in postcards by Vanzetti
This note is about the Judean fortress
or Masada (disambiguation).
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Masada (Hebrew מצדה, pronounced Metzada ) is an ancient fortification in the Southern District of Israel, on top of an isolated rock plateau (akin to a mesa) on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Herod the Great built palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. The Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire towards the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Jewish rebels and their families holed up there. Masada is located 20 kilometres (12 mi) east of Arad.
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 (91 m) high; the natural approaches to the cliff top are very difficult. The top of the plateau is flat and rhomboid-shaped, about 1,800 feet (550 m) by 900 feet (270 m). There was a casemate wall around the top of the plateau totaling 4,300 feet (1.3 km) long and 12 feet (3.7 m) high, with many towers, and the fortress included storehouses, barracks, an armory, the palace, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater. Three narrow, winding paths led from below up to fortified gates.
Almost all historical information about Masada comes from the 1st-century Jewish Roman historian Josephus. The site was first fortified by Alexander Jannaeus in the first century BCE. Herod the Great captured it in the power-struggle that followed the death of his father Antipater. It survived the siege of the Parthian king Antigonus. In 66 CE, a group of Jewish rebels, the Sicarii, overcame the Roman garrison of Masada with the aid of a ruse. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, additional members of the Sicarii fled Jerusalem and settled on the mountaintop. According to Josephus, the Sicarii were an extremist Jewish splinter group antagonistic to a larger grouping of Jews referred to as the Zealots, who carried the main burden of the rebellion. According to Josephus, the Sicarii based at Masada raided nearby Jewish villages including Ein Gedi, where they massacred 700 women and children.
In 73 CE, the Roman governor of Iudaea Lucius Flavius Silva headed the Roman legion X Fretensis and laid siege to Masada. The Roman legion surrounded Masada, and built a circumvallation wall and then a siege embankment against the western face of the plateau.
According to Dan Gill, geological investigations in the early 1990s confirmed earlier observations that the 375-foot (114 m) high assault ramp consisted mostly of a natural spur of bedrock. The ramp was complete in the spring of 73, after probably two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. Romans took the X Legion and a number of auxiliary units and Jewish prisoners of war, totaling some 15,000 troops in order to crush Jewish resistance at Masada. A giant siege tower with a battering ram was constructed and moved laboriously up the completed ramp. The walls of the fortress were breached in 73 CE. According to Josephus, when Roman troops entered the fortress, they discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide/killed each other. Josephus wrote of two stirring speeches that the Sicari leader had made to convince his fellows to kill themselves. Only two women and five children were found alive. It seems safe to assume that Josephus was not an eye witness to Massada, and his sources were probably secondary. There are significant discrepancies between archaeological findings, and Josephus’ writings. Josephus mentions only one of the two palaces that have been excavated, refers only to one fire, while many buildings show fire damage, and claims that 960 people were killed, while only 28 remains of bodies have been found.
The year of the siege of Masada may have been 73 or 74 CE.
Masada was last occupied during the Byzantine period, when a small church was established at the site.