Masada mesa. Herod's palace
was built on the three tiers at north end (right).
atop a large [1900 x 650 feet] boat-shaped mesa on the Dead
Sea's western shore, rising almost 1300 feet above the surface
of the sea below. The site was named & first fortified by a
Hasmonean ruler named Jonathan
[either the youngest brother of Judah
Maccabee or more likely Alexander
left his family there while he went to Rome after Antigonus
& his Parthian allies had captured Jerusalem
(40 BCE). After
securing his kingdom, Herod reinforced the fortifications [with
a 13 foot thick wall & 110 towers rising as much as 100 feet
above the mesa top] & built a magnificent three level palace
on the northeastern face of the the mesa. This palace was an
architectural & engineering wonder, featuring the most
innovative technology & luxuries of the Augustan era. Huge
storehouses & cisterns carved out of the mesa held enough
food & water to withstand more than 5 years of siege.
modern walkway connects ruins of Herod's 3 tier palace in cliffs
was deposed (6 CE), the fort was maintained by a small Roman
garrison that was overwhelmed by zealot forces during the Jewish
revolt of 66 CE. When the Romans captured Jerusalem (70 CE),
Eleazar ben Jaïr---a descendent of Judah of Gamala---led
the remnants of the sicarii [assassin faction of
revolutionaries] to Masada, where less than 1000 Jews resisted
almost 15,000 soldiers of the 10th Roman legion for 3 years.
(The foundations of the Roman camps are still visible from the
plateau). According to Josephus
7.320-406], when the Romans finally took the fortress (in
May 73 CE), they found that all but seven of the defenders had
committed suicide rather than surrender. Modern excavations at
the site have unearthed a 36' x 45' hall that the zealots had
converted into a synagogue
similar to the one at Gamala.
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