Sicarii

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Sicarii (Latin plural of Sicarius 'dagger-men' or later contract-killer) is a term applied, in the decades immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, (probably) to an extremist splinter group[1] of the Jewish Zealots, who attempted to expel the Romans and their partisans from Judea using concealed daggers (sicae).

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The Sicarii used stealth tactics to obtain their objective. Under their cloaks they concealed sicae, or small daggers, from which they received their name. At popular assemblies, particularly during the pilgrimage to the Temple Mount, they stabbed their enemies (Romans or Roman sympathizers, Herodians, and wealthy Jews comfortable with Roman rule), lamenting ostentatiously after the deed to blend into the crowd to escape detection. Literally, Sicarii meant "dagger-men".[3]

The victims of the Sicarii included Jonathan the High Priest, though it is possible that his murder was orchestrated by the Roman governor Felix. Some of their murders were met with severe retaliation by the Romans on the entire Jewish population of the country. On some occasions, they could be bribed to spare their intended victims. As with Barabbas, even convicted Sicarii were occasionally released on promising to spare their opponents, though there is no evidence for this practice outside the Gospels, which are largely in accord on this point. Once, Josephus relates, after kidnapping the secretary of Eleazar, governor of the Temple precincts, they agreed to release him in exchange for ten of their captured comrades.

At the beginning of the Jewish Revolt (66 AD), the Sicarii, and (possibly) Zealot helpers (Josephus differentiated between the two but did not explain the main differences in depth), gained access to Jerusalem and committed a series of atrocities, in order to force the population to war. In one account, given in the Talmud, they destroyed the city's food supply so that the people would be forced to fight against the Roman siege instead of negotiating peace. Their leaders, including Menahem ben Jair, Eleazar ben Ya'ir, and Simon Bar Giora, were important figures in the war, and Eleazar ben Ya'ir eventually succeeded in escaping the Roman onslaught. Together with a small group of followers, he made his way to the abandoned fortress of Masada where he continued his resistance to the Romans until 73 AD, when the Romans took the fortress and, according to Josephus, found that most of its defenders had committed suicide rather than surrender.[4]

In Josephus' Jewish War (vii), after the fall of the Temple in 70 AD, the sicarii became the dominant revolutionary Jewish party, scattered abroad. Josephus particularly associates them with the mass suicide at Masada in 73 AD and to the subsequent refusal "to submit to the taxation census when Cyrenius was sent to Judea to make one" (Josephus) as part of their religious and political scheme as resistance fighters:

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