Back to top

Siege of Jerusalem: Introduction


1 This and all subsequent quotations from the Bible are from the Douay-Rheims translation as revised in 1749-52 by Richard Challoner.

2 Nicholson, "Haunted Itineraries," p. 447.

3 Hanna, "Contextualising The Siege of Jerusalem," p. 109.

4 Lawton, "Titus Goes Hunting and Hawking," p. 105. Lawton refers, of course, to his own work (with Hanna) in editing the poem: Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton.

5 Nicholson, "Haunted Itineraries," p. 447.

6 Everett, Essays on Middle English Literature, p. 59.

7 Spearing, Readings in Medieval Poetry, p. 172.

8 Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, p. 9.

9 For more on the late fourteenth-century historical background to the poem, see pp. 24-30, below.

10 For this brief history, I am particularly indebted to Josephus' Wars of the Jews and Antiquities of the Jews in The Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. Whiston; the brief presentation provided by Wright in Vengeance of Our Lord; Rhoads, Israel in Revolution; and the still-unsurpassed study of the fall of Jerusalem, Furneaux's Roman Siege of Jerusalem.

11 Since Jesus was a native of Galilee, Pilate is reported in one gospel to have given Herod Antipas the option of dealing with the matter, an offer that Herod declined (Luke 23:6-16). Antipas makes several other appearances in the New Testament, including ordering the beheading of John the Baptist at a feast (Matthew 14:6-12).

12 It is perhaps of interest to note here that it was probably during the Roman attacks on Jericho that the Essenes at Qumran hid the Dead Sea Scrolls in caves just outside their community. This community seems to have been subsequently destroyed by the Tenth Legion as it marched from the area of Jericho to Jerusalem.

13 It is difficult to ascertain with accuracy the total number of forces engaged in the fight, but it was certainly staggering. In his succinct retelling of the siege (complete with a map showing the movements of the Roman forces), Davis estimates 70,000 Roman men against a total of 23,400 fighting Jews; see Besieged, pp. 35-39.

14 Davis, Besieged, p. 39. Most medieval writers, probably basing their accounts ultimately on Josephus, accept the number of dead as 1.1 million. See, for example, any of the versions of Mandeville's Travels that briefly sum up the destruction of Solomon's Temple (and therefore of Jerusalem) in their account of Jerusalem; in the so-called Defective Version recently edited by Seymour it appears on p. 33.

15 As Wright notes, the failure of the Bar-Cochba Revolt in 135 led to "the virtual extinction of Judaism in Jerusalem and southern Palestine, and spelled the end of Jewish national independence until the creation of the modern state of Israel" (Vengeance of Our Lord, p. 4). For a brief overview on the further lasting effects of the fall of Jerusalem on both the history of Judaism (not least of which is the move toward rabbinical Judaism following the establishment of the Jamnia school by Johanan ben Zakkai) and the development of Christianity as it moved toward a Gentile-oriented ministry, see Wright, Vengeance of Our Lord, pp. 4-6. The latter issue is discussed in more detail in Brandon, Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church, and Conzelmann, History of Primitive Christianity.

16 Hebron, Medieval Siege, p. 112.

17 This brief overview of the literary history of the destruction of Jerusalem is based primarily on that found in Hebron, Medieval Siege, pp. 113-17. An additional overview can be found in The Middle English Prose Translation of Roger d'Argenteuil's Bible en François, ed. Moe, pp. 22-28.

18 La Vengeance de Nostre-Seigneur, ed. Ford, 2.1. The oldest French version in verse survives in at least nine full manuscripts (as well as a set of fragments) and is edited by Gryting as La Venjance Nostre Seigneur.

19 The longer version, Titus and Vespasian, has been edited by Herbert. Morey provides a succinct summary of the work in his Book and Verse, pp. 228-31. A fifteenth-century prose redaction of the same version, Siege of Jerusalem in Prose, has been edited by Kurvinen. At least three prints of The Dystruccyon of Iherusalem, a prose retelling in this same tradition, have survived from the early years of the sixteenth century, testifying to the continued popularity of the theme; see Pollard and Redgrave's Short-Title Catalogue, items 14517-19.

20 In addition, there are a number of other poems, like those centered on Joseph of Arimathea (who was said in some traditions to have been freed from prison in Jerusalem by the conquering Romans) or on Christ's harrowing of Hell, that are tangentially related to events or personae within the tradition or that make reference to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Titus and Vespasian; many of these works are rooted in apocryphal sources like The Gospel of Nicodemus. Quite a few Passion narratives also make reference to the destruction, with some actually devoting some length to retelling the whole of the Vengeance narrative (Metrical Life of Christ, for example, does so in almost four hundred lines). See Morey, Book and Verse, pp. 118-19, 226-31, 237-49, and 252-56.

21 The most thorough discussion of the manuscripts is that found in Hanna and Lawton's edition of the poem, pp. xiii-xxvii; the more specific relationships between the poems are discussed on pp. lv-lxix.

22 This listing is based on that given by Hanna, Pursuing History, pp. 83-84, emended by Hanna and Lawton's most recent findings in Siege of Jerusalem. The line numbering presented here, therefore, does not precisely match that of the earlier edition of Kölbing and Day.

23 Hanna does note, however, that after line 621 copy C seems to derive information both from the UDEC examplar and that of PAVEx.

24 This diagram is based on that found in Hanna, Pursuing History, p. 91 (and reproduced in Hanna and Lawton's edition, p. lxvii). I have simplified the diagram somewhat by collapsing the holograph text and archetype text under the single heading "Original Text."

25 Hanna, "Contextualising," pp. 114-16.

26 As Millar summarizes: "the ambiguous attitude to the Jews in the text, at times advocating violence towards them and on other occasions encouraging sympathy for their plight, displays evidence for the influence of Augustinian historical writing, such as the chronicle of William of Newburgh, which was on the whole tolerant of Jews, although it disapproved of their religious beliefs." See Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, p. 10, and Van Court, "Siege of Jerusalem and Augustinian Historians," pp. 227-48.

27 Using LALME overlays of isoglosses (often referred to as the Benskin Fit Method), Hanna and Lawton found that the authorial dialect seems to be that of the Barnoldswick-Earby area of western Yorkshire (Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, pp. xxvii-xxxv). They further theorize a connection to the Clifford family that, although it must remain speculative, is rather intriguing as the sixth lord Clifford was a knight of the King's Chamber under Richard II (see pp. lii-lv).

28 In addition, it seems that the composer of the couplet Titus and Vespasian may have utilized Siege; the earliest manuscript of that poem also appears to date from around the year 1400.

29 More detailed discussion of the poem's sources is given below, pp. 21-23.

30 In addition to Destruction of Troy here discussed, Oakden (Alliterative Poetry in Middle English, pp. 99-102) calls attention to possible connections with Wars of Alexander (see also note 35, below), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Patience, Purity, Parlement of the Thre Ages, and Wynnere and Wastoure; as we will see, one can certainly add Alliterative Morte Arthure to this list, and perhaps even Awntyrs of Arthur. I have noted most of these various echoes in the notes to this volume. This wide range of works covers most of the breadth of the Alliterative Revival. One must be careful, however, about reading too much into these echoes. As Waldron ("Oral-Formulaic Technique") and others have shown, the very nature of alliterative poetry lends itself to echoes of convention and formulae. Turville-Petre states the matter quite bluntly: "verbal parallels are a very uncertain guide to establishing relationships between alliterative poems" (Alliterative Revival, p. 29).

31 Neilson, "Huchown," pp. 282-88. Neilson attempted to use such borrowings to establish common authorship between numerous poems of the alliterative revival, though subsequent generations of scholars have largely abandoned such theses.

32 Lines 731-32: Birds fall to their feet and their feathers shake out. / The night-watch [goes] to the wall and waits to sound [the alarm]

33 As a text for Destruction of Troy, I have used the Early English Text Society edition edited by Panton and Donaldson: "Gest Hystoriale" of the Destruction of Troy.

34 Morte Arthure, ed. Hamel, p. 55.

35 Neilson notes an additional thirty-one lines as echoing Destruction of Troy, astutely pointing out that most of the echoes in Destruction of Troy are from the siege and subsequent destruction of Tenedos. He also hears echoes of eighteen lines from Wars of Alexander in Siege (mostly from Wars' account of the siege of Tyre), and I have noted a number of these, as well. Let me be clear, however, in voicing my hesitancy to acknowledge them all as evident signs of direct influence.

36 Morte Arthure, ed. Hamel, p. 55. In their edition of Siege, however, Hanna and Lawton have observed that this position is more tenuous than it might seem on first glance since portions of Destruction of Troy are best explained by reliance on Siege; see Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, p. xxxvn10.

37 An excellent synopsis of the dating of Troilus is provided in Stephen A. Barney's explanatory notes to the poem in The Riverside Chaucer, pp. 1020-21. Hamel summarizes the extended sequential dating of Siege in her edition of Alliterative Morte Arthure (Morte Arthure, pp. 53-58), a poem that either is borrowed by or borrows from Siege. In addition to the correspondences between Troilus and Troy originally noted by Skeat (The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 2.lxvi), Hamel cites, as particularly representative of these arguments, Benson's "A Chaucerian Allusion and the Date of the Alliterative 'Destruction of Troy,'" and Sundwall's "Destruction of Troy, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, and Lydgate's Troy Book," pp. 313-15.

38 Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Kölbing and Day, p. xxix.

39 Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, p. xxxvii.

40 Gransden, Historical Writing in England II, p. 44.

41 Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, p. xxxv.

42 Hornstein, "Miscellaneous Romances," 1.158.

43 Guddat-Figge, Catalogue of the Manuscripts Containing Middle English Romances, p. 41.

44 Pearsall, Old English and Middle English Poetry, p. 153.

45 For more information on the historical contexts of the poem, see pp. 24-30, below.

46 On the textual history of the poem, see pp. 8-13, above.

47 Nicholson, "Haunted Itineraries," p. 448.

48 Hamel, "Siege of Jerusalem as a Crusading Poem," p. 178.

49 Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, p. 53.

50 Chism, "Siege of Jerusalem: Liquidating Assets," p. 319.

51 Nicholson, "Haunted Itineraries," p. 449.

52 See, for example, Lawton, "Sacrilege and Theatricality," 293.

53 Chism, "Siege of Jerusalem: Liquidating Assets," p. 319n26.

54 Chism, "Siege of Jerusalem: Liquidating Assets," p. 309 and passim. These ideas are also revisited in the course of her discussion of Siege in her book Alliterative Revivals.

55 Chism, Alliterative Revivals, pp. 11-12.

56 For more on the late fourteenth-century background of the poem, see pp. 24-30, below.

57 Chism, "Siege of Jerusalem: Liquidating Assets," p. 317.

58 Sir Perceval of Galles, ed. Braswell, p. 39. Many of these gory details, we might add, are in the poet's sources; such is the case, for example, for the baby borne over the walls and the skull flung across the battlefield, both of which derive ultimately from Josephus' account of the siege of Jotapata in Wars of the Jews 3.7.23.

59 Josephus reports that two thousand Jews were thus torn open in a single night (Wars of the Jews 5.13.4); noted by Hamel, "Siege of Jerusalem as a Crusading Poem," p. 183.

60 On the storm as a topos of Middle English poetry, see Jacobs,"Alliterative Storms." Jacobs is less than favorable in comparing this particular description with its brethren, saying that it is "technically less impressive, and its irrelevance to the story makes it appear doubly perfunctory" (p. 713).

61 And with a drumond (a large ship) on the deep drives on quickly

62 The clouds thundered loudly as [if] they would break apart

63 Lines 63-64: The weather and the wind so meet on the water / That [he] who governed the helm was hurtled into a heap

64 Similar siege tactics appear in Alliterative Morte Arthure, though Sutton notes that the siege warfare depicted there is archaic compared to late fourteenth-century military practices; see "Mordred's End."

65 A pillar was set upon the flat ground

66 Until His whole body ran red with blood, as rain [does] upon the street

67 Lines 13-14: Then [they] struck Him upon a stool with stiff men's hands, / Blindfolded Him as a bee and gave Him blows

68 Plays 21 and 22, Towneley Plays, ed. England, pp. 228-57.

69 Plays 29 ("The Bowers and Flecchers") and 33 ("The Tyllemakers") in York Plays, ed. Smith, pp. 254-69 and 320-36.

70 Play 16 ("The Fletchers, Bowiers, Cowpers, and Stringers Playe") in Chester Mystery Cycle, ed. Lumiansky and Mills, 1.284-303.

71 Coliphizachio, lines 397-414, in Wakefield Pageants, ed. Cawley.

72 From the Fairfax version of Cursor Mundi, ed. Morris, lines 16433-38.

73 For this summary and much of what follows, I am indebted to both Millar's excellent discussion of the sources in her study of the poem (Siege of Jerusalem, pp. 42-75) and the introduction of the poem by Mabel Day for the EETS edition; see Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Kölbing and Day, pp. xv-xxxi.

74 See Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, pp. 70-73; Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Kölbing and Day, p. xx.

75 As Hanna and Lawton point out, the poet probably knew Josephus through the translation by Rufinus of Aquileia; see pp. xl-lii.

76 Millar, The Siege of Jerusalem, p. 56, speaking on the poet's adaptation of Vindicta salvatoris.

77 There are two primary recensions of the Latin Vindicta salvatoris. Millar (Siege of Jerusalem, pp. 50-51) concluded that a manuscript copy based on version B must have been used as the poet's exemplar since the poem omits the character of Volosian.

78 Kölbing and Day kindly provide the initial portion of Vindicta salvatoris as Appendix II in their edition (Siege of Jerusalem, pp. 83-85), a practice followed by Hanna and Lawton, who reedited the Latin text for their Appendix B (pp. 159-63). The relevant line here is: "In diebus imperii Tiberii Cesaris, tetrarcha [Herodes], sub Poncio [Pilato] Iude traditus fuit Dominus zelatus a Tiberio."

79 Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, p. 55. This is not to say, however, that religious issues do not lie behind the presentation of the poem.

80 Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, p. 52.

81 Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, p. 53.

82 More specifically, Bible en François is the primary source behind lines 201-64 and 325-788, since much of the intervening material is either original to the poet (though still loosely based on the accumulated legends) or from Josephus (see Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, p. xlvi). See Moe, "French Source of The Siege of Jerusalem." Interestingly, Hanna and Lawton have subsequently observed that "the only known copy of Roger's Bible en François produced in England (unknown to Moe) survives and is a Bolton book" (p. lii). This manuscript is now held in the Bodleian Library as MS Fairfax 24. For a very succinct summary of the Middle English translation of Roger's work, see Morey, Book and Verse, pp. 118-19.

83 Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, pp. 58-59.

84 Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, p. 59.

