By Blackthorn: September 3rd, 2009
I have been fortunate enough to visit Masada three times. It’s the kind of place that stays in your mind long after your visit. Herod the Great built several mountain top fortresses because he feared revolt. The most famous of these is known as Masada. It was built atop a plateau with sides too steep to be stormed in a frontal assault. He fortified it between 37 and 31 BC, but never lived there full time. In 70 AD, Jews rebelling against Rome occupied Masada.
They were known as Zealots or Sicarii, depending on who is telling the story. The Romans laid siege to Masada but the rebels had plenty of food and water. Since the Romans couldn’t attack up the narrow stairway that led to the top, they bombarded the rebels with catapults, but little if any damage was done. Finally, in an incredible engineering feat, the Romans built a huge ramp of dirt and rocks. When the ramp was done they moved siege towers up into place and began to destroy the walls using a battering ram. Once the Jews knew they couldn’t stop the Romans they committed mass suicide to avoid becoming slaves.
This picture was taken looking down onto the Dead Sea from atop Masada. The buildings shown here were the officer’s quarters of Herod’s men:
These are the grain storehouses where the occupants of Masada stored their food:
These pictures show the steep sides of the plateau. It’s not hard to see why the Zealots thought they’d be invulnerable:
Many of the walls are still partially intact. Here is one room that still has the fresco from almost 2,000 years ago still clinging to the plaster:
Here you can see the original post office. This is where the carrier pigeons were kept for sending messages:
Here are the “cannonballs” used by the Romans in their catapults. I put my backpack there to give perspective on the size of the ammunition:
This must have been a chilling view in 72 AD. It’s the Roman encampment, with the walls still standing all these centuries later:
And here is the ramp the Romans built for their final assault:
Here is a model showing how Masada must have looked when Herod stayed there:
Centuries later the Byzantines built a church at Masada. It was destroyed, and the monks killed, when the Moslems invaded in the seventh or eight century. This is all that remains of that church:
General pictures of Masada:
Not much has changed on this plateau in the almost 2,000 years since the Romans battered their way into the fortress. With the catapult ammo stacked up and the Roman fortifications visible below, it all seems oddly like recent history.
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