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Siege of Jerusalem (614)
Part of the Jewish revolt against Heraclius (Byzantine–Sassanid War of 602–628)
DateMay 614 (per )
July–December 614 (per Abrahamson)[1]
LocationJerusalem, Palaestina Prima
Result Decisive Sasanian victory
Jerusalem and Palaestina Prima annexed to the Persian Empire as Jewish-Sasanian Commonwealth.
Byzantine Empire Sasanian Persian Empire,
Jewish allies
Commanders and leaders
Patriarch Zacharias (POW)

Nehemiah ben Hushiel Executed

Benjamin of Tiberias
"Formidable" Greek contingent[citation needed] Persian forces;
26,000 Jewish rebels
Casualties and losses
Minimal Minimal
4,518[2]-66,509[3] Christians and thousands of Jews slain in the aftermath

The Siege of Jerusalem in 614 was part of the final phase of the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars. The Persian Shah Khosrau II appointed his general Shahrbaraz to conquer the Byzantine controlled areas of the Near East, establishing a strategic alliance with the Jewish population of the Sasanian Persia. Following Persian advances into Syria in the previous year, Shahrbaraz's next target Palaestina Prima, first targeting its provincial center - Caesarea Maritima. Providing direct access to the Mediterranean Sea, the city would have also provided a strategic location for the Persian Empire to begin constructing a naval fleet, thereby threatening Byzantine hegemony in the Mediterranean. Reinforced by the Jewish army from Persia and local Jewish rebels under Benjamin of Tiberias, the Persian army later laid siege to Jerusalem. After 21 days of relentless siege warfare, Jerusalem's walls yielded and the decisive Persian victory resulted in the territorial annexation of Jerusalem, and eventually all of Palaestina Prima.[4][better source needed]


Following the victory in Antioch, a joint Sasanian-Jewish army, commanded by Shahrbaraz, arrived in Palaestina Prima and conquered Caesaria Maritima, the administrative capital of the province. Nehemiah's Jewish troops and the Sasanian Persians were joined by Benjamin of Tiberias (according to Jewish sources – a man of immense wealth), who enlisted and armed additional Jewish soldiers from Tiberias, Nazareth and the mountain cities of Galilee, and together with a band of Arabs and additional Jews from southern parts of the country they marched on Jerusalem. Some 26,000 Jewish rebels joined the war against the Byzantine Christians.

Siege and its aftermath[]

Persian capture[]

Customary to military tradition, when the Persian force arrived outside Jerusalem, Shahrbaraz offered a peaceful transition of power should the city surrender without resistance.[4][better source needed] The Sassanid general's offer was however rebuffed, and he consequently prepared his troops for a blockade. Shahrbaraz, alongside fellow general Shahin, prepared for what would they believed would be a long and fierce siege, given Jerusalem's powerful fortifications. For twenty days, the Persians army continually pounded the walls of Jerusalem with ballistas and other engines.[4][better source needed]

While the Byzantine city was composed primarily of civilians and the priesthood, there is mention of a formidable Greek force, which was gathered by monk Abba Modestus to assist Jerusalem.[4][better source needed] However, once the Greek troops caught sight of the overwhelming Persian army encamped outside the city walls, they fled, fearing a suicidal battle.[4][better source needed] After the twenty-first day of bombardment, the city's walls finally broke, and due notably to the Jewish allies' assistance to the Persian army, the interior was quickly overrun.

According to Jewish sources, Jerusalem was handed to the Jewish rebels, under the leadership of Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias, becoming the capital of short-lived Jewish-Sasanian Commonwealth.

Christian rebellion[]

Christian rebellion erupted just a few months after the July 614 capture of Jerusalem by Persians. Killing the new Jewish governor of Jerusalem - the Exilarch Nehemiah ben Hushiel and his "council of the righteous" and dragging their bodies through the streets, prompted a full scale Christian rebellion against the new Jewish-Persian hegemony across Palaestina. Christians in this time period had allied themselves with the Byzantines, including Aramaic and Greek-speaking Greco-Romans, Nabatean and Ghassanid Christian Arabs and descendants of converted Judeo-Christians. Following the outburst of violence in Jerusalem, Christians were able to briefly retake the city for 19 days before the walls where breached by Persian and Jewish forces.[1]