85 Kölbing and Day provide the relevant passage of Higden as Appendix III of their edition (pp. 86-89); Hanna and Lawton re-edit the passage and provide it as Appendix B in theirs (pp. 164-69). For general information about Higden, see Taylor, "Universal Chronicle" of Ranulf Higden.

86 In addition, Higden appears to have relied heavily on the account of Hegesippus, but Hegesippus' account is also a recasting of Josephus. For a succinct but detailed account of Josephus' work and its journey into the hands of Higden, see Millar, Siege of Jerusalem, pp. 60-69.

87 See Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, pp. xl-lii. The fact that the Siege-poet directly utilized Josephus stands against the conclusions of earlier critics such as Millar, who opined (Siege of Jerusalem, p. 69) that "there is no good reason to think that the poet used The Jewish War."

88 Hanna and Lawton identify over thirty Josephan echoes.

89 C. Day Lewis (1904-72), "The Conflict," lines 31-32. The line provides the title, for example, of Large's examination of what W. H. Auden called the "low dishonest decade" ("September 1, 1939," line 5): Between Two Fires.

90 For some of what follows I am indebted to the broad outline provided by Dean in the introduction to his useful collection of Middle English literature about Richard's reign in Medieval English Political Writings.

91 Knighton, Knighton's Chronicle, 1337-1396, ed. and trans. Martin, p. 325. That the crusade was moderately successful until the siege of Ypres is perhaps also relevant to the composition of Siege of Jerusalem (depending, of course, on the dating of Siege). One of the details provided by Knighton is that Despenser "had installed a great siege tower with a trebuchet" at Ypres (p. 327), a detail perhaps echoed in the siege tower at Jerusalem. If the poet is, indeed, hoping to make referral to Despenser's failures at Ypres, the point would be to further emphasize the illegitimacy of such current crusading practices.

92 See Aston, "Impeachment of Bishop Despenser."

93 On the Norwich Crusade, and the political situations under Richard II, see Perroy, L'Angleterre et le Grand Schisme d'Occident. That the Norwich Crusade stuck in the minds of the English people is perhaps best shown in the fact that in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales Chaucer's Squire is described as having taken part in the expedition (CT I[A]85-88).

94 Usk, Chronicle of Adam Usk, 1377-1421, ed. and trans. Given-Wilson, p. 15. Other chronicle accounts useful to this period are Historia Anglicana 2.84-104 and Westminster Chronicle 34-46.

95 For more information about this event, and an eyewitness account of it, see Maidstone, Concordia, ed. Carlson.

96 Mézières, Letter to King Richard II, ed. and trans. Coopland. It is perhaps of note that Philippe asks Richard to follow in the footsteps of Titus' actions at the siege of Jerusalem (pp. 16-17 [English] and 89-90 [French]). See Hamel, "Siege of Jerusalem as a Crusading Poem," pp. 187-88, for more discussion of Philippe's letter and our poem.

97 See Palmer, England, France and Christendom, 1377-99, p. 205. Hamel argues that this event might actually represent the terminus ad quem for Siege because the poem is favorable to the "longer range English-French project against Jerusalem" ("Siege of Jerusalem as a Crusading Poem," p. 189). But, as Tipton has pointed out, the English participation in the crusade was quite slim, indeed, as their role "was passive rather than active" ("English at Nicopolis," p. 538). Additionally, as we will see, Siege of Jerusalem is not necessarily pro-crusade. In fact, it may be just as anti-crusade as Siege off Melayne or Alliterative Morte Arthure, the latter of which almost surely borrowed from the present poem (see p. 28n111, below).

98 Saul, Richard II, pp. 250 and 388. Compare the Prologue to Gower's Confessio Amantis, lines 141-56.

99 See, for example, Peck, "Social Conscience and the Poets."

100 See Barnie, War in Medieval Society, pp. 14-31, and Keiser, "Edward III and the Alliterative Morte Arthure," pp. 48-51. The findings of these historians run counter to those of earlier critics like Matthews, who argued that, because of the anti-war sentiments espoused by his work, the poet of Alliterative Morte Arthure "may have composed his work soon after 1375, when the piled-up misfortunes of John of Gaunt had added Pelion to the Ossa of Edward's failures in France and when the ordinary Englishman was weary of the tragic futility of his rulers' imperial conquerings" (Tragedy of Arthur, p. 192). But it was not their rulers' war itself that was troublesome in the 1370s. As Hamel states the matter, it was "their failure to gain further military successes in spite of the great expensiveness of the war" (Morte Arthure, ed. Hamel, p. 57).

101 Morte Arthure, ed. Hamel, p. 57, who goes on to note that "most of the writings that Matthews himself quotes [in arguing for anti-war literature in the 1370s] . . . date not from the 1370's but from the period 1390-1425." See note 100, above. Similar conclusions are drawn by Finlayson, "Morte Arthure: The Date and a Source for the Contemporary References."

102 On the anti-war nature of Wynnere and Wastoure, a poem critical of Edward III's continental wars that may have been written as early as the 1350s (though more likely in the 1360s), see Stillwell, "Wynnere and Wastoure and the Hundred Years' War."

103 See, for example, Confessio Amantis 3.2251-2362, and 3.2485-2515.

104 See Confessio Amantis 7.3594-3626.

105 On Melibee as an advice to Richard poem, with Dame Prudence as a figure for Anne of Bohemia as a counselor to Richard on behalf of peace, see Stillwell, "Political Meaning of Chaucer's Tale of Melibee." Similarly, Scattergood, in "Chaucer and the French War," links Melibee and Sir Thopas as anti-war tracts situated at the heart of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

106 A case for the pacifism of both Chaucer and Gower is made by Yeager in "Pax Poetica." Barnie calls Gower "a man of peace but not a pacifist" (War in Medieval Society, p. 122). For a more recent investigation into Chaucer's opinions on the matter, see Pratt, Chaucer and War.

107 Yeager, "Pax Poetica," p. 133. A similar point is made by Barnie (War and Medieval Society, p. 131), who ties Chaucer's decision to enter into such debates to "the political and social turmoil of the 1380s and 90s."

108 See Yeager, "Pax Poetica," pp. 101-03. A good overview of medieval opinion on the nature of and proper rationale for "Just War" can be found in Keen, Laws of War, pp. 63-133.

109 Augustine, Letter 189.6, in Schaff, Select Library, 1.554.

110 Augustine, The City of God 19.8.7, in Schaff, Select Library, 2.405.

111 That the Alliterative Morte Arthure is built around anti-war sentiments was first argued by Peck in "Willfulness and Wonders." Hamel's critical edition of the poem seems to take the poet's irenic goal almost as a given, but see especially pp. 34-58. Turville-Petre discusses the problem of just when Arthur becomes "unjust" in Alliterative Revival, pp. 102-03.

112 The entirely opposite conclusion has been reached, however, by Hamel ("Siege of Jerusalem as a Crusading Poem"), who regards Siege of Jerusalem as a call to arms in the midst of crusading fervor prior to the disaster at Nicopolis.

113 The interrelationship of these poems is problematic. Benson's 1398-1402 dating of Alliterative Morte Arthure would surely make Siege the source, yet other theories place composition of Alliterative Morte Arthure as early as 1350 (for a discussion of the matter, see Morte Arthure, ed. Hamel, pp. 53-58). That the Alliterative Morte Arthure uses Siege, however, would help to explain a number of verbal echoes of Siege within its lines (Oakden [Alliterative Poetry in Middle English, p. 100] records five occasions; I have included all of these in the Explanatory Notes), as well as a few oddities such as the swearing of Arthur upon the Vernicle when it should be a peacock, Lucius' golden dragon standard that should be Arthur's, and the mention of a fight in the valley of Josaphat (for a rather lengthy catalog of possible influences, see Neilson, "Huchown," pp. 297-300). Adding complexity to an already complicated problem, it is even conceivable that Siege and Alliterative Morte Arthure might have been composed by the same poet, with Siege coming first: the two works bear a remarkable number of similarities not only in language but also in structure, technique, geographical origin, and theme. If Alliterative Morte Arthure does, indeed, utilize Siege, we might plausibly assign a pre-1380s date to the earlier poem since concerns over the dangers and advisability of costly continental campaigns - thought by many critics to be the primary purpose for Alliterative Morte Arthure's composition - would argue for a 1380-90 date to the Arthurian poem.

114 Alliterative Morte Arthure, lines 3216-17. Compare lines 521-22 of the present text.

115 See Peck's "Willfulness and Wonders."

116 Cited by Lindberg, European Reformations, p. 24.

117 On the hysteron proteron structure of Alliterative Morte Arthure, see Peck, "Willfulness and Wonders." I am indebted to Peck's hypothesis for my discovery of a similar application to Siege.

118 Hebron, Medieval Siege, p. 112. In this regard, he carefully sets the destruction of Jerusalem against the fall of Troy, whose course of action is clearly Boethian in its cyclical nature.

119 Breisach, Historiography, p. 78.

120 Nicholson, "Haunted Itineraries," p. 457. Though not mentioned by Nicholson, St. Ambrose's gloss on Luke 21:6 shows that the parallel razing and building of Synagogue and Church was precisely part of the thinking of the Church Fathers: "It was spoken then of the temple made with hands, that it should be overthrown. For there is nothing made with hands which age does not impair, or violence throw down, or fire burn. Yet there is also another temple, that is, the synagogue, whose ancient building falls to pieces as the Church rises" (Aquinas, Catena aurea, 3.674).

121 Jesus' enigmatic prophecy in John 2:18-21 might also be of note here: "The Jews, therefore, answered, and said to him: What sign dost thou shew unto us, seeing thou dost these things? Jesus answered and said to them: Destroy this temple; and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews then said: Six and forty years was this temple in building; and wilt thou raise it up in three days? But he spoke of the temple of his body." On one level, Christ is understood to be speaking of his death and resurrection; in this regard, St. Augustine makes much of the pronouns at work here, using the passage to illustrate Christ's divinity since Christ says that He will raise up His body (see Tractate 47.7, in Schaff, Select Library, 7.263). In addition, Christ can be understood to be speaking of the destruction of the Second Temple and its replacement by the body of Christ (i.e., the Christian Church) after the entombment (which lasted three days). Though the Second Temple was probably built in something closer to eighty-four years (20 BC to AD 64), the numeric values of the Greek letters in "Adam" add up to forty-six (alpha[=1] + delta[=4] + alpha[=1] + mu[=40]), further emphasizing that the Temple represents the old Adam and original sin. Jesus' role as a new Adam demarcates the old way (Judaism and the Old Testament) from the new (Christianity and the New Testament). This latter reading is also interesting for paralleling the destruction of the Temple with the Crucifixion, as if the one logically followed from the other. As we will see, this connection is made quite explicit in Siege of Jerusalem.

122 In this respect, as the lines of the narrative turn retrograde and inward, the framing structure seems to act more along Boethian than Augustinian models, as linear tangents turn back to the center; see Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy 3.m.11.1-6: "Whoever with deep thought seeks out the truth / And wants not to go wrong down devious ways, / Must on himself turn back the light of his inward vision, / Bending and forcing his far-reaching movements / Into a circle."

123 This center is structural in the sense that the turning point of any hysteron proteron structure is of central importance to the theme of the whole, and literal in the sense that the center of this particular hysteron proteron structure (lines 681-92) falls close to being the precise midpoint of the poem's 1340 total lines.

124 Lines 685-88: Then [they] choke the ditches with the dead bodies, / Cram it with carrion beneath all the battlements, / So that the stench from that stew (combination) might strike over the walls [of the city] / To infect the cursed folk (i.e., the living Jews) that should defend them (i.e., their fallen dead)

125 These connections were firmly supported by the Church Fathers, who were almost unanimous in associating the Jews' rejection of Christ to their "murder" of Christ and thus to their condemnation as a people and the destruction of the Temple by Titus and Vespasian. In his exposition of Psalm 79, for instance, St. Augustine calls the first three verses a prophecy fulfilled in the destruction and a sign of the inheritance of God passing from Israel to the Church of Christ (in Schaff, Select Library, 8.380-81). On the Gospel prophecies, Aquinas' Catena aurea cites numerous supports for associating Christ's directive with the destruction: for example, Hrabanus Maurus on Matthew 24:2 (1.799) and Gregory the Great, Origen, and Eusebius on Luke 19:41-44 (3.644-46).

126 London, British Library MS Additional 31042 (commonly denoted as manuscript A), fol. 50r. See pp. 8-13 for information about the textual history of Siege of Jerusalem.

127 Though one would not want to push the argument too far, it is possible that Vespasian and Titus might function theologically within the poem as a reflection of the Father and Son. Thrice in the Bible vengeance is said to be the purvey of God: "Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19; compare Deuteronomy 32:25 and Hebrews 10:30). The point would seem to be that Vespasian and Titus are, at the very least, God's appointed avengers.

128 I wouldn't [know that] this town were untaken, nor these towers high

129 The textual history of the poem is provided on pp. 8-13.

130 Early commentators believed that L also most closely resembled the poet's dialect, but the exhaustive work of more recent scholars indicates that P (and, to a slightly lesser degree, A) should hold that honor: Siege of Jerusalem is undoubtedly a Northern poem, and L is undoubtedly an Oxfordshire manuscript. Given the early date of P (it is probably a close contemporary of L in that regard), it would certainly be the preferred base-text for the poem if only it were complete; see Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, pp. lxxxvi-xcvi.

131 Duggan, "Final -e and the Rhythmic Structure of the B-Verse," p. 125.

132 Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Turville-Petre, p. 159.

133 I have minimized citations to other manuscripts in my Textual Notes in order to prevent undo overlap with the edition of Hanna and Lawton, who provide a full textual apparatus comparing all extant manuscripts; thus, I have only provided manuscript alternatives and editorial variations where I have adjusted L or where the primary editors of the poem have done so. The reader interested in viewing additional alternative manuscript readings is strongly encouraged to consult the excellent work presented by Hanna and Lawton in their critical edition.

134 Kaluza, "Strophische Gliederung." Kaluza's further theory that alliterative poems such as Siege could be divided into strophes has been soundly rejected by all subsequent editors of the poem; see, for example, Kölbing and Day, p. ixn1, and Day's more extensive refutation in "Strophic Division." Duggan provides similar conclusions in "Strophic Patterns."

135 Among other critical discussions of the matter, see especially the work of Duggan, "Strophic Patterns"; Duggan is quick to point out that the choice of the term "quatrain" to describe these divisions is somewhat unfortunate, as the "quatrains" of such poems generally "lack the formal determination" of a "prosodic unit" that we would normally associate with quatrains (pp. 226-27). Hanna and Lawton discuss the matter on pp. lxx-lxxi of their edition.

136 Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, p. lxx.

137 Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, pp. lxxi and lxxvii. Their intervening and following discussion of the poet's style is particularly useful in showing the intricacies of the poet's technique in utilizing this construction.

