An ancient Masada stronghold is located on an isolated rock plateau at the western end of the Judean Desert, near the Dead Sea’s western shore.
Masada was the last stand against the Roman Empire, after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Jewish rebels and their families hiding there.
The site was settled in the time of the First temple period (1006-586 BC) and later renowned and fortified by the king of Judaea, Herod the Great who reigned 37-4 BC.
For seventy years, Masada was occupied by the Romans. After Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, those who survived, about one thousand men, women and children fled to Masada. They understood that one day, they would have no chance against the Roman soldiers attacking Masada’s walls.
Masada was doomed. It was only a matter of time when the enemy would approach and succeed in breaching the walls of their fortress.
And that day came…Flavius Josephus (37 AD – ca 101 AD), a famous Jewish writer and historian wrote the “Jewish War”, a detailed description of the events leading up to and during the Jewish War of 66 AD -73 AD. and the tragic story of Masada’s Zealots.
While the Roman legion of 15,000 soldiers prepared a final assault on Masada, nine hundred and sixty trapped inside Zealots, gathered and voted for suicide. All the refugees, men, women, and children were ready to die that night rather than surrender and submit to the cruelty of the Romans and slavery.
They chose to die by their own hands.
“Let us die free, gloriously surrounded by our wives and children… Eternal renown shall be our by snatching the prize from the hands of the enemy, and leaving him nothing to triumph over but the bodies of those who dared to be their own executioners,” Ben-Yair said.
He ordered the entire fortress to be burnt except for the ample food stores because the Zealots wanted to show that they were acting from their religious belief and pride and not out of desperation.
When the Roman soldiers reached the fortress, they saw nobody as an enemy, only a terrible solitude on every side with a fire within the place as well as a perfect silence,” we read in the “Jewish War”.
“…they came upon the row of dead bodies, they did not exult over their enemies, but admired the nobility of their resolve, and the way in which so many had shown, in carrying it out without a tremor, an utter contempt for death.”
“When the Romans saw the mass of slain, they were unable to take pleasure in the sight, even though the people were their enemies.” Flavius Josephus wrote.
Of 967 Jews, only seven – two women and five children , hidden in a cistern – survived to tell the story.
The Romans spared their lives.
In 1955 – 1956, the Israeli specialist in Biblical archaeology, Professor Yohanan Aharoni, and his team of scientists conducted an archaeological survey in the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada on the Dead Sea. A fragment of ancient papyrus was discovered inscribed with Hebrew characters and written in black ink.
According to Dr. Aharoni, the fort and Herod’s palace were destroyed by the Romans in 73 AD after the end of the Jewish War.Other expeditions in the years 1963 – 1965 revealed extensive architectural remains and artifacts such as armouries, pottery and storehouses primarily from the time of Herod the Great until the destruction of the site.
From the Roman Period several biblical and other texts on parchment were found as well as many coins, more than 700 ostraca, and more than 200 Roman secular documents on papyrus.
The evidence of the Zealots’ tragic last day was finally uncovered. The food stores and bronze coins used like ration coupons were still there – untouched.Moreover, the archaeologists found fourteen scrolls under the floor of a small room. Each of the documents, dated to the years preceding 73 AD was covered with the Biblical texts of Ezekiel, Deuteronomy, psalms and Apocrypha.
At one of the strategic points of Herod’s fortress, with a view dominating the plain of Judaea on the southern approaches to Jerusalem, the archaeologists found a senior officer’s suit of armour along with eleven pieces of pottery, each with a name inscribed on it.On one piece of pottery there was written a name: Ben Yair.
Written by – A. Sutherland AncientPages.com Staff Writer
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