Masada is the name for a site of ancient palaces (Herod)  and fortifications near the Dead Sea.

It is located on the top of a plateau on the edge of the Judean Desert. It’s historical significance for the Jewish people dates back to the First Jewish-Roman war when it was sieged by the troops of the Roman Empire leading to the mass suicide of the Jewish rebels that were living there.

The cliffs on the east edge of Masada are about 1,300 feet (400 m) high and the cliffs on the west are about 300 feet (90 m) high; the natural approaches to the cliff top are very difficult.  There is a path leading to the top which we did not take. 🙂

Instead we took the cable car.

Herod’s palaces…

According to Josephus, a Jewish-Roman scholar from around 1 BC (it is his writings that we know most about Masada) Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BC as a hideout for himself in the event of a revolt. He built two palaces the Western and Northern.

Herod's Northern Palace

Herod's Northern Palace 2

Jewish History in Masada…

In 66 BC, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire, a group of Jewish extremists called the Sicarii overcame the Romans at Masada. After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem additional members and their families fled Jerusalem settled on the mountaintop, using it as a base for harassing the Romans.

The works of Josephus are the sole record of events that took place during the siege. According to modern interpretations of Josephus, the Sicarii were an extremist splinter group who were equally antagonistic to both Romans and other Jewish groups.

Archaeology indicates that they modified some of the structures they found there; this includes a building which was modified to function as a synagogue facing Jerusalem. It is one of the oldest synagogues in Israel.

The Synagogue on Masada

The remains of two mikvahs (ritual baths) were found elsewhere on Masada.

Tile floor of a mikvah

The Siege…

In 72, the Roman governor Lucius Silva  headed the Roman legion . The Roman legion surrounded Masada

Roman legion camp

and built a wall and then an embankment and an assault ramp against the western face of the plateau, moving thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth to do so. Some historians also believe that Romans may have used Jewish slaves  to build the ramp.

Asault Ramp

Josephus wrote about the siege based on the stories told by two women survivors who hid from the Romans inside a cistern along with five children prior to the mass suicide of the remaining rebels. Because Judaism strongly discourages suicide  Josephus reported that the defenders had drawn lots and killed each other in turn, down to the last man, who would be the only one to actually take his own life. Josephus says that Eleazar ordered his men to destroy everything except the foodstuffs to show that the defenders retained the ability to live, and so chose their own death over slavery.

Urn in a storeroom

Eileen and I discovered and recorded many of the other things we found on Masada.

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5 thoughts on “Masada…

  1. This is wonderful Ellery! Eileen and your pictures really bring it to life and the commentary and information you provide is really great. You have a new calling.

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