138 These lacunae appear after lines 216, 938, 940, and 942.

139 In private correspondence, Lawton states that he and Hanna actually had no trouble writing in the missing lines, though they did not, of course, publish them as part of their edition.

140 A very useful table showing the correspondences between the divisions in the various manuscripts is provided by Hanna and Lawton on p. lxxii of their edition.

141 Siege of Jerusalem is by no means alone in this fact; Alliterative Morte Arthure, for example, has many of the instances of war vocabulary cited here; see above for more on the relationship between these poems. I am grateful to Kölbing and Day's excellent editorial work for making this list far easier to compile than it might have been.

142 It is interesting to note that whatever hand is responsible for the D text of the poem, a concerted effort seems to have been made to reduce the number of "foreign" words in the text since all occurrences of the word brynye have been replaced with various Middle English terms in the D text.

143 See the explanatory note to this line, however, for a different glossing of the term based on Alliterative Morte Arthure.

144 Further discussion of the lexis of the poem is provided in Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, pp. lxxvii-lxxxi; they also discuss the general style of the poem in more detail on pp. lxxiv- lxxxvi.

145 On the reconstruction of these textual divisions based on the surviving manuscript tradition, see Hanna and Lawton's excellent discussion: Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Hanna and Lawton, pp. lxix-lxxiv.

146 For more details on the manuscripts, see pp. 8-9.
And after sixty-two weeks Christ shall be slain: and the people that shall deny him shall not be his. And a people, with their leader, that shall come, shall destroy the city, and the sanctuary: and the end thereof shall be waste, and after the end of the war the appointed desolation. (Daniel 9:26)
For the days shall come upon thee: and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee and compass thee round and straiten thee on every side . . . (Luke 19:43)1
A recent critic, Roger Nicholson, summed up the feelings of many when he observed: "to admit to interest in the Middle English alliterative Siege of Jerusalem seems like confessing a secret guilt, or at least like committing an act of critical indecorum, since this alliterative romance is indisputably scandalous."2 The poem is, after all, one that Ralph Hanna famously labeled as "the chocolate-covered tarantula of the alliterative movement . . . . so offensive as to exist on the suppressed margins of critical attention, unaccompanied by commentary."3 David Lawton, though less rhetorical in his feelings, amusingly refers to Siege as a poem that "even its editors cannot love."4 Nicholson explains the modern reader's dilemma succinctly:
Viewed one way, it [Siege] mars the reputation of medieval chivalric literature; viewed another, it stains the good name of medieval piety. It seems ruined by rank anti-Semitism; since it transgresses ethically, it also must fail as literature. In short, its grossness is so palpable that it seems to merit the critical invisibility that has been its textual fate for most of its post-medieval existence.5
Nicholson quite rightly goes on to refute some of these attitudes, and the rising interest in the poem among scholars - if quantity of publication is evidence of renewed interest - might indicate a shifting tide in favor of the poem's study. It is possible that Siege of Jerusalem may at last be getting the critical attention that it has been missing. Still, though critical studies of the poem are appearing with more frequency, Nicholson's hesitancy to confess his "secret guilt" is understandable: it is simply difficult for twenty-first-century readers to like the poem. The alliterative Siege of Jerusalem dates from the end of the fourteenth century, depicting the historical destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 by the Roman generals (and future emperors) Titus and Vespasian. The poem is extraordinarily graphic in its depiction of this event - at times bordering on what Dorothy Everett calls a "ghoulish relish for the horrible,"6 combined with what A. C. Spearing describes as a deep anti-Semitic strain that leads to "horrible delight in the suffering of the Jews."7 Such features of the poem have helped to marginalize it from the more "happy" literary canon of the period. These twin problems of violence and intolerance understandably make modern readers uneasy. But the poem has merits both as a literary undertaking and as a significant historical document that warrant careful consideration. Indeed, as Bonnie Millar has argued in the only full-length study of Siege yet available, most current views of the poem are grossly inadequate in that they fail to account for the poem's "physical, literary and historical contexts in order to assess how the poet has handled his material in an innovative and perceptive manner."8 One might argue, then, that critics have the proverbial mirror turned around: the marginalization of Siege of Jerusalem in this politically correct world says far more about us as readers, and our own difficulties in coping with such charged topics, than it does about medieval perspectives on the material in question. As an artifact of late-medieval England, Siege of Jerusalem provides a remarkable document on the brutality of siege warfare that was on the minds of Englishmen in the so-called interim period of the Hundred Years' War; and it exposes as well numerous crises within the Christian Church, particularly the increasing economic uses of crusader politics.9


In January of 588 BC, Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon, invaded Judah and began to assault Jerusalem (Jeremias 21:2, 7; 32:1-2; 34:1; 37). In August of the following year, on the ninth of Av according to Rabbinic tradition, the Babylonians took control of Jerusalem, and Solomon's Temple, the great edifice built by the son of King David to house the Ark of the Covenant (1 Kings 5-8; 2 Chronicles 1-6), was destroyed. The Babylonian Captivity of Israel began. For the next fifty years, the Jewish people were a people in exile. It was only after the king of Persia, Cyrus the Great, defeated the Babylonians in 539 that the Jews were allowed to return to Judaea and to begin the reconstruction of the Temple. The Second Temple was completed in 516 and, for a time, things were relatively quiet. Jerusalem came under the control of Alexander the Great shortly after he conquered the Persians in 334, and Judaea passed into the hands of the Ptolemies during the breakup of Alexander's empire following his death, but little direct action was taken against the Jews or the Second Temple. Then, in 200 BC, a minor empire of Syrian Greeks called the Seleucids forced the Ptolemies out of Judaea and took control of the region. The Jews were uneasy under the Gentile authority of the Seleucids, who worked hard to Hellenize them in the interest of consolidating their rule and maintaining order. Matters took a distinct turn for the worse in 169 when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the king of the Seleucids, looted the Second Temple, an act that resulted in the deaths of a number of Jews who stood against him. A year later, Antiochus forbade Jews to practice many of their religious rites, including circumcision (1 Maccabees 1:41-51). He threatened to execute anyone found in possession of the Torah, and in 167 built an altar on the Temple Mount that was probably dedicated to Zeus. Many Jews were dismayed at this act of desecration, viewing the pagan sacrifices as an "abomination unto desolation" (Daniel 11:31). The resistance of the Jews soon grew into all-out guerilla warfare under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus (Judas "the hammerer"), who, after a series of brilliant military victories, managed to achieve religious freedom from the Seleucids. He then set himself the task of purifying the Second Temple. Exactly three years after Antiochus had begun pagan sacrifices at the Temple, on 25 Kislev, 164 BC, the Second Temple was rededicated - an achievement that is celebrated annually with the feast of Hanukkah.10 One hundred years later, in 63 BC, the Jewish state came to an end when Rome entered Jerusalem and the city was peacefully handed over to Pompey. In 41, the Romans appointed Herod the Great as tetrarch of Galilee, and he was named king of Judaea in the following year. Herod the Great undertook a massive and widespread building program in Jerusalem, and the culmination of this project was the restoration of the Second Temple beginning in 20 BC. Herod's restoration - which amounted to almost an entire rebuilding, such that the restored Temple is sometimes called "Herod's Temple" - doubled the size of the Temple complex and left little of the original structure intact. Matthew 2 places the birth of Jesus just prior to the death of Herod around 4 BC. Following the death of Herod the Great, Emperor Augustus divided the kingdom (which had grown to near the size of Solomon and David's) between three of Herod's sons: Herod Antipas (Galilee and Peraea), Philip (Decapolis and the provinces north to Damascus), and Herod Archelaus (Judaea and Samaria). Archelaus proved to be a particularly poor leader, and so angered both his Jews and Samaritans that Augustus was forced to depose him in AD 6, replacing him with a series of Roman procurators. This practice was followed by Augustus' successor to the Roman throne, Tiberius, who continued to rule Judaea through procurators including, from 26 to 36, Pontius Pilate. It was during the rule of Pilate that Jesus of Nazareth began a ministry of preaching that called for a kingdom of God to replace the kingdom of the Caesars; His preaching was viewed as sedition by the Roman authorities, and it is very likely that Pilate sentenced Jesus to execution by crucifixion on this charge.11 According to the Christian gospels, which were composed some decades after His death (and probably after the historical destruction of the Second Temple in 70), Jesus prophesied before His Crucifixion that the Second Temple would be destroyed. With the exception of the brief rule of the Jewish vassal king Herod Agrippa I from 41 to 44, Jerusalem continued to be ruled by Roman procurators who kept control via the might and power of the Roman military. The Jews grew increasingly frustrated with Roman rule, however, as the procurators - often some of the worst officials in the empire due to the undesirability of the Judaean post - grew increasingly violent against them. Stephen K. Wright (p. 3) summarizes the conditions that led to the First Jewish Revolt:
The widespread discontent with Roman rule was compounded by the frustrations of the impoverished lower classes, who suspected wealthy native landowners of maintaining their own privileged positions by accommodating themselves to the interests of their idolatrous, polytheistic rulers. The incompetence and cultural insensitivity of the procurators did nothing to relieve these economic and political pressures. On the contrary, a dismal history of injustices and unpopular administrative decisions only served to provoke sporadic protests ranging from minor disturbances to full-scale urban riots. The situation exploded into outright rebellion in 66 AD when the procurator Gessius Florus confiscated a share of the Temple treasury and responded to the outrage of the citizens by allowing two cohorts to plunder the city. A violent mob attacked the troops dispatched by Gessius, drove them from the streets, and eventually overran the Roman garrison in the city. Within weeks the rebellion spread throughout all of Palestine.
The emperor Nero (r. 54-68) responded to the uprising by sending an army almost sixty thousand strong against Judaea under the command of Vespasian and his son Titus. The Romans first attacked Galilee in Syria and met with a number of successes. The town of Jotapata, however, under the direction of the Jewish leader Flavius Josephus (to whose account we owe much of our information about the details of the First Jewish Revolt) held firm. Vespasian set a siege upon the city and, despite the often-ingenious stratagems of Josephus, the town fell in 67. Titus, meanwhile, took the towns of Jaffa, Gamala (which also required a brief siege), and Gischala. After putting down the revolt in Galilee, the Romans moved on Judaea, sweeping toward Jerusalem. Joppa, Jamnia, Azotus, Emmaus, and Caphartobas fell in the south, followed in the north by Coreae, Gadara, Gerasa, and Jericho in 68.12 Nero, meanwhile, died, and a series of men (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) rose to the throne of Rome after his death only to be quickly murdered in turn. By 69, the throne had fallen to Vespasian, who returned to Rome in order to fill the imperial vacancy, leaving the Roman armies in the control of his son, Titus. With Jericho and the lands to the north of the Dead Sea secured, Titus and the Roman armies laid siege to Jerusalem in 70.13 Titus had four legions at his disposal: the Tenth Legion had moved from Jericho to the Mount of Olives; the Twelfth Legion had come from Caesarea and encamped west of the city; the Fifth and Fifteenth Legions had come from the north and completed the surrounding of the city. The Jewish forces were under the command of two feuding leaders: Simon, son of Gioras (bar-Giora), and John of Gischala. Josephus, who had been taken prisoner by the Romans after the fall of Jotapata only to become one of Titus' close friends and perhaps advisor, accompanied the Romans and was an eyewitness to the siege. After breaching the third and second walls of the city but failing to take the Fortress Antonia that protected the Second Temple itself, Titus encompassed Jerusalem in a massive circumvallation that was, according to Josephus, almost eight kilometers (five miles) long, and that was built in only three days (Wars of the Jews 5.12.1-3). The siege lasted six months, during which time a terrible famine was inflicted upon the people of the town. Josephus describes this and other horrors most graphically, including an account of a woman so taken with hunger that she killed, cooked, and consumed her own son (Wars of the Jews 5.10-6.5). The Fortress Antonia was taken by Titus on 22 July 70, and many Jews barricaded themselves in the Second Temple. On 5 August, the temple was burned with the Jews still inside (this may or may not have been an accident), and the Roman soldiers carried out a campaign of slaughter along the entire east ridge. According to the Jewish calendar, this destruction of the Second Temple took place on the ninth of Av, the same date on which Solomon's Temple was destroyed 657 years earlier. The remaining Jews made a desperate last stand in Herod's Palace in the Upper City, but the end was inevitable. The Lower City was burned at the beginning of September, and by the end of the month all resistance ended when Titus' men assaulted Herod's Palace and took the Upper City. Titus ordered the Second Temple razed to the ground, and ultimately only a portion of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount - known today as the Western Wall and regarded as one of Judaism's most holy sites - survived the destruction. Suetonius numbered the Jewish dead at 600,000, while Josephus gives the number 1.1 million; even if those numbers reflect, as many historians surmise, "the casualties inflicted on all Jews in the entire campaign and not just in the siege," either number is difficult to fathom.14 Most of those Jews who were not executed were carried off as slaves, and the Tenth Legion was thereafter quartered in Jerusalem; only three years later, the tragic fall of Masada marked the end of Jewish resistance until the Bar-Cochba Revolt in 132 (a rebellion prompted by Hadrian's construction of a temple to Jupiter on the site of the Second Temple).15 On returning to Rome, Titus held a triumphal procession in which he displayed the golden menorah looted from the Temple as a trophy. The Arch of Titus in Rome was built to commemorate the triumph; on one of its panels is carved in high relief the scene of his soldiers carrying the menorah.


The siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and Vespasian was a popular subject for medieval writers. This was particularly true of Christian writers who used the destruction of Jerusalem as what Wright (p. 6) has called "a new interpretation of the Church's own history, nature and mission":
In a sense, the bitter separation of Church and Synagogue can be traced to the destruction of Jerusalem, since for the latter it resulted in renewed obedience to the Torah, while for the former it became a sign of the rejection of the old Israel and the birth of a new Christian empire in Rome. In the Christian imagination, the destruction of Jerusalem was finally removed from its secular context altogether and came to stand for nothing less than the ultimate triumph of Ecclesia over Synagoga, a symbol of the Western Church's repudiation of its own Jewish heritage.
This movement from Synagogue to Church, revealing the strength of the Christian faith and what was deemed to be its natural place in history, accounts for much of the story's popularity in the Middle Ages. In addition, however, Malcolm Hebron makes a convincing argument that part of the story's popularity may be due to the various generic elements already present in the story:
The material provided a combination of legend, miracle, history, and Roman chivalry, as well as opportunities for vivid description of siege warfare in the East; the triumph of Western Christendom in the form of the Roman army must have provided a pleasing contrast to the present situation in the Holy Land at a time when the recapture of Jerusalem was still the dream of monarchs. While the combination of the religious and the chivalric, crusading elements in the story of the siege and the events leading up to it contributed to its popularity, the matter of Jerusalem also contains deeper resonances concerning the pattern of history. The romances, like those on Troy, tend to concentrate on action rather than reflection, but the ways in which the historical event is recreated bear traces of a wider context of ideas concerning destiny and salvation which give the episode a special significance.
   As an image of history, the siege of Jerusalem contrasts with that of Troy. Where the fall of Troy illustrates a Boethian model of history as a cycle of rise and fall of power and fortune, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman emperors Titus and Vespasian illustrates the separate, Augustinian conception of history as a succession of great events which reveal part of the divine scheme of things. The siege of Troy is a warning against human vanity and folly, while that of Jerusalem reveals the will and power of God. Where Troy is a tragic fall of power and pride, Jerusalem even in its tribulations is seen as a sign of the triumphal march of destiny.16
This great "triumphal march of destiny," through which the superiority and inevitability of the Christian faith was evidently played out in the historical events of the destruction, lent itself to the accretion of legendary materials, especially those of a religious nature. That is, the destruction of Jerusalem came to symbolize the failure of the Old Law of the Jews and the triumph of the New Law of the Christians. Because one of the first conclusions that Christian writers drew from the fall of Jerusalem was that the Jews were punished for their rejection (and, as the accusation grew in popularity, their perceived murder) of Jesus, medieval writers and subsequent critics have referred to the various works of poetry, prose, and drama that came to represent the story in this way as the Vengeance of Our Lord tradition, a description drawn from one of the primary Latin sources, Vindicta salvatoris.17 One of the first accretions to the basic history was that of the story of St. Veronica and her Vernicle, a cloth (usually a veil) that bore an image of the face of Jesus and had the ability to cure the sick. St. Veronica appears with her veil in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, but her story grew in popularity after it was combined with the life of Pontius Pilate in the fourth-century Acta Pilati. Around the year 600, St. Veronica's story is attached to Josephus' story of the fall of Jerusalem in Cura sanitatis Tiberii. Around the year 700, the healing of an ill Titus by the Vernicle (and his subsequent conversion) is incorporated into Vindicta salvatoris, along with the explicit portrayal of the siege as vengeance for the Crucifixion. The eleventh-century De Pylato names Vespasian as the miraculously healed leader of the siege. Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda aurea added the detail of a number of portents of the destruction. The accreted tradition then appears in Old French in the twelfth-century La Venjance Nostre Seigneur, probably in direct connection with the Crusades against the Muslims in the East. As Alvin E. Ford has pointed out, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were witness to a flurry of texts in the Vengeance of Our Lord tradition: "Verse versions, prose versions, chansons de geste, mystery plays, book-length documents and one-page résumés, all attest to the widespread diffusion of the apocryphal Vengeance of Our Lord throughout the medieval Christian world." Of Old and Middle French prose versions alone, Ford identifies fifty-four (and counting) manuscripts, "representing nine independent but interrelated traditions," the primary works being La Vengeance de Nostre-Seigneur and Roger d'Argenteuil's Bible en François.18 Wright, studying the representation of Jerusalem's destruction in medieval drama, comments (p. 1) on the surprising popularity of the story in drama during this same period:
From their first appearance in the mid-fourteenth century until as late as 1622, plays of the destruction of Jerusalem are known to have been performed in six different languages (German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, and Latin) to the delight of audiences in dozens of communities scattered across the Continent. Indeed, French performance records indicate that, over the course of more than two centuries, only the story of Christ's Passion was staged more frequently than the Vengeance of Our Lord. By the late sixteenth century, dramatizations of the siege of Jerusalem, most of which required from two to four days to perform, had spread from their earliest homes in Thuringia and Burgundy to the Tirol, Savoy, the Italian Briançonnais, Switzerland, England, and Castile.
Even within the relatively small corpus of late Middle English poetry, we have at least four extant poems that focus primarily on the Vengeance of Our Lord: the alliterative poem of Siege of Jerusalem here edited, two versions (one short, one long) of the rhyming-couplet Titus and Vespasian,19 and a translation of Roger d'Argenteuil's Bible en François.20


Firm dates are hard to come by in the Middle Ages, and the difficulties grow near to impossibilities when one is dealing with literary texts. Few works survive in autograph manuscripts, meaning that almost everything we have is a copy at least one remove from the author's hand. Multiple manuscript copies tend to compound the problem. Nine manuscripts containing parts or the whole of Siege of Jerusalem have survived.21 None of them are in the poet's own hand, and it is quite likely that none are even in his precise dialect. The best we can hope for in dating the poem, therefore, is to build a case of circumstantial evidence that, if true, allows us to give a narrow range of dates in which the poem was probably written. The first step in such a task is to examine the nine surviving manuscripts of the poem, of which only four are entirely complete:22
Manuscript A
(British Library, MS Additional 31042, fols. 50r-66r)
Copied s. xv med., by Robert Thornton of East Newton, northern Yorkshire.
Fragmentary: lacks lines 293-369, on a lost leaf after fol. 53.

Manuscript C
(British Library, MS Cotton Caligula A.ii, part I, fols. 111r-125r)
Copied s. xv3/4, in the East Midlands, perhaps the edges of East Anglia.
Fragmentary: lacks lines 167-248, on a lost leaf after fol. 112.

Manuscript D
(London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 491, part I, fols. 206r-227v)
Copied s. xv1/4, by a London professional scribe who uses the forms of the Rayleigh, Essex, area (LALME LP 6030).

Manuscript E
(San Marino, Huntington Library, MS HM 128, fols. 205r-216r)
Copied s. xv in., in extreme southern Warwickshire (LALME LP 6910, a dialect similar to that of a second scribe in the volume, LP 8040).
Manuscript Ex
(Exeter, Devon Record Office, MS 2507, a binding fragment)
Copied s. xv2, in the North Midlands.
Fragmentary: contains portions of lines 985-1017, 1106-23, 1196, 1125-38.

Manuscript L
(Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 656, fols. 1v-19r)
Copied s. xiv ex., in northwest Oxfordshire.

Manuscript P
(Princeton University Library, MS Taylor Medieval 11, fols. 104vb-110vb)
Copied s. xiv ex., with ex libris possibly of St. Mary's Abbey [OSA], Bolton, extreme western Yorkshire (LALME LP 598).
Fragmentary: ends at line 1143, and mostly illegible after line 1055 (fol. 110v).

Manuscript U
(Cambridge University Library, MS Mm.v.14, fols. 187r-206v)
Copied s. xv1/4, by the London scribe Richard Frampton.

Manuscript V
(British Library, MS Cotton Vespasian E.xvi, fols. 70r-75v)
Copied s. xv med., in the East Midlands (LALME LP 553)
Fragmentary: begins at line 966.
Following the work of previous editors and scholars, Ralph Hanna has established a plausible stemma for the dissemination of the poem, a series of relationships intended to reveal how the manuscripts relate to one another. He concludes that the surviving copies fall into three groups: L (deriving from the hypothesized manuscript alpha), PAVEx (deriving from manuscript gamma), and UDEC (deriving from manuscript delta).23 Figure 1 illustrates these basic relationships.24 Of the surviving manuscripts, then, L stands alone both as the oldest fairly complete copy and the most unique: the remaining manuscripts share enough features to be considered to be part of the same family (both gamma and delta manuscripts deriving from the shared manuscript beta). Of these many manuscripts, the incomplete P is actually the closest artifact of the poem's original dialect, which is generally identified as in the far west of Yorkshire; Hanna submits Sawley, Whalley, or Bolton as possible locations for the poem's composition.25 Elisa Narin van Court argues for Bolton on the basis that it alone is home to an Augustinian abbey - a necessary requirement, she feels, due to the poem's inability to condemn the Jews outright.26 While the necessity of Augustinian provenance cannot be proven, Bolton Abbey in Craven remains the most likely location for the poem's origin, a conclusion also reached by Hanna and Lawton in their edition of Siege.27 The oldest of the manuscripts seems to date from the very end of the fourteenth century, so we must begin with the assumption that the terminus ad quem, the latest time that the poem could have been composed, is in the late 1390s.28 Determining an initial ad quem in this way is generally straightforward; determining the terminus a quo, the earliest date that the poem could have been composed, is more difficult. Though Siege of Jerusalem relies on five primary works for its basic plotting and details - Vindicta salvatoris, Roger d'Argenteuil's Bible en François, Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon, Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda aurea, and Josephus' Wars of the Jews29 - the poet also operates within an alliterative tradition of poetry in which poets freely borrowed phrases and even entire lines and sets of lines from either a common stock of alliterative material or directly from each other's work.30 As a result, it has long been thought possible to provide a terminus a quo for Siege based on its supposed borrowing from other works of the alliterative tradition. In particular, Siege has often been thought to echo the alliterative Destruction of Troy, a translation of Guido delle Colonne's Latin work, Historia destructionis Troiae. As first noted by George Neilson at the turn of the twentieth century, the correspondences between these works are quite numerous.31 And, while many of these borrowings might well be thought to be due to a common "word-hoard" (to borrow a kenning from the Anglo-Saxons), one sequence in particular stands out in perhaps showing a more direct relationship between the two texts:
By that was the day don: dymmed the skyes,
Merked montayns and mores aboute,
Foules fallen to fote and here fethres rysten,
The nyght-wacche to the walle and waytes to blowe.32

Bryght fures aboute betyn abrode in the oste;
The kyng and his consail carpen togedre,
Chosen chyventayns out and chiden no more,
Bot charged the chek-wecche and to chambre wenten,

Kynges and knyghtes, to cacchen hem reste.

Darkened; moors

fires; army (host)
speak together
Choose chieftains; quarrel

to get their rest
Compare these lines from Siege of Jerusalem with the following passage, from the beginning of the seventeenth book of Destruction of Troy, concerning the falling of night after the third great battle outside the walls of Troy and the coming together of a council of Greeks in Agamemnon's tent in which they will plan the death of Hector:
When the day ouer drogh, & the derk entrid,
The sternes full stithly starond o lofte;
All merknet the mountens & mores aboute;
The ffowles þere fethers foldyn to gedur.
Nightwacche for to wake, waites to blow;
Tore fyres in the tenttes, tendlis olofte;
All the gret of the grekes gedrit hom somyn.
Kinges & knightes clennest of wit,
Dukes & derffe Erles droghen to counsell . . . (Destruction, lines 7348-56)33
As Mary Hamel points out, such a lengthy "sequence of ideas and images, of word choices and collocations, over passages of nine lines each seems irrefutable evidence of a relationship of dependence."34 In other words, the similarities here cannot be attributed to coincidental borrowing from a common stock of alliterative material but instead argue persuasively that one poet knew the other poet's work.35 The question then becomes one of chronology: which poet wrote first? Most previous scholars have held that the Siege-poet is the one doing the borrowing in the present case since, as Hamel states the matter: "while there is no other known source for the Siege lines, the Troy passage is an elaboration in the poet's typical style of a few lines in his source, Guido's Historia."36 The composition of Destruction of Troy is, as a result, generally assumed to be a solid terminus a quo for the composition of Siege of Jerusalem. And since critics are fairly certain that Destruction of Troy borrows from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, and Chaucer's poem is generally accepted to have been composed between 1382 and 1385,37 a terminus a quo for Siege of Jerusalem would thus be, at a minimum, these dates. Allowing for the dissemination of the poems prior to their influence on other poets, the date range for Siege posited by Mabel Day and Eugen Kölbing in their edition of the poem has been thought to remain accurate: the poem was composed in the last decade of the fourteenth century, between 1390 and 1400.38 Yet in their recent edition of Siege, Hanna and Lawton cast doubt on this long-held sequence, stating that since
Most modern opinion would, of course, date the completion of Chaucer's poem c.1385-86. Placing [Destruction of Troy], the longest of all the poems in the alliterative corpus, after this date yet early enough to allow its dissemination, the collection of sources for and the composition of The Siege, and the dissemination of both the visible Siege manuscripts and their archetypes before the 1390s, for us stretches probability considerably.39
Their solution is to place Siege before Troilus and Criseyde and to brand the author of Destruction of Troy as the borrower. The closest we might get to a certain terminus a quo, then, would be the publication of Higden's Polychronicon, itself written in various stages between 1327 and c. 1360.40 In concluding their discussion of authorial dialect, Hanna and Lawton theorize that a compositional date for Siege "during the 1370s or 1380s would seem an appropriate conservative inference."41 In addition to providing a far more plausible chronology for the dissemination of the texts involved, such a date provides a clearer relationship between Siege and Alliterative Morte Arthure, which is discussed in further detail below. I would argue, then, that Hanna and Lawton's dating of Siege makes good sense: the poem was composed sometime in the 1370s or 1380s, probably at Bolton Abbey in Craven.


