization”. Jacques Gernet. 1996

“Massacre at Sacred Ridge sparks debate about prehistoric genocide”. Bruce Bower, Archaeological News Network. October, 2010

“The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. Edward Gibbon. 1789

“Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes During the Later Han Dynasty, First to Second Centuries CE”. John E. Hill. 2009

“The death of the Druids”. Phil Carradice, BBC Wales. June 27, 2013

“The Peloponnesian War”. Thucydides, translation by Steven Lattimore. 1998

“The Life of Muhammad”. Husayn Haykal. 1976

“Scione, Mende, and Torone”. B. D. Meritt, American Journal of Archaeology, Volume 27. 1923

“The Way of Alexander the Great”. Charles Mercer. 1962

“Little Known Wars of Great and Lasting Impact”. Alan Axelrod. 2009

“Outlines of ethnic groups in China”. Wikipedia.