Hebrew for “fortress”, Masada sits on top of an isolated cliff in the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.  A walled complex built by Herod the Great, King of Judea between 37 BCE and 4 CE, it included palaces, storehouses, barracks, an armory and a sophisticated water system which collected enough run-off water from a single day’s rain to support a thousand people for two to three years.


Shortly after Herod’s death, with Judea now part of the Roman Empire, the Jews revolted against the Romans and overcame the Roman garrison of Masada.  After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, families fled Jerusalem and joined the Jews at Masada, where they stayed for three years, fighting the Romans.  Roman governor Flavius Silva finally marched against Masada, and when it became clear that they would succeed in breaching Masada’s walls, all the Jewish inhabitants committed suicide so that they would not be forced into slavery.


Due to the harshness of the environment and the remote location, which discouraged urban settlement, the Masada site remained untouched for more than 13 centuries until it was rediscovered in 1828.  The buildings had been covered over and were not excavated until the 1960’s; there have been no additions or reconstruction.  The military camps, siegeworks, an attack ramp and a series of legionary fortresses are the most comprehensive anywhere in the Roman world.


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