Placed against the historical and contextual background of the Vengeance of Our Lord tradition, the basic path of Siege of Jerusalem is simple enough to follow. The poem begins with an account of the crucifixion of Christ at the hands of Pontius Pilate, an act that Christ waits forty years to avenge (lines 1-24). Already in these opening lines, the poet pulls no punches regarding the violence of his subject matter. The realistically drawn mockery of Christ at the hands of his tormenters is poignantly graphic; the description of Christ's blood running like rain upon the street (line 12) certainly provides an indication of the violence that is to come in the narrative. After the brutal abuse of Christ, the poem moves forward in time to focus on Gascony, where a vassal of the Emperor Nero, Titus of Rome, is afflicted with a cancer of the lip that causes him great pain and renders him unable even to open his mouth. In Rome his father, Vespasian, also suffers from grotesque illness: not only is he a victim of leprosy, but a hive of wasps has bred in his nose (lines 25-44). The poem next shifts to a messenger named Nathan, who has been sent to Nero by Cestius Gallia of Syria to report that the Jews will no longer pay tribute to Rome. On his way across the Mediterranean Sea, a terrible storm blows Nathan into Bordeaux, where he is taken before Titus. Nathan tells Titus of Christ's mission, miracles, and death, including the story of Veronica's veil, a cloth bearing the image of Christ that has miraculous healing powers. Titus grieves over the death of Christ and is immediately healed of his illness (lines 45-188). Titus is summarily baptized, and he vows to take vengeance for Christ's Passion. Titus travels to Rome and tells his father, Vespasian, the tale. St. Peter, in turn, confirms the account of Veronica's veil, and twenty knights are dispatched to bring Veronica and her Vernicle to Rome where she gives the veil to St. Peter. The Vernicle cures Vespasian of his illness and is subsequently displayed in the church as a relic (lines 189-264). The Emperor Nero, meanwhile, has grown incensed that tribute from the East has ceased, and he summons his barons to prepare for war. Titus and Vespasian are chosen to lead the attack on Judaea. The poet clearly points out that theirs is a just war with both political (cessation of tribute) and religious (vengeance for Christ's death) motivations. The ships are loaded with men, weapons, and supplies, and Titus and Vespasian set off with a good wind at their backs. The setting of the poem then shifts to Judaea (lines 265-96). The poet conflates the historical battle for Judaea into a few preliminary lines concerning the devastation of Syria, followed by the retreat of the remaining Jews to Jerusalem (lines 297-324). The primary purpose of these battles is to set the stage for the siege proper that constitutes the heart of the poem. The conflict begins with the swapping of insults between Vespasian and the leaders of Jerusalem, which culminates in the decision to meet in battle in the valley of Josaphat outside the walls of the city (lines 325-88). The poet explains the preparations for the impending battle on both sides with a careful eye to details, such as the setting of the watch during the night, the guard whose detail is to protect the tents and train, and the outpouring of the exotic army of the Jews, replete with camels and elephants bearing fortifications upon their backs. The two armies clash in a tour-de-force of violence conveyed in energetic alliterative verse. The battle results in a resounding victory for the Roman forces and a terrible defeat for the Jews, who retreat back into the city leaving their dead behind (lines 389-636). The captured high priests of the Jews, including Caiaphas (who is said to have manipulated the death of Christ), are executed most horribly. The few other prisoners taken by Titus and Vespasian are summarily killed, the bodies of the dead are plundered, and a drawn-out siege begins with the circumvallation of the city (lines 637-896). Meanwhile, in Rome, the wickedness of Nero results finally in his suicide (lines 897- 920). Emperors subsequently come and go in rapid succession while the siege of Jerusalem continues unabated. Eventually, the crown falls to Vespasian, who must return to Rome in order to fulfill his destiny (lines 921-64). At a council of the Roman leaders, Titus is given full control of the Roman armies in his father's absence. Vespasian leaves, and Titus' happiness at seeing his father made emperor causes him to take ill. The Roman doctors cannot find a cure, and Titus is only healed when a leader of the Jews, Josephus, agrees to treat him. Josephus refuses any reward for his assistance (lines 965-1066). The siege continues: the people of Jerusalem suffer under miserable living conditions, including a terrible famine in which they resort to eating the leather of their shoes and shields (lines 1067-80). Their woeful state is exemplified by the story of a mother, Marie, who grows so mad with hunger that she cooks and cannibalizes her own child (lines 1081-1100). The Jews kill all of their non-combatants in an effort to preserve their provisions, but eventually they are forced to submit for terms. Titus refuses to accept any treaty, his wrath at their earlier rebukes still strong. The Jews react by tunneling under the walls that the Romans have erected and ambushing Titus in an unsuccessful surprise attack that only manages to multiply the dead (lines 1101-32). News of the deplorable conditions within Jerusalem comes to Titus, and he subsequently offers a new settlement to the city. But this time it is the leaders of the Jews who refuse; the famine worsens, and the Jewish dead are thrown over the walls because there is no more room for burial within the town (lines 1133-56). His offer of peace rebuffed, Titus swears to vanquish the Jews once and for all and, after he breaches the walls, Jerusalem is taken and sacked. The Second Temple is destroyed. The Romans sow the ground with salt and leave no stone standing upon another (lines 1157- 1296). Pontius Pilate is found and brought before Titus, who acts as judge against the Jews. Those Jews left alive are sold thirty to a penny, and Pilate is imprisoned in Vienne, a town in the Rhone valley, where he eventually commits suicide (lines 1297-1334). Siege of Jerusalem ends with the triumphant, treasure-laden return of Titus to Rome (lines 1335-40).


As one can see from this brief sketch of the poem's plot, determining the genre of Siege of Jerusalem is not easy. Its subject matter (the destruction of the Second Temple) would seem to place it as a history, while the dramatic presentation of the conversion narratives seems most appropriate to hagiography. The lengthy descriptions of battle, on the other hand, look more akin to the conventions of romance or epic. Given these generic distinctions, critics have long had difficulty placing the poem, a fact clearly evident in Lillian Herlands Hornstein's attempt to solve the problem by splitting the difference between two genres, categorizing Siege of Jerusalem, along with Richard Coer de Lyon, Titus and Vespasian, Three Kings' Sons, and John Barbour's Bruce, as "romance treatments of historical themes."42 A few years later, Gisela Guddat-Figge placed the poem "in the border area between romance, legend and historiography,"43 while Derek Pearsall placed it alongside Alliterative Morte Arthure, Destruction of Troy, and the Alexander poems as historical epics.44 Even manuscript contexts, so often helpful in determining intended (if not actual) genre, do little to solve the debate, since the poem is affiliated with historical, legendary, and religious narratives in the surviving record. In the face of so much uncertainty, we are probably best to follow the lead of Bonnie Millar, who argues that the poet of Siege of Jerusalem "is essentially stretching the limitations of genre by presenting historical and religious subject-matter through the medium of romance," a statement that effectively answers the question of genre by denying the existence of an adequate, applicable category for the poem. Siege of Jerusalem is historical in its setting, religious in its convictions, and romantic in its conventions. It is also topical, given the late fourteenth-century concerns over a just war.45 And it is quite possible that part of the popularity of the story of the fall of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages was due to this complexity of generic elements. Siege of Jerusalem, perhaps as much as any other work in the tradition, uses and blends material from all of these traditions to produce a chronicle-like poem that functions within several audience-oriented contexts. Beyond matters of genre, the most problematic issue for modern audiences is the role of the Jews within the poem, an issue greatly complicated by the apparent popularity of Siege of Jerusalem. The poem survives in nine manuscripts,46 "significantly more," Nicholson points out, "than The Destruction of Troy, or The Wars of Alexander, or indeed any other alliterative poem of substance, except for Piers Plowman," a fact that many critics have regarded as quite scandalous:
If we find this poem perverse in its approval of imperial genocide - the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD - then we would seem forced by the evidence of its appearance in so many manuscripts to conclude it reports another story than that which it tells, the ugly tale of an entire culture's prejudice. . . . [The poem] can all too easily be read as symptomatic of a larger cultural condition. No medieval verity, after all, is better attested or more abject than Christian revulsion against Jews, viciously displayed in pogroms and expulsions that show Europe becoming, in R. I. Moore's suggestive phrase, a "persecuting society."47
Yet, as Nicholson goes on to argue, regarding the poem as rote anti-Semitism is shortsighted. Within its political and religious parameters, the Jews were clearly the enemy in the historical war of AD 70, but the poet places much of the guilt in the war at the feet of the Jewish leaders - it is the leadership of Jerusalem, after all, who refused to pay tribute, who put the people in jeopardy of war, and who refused to surrender the city. The poet is unflinching in casting blame at the Jewish priests for the death of Christ, though this charge also is somewhat mitigated by Pontius Pilate's role in the matter. The poet shows sympathy for the masses of people incarcerated by the siege, being slaughtered as non-essentials by their own leaders as well as suffering the brutalities of the Romans, and, most piteously, being betrayed by each other as they vie for food and water. Even the depravity of the Jewish woman cooking her own child over a fire in the midst of the famine is undercut by the "wode hunger" (line 1093) that forced her hand: in modern legal terminology, Marie is said to be not guilty by reason of insanity. Clearly there is more at work in the poem than what Hamel has called "a repugnant brand of anti-Semitism."48 As Millar states the matter:
The poet appears to be suggesting that spiritual blindness and failure to stand up for the Christian faith is not to be tolerated. This is not the fault of the Jewish people, who merely follow their tyrannical leaders with misgiving, suffering greatly in the process. Although the poet is by no means in favour of Judaism, he can at least make a distinction among Jews, seeing some as victims and some as villains. Furthermore, the Jewish leaders are not the only evil characters in the poem; there are others such as Nero. Not all Romans are good, nor are all Jews wicked.49
It is the poet's interest in historical contexts and the brutalities of warfare that alleviates much of the poet's anti-Semitism: the Jews cannot be inherently evil any more than the Romans can be inherently good. In fact, as Christine Chism has pointed out, "the poem is absolutely clear that the Christians are the ones responsible for visiting upon the Jews every crime that the Jews had ever been accused of practicing upon Christians, from the eating of babies to the poisoning of wells."50 Indeed, on several basic points the Siege-poet is no more anti-Jewish than Josephus in Wars of the Jews, a work that ultimately lies behind historical components of the sources of Siege of Jerusalem. Both writers record many of the same events, even if the Siege-poet regards the Jews as "faithles folke" (lines 485, 496, 513, 597) while Josephus regards them as kin. That the poet wishes to compose a poem in which the triumph of Christianity over Judaism is clear - indeed, as we will see, it is one of the structural principles behind the composition of the poem - but this is not, in our sense of the word, anti-Semitism. Nicholson points out that it was during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that Europe "struggled ferociously over the boundaries between its constituent parts and came under intense pressure to establish its own larger geographical limits." Against this backdrop, a poem like Siege of Jerusalem "might well have been the palliation of a set of political anxieties, the Jew being part of the problem, but equally part of a narrative resolution."51 This perspective amounts to anti-Semitism not as an end to itself, but as a means to an end, as a political and poetical instrument. The Jews in Siege of Jerusalem, when seen in this way, might represent the margins of a Europe seeking the stability of boundaries (Nicholson's view). Sympathetically and paradoxically, the Jews in the poem could be seen in the more positive light of their roles as witnesses, an Augustinian perspective argued by van Court. Most of these interpretations work on the fundamental assumption that what the poet means by "Jew" is, in fact, a Jew. But this is open to debate, as we cannot be certain what the poet, or his audience, would have understood by "Jew" since Jews had supposedly been expelled from England in 1290 and were not allowed to reenter officially until their re-admission after Manasseh Ben-Israel's negotiations with Oliver Cromwell in 1655; historians are still unsure what this expulsion meant in practical terms.52 It might mean that the Jews were, for the late Middle Ages, a true "other," and that the Siege-poet had no direct contact with Jews. His "Jews" might then be interpreted to signify any number of marginal threats to orthodoxy. Thus, as Hanna has argued in "Contextualising The Siege of Jerusalem," they may act as symbols for any community of unbelievers or heretics, including the Lollards. According to Hamel, the Jews in the poem can act more specifically as placeholders for the Muslims - the war against the Jews becoming nothing more than a thinly veiled call to crusading ideals. And Chism admits to having "a more sinister reading of the poem's acknowledgment of Christian brutality"53 when she argues that the poem transforms the Jews into little more than placeholders for economic profit, negotiating the "essential contradiction between destroying the Jews and exploiting them."54 Elsewhere, Chism highlights the "internationality" of the poem, moving "between Jerusalem, Marseilles, and Rome - exoticizing Judaism and demonizing pagan Rome as . . . Christian Romans face and obliterate two different forefathers and rivals for power, the Jews and the pagan Roman emperors."55 Quite evidently, the role of the Jews in the poem is by no means a simple issue, and this is especially true given the cultural uncertainties of England in relation to the worlds across the Channel in the last decades of the fourteenth century as the Great Schism festered the old wounds of the Hundred Years' War and gave rise to crusades called against fellow Christians as often as they were against the "heathen" of the Holy Land.56 The role of violence in the story has concerned many readers of this poem. Chism, for example, writes that "even in a genre where battle eviscerations are more or less de rigueur, The Siege of Jerusalem has the dubious distinction of being the most gratuitously and imaginatively vicious poem of the Alliterative Revival."57 She and others have noted such grisly details as the Romans setting spears to tear out the guts of the Jews' elephants so that their "Rappis rispen forth" ("Entrails break forth" - line 571), the description of a man struck in such a way that the "gretter pese of the panne" ("largest part of his brain" - line 827) was flung a furlong across the battlefield, the death of a pregnant woman whose body was so smashed by a stone from a catapult that her unborn child flew from her body over the walls (lines 829-32), or the fate of Sabinus, a man whose brain bursts from his nostrils when he is given a particularly hideous blow to the top of the head (lines 1202-04). There is much exaggeration here, of course, but it is a morbid, visceral exaggeration, and it is in keeping with romance rhetoric, where the popping of Saracen heads "als dose hayle-stones / Abowtte one the gras" in Sir Perceval of Galles (lines 1191-92) has an unsettling, but oddly comic, effect.58 Yet we must also remind ourselves that even such horrid exaggerations are based on the very real violence of an age of siege warfare, brutal executions, piking, public eviscerations, and numerous other means of death that were no doubt experienced within the lifetimes of those living in the Middle Ages. As but one example, Hamel notes that the Roman soldiers' disemboweling of captive Jews in order to find the treasures that they have swallowed is not only a detail that ultimately derives from Josephus' writings,59 but also reflects a similar event described by Fulcher of Chartres after the fall of Jerusalem in 1099. The poet is likewise not shy about turning his poetry to descriptions of violence on a larger scale, violence both natural and manmade. Note, for example, his description of the storm that blew Nathan off-course and into the haven of Bordeaux (lines 53-64):60
Nathan toward Nero nome on his way
Over the Grekys grounde myd the grym ythes,
An heye setteth the sayl over the salt water,
And with a dromound on the deep dryveth on swythe.61

The wolcon wanned anon and the water skeweth,
Cloudes clateren on loude as they cleve wolde.62
The racke myd a rede wynde roos on the myddel
And sone sette on the se out of the south syde.

Hit blewe on the brode se, bolned up harde;
Nathannys nave anon on the north dryveth,
So the wedour and the wynd on the water metyn
That alle hurtled on an hepe that the helm gemyd.63
amid the fierce waves
On high set the sail

sky waned; grew dark

storm; red wind rose
soon set upon the sea

Nathan's ship soon

Compare this passage with the following, a report of the retreat of the Jews and the subsequent aftermath of the first day's battle before the walls of Jerusalem (lines 597-608):
Anon the feythles folke fayleden herte,
Tourned toward the toun and Tytus hem after:
Fele of the fals ferde in the felde lefte,
An hundred in here helmes myd his honde one.

The fals Jewes in the felde fallen so thicke
As hail froward Heven, hepe over other;
So was the bent over-brad, blody by-runne,
With ded bodies aboute alle the brod vale.

