Susan C. Anthony


Herod the Great feared two things—a Jewish uprising and Cleopatra's expansionist policies. Masada was his desert retreat in case things went wrong. It is a flat-topped mountain a mile west of the Dead Sea and about 1000 feet tall. The sides are sheer cliffs. On top Herod build a surrounding wall, palaces, Roman baths, and even an open-air swimming pool. It was a man-made oasis with a ten-year supply of food. A huge cistern held over a million cubic feet of water.

Although Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote about Masada, scholars considered his report fictional for a long time. An earthquake destroyed much of what was left in the 8th century. After its discovery in modern times, thousands of volunteers from all over the world helped excavate a large part of it in just 14 months in the early 1960s.

Masada is best known for what happened there about 75 years after Herod's death. Jewish zealots captured it in 66 A.D. at the beginning of the Jewish revolt against Rome. Jerusalem fell to Rome in 70 A.D. but the zealots on Masada refused to surrender, and Rome was unable to subdue them. It was a gesture of defiance. Rome believed it must win, as a point of honor.

The 10th Legion was deployed, under the command of Flavius Silva. 10,000 to 15,000 people surrounded the mountain, including thousands of Jewish prisoners who were used as laborers. An encircling wall and ten siege camps were built, then Jewish prisoners were forced to construct an earthen ramp so Roman battering rams could ascend to one of the gates. After seven months of siege, in 73 A.D., the walls were breached.

But when the Romans entered, they encountered no resistance. Ten men had been chosen by lot to kill all of the others, then one was selected to kill the remaining nine, set fire to all supplies other than food, then kill himself. Everyone was laid in a row, side by side. According to Josephus, the Jewish leader El Azar said this:

My loyal followers, long ago we resolved to serve neither the Romans nor anyone else but only God. . . : now the time has come that bids us prove our determination by our deeds. Now all hope has fled, abandoning us to our fate. Let us at once choose death with honor and do the kindest thing we can for ourselves, our wives and children. Come! While our hands are free and can hold a sword, let them do a noble service! Let us die unenslaved by our enemies and leave this world as free men in company with our wives and children.

Even today, some Israeli soldiers are sworn in on the top of the mountain, taking an oath that Masada shall not fall again.

Go on to read about En Gedi
Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony