The New York Times

Rome, Through the Eyes of Flavius Josephus

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

WHERE, BUT IN THE ETERNAL CITY, IS IT POSSIBLE TO MAP A 2,000-YEAR-OLD EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF HISTORY ONTO AN INTACT URBAN FABRIC?

Even without a book or a guide, even after two millenniums of crumbling, the image of the seven-branched candelabrum — the Jewish menorah — is unmistakable on the inner wall of the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum. Stand at the base of the single-passage arch and look up, and the scene in bas-relief ripples to life with almost cartoon clarity: Straining porters, trudging along what is plainly the route of a Roman triumph, bear aloft the golden menorah and other sacred loot plundered from the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The opposite side of the arch depicts the victory lap of the chief plunderer, Emperor Titus — who, as an ambitious young general, crushed the Jews’ revolt, leveled their Temple and brought enough booty and slaves back to Rome to finance an epic construction program that included the Colosseum.

I’ve gazed on the Arch of

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