Myght no stede doun stap bot on stele wede,
Or on burne, other on beste, or on bright scheldes;
So myche was the multitude that on the molde lafte
Ther so many were mart; merevail were ellis.
failed [in their] hearts
Titus [came] after them
Many; army; field [were] left
helms with his hand alone

from; heaping over each other
field covered over
broad valley

steed; step; steel clothing
man, or on beast
high; number; earth
Both passages stage the drama through fine attention to minutiae: the thundering clouds, the protective hatches of Nathan's ship, the ground running red with the blood of the fallen, and the corpses of man and beast so thick that a horse could not find solid earth without stepping upon them. The poet does not revel in the horrible images that he describes. He is simply aware of them as a source for making the matter more real to his audience. The unflinching eye of the poet clarifies the drama, bringing it to life by the visceral reality of what is described in narrow, carefully chosen details. They are grim details, certainly, and very likely they are details that we may not wish to see, but they are true to the historical character of the poem itself and to the historical realities of the poet's own surrounds. The composer of Siege of Jerusalem, despite all of his efforts to make a coherent history of the actual siege, cannot know the reality of a first-century siege in Judaea. What the poet instead provides us with is the reality of a late-medieval siege in Europe.64 And, to paraphrase Sherman, war is, and always has been, Hell. Beyond noting the historical realities of life and death at a late-medieval siege, however, we must always bear in mind the poem's literary contexts and cultural concerns in addressing the role of violence in the poem. The description of Christ's Passion, for example, a moment of violence at the very heart of Christianity, is told with a brevity and clarity that is startling in both in the iconography and humanizing imagery given to Christ's tormentors and their brutality. But it is also conventional:
A pyler pyght was doun upon the playn erthe,65
His body bonden therto, and beten with scourgis.bound; beaten
Whyppes of quyrboyle by-wente His white sidespliable leather beset
Til He al on rede blode ran, as rayn in the strete.66

Suth stoked Hym on a stole with styf mannes hondis,
Blyndfelled Hym as a be and boffetis Hym raghte:67
"Gif thou be prophete of pris, prophecie!" they sayde,If; prophet of worth
"Whiche berne here aboute bolled Thee laste?" (lines 9-16)man; struck You

bound; beaten
pliable leather beset

If; prophet of worth
man; struck You
The details of the buffeting and the scourging from whips crafted of leather have a historicizing effect, albeit within the iconographic representations of the several stages of the Passion of Christ. The pathos of the scene is heightened by the blood falling like "rayn in the strete," an image at once familiar and shocking. The brutality of the event is cemented in our minds as the tormentors roughly set Christ upon a stool, blindfold Him, and beat Him with their fists. The mockery of their rhetorical questions make us, the audience, accomplices to the mockery as the tormentors ask Him, since He is said to be a prophet, to tell them who last struck Him. The scene is built of graphic violence, but it is a conventional account that would be almost universally familiar during the Middle Ages: medieval drama commits whole plays to the torment of Christ. In addition to plays on the Crucifixion, the Towneley68 and the York69 cycles include separate plays on both the buffeting (Coliphizachio) and the scourging (Flagellacio) of Christ, and the events also appear in the Chester Mystery Cycle.70 The buffeting in the Towneley Cycle, one of the plays of the Wakefield Master, provides the details of Christ being placed on a stool and then blindfolded prior to his beating:
1 Tortor. Now sen he is blynfeld, I fall to begyn;
And thus was I counseld the mastry to wyn.
2 Tortor. Nay, wrang has thou teld; thus shuld thou com in.
Froward. I stode and beheld - thou towchid not the skyn / Bot fowll.
1 Tortor. How will thou I do?
2 Tortor. On this manere, lo!
Froward. Yei, that was well gone to; / Ther start vp a cowll.
1 Tortor. Thus shall we hym refe all his fonde talys.
2 Tortor. Ther is noght in thi nefe, or els thi hart falys.
Froward. I can my hand vphefe and knop out the skalys.
1 Tortor. Godys forbot ye lefe, bot set in youre nalys / On raw.
Sit vp and prophecy -
Froward. Bot make vs no ly -
2 Tortor. Who smote the last?
1 Tortor.          Was it I?
Froward. He wote not, I traw.71

[Striking Jesus.
[Striking him.

[Striking again.

[Striking again.

[To Jesus, as they strike in turn.

From another literary perspective, we might note the grim portrayal of the scourging in Cursor Mundi:
To a pillour they hym bond
and with scorges hym swong
ffro the hed to the fote
ouer alle the blode out-sprong
They Crownyd hym þo with sharpe thorne
that thorogh his hed throng.72

We can see a number of the details from Siege of Jerusalem between these two examples: the stool and the echoed taunting in the work of the Wakefield Master, and the pillar and out-springing of blood in Cursor Mundi. The cumulative effect of such brutalities set the stage in the popular imagination for a just retaliation by the God of Judgment. Thus, to accuse the Siege-poet as having a particular morbid sensibility would be doubly remiss: not only would such an accusation ignore the historical realities of violence, but it would also ignore the larger literary milieu in which Siege of Jerusalem is situated. In addition, we must not set aside the fact that the poet's sources were unflinching in providing some of the more gruesome details - even the mother's cannibalism of her own son - and that the poet is likewise unflinching in utilizing such source material.


Siege of Jerusalem is, in the main, a compilation from three primary sources: Vindicta salvatoris (the basis for lines 1-200 and 1297-1340), Roger d'Argenteuil's Bible en François (for lines 201-788), and Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon (for lines 789-1296).73 Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda aurea represents a fourth source, used to add details such as the wasps in Vespasian's nose (lines 33-36), his rule of Galatia (line 39), Titus' illness at the siege and subsequent healing by Josephus (lines 1027-66), and the details of Nero's villainy and suicide (lines 903-20).74 The fifth and final known source for the outlines of Siege is Josephus' Wars of the Jews, only recently identified by Hanna and Lawton, a text utilized for various details throughout the course of the poem.75 The poet's selective use of these sources says much about his goals in the composition of Siege of Jerusalem: "to convey the value of resolute faith and of actively fighting for God,"76 to affirm the divine justice of the destruction of Jerusalem and the ascension of Christianity over Judaism, and to chronicle the historical realities (as he understood them) of the destruction of Jerusalem. The first two hundred lines of the poem, aside from some extended descriptions (the description of the storm, for example), are an almost verbatim translation of the Latin Vindicta salvatoris, a text detailing the medieval legend of St. Veronica and the Vernicle (the veil with Christ's image upon it) along with the destruction of the Temple.77 Even within this strict framework, however, the poet makes changes. As Eugen Kölbing and Mabel Day note in the introduction to their edition of the poem, the phrase "zelatus a Tiberio" from the opening line of Vindicta salvatoris78 is altered by the poet, who apparently knows that Tiberius (r. 14-37) cannot have any connection whatsoever with the events of AD 70; his role in the narrative ends with the Crucifixion of Christ. In addition, Nathan's mission to Rome is not to give a pledge of support, as stated in Vindicta salvatoris, but to inform Nero that the Jews are henceforth refusing to pay tribute to the emperor. This change, too, is made in the interest of historical accuracy. Both the Crucifixion of Christ and the storm that drives Nathan to Titus are given far more detailed presentations in Siege of Jerusalem than they have in the poet's source. This interest in historicity, Millar points out, illustrates the poet's desire "to provide his readers and listeners with a Christian history, not a doctrinal work or religious propaganda arousing hatred of the Jews, but a measured account of what happened."79 Beyond this basic need to provide an accurate account of the events, however, Millar does note the poet's interest in the doctrinal significance of his narratives. In particular, the poet of Siege of Jerusalem seems intrigued by Vindicta salvatoris' representation of Titus' miraculous cure, faithful conversion, and validating baptism - so much so, in fact, that he essentially duplicates the cure-conversion narrative for Vespasian, despite the fact that in his primary sources the latter is only converted.80 The poet depicts the converted as taking the sacrament of baptism immediately upon conversion, whereas Vindicta salvatoris claims that the two men wait until their arrival in the Holy Land to take the sacrament. The importance of this difference, it seems, is to show not only the primacy of the sacraments as fundamental to right faith, but also that Titus and Vespasian are both fully Christian prior to their departure for Jerusalem. The poet's interest in these doctrinal points goes far toward explaining the role of St. Veronica, who garners only passing notice in Siege of Jerusalem despite her central role in Vindicta salvatoris. Since Veronica is already a Christian and "thus does not need to be converted or baptized,"81 she is of little interest to the poet beyond her historical role as the owner of the Vernicle. Beginning at line 201 and lasting through the speech of Vespasian that ends at line 788, the primary source of the poem shifts from Vindicta salvatoris to Roger d'Argenteuil's Bible en François.82 This shift in source material helps to explain the backgrounding of Titus, as he is mentioned only once in the French poem. The poet's dual emphasis of history and theology is made clear as he highlights the political maneuverings that lead to the siege - Nero's anger at losing tribute and the appointment of Titus and Vespasian to lead the armies - as well as the religious rationale for joining the fight:
Now is, Bethleem, thy bost y-broght to an ende;
Jerusalem and Jerico, for-juggyd wrecchys,
Schal never kyng of your kynde with croune be ynoyntid,
Ne Jewe, for Jhesu sake, jouke in you more. (lines 301-04)
condemned wretches
lineage; anointed
Nor; rest; again
As Millar rightly notes, the Siege-poet derives his four Jewish tyrants - Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, John, and Simon - from Bible en François, though he has opted to modify the role of Pilate.83 Whereas Pilate "surrenders and disassociates himself from the crucifixion of Christ" in Bible en François, he "remains a villain, a false figure of authority" in Siege of Jerusalem.84 Indeed, the poet will later return to Vindicta salvatoris to incorporate the fate of Pilate, and his desire for unity of narrative necessitates an emphasis on Pilate as a collaborator with the Jews and their leadership. Pilate's authority is as wicked as the rest of the Jewish leaders; right authority rests in the hands of Titus and Vespasian as servants of God. The central portion of the narrative, comprising almost forty percent of the poem's length (lines 789 to 1296) and detailing the action of the siege itself, is derived from Ranulf Higden's famous text, Polychronicon.85 Higden's account of the story is, in turn, ultimately based on the eyewitness account of Josephus recorded in Wars of the Jews,86 an account that the Siege-poet also appears to have utilized directly.87 And although Josephan echoes are to be found throughout the text, the unusually high number located in this central part of the poem has the look of fact-checking: it appears that the poet, surely conscious of Higden's reliance on Josephus, has gone back to the original source to supplement and confirm his text. But regardless of why or how the poet has accessed Josephus' text, one cannot deny the influence in light of the preponderance of facts.88 For the final stage of his history, the poet returns once more to Vindicta salvatoris, recounting the selling of the remaining Jews into slavery, the imprisonment and subsequent suicide of Pontius Pilate, and the return of Titus to Rome (lines 1297-1340). The incorporation of Pilate's suicide effectively frames the poet's narrative: vengeance for Christ's death must, perhaps by definition, begin and end with Pontius Pilate. Beyond this, however, the poet's interest in the story of Pilate shows quite clearly the wickedness of those who actively and knowingly oppose the Christian faith. And the poet's interest in revealing the primacy of Divine Providence in history, as we shall see, is a structural principle in the construction of the poem. But before entering into a discussion of the poem's intricate architecture, we must examine the immediate historical contexts in which the poem was written and disseminated.


