From Academic Kids

Sicarii (Latin plural of Sicarius, 'dagger-' or later contract- killer) is a term applied, in the decades immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, to the Jewish Zealots, (or insurgents) who attempted to expel the Romans and their partisans from Judea:

"When Albinus reached the city of Jerusalem, he bent every effort and made every provision to ensure peace in the land by exterminating most of the Sicarii."Josephus, Jewish Antiquities (xx.208)

The sicarii even resorted to murder 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), lamenting ostentatiously after the deed to escape detection. Literally, Sicarii meant "dagger-men".

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. Even convicted Sicarii were occasionally released on promising to spare their opponents. Once, 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), the Sicarii, with the help of other Zealots, 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 Jair, and Bar Giora, were important figures in the war, and Eleazar ben Jair 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, when the Romans took the fortress and found that all of its defenders had committed suicide rather than surrender.

In the name of Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, the epithet "Iscariot" is read by some scholars as a Hellenized ("-ote" denoting membership or belonging, as in "Cypriote") transformation of sicarius. When the Gospels are translated into modern Hebrew, Judas is rendered as "Ish-Kerayot," making him a man from the townships.

Based on a 1903 Jewish Encyclopedia, with some additions and editing.

Modern Comparisons

Sicarii had obvious parallels to a far later phenomenon, the medieval Hashishin, Muslim fanatics whose deadly talent for murders inspired the term assassin. The assassins, like the Sicarii, were notoriously willing to butcher coreligionists who didn't back their policies, in the Assassins' case all infidels to Islam. Like the Masada dead-enders, the Assassins built mountain fortresses in desolate areas to defend themselves against military enemies. They also used the dagger almost exclusively to carry out assassinations.

A more overt reference to Sicarii occurred in Colombia since the 1980s. Sicarios, professional criminals adept at kidnapping, bombing, and theft, gradually became a class of their own in organized crime in Colombia. Described by Mark Bowden in his investigative work Killing Pablo, the sicarios played a key role in the wave of violence against police and authorities during the early 1990s campaign by the government to capture and extradite fugitive druglord Pablo Escobar Gaviria and other partners in the Medellin cocaine cartel. Unlike their ancient namesake, sicarios have never had an ideological underpinning. Perhaps the only cause that they were attributed to was the opposition to extradition of Colombian criminals. Though Escobar employed sicarios to eliminate his enemies, these assassins were active more as independent individuals or gangs than loyal followers of a leader, and there were plenty of sicarios willing to serve the rival Cali cartel. Nevertheless, many died in combat against police forces, indicating that they were not all inclined to bend to the wind. Indeed, long before Escobar's time, Colombia in particular had a long legacy of professional kidnappers (secuestarios) and murderers, whom he emulated. The term sicario was only recently used for these people, and the term has not attained much prominence outside of


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