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SICARII (Greek, σικάριοι = "assassins," "daggermen"):

Term applied, in the decades immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, to the jewish Zealots who attempted to expel the Romans and their partizans from the country, even resorting to murder to attain their object. Under their cloaks they concealed "sicæ," or small daggers, whence they received their name; and at popular assemblies, especially during the pilgrimage to the Temple mount, they stabbed their enemies, or, in other words, those who were friendly to the Romans, lamenting ostentatiously after the deed, and thus escaping detection (Josephus, "Ant." xx. 8, § 10;idem, "B. J." ii. 13, § 3). Although Felix had cleared the country of the so-called "robbers," their place was taken by the Sicarii, who were not so easily to be suppressed. The high priest Jonathan was assassinated by them at the instigation of Felix, who did not hesitate to make use of the Sicarii in this way. During the procuratorship, of Cumanus they killed an imperial servant on the open highway near Beth-horon, an act which resulted in lamentable consequences.

Festus himself had to contend with the Sicarii; but Albinus, in return for money and other presents, left them in peace, and even convicted Sicarii were released on promising to spare their opponents. On one occasion they kidnaped the secretary of Eleazar, governor of the Temple, but liberated him in exchange for ten of their comrades ("Ant." xx. 9, § 3). At the beginning of the war against the Romans, the Sicarii, with the help of other Zealots, gained secret access to Jerusalem, where they committed atrocious acts. Their leaders, including Menahem b. Jair, Eleazar b. Jair, and Bar Giora, were among the important figures of this war; and they held possession of the fortress of Masada until it was taken by the Romans.

In Latin "sicarius" is a common term for an assassin, as in the title of the law promulgated by Sulla, the "Lex Cornclia de Sicariis"; and the word has the same general meaning in the Mishnah (Bik. i. 2, ii. 3; Git. v. 6; Maksh. i. 6). The Mishnah mentions a "sikarikon" law enacting that title to a piece of property held by a "robber" may be taken in case it has been first purchased from the owner and then from the "robber" (such being the meaning of the word in this passage), but not vice versa.

Bibliography:
  • Grätz, Gesch. 4th ed., iii. 432;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., i. 574.
  • On the "sikarikon" law: Grätz, in Jahresbericht, Breslau, 1892;
  • Rosenthal, in Monatsschrift, 1893;
  • Krauss, in Byzantinische Zeitschrift, ii. 511;
  • idem, Lehnwörter, ii. 392.
G. S. Kr.
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