The siege resulted in an alleged massacre of the Christians in Jerusalem and destruction of Christian churches and other buildings, and notably the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcure.[5][6] According to Antiochus, Shahrbaraz ordered a swift razing and looting of Jerusalem.[4][better source needed] Having recognized the assistance of the Jews in the significant capture, he even gave them the opportunity to personally massacre their Christian enemies.[4][better source needed] However, archaeological evidence does not support the report that churches were burnt. Christian sources may well have reason to exaggerate the extent of the massacre as they would later in 628 massacre, forcible convert and expel the Jews.[3]

It is not known why and whether Shahrbaraz ordered the massacre. The Christian accounts of the massacre vary in their estimations. Historian Elliot Horowitz considers the common modern writing about the destruction to be "historiographical stonewalling".[7]

Persia's most devastating crime in the eyes of the Byzantines was the capture of the True Cross and its removal to Ctesiphon as a battle-captured holy relic.[4][better source needed] The conquered city and the Holy Cross would remain in Sasaniian hands for some fifteen years until Heraclius recovered them in 629.


Antiochus' account[]

According to Antiochus Strategos, shortly after the Persian army entered Jerusalem, an "unprecedented looting and sacrilege" took place. In his words "church after church was burned down alongside the innumerable Christian artifacts, which were stolen or damaged by the ensuing arson".[4][better source needed] Antiochus Strategos further claimed that captive Christians were gathered near Mamilla reservoir and the Jews offered to help them escape death if they "become Jews and deny Christ". The Christian captives refused, and the Jews in anger purchased the Christians from the Persians and massacred them on the spot.[3] Antiochus wrote:[4]

Then the Jews... 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.

According to Antiochus, the total Christian death toll was 66,509, of which 24,518 corpses were allegedly found at Mamilla,[3] many more than were found anywhere else in the city.[citation needed]

Archaeological evidence[]

Despite the claims of large scale destruction, the archaeological evidence do not reveal layers of destruction to be associated with Persian conquest.[2] There was also no hard evidence found for the widespread destruction of churches.[2]

A significant number of burial sites with bones were allocated in accordance to Christian sources. A mass burial grave at Mamilla cave was discovered in 1989 by Israeli archeologist Ronny Reich.[2][8] Yet, excavations of Jerusalem show a continuous habitation in Jerusalem neighborhoods and essentially little impact of population during the period of Persian governorship. As stated by archaeologist Gideon Avni:

... all excavated sites in Jerusalem show a clear pattern of continuity, with no evidence for destruction by the Persian conquest of 614 or the Arab conquest of 636.[2]

Demographic continuity might have resulted of population exchange by the victorious Jewish rebels, but apparently also the Christian habitation remained relatively constant, despite the disturbance by the Persian conquest, and no significant impact on the population of Jerusalem was made during the following period of Sassanid-Jewish dominance.[2]


The fall of Palaestina Prima to the Persians was mentioned as a contemporary event in the thirtieth sūrah of the Qur'an, Sūrat al-Rūm. It went on to predict the imminent defeat of the Persians by the Byzantines: "The Roman Empire has been defeated in a land close by, but after this defeat of theirs they will soon be victorious, within a few years" (Qur'an 30:2-4).


Other sources give a figure of 60,000 slain.[6] Other manuscripts report fewer corpses where found at Mamilla, 4518 or 4618 corpses, than the 24,518 reported by Antiochus.[2]

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Abrahamson et. al. The Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 compared with Islamic conquest of 638. [1].
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 The Persian Conquest of Jerusalem (614 CE) – an archeological assessment by Gideon Avni, Director of the Excavations and Surveys Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "The Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614CE compared with Islamic conquest of 638CE. Its Messianic nature and the role of the Jewish Exilarch" by Ben Abrahamson and Joseph Katz. Pages 19, 55, 56.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Antiochus Strategos, The Capture of Jerusalem by the Persians in 614 AD, F. C. Conybeare, English Historical Review 25 (1910) pp. 502-517.
  5. "What We Choose to Remember: Jerusalem in World History" by Judith Mendelsohn Rood.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Mamilla Pool" by Israel Shamir. 2001.
  7. Horowitz, Elliot. Reckless Rites. p. 235. 
  8. "Human Skeletal Remains from the Mamilla cave, Jerusalem" by Yossi Nagar.

Primary sources[]

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