Edward III, the man whose claim on the French throne through his mother Isabella effectively began the Hundred Years' War, died on 21 June 1377, and the young Richard II, son of the late Black Prince, was crowned the following day. Two years earlier, in 1375, France and England had signed the Truce of Bruges. The year 1376 had even seen some government reforms introduced during the so-called Good Parliament. Things, one might say, were looking up for Englishmen. Early historians even labeled the period from Edward III's death to the ascension of Henry V in 1413 as the "interim" period of the Hundred Years' War, probably on the assumption that a lack of massive invasions and great battles indicated, to borrow lines from the poet C. Day Lewis that are often applied to the 1930s, a calm "no man's land . . . / Between two fires." 89 But this interim period of the Hundred Years' War, like the 1930s between two world wars, was far from quiet. The war between England and France was not over, it was merely smoldering, and England was about to fall into massive internal turmoil. It is worth recalling some of the primary political and social events of this period in English history, as it was probably in the first two decades of Richard II's reign that Siege of Jerusalem was written.90 In 1378, the Great Schism began as rival popes ruled in Rome and Avignon, a situation that would last until 1417. Predictably, the French supported the papacy at Avignon while the English took every opportunity to support the interests of the papacy at Rome. These underlying hostilities came close to the breaking point in 1380, when the French besieged the English at Chateauneuf-de-Randon. The English repelled the French, and the French commander, Bertrand du Guesclin, lost his life. While the action did not formally break the Truce of Bruges, it was certainly a sign of continued strain and the fact that the relationship between the two powers had resolved into what we might consider a "cold war" mentality. And all was not well at home in England, either. This same year saw the king direct Simon Sudbury, the archbishop of Canterbury and chancellor of England, to institute the third poll tax in four years: a flat tax of one shilling on every individual over the age of fifteen. The lower classes, still reeling from the massive losses sustained in the Black Death, the conscription calls in the Hundred Years' War, and the two previous poll taxes, resisted the levy, and resistance turned to outright rebellion in the form of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381. Peasants from Kent and Essex entered London through Aldgate (where Chaucer was then living) and burnt John of Gaunt's palace, the Savoy. They then beheaded Sudbury. The fourteen-year-old Richard II rode out to meet the rampaging mob at Smithfield, proclaimed himself the leader of the rebellion, promised consideration for the rebel's interests, and, after the killing of one of their leaders, Wat Tyler, by William Walworth, the people dispersed. In 1382, the "Earthquake Council" at Blackfriars condemned John Wyclif and many of his teachings. It was the second condemnation in two years for Wyclif, who continued to speak out against various orthodox Catholic doctrines and against the abuses of power and privilege within the organization of the church itself. Wyclif's teachings spread through all classes of society and represented a source of social unrest in England for years to come. This same year, the French invaded Flanders and, after seizing control of the country, forced it to submit to Avignon. The following year, in 1383, Hugh Despenser, the bishop of Norwich, campaigned for an expedition against Flanders and the heretical followers of Avignon (though it was no doubt far more of a political attack on the French than it was a religious attack against heretics). Pope Urban VI, however, sensing an opportunity, granted Despenser's campaign the status of a crusade, meaning that financing could be procured through the collection of alms and the selling of indulgences. Henry Knighton's chronicle reports the dissatisfaction of the English people with the subsequent rapacious campaign for financing:
The bishop [Despenser] had raised an incalculable and unbelievably large sum of money, in gold and silver, and in jewels, necklaces, rings, dishes, plate, spoons, and other ornaments, and especially from ladies and other women, for it was said that one lady gave him £100, and others likewise, some more, and some less.
   And it was believed that very many gave more than they could afford, in order to secure the benefit of absolution for themselves and their devoted friends. And thus that hidden treasure of the kingdom which is in the hands of women was put at risk.91
The expedition was a complete disaster, and Despenser returned in shame only to be reprimanded by Richard, who claimed that royal approval for the expedition had been revoked before it set sail.92 Regardless of Richard's claim that he had no hand in Despenser's dirty work, the abysmal failure of the crusade only served to fuel attacks on the king: in 1384 both John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock spoke against the king in Parliament.93 The English and French had, of course, joined opposite sides in the war between Portugal and Castile, and on 14 August 1385 the English aided the Portuguese forces in a victory at the Battle of Aljubarrota, securing independence for Portugal. English opposition to Castile was furthered by John of Gaunt's claim to the throne of Castile through his wife, Constance, though no doubt any opportunity to oppose the French was considered a good one. In 1386, Gaunt ultimately joined with the king of Portugal in conducting a crusade against Castile that Adam Usk likened to Despenser's greedy expedition, which concluded with equally disastrous results: "he lost many English nobles - virtually the bloom of the nation's chivalric youth."94 At the naval battle of Margate on 24 March 1387, the English defeated a combined French and Castilian fleet. Later that same year, the battle of Radcot Bridge saw nobles, in effect, take on the king in open arms when they attacked one of Richard's most trusted councillors, Robert de Vere. The "Merciless" Parliament convened the following year and the Lord Appellants executed many of the king's supporters. Richard declared himself full monarch in 1390, abolished the regency, and began to press his own interests more forcefully. His egotism was made most abundantly clear in his 1392 conflict with the city of London, at the conclusion of which he forced the city leaders to submit to him publicly in a pageant of spectacle that had the air of both a second coronation and Christ's Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem.95 In an effort to create a lasting peace with France, Richard married Isabella, the eight-year-old daughter of the king of France in 1395. The relationship between the two countries seemed amiable enough to Philippe de Mézières that he wrote Richard and urged him to join with the king of France in a crusade against the Turks to recapture Jerusalem.96 Richard did not accept the invitation, and it was left to Sigismund of Hungary and John of Burgundy to lead a crusade to try and recapture the Holy Land. On 25 September 1396 their invasion ended disastrously at Nicopolis. This failure is widely regarded as the final gasp of crusading momentum aimed at Jerusalem.97 Back in England, Richard lashed out against the Appellants in 1397, and the same year even found John Holland, Richard's half-brother and earl of Huntington, negotiating with the Roman pope, Boniface IX, to conduct a crusade against Avignon. Richard exiled John of Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, in 1398. And it was only a matter of months after the death of John of Gaunt in 1399 that Bolingbroke returned to popular acclaim and took the crown as Henry IV. The deposed king was murdered on 17 February 1400. Between 1370 and 1400, against this background of violence and religious controversy both at home and abroad, Siege of Jerusalem was written and initially circulated. And, if the manuscript record is any indication, it found a wide audience within a relatively short amount of time; the poem, we might say, struck a chord (or some number of chords) with its readers. Richard II, of course, looms large over the latter portion of these years, a king who
saw the principal object of his government as the establishment of what he called "peace" - unity, in other words - in his realm. And, following Giles [of Rome's De regimine principium], he believed that he could only achieve this if he, the king, was strong and his subjects were obedient to his will. . . . Unity - that is, peace - was incompatible with dissent; what the king required was unquestioning acceptance of his rule and submission to his will.98
Though Richard saw peace in absolutism, many of his countrymen sought peace of another sort. The Peasants' Revolt in 1381 brought the ideas of true social reform to the forefront of both political and literary argumentation,99 and the final decades of the fourteenth century, in that briefest of respites from the terrible loss of life that arose from the pitched battles and the inevitable sieges of the massive, drawn-out campaigns in France, gave rise to writings about the nature of peace and what, if anything, constituted a just war. As John Barnie and George R. Keiser have both pointed out, the 1370s had seen an impatience among Englishmen for the lack of military successes in France,100 and this impatience grew during the 1380s into "direct criticism of the war in and of itself,"101 such as Knighton's already-noted displeasure with the Bishop's Crusade and Usk's disappointment with Gaunt's crusade in Castile. This disenchantment increased as the years of this chaotic period passed, so that by the 1390s anti-war-in-France sentiments had given way to a number of irenic arguments in literature, building on the foundations of mid-fourteenth-century texts like Wynnere and Wastoure.102 One of the strongest of these peacemaking voices, perhaps, is that of John Gower, who completes his first recension of Confessio Amantis around 1390, writing again and again within its lines on the evils of war and the crusades.103 The only just war, Gower argues, is that fought in defense of one's country, not for purposes of greed or of vainglory.104 In the last years of the century, Gower also writes his last poem, "In Praise of Peace," in which he implores the new king, Henry IV, to avoid the horrors of war altogether. Chaucer probably adapts his Tale of Melibee in the later 1380s, with its strong argument against war - so easy to begin but so hard to stop.105 Indeed, the notion of peace, and perhaps even of pacifism, is a major theme of The Canterbury Tales as a whole.106 Reexamination of war was, we might say, in the air; R. F. Yeager points out that "on all sides of Chaucer and Gower, and apparently swelling during their lifetimes, there is . . . a contrary voice, often raised to question, even denounce, the legitimacy of war and the military class."107 And in these reexaminations of just war, as Yeager has pointed out, it was St. Augustine who provided the ultimate basis for discussions.108 In a letter to Boniface, for example, Augustine argues that a just war is the correction of the sinful by God, whose only aim is to bring about peace:
Peace should be the object of your desire; war should be waged only as a necessity, and waged only that God may by it deliver men from the necessity and preserve them in peace. For peace is not sought in order to promote the kindling of war, but war is waged in order that peace may be obtained. Therefore, even in waging war, cherish the spirit of a peacemaker, that, by conquering those whom you attack, you may lead them back to the advantages of peace; for our Lord says: "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called children of God" [Matthew 5:9].109
In The City of God, Augustine sides even more forcefully with peace:
But, say they, the wise man will wage just wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars. . . . Let every one, then, who thinks with pain on all these great evils, so horrible, so ruthless, acknowledge that this is misery. And if any one either endures or thinks of them without mental pain, this is a more miserable plight still, for he thinks himself happy because he has lost human feeling.110
Against this background of questions concerning just war, critics have long understood that certain alliterative poems, like Alliterative Morte Arthure, appear to take a peacemaking position,111 but that the contemporary Siege of Jerusalem might well be similarly themed has thus far escaped critical attention.112 Like the gritty violence of Alliterative Morte Arthure, the gore in Siege is perhaps best read as a grim awareness of the terrible realities of war, not as a bloodthirsty and berserk cry for further bloodshed. The poem chronicles a historical war, and it is this historical quality that must stand out: the poem not only has resonances of the bloodshed that battle inevitably brings, but it also is, in a very literal sense, history. That is to say, the war is over. The vengeance of Jesus has been accomplished. The Siege-poet's answer to the social-political-religious question of whether there is such a thing as a just war is that there was one: Titus and Vespasian's vengeance for the death of Christ. It was commissioned, one might say, by Christ Himself, sanctioned by God through Peter (who was, unquestionably, a pope), executed by God's chosen representatives on Earth, and finished. Christ was avenged. Further efforts to avenge Christ are unnecessary and could only have ulterior motives behind them. That the poem is a call to action and to crusade, then, seems to be a claim that is far less sustainable than its opposite: a call to peace and to remembrance. We know, at least, that one reader of Siege, the anonymous poet behind Alliterative Morte Arthure,113 astutely used the historical nature of the vengeance tradition to undermine Arthur's growing tyranny and further the irenic goals of his poem: the extent of Arthur's disconnection from his proper goals is most resolutely underscored by his desire to go to the Holy Land, "over the grete se with good men of armes / To revenge the Renk that on the Rood died!"114 But the vengeance of Christ has already taken place. Arthur's actions, therefore, drive home his vanity and greed, since man should never appoint what God has determined.115 Like Gower, then, the Siege-poet would appear to be in line with the notions of just war expressed by St. Augustine. The destruction of Jerusalem was a just war: a divine justice, a punishment for the death of Christ that prepares for the peace of His Second Coming. Other wars - the wars in France, for example, or Despenser's crusade against Flanders, or the wars on the Iberian peninsula - are not acts of God, but of man, executed for what often amounted to very mortal, rapacious ends. The Siege-poet condemns such actions as un-just wars by providing a chronicle of what he believed to be a just war ordained by God. Eustache Deschamps, whom Carter Lindberg has called "the leading pessimist in a depressed age," described the latter half of the fourteenth century in which he lived as an "age of tears, of envy, of torment, . . . [an] age of decline nigh to the end."116 The description is doubly appropriate for a discussion of Siege of Jerusalem. Despite the fact that the historical background against which the poem was written was a "dark" time of what the Siege-poet considered injustice, the notion that the downward spiral of society would end, finally and inevitably, was never absent from his mind.


We have seen that the poet behind the construction of Siege of Jerusalem utilized a wide range of sources to create his poem. He also utilized, one might say, a wide variety of generic forms. But the poem is not a mere pastiche of preceding materials randomly strewn together. The material was carefully chosen and ordered in such a way as to make sense as history; it was for this reason that the poet changed the order of some events, or omitted certain details from his retelling that may not have properly meshed with the story as told in other portions of his source material. That is, the poet constructed his poem in the most literal sense: he built his poem around a structure that, although clad in the veil of the poetic form, clearly sustains focus on what he regards as the architecture of history. As Figure 2 shows, the structure of Siege of Jerusalem is relatively simple and straightforward, yet at the same time quite involved (or perhaps I should say convoluted): the second half of the poem parallels in reverse the events of the first half, a hysteron proteron structure that is remarkably similar to that of Alliterative Morte Arthure.117 As Hebron has pointed out, the story of the destruction of Jerusalem reflects an Augustinian concept of history as "a succession of great events which reveal part of the divine scheme of things."118 This historiographical model, a self-reflexive, uni-directional scheme of time in which Divine Providence, represented by the Church (which has qualities of both the City of God and the City of Man) presses mankind invariably and inexorably toward the apocalyptic arrival of the New Jerusalem, stands against that of the older Greek and Roman models in which history (like Boethius' wheel of fortune), always turned back upon itself "as infinite variations on the theme of a constant human nature."119 In Augustine's time scheme the past is finished, left behind in the inevitable march of time toward the end of time. According to this overarching scheme divine history, the avenging of Christ was a necessary step to prepare for the Second Coming - just as the death of Christ was necessary to set the stage for redemption - but it is a step that was completed by the actions of Titus and Vespasian. This architecture of history, in which events are continually built upon the past, is given concrete form in the hysteron proteron structure underlying Siege of Jerusalem: the first half of the poem lays the foundation that sets the stage for a culmination of action in the second half of the poem, just as the Passion of Christ lies at the "center" of Christian history. As Nicholson has stated the matter, "the poem destroys the Synagogue and in its place sets up a memorial, a lapidary tale that honors Christ's passion . . . [and] is saved by that which it does not say, by the future it does not describe, where the history of Christ's church is projected; the Temple is razed and the Church raised in its place."120 Nicholson's term "lapidary" is particularly apt: the poem is not only a monument to the Church, representing a microcosm of Christian history beginning with the death of Christ and - by showing the triumph of the New Law over the Old Law - providing a first judgment on the Jews that presupposes the final judgment on humanity, but it is also a monument in the sense that it stands only in remembrance of an act that has already been performed.121 To continue to seek vengeance on Jerusalem for Christ's death - as Arthur does in Alliterative Morte Arthure - is at its best folly and at its worst damnable. Vengeance has already been achieved. We might, as an analogy, view the hysteron proteron structure of the poem as a series of frames that act like shells, each pair of actions framing off another layer of the text. The kernel (or fruit) at the center of the structure, then, is of utmost importance toward understanding the goals of the entire work. In a very real sense, the center of the structure is its climax.122 In the case of Siege of Jerusalem, what lies at the structural and literal center of the poem123 is the mechanism of the siege itself: the surrounding of Jerusalem by palisades, the filling of an encircling ditch with the corpses of the battle-dead, and the stopping of the water course that brings vital sustenance to the city.
By that wrightes han wroght a wonder stronge pale
Alle aboute the burwe, with bastiles manye,
That no freke myght unfonge withouten fele harmes,
Ne no segge undere sonne myght fram the cité passe.

Suth dommyn the diches with the ded corses,
Crammen hit myd karayn the kirnels alle under,
That the stynk of the stewe myght strike over the walles
To cothe the corsed folke that hem kepe scholde.124

The cors of the condit that comen to toun
Stoppen, evereche a streem, ther any strande yede,
With stockes and stones and stynkande bestes,
That they no water myght wynne that weren enclosed. (Siege, lines 681-92)
By then; palisade
around the town, with towers
encircle; many
man under [the] sun

course of the canal
current went
sticks; stinking [dead] beasts
This central moment in the poem, the kernel at the center of its structure, fulfills, in quite literal effect, Christ's pronouncement as he approached Jerusalem on Palm Sunday:
And when he drew near, seeing the city, he wept over it, saying: "If thou also hadst known, and that in this day, the things that are to thy peace: but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee: and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee and compass thee round and straiten thee on every side, and beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children that are in thee. And they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation." (Luke 19:41-44)
The Romans have come seeking vengeance on the Jews for the death of Christ, and they have, indeed, "cast a trench" around the city and encompassed it with walls. They press upon the city on every side, and the loss of life within the city is grievous. In the ensuing second half of the poem, the pain of the children within the besieged city will be highlighted with the story of Marie and her child, oaths will be taken not to leave a stone standing upon another in the city, and plows will level the city "flat to the ground." That this judgment must focus particularly on the fate of the Temple is shown as Luke goes on to record that Christ's first action on arriving in Jerusalem is to visit the Temple Mount and to "cleanse" the site of the money-changers (Luke 19:45-46). This revolutionary action produces an immediate response in the Jewish authorities: "And the chief priests and the scribes and the rulers of the people sought to destroy him" (Luke 19:47). Not long after coming to the Temple, Christ once more foretells its destruction and, presumably, that of the city, as well:
And to some saying of the temple that it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said: "These things which you see, the days will come in which there shall not be left a stone upon a stone that shall not be thrown down." (Luke 21:5-6; compare Matthew 24:1-2 and Mark 13:1-2)
The writer of the Gospel of Luke makes a direct tie between Christ's prophecy for the destruction of Jerusalem, the final condemnation of the Temple (and the Jewish cultus that it represented), and the actions of the high priests (led by Caiaphas) who were viewed as the direct killers of Christ.125 As a poem that represents the vengeance of Titus and Vespasian for the death of Christ - one manuscript even goes so far as to provide the Latin synopsis Hic incepit Distruccio Jerarusalem quomodo Titus & Vespasianus obsederunt & distruxerunt Jerusalem et vi[n]dicarunt mortem Domini Jhesu Christi ["Here begins the destruction of Jerusalem in which Titus and Vespasian besieged and unmade Jerusalem and avenged the death of the Lord Jesus Christ"] at the beginning of the poem126 - Siege of Jerusalem depicts the culmination of Christ's prophecies in Luke: Jerusalem (and, by proxy, the Jews) did not recognize the visitation of Christ and, for that blindness, is condemned. In fulfilling this motive of revenge, vengeance upon the killers of Christ is certainly not to be forgotten, and it is no coincidence that the encircling of the city is, in turn, framed by the capture of Caiaphas and the high priests and their gruesome execution. All that remains, after this central moment in the text, is to "cleanse" the Temple and the old Jewish cultus once and for all: that is, the Temple must be destroyed. This destruction, too, was viewed as a fulfillment of Christ's prophecy. As Christ had said that Jerusalem's enemies would "not leave in thee a stone upon a stone" (Luke 19:44; 21:6), so will Jerusalem's conquerors utterly destroy the Temple. In taking over command of the army from his father,127 Titus swears an oath to do just this; Vespasian replies (lines 1015-20):
"My wele and my worschup ye weldeth to kepe,
For the tresour of my treuth upon this toun hengyth:

"I nold this toun were untake, ne this toures heye,128
For alle the glowande golde upon grounde riche,
Ne no ston in the stede stondande alofte,
Bot alle overtourned and tilt, Temple and other."
prosperity; honor; you control
troth; town hangs

stone in the place
tilled, Temple and all
And it is this same detail of overturning the Temple so that no stone stands upon another, and thus fulfilling the twin prophecies of Christ in Luke, that is emphasized in the aftermath of the siege (lines 1285-96):
So they wroughten at the wal alle the woke tyme,
Tille the cyté was serched and sought al aboute,
Maden wast at a wappe ther the walle stode,
Bothe in Temple and in tour alle the toun over.
Nas no ston in the stede stondande alofte,
Morter ne mude-walle bot alle to mulle fallen:
Nother tymbre ne tre, Temple ne other,
Bot doun betyn and brent into blake erthe.

