Masada is a site in the South of Israel on top of an rock plateau on the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.
After the First Jewish-Roman War in which the Temple was destroyed a siege of the fortress by the Roman Empire in AD73 led to the mass suicide of the Sicarii rebels, who preferred death to surrender.
The cliffs of Masada are about 1,300 feet (400 m) high and the cliffs on the west are about 300 feet (90 m) high; looking at it the place looks impregnable the top of the plateau is flat.
There was a casemate wall around the top 1.3 km long and 3.7 m thick, with towers, I saw it had stores, barracks, the palace, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater. Three narrow, winding paths led up to fortified entrance & you can see for miles around even across the dead sea to Jordan.
The story of Massada is based on accounts from Josephus Flavius a 1st century Jewish Roman historian.
King Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt.
In 66 CE, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire, a group of Jewish extremists rebels called the Sicarii overcame the Roman garrison of Masada. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jewish rebels and their families fled Jerusalem & took over the site using it as a base to fight the Romans.
Bear on mind that 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 group connected to the Zealots who were fighting the Romans and other Jewish groups. The Zealots in contrast to nire the main burden of the rebellion, which opposed Roman rule of Israel.
The Sicarii were led by Elazar ben Yair in 70 CE they were expelled from Jerusalem by the Jewish population just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple.
They also added a synagogue facing Jerusalem I saw there were a number of mikvahs on Masada. A Mikveh is a ritual bath used before prayer.
The Roman camps @ Masada
When looking down the mountain you can see the outlines of the Roman Legion camps at Masada, remember this siege was for 1 year.
In 72, the Romans laid siege to the fortress. After failed attempts to breach the wall, due to the casemate walls they made a ramp against the western face of the plateau, using tons of stones and beaten earth. Some historians also believe that Romans may have used Jewish slaves to build the ramp.
When the ramp was complete in the spring of 73, allowing the Romans to breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. The zromans returned to camp to await morning before entrring tge fortress. When they entered the fortress,the Romans discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery or execution by their enemies.
The story of Masada was told to Josephus by two women who survived the suicide by hiding inside a cistern along with five children, and repeated Eleazar ben Ya'ir's speech to his followers, prior to the mass suicide, verbatim to the Romans. Because Judaism strongly forbids suicide, Josephus reported that they 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 they could have continued and so chose death rather than slavery, but archaeological excavations have shown that storerooms which contained their provisions were also burnt, though this could have been the Romans. Josephus also reported that the Romans found arms sufficient for ten thousand men as well as iron, brass and lead which casts further doubt on the accuracy of the account, especially when considering that sometimes Josephus exaggerates.
To get to the top we used a cable car, the Roman ramp still stands on the western side and can be climbed on foot. Many of the ancient buildings have been restored from their remains, as have the wall-paintings of Herod's two main palaces, and the Roman-style bathhouses that he built. The meter-high wall that the Romans built around Masada can be seen, together with eleven barracks for the Roman soldiers just outside this wall. Water cisterns in the cliff drain the nearby wadis by an elaborate system of channels, which explains how the rebels managed to have enough water for such a long time.
Inside the synagogue, an inscription me'aser cohen (name for the priest) was found & fragments of two scrolls; parts of Deuteronomy 33-34 and parts of Ezekiel 35-38 (including the vision of the "dry bones"), found hidden in pits dug under the floor of a small room built inside the synagogue. Fragments were found of the books of Genesis, Leviticus, Psalms, and Sirach, as well as of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.
Also in the palace, eleven small bits of pottery were found with names. One reads "ben Yair" and could be short for Eleazar ben Ya'ir, the commander of the fortress. I was told that the other ten names are those ofhe men chosen by lot to kill the others and then themselves.
Excavations uncovered the skeletal remains of 28 people at Masada. The remains of two men and a full head of hair with braids belonging to a woman were also found in the bath house. We were told the hair had been cut from the woman's head with a sharp instrument while she was still alive (a Jewish practice for captured women) while the braids indicated she was married. The remains may have been Romans the rebels captured when they captured the palace, the remains of 25 people were found in a cave at the base of the cliff.
A Byzantine church dating from the 5th and 6th centuries, have also been excavated on the top of Masada.
The Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Moshe Dayan, initiated the practice of holding the swearing-in ceremony of soldiers who have completed their Tironut (IDF basic training) on top of Masada. The ceremony ends with the declaration: "Masada shall not fall again." The soldiers climb the Snake Path at night and are sworn in with torches lighting the background. This is a reference to the Jewish revolt in 70 CE, where 900 Jewish fighters committed suicide, leading to the fall of the fort to the Romans.
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