Sitting on an isolated cliff in the Judean Desert, Massada’s steep slopes and precipices rise more than 400 meters above the Dead Sea. The combination of cliffs and escarpments in the desert area provided Massada with the perfect natural defense system. Had the attackers not blazed routes to the top, there would have been no way for them to reach the summit.
The writings of Josephus are the only significant source of information about Masada. He tells that the place was first fortified by “Johnatan the High Priest”. , one of the Hashmonaim leader (~100 B.C.).
A Hashmonaim Prutah Coin
Although the mountain had natural fortifications, Herod built a casemate wall around the entire summit. This was a tremendous undertaking, since the summit was 600 meters long and 300 meters across at its center.
Herod’s plan for the mountain was fantastically ambitious. Massada was not designed merely as a fortress, but as a royal stronghold with spacious palaces, a bathhouse with the all conveniences available at the time, and a number of smaller palaces, apparently for housing the monarch’s relatives.
Most amazing is the northern palace, which was a tremendous feat of design and execution. Built on the northern part of the hilltop, the palace appears to dangle over the precipice. It was constructed atop three stone slabs; because the staircase was deemed inadequate for the palace halls, enormous supporting walls were built to enlarge the staircase area.
The southern water citern
The Western Palace
Tannery – an industrial installation for the tanning of skins.
First Jewish Revolt – Year 2, Prutah Coin
The Northern Palace
The upper terrace
The middle terrace
The lower terrace
The commandant’s residence
The commandant’s headquarters
Roman Lead Sling Bullets
The storerooms complex
The Large Bathhouse
Public Immersion Pool
According to Josephus, a first-century Jewish Roman historian, Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 B.C. as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. In 66 A.D., at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire, a group of Judaic extremist rebels called the Sicarii took Masada from the Roman garrison stationed there.
The Sicarii on Masada were commanded by Elazar ben Ya’ir and in 70, they were joined by additional Sicarii and their families that were expelled from Jerusalem by the other Jews with whom the Sicarii were in conflict shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. For the next two years (according to Josephus) the Sicarii used Masada as their base for raiding and pillaging Roman and Jewish settlements alike.
In 72 A.D., the Roman governor of Judaea Lucius Flavius Silva marched against Masada with the Roman legion X Fretensis and laid siege to the fortress. After failed attempts to breach the wall, they built a circumvallation wall and then a rampart against the western face of the plateau, using thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth.
The rampart was complete in the spring of 73, after approximately two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. When they entered the fortress, however, the Romans discovered that its 936 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture or defeat by their enemies (which would probably have led to slavery or execution).
Three eastern Roman’s camps and the Siege wall
Two Western Roman’s camps and the Siege wall
The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., have also been excavated on the top of Masada.
Byzantine Oil – Lamp