And whan the Temple was overtilt, Tytus commaundys
In plowes to putte and alle the place erye;
Suth they sow hit with salt, and seiden this wordes:
"Now is this stalwourthe stede distroied forevere."
made; that week's time
Made waste with one blow where
Was no stone; place standing
mud-brick wall; earth
Neither timber
That wasn't razed and burned

plowed up
Then they sowed; these
strong place destroyed
Here, at the end of the poem, Christ's prophecies are at last fulfilled. Jerusalem, the Temple, and the killers of Christ have been utterly destroyed. No stone is left standing on another. It is no coincidence that the corresponding action at the beginning of the poem - the other end of this particular frame of the text - is the Crucifixion of Christ. Even the details of the actions share common ground: the Romans harrowing the city of Jerusalem ("In plowes to putte and alle the place erye" - line 1294) is surely meant to hearken back to the Jews setting the scourging post into the ground ("A pyler pyght was doun upon the playn erthe" - line 9). The exiled Jews are defined by their torment of Christ ("Ne non that leved in here lawe scholde in that londe dwelle / That tormented trewe God" - lines 1323-24), a torment depicted in quite graphic detail at the beginning of the poem (lines 10-18). The entire poem is ultimately framed by Christ: it begins with the Passion of Christ, and ends with Christ's prophecies fulfilled, His death avenged, and the path made ready for the Parousia, a Second Coming that surely lies just beyond the end of the poem. It is possible, perhaps, that the story's final lines (1337-40)
Whan alle was demed and don they drowen up tentis,
Trossen here tresour and trompen up the sege,
Wenten syngyng away and han here wille forthred,
And hom riden to Rome. Now rede ous oure Lord!
said and done; folded
Pack; trumpet; siege
have their will furthered
ride home; guide us may
allude to this ultimate act in human history, depicting a return to a home of two sorts: the physical city of Rome and the new spiritual home that Rome represents. Within this Christ frame lies yet another framing figure: Pontius Pilate. Christ's Passion is set within the context of Pilate's role in bringing about His death, and the final act of Titus in passing judgment on the city is the imprisonment of Pilate at Viterbo ("And Pilat to prisoun was put to pynen forevere, / At Vienne, ther venjaunce and vile deth he tholed" - lines 1327-28). It is interesting to note that Pilate's imprisonment is here given a doctrinal twist: he will continue in "pyne forevere," perhaps referring to Pilate having a special place reserved in Hell. These framing layers of story work throughout the poem. In some cases they are simple parallels of detail, such as Titus' decision to sell the Jews thirty to a penny (lines 1319-20), corresponding to the selling of Christ for thirty pennies (line 154, recalling Matthew 26:15), or the shifting of scene from Titus and Vespasian in Judaea to Nero in Rome (lines 897 ff.), corresponding to the shifting of scene from Nero in Rome to Titus and Vespasian in Judaea (lines 297 ff.). But far more interesting are thematic parallels that hint at deeper levels of interpretation, like the structural correspondence between the story of Christ (as told by the messenger Nathan in lines 101 ff.) and the story of Marie (lines 1081 ff.): the parallel is surely meant to recall Matthew 27:25, where the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem chooses Barabbas over Christ, saying to Pilate: "His [Christ's] blood be upon us and upon our children," a statement that comes into hideous reality not only in the broad outlines of the siege, but also in the specific murder of Marie's child. And similar connections might be found in the structural relationships, for example, between the story of Veronica and the healing of Vespasian (lines 221 ff.) and the story of Josephus and the healing of Titus (lines 1029 ff.). The complexities of this hysteron proteron structure have only begun to be broached here, but it is important to recall that the entire structure serves to emphasize the theme of the whole: vengeance for the death of Christ. Thus, the architecture of history and the architecture of the poem work in tandem to produce a poem that spoke profoundly to the end of the fourteenth century.


Because copy L of Siege of Jerusalem is the oldest of the generally complete manuscripts to contain the poem, it is the version of the poem that is most frequently edited.129 Given the greater number of witnesses in the family of manuscript beta, however, it is difficult to ignore the remaining manuscript tradition. We are left with two fairly distinct versions of the poem, and to give greater authority to the minority tradition simply on the basis of date may (or may not, of course) fly in the face of the poem's provenance. Put another way, to lay aside the beta manuscript tradition may be laying aside a more accurate representation of the poem's original form or, at the very least, what appears to have been a more popular form of the poem.130 Length has also been noted in favor of the alpha manuscript tradition, but this, too, might be misleading since the scattered twenty-five lines found only in copy L may very well reflect scribal additions. The penchant of scribes for adding material is, after all, far more rampant than the desire to excise occasional lines. On the other hand, much of the additional material - modifications to the portents of Jerusalem's destruction and a detailed description of Pilate's suicide, for example - is quite interesting and the earlier date does weigh heavy in such a decision. Most convincing, however, has been the work of Hoyt N. Duggan in studying the b-verse of Middle English alliterative poetry; after thoroughly examining the extant manuscripts of Siege for inaccurate alliterative patterns, he concludes: "L is by far the best of the extant manuscripts, and though one will find numerous other examples of the statistically rare patterns in the other seven manuscripts, there would in all such cases be a satisfactory reading in L which is also statistically more regular."131 In constructing this new text of Siege of Jerusalem, therefore, I have decided to follow the editors of the only other available full texts of the poem and to present an edition representing L. While it is a founding principle of the Middle English Texts Series to hold closely to a best-text theory of editing (i.e., the utilization of a copy-text), I have been hard-pressed to rely on L as extensively as I might have preferred since, unfortunately, the scribe (or exemplar) of L was often inaccurate in his transcription insofar as we are able to reconstruct the original appearance of the text. As a brief look at the Textual Notes will indicate, the text of this edition is, therefore, far more heavily emended than I would otherwise prefer. In emending L, I chose two primary texts from each of the branches of the more widely represented beta family. To represent the delta tradition, the choice of base-text came down to copies U and D since the remaining manuscripts are largely fragmentary. Despite the fact that U is the more ornate of the manuscripts, I chose the text of D since, like Thorlac Turville-Petre, I find it to be, aesthetically, the "best representative" of the tradition.132 For the gamma tradition, I chose the text of P since it most closely represents the poet's own dialect and is contemporary in date with L; where the fragmentary P is lacking, the alternative text utilized is A, which is penultimate in approximating the original dialect of the poem. The text presented here, then, is that of L, generally emended by P, A, and D, a principle similar to that taken by the most recent editors of the poem.133 In addition to minor adjustments of the text, there are two broad exceptions to my use of L as a base-text for this edition: the presentation of the text in quatrains and the division of the text into passus. That Siege was originally composed in quatrains was first theorized by Max Kaluza in 1892.134 Quatrain division of Siege was accepted by Kölbing and Day in their early edition of the poem (though they did not print an accordingly divided text), and has since been accepted by other critics, such as Duggan, as well as the most recent editors of the poem, Hanna and Lawton (who do print an accordingly divided text).135 Though the manuscript evidence for these quatrain divisions is slight - copies E and C show four-line divisions, and copy U shows eight-line divisions - Hanna and Lawton, for example, conclude that an "assessment of manuscript variation indicates that they are authorial, whether explicitly marked in the extant manuscripts or not."136 Even further, they argue persuasively that
The poet perceived his mode of composition in a way perhaps fundamentally different from other alliterative poets; in addition to his adherence to traditional forms of composition by the formulaic phrase, he quite persistently shaped his developing narrative within syntactic patterns conceived as joining at least distichs, "half-stanzas" or "hemistichs," if not the full four-line unit. . . . The quatrains of The Siege of Jerusalem are therefore syntactic devices like the rhyme royal stanza of Troilus and Criseyde and consist mainly of one or two self-contained syntactic units.137
While nothing short of an autograph copy can prove conclusively the authorial nature of such divisions, I find the evidence persuasive enough to abandon the presentation of the poem in L and here present the poem as divided into quatrains. In five instances, then, "faulty" quatrains (i.e., those short at least a line) have been corrected by the insertion of material from the beta tradition (lines 681-84, 877-80, 1121-24, 1233-36, and 1309-12); at lines 425-28 a line from L has been removed to achieve the four-line structure. These adjustments leave three quatrains that are faulty across the whole of the extant manuscript tradition: lines 25-28, 41-44, and 1333-36. Though I am rather loathe to do so, I have incorporated the "missing" lines of these quatrains into the lineation of my text in order to facilitate the reader wishing to cross-reference between this volume and that of Hanna and Lawton. My hesitancy to "count" these missing lines is, I hope, understandable when the full weight of manuscript evidence argues against their existence. This is not to say that lines are not missing from our existing text, for the fact that we have some lacunae is without doubt. Indeed, there are four additional gaps in the text that are not numbered by Hanna and Lawton (and there may, of course, be even more).138 While Hanna and Lawton are quite confident that reference to the poem's sources is enough to determine the number of missing lines,139 I cannot be completely assured about the number of missing lines in certain locations (as a quatrain that appears short a line could well be missing one, five, or even more lines). Better, I should think, simply to indicate the lacuna in all such instances, though my interest in the practicalities of usage sways me from following this principle in the present work. The second broad exception to the acceptance of L as base-text is my decision to divide the poem into seven passus and a prologue despite the fact that copy L shows only three major textual divisions. Here again, the manuscript record is spotty: copies P, A, V, U, and C all show some markings of passus division, though not all are agreed on the number of passus (P shows six; A, V, U, and C show seven), while copy E breaks the text into six major divisions with large capitals (though one of these divisions is not in the same location as those found in P).140 That all extant copies show some degree of division, however, argues in favor of some authorial basis - the question, then, is one of number. Though Kölbing and Day accepted L's divisions as authorial, I am inclined to follow Hanna and Lawton's division of the text into six passus and a prologue; the seventh possible division, reflected in U, V, and C at line 738, breaks the text in the midst of a stanza. It is worth noting that these divisions match quite neatly with my hypothesis of a hysteron proteron structure behind the whole of the poem (see Figure 2, above) - though one cannot discount the fact that such coincidental division may be more the result of an observant reader than of an authorial hand. The vocabulary of alliterative poetry is often more difficult than that which is found in most other forms of Middle English verse since alliterative poetry typically relies on what we might think of as "archaisms" held over from an earlier English period along with the richness of colloquial idioms. The vocabulary of Siege of Jerusalem, however, with its interest in presenting a dramatic, now-you-are-there account of the siege itself, goes even beyond the norm of typical alliterative poems. In addition to archaic alliterative forms that at times seem closer to Aelfric than to Chaucer, the poet utilizes a wide range of what we might term "war" vocabulary: specialized vocabulary for armor, weapons, siege engines, fortifications, warriors, and military tactics all appear within the poem's lines.141 A few of these terms are borrowed from Old Norse: farcostes, for example, a type of seacraft mentioned in line 289, is derived from ON farkostr; and brynye, a coat of mail mentioned at lines 281, 748, 959, 1123, and 1242, is derived from ON brynja.142 But the vast majority of the war vocabulary is French in origin, imported either directly from the continent or through the medium of Anglo-Norman. Hence words like arblastes in lines 671 and 840, meaning crossbows (from OF arbaleste); avental in line 760, a term for the faceplate of a helmet (from OF esventail);143 bastiles in line 682, meaning tall, fortified besieging towers (from F bastille); belfray in lines 390, 392, 413, 591, and 1192, a type of siege tower (from OF berfrei); brytaged in lines 338 and 413, referring to wooden galleries (from OF bretesche); fanward in lines 433 and 553, meaning the vanguard of a military force (from OF avangarde); garrite in line 651, a watchtower used in siege operations (from OF garite); hurdighs in line 580, a wooden fortification carried by animals (from OF hourdeis); kernels in lines 625, 660, 679, 686, and 1195, meaning battlement embrasures (from OF crenel); masers in line 886, a soldier equipped with a mace (from OF massier); nakerer in lines 856 and 1183, a kettle-drum player (from OF naquere); pesan in line 515, an armored plate of sheet of mail protecting the neck and upper torso (from OF pizane); quarels in lines 626 and 657, a term for a square-headed crossbow bolt (from OF quarel); quarters in line 626, another term for a crossbow (from OF quartot); and spryngoldes in line 841, a specific type of siege catapult (from AN springalde). Because such vocabulary is foreign to modern readers, I have made every attempt to gloss these terms consistently. I have also provided an explanatory note for the first occurrence of these and other instances of war vocabulary.144 The text presented here has been regularized in accordance with the standard editorial practices of the Middle English Texts Series, with the following addenda: thorn is transliterated as th, and yogh is transliterated as g or y depending not only on Modern English orthography but also on alliterative patterns. Hyphens have been placed where words separated in the Middle English represent a Modern English compound word. Punctuation and capitalization is, of course, editorial, as is the division of the poem into quatrains and passus.145


Indexed as item 1583 in Brown and Robbins, eds., Index of Middle English Verse, and Cutler and Robbins, eds., Supplement to the Index of Middle English Verse:146
• L: Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 656, fols. 1v-19r. [Base-text for this edition.]
• A: British Library, MS Additional 31042, fols. 50r-66r.
• C: British Library, MS Cotton Caligula A.ii, part I, fols. 111r-125r.
• V: British Library, MS Cotton Vespasian E.xvi, fols. 70r-75v.
• U: Cambridge University Library, MS Mm.v.14, fols. 187r-206v.
• Ex: Exeter, Devon Record Office, MS 2507, binding fragment.
• D: London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 491, part I, fols. 206r-227v.
• P: Princeton University Library, MS Taylor Medieval 11, fols. 104vb-110vb.
• E: San Marino, Huntington Library, MS HM 128, fols. 205r-216r.

Go To Siege of Jerusalem