masada in the bible

Masada in the Bible

In the southeast of the State of Israel is that of King Herod between 40 – 30 BC. The mountain fortress Masada in the Bible (Hebrew: “Mezadá” – fortress) was built. After the king’s death, a Roman garrison was stationed here, and around 66 AD, the fortress in the mountains of Judea was taken by the Sicarians (Jewish militant group). Later, rebels from other Jewish groups also settled here. It is located in Israel at the southwest end of the Dead Sea. The rocky plateau and the surrounding area of ​​the mountain cone are now Israeli national parks. Masada in the Bible played an essential role in the Jewish War, alongside the (West Bank) and Machaerus fortresses of Herodion (Jordan). On the plateau is the palace of Herod the Great (Northern Palace).

According to Flavius ​​Josephus, a first-century AD Roman historian, Herod the Great (73–4 BC) fortified the plateau between 37 and 31 BC. as a place of refuge for himself and his family in the event of an uprising. A casemate wall was built around the top of the plateau and reinforced by  40 towers. Magazines, barracks, an armory, and cisterns were laid out within the Masada in the Bible fortress, and the so-called North Palace was built on the slope of the peak.

Death of Herod

Three narrow, winding paths (one of which is still called the Snake Path ) led up from the wadi to the heavily fortified gates. The entire complex of the fortress was considered impregnable at the time. After the death of Herod, a Roman garrison was stationed here. Around AD 66, right at the start of the first Jewish-Roman War, a group of Jewish extremists (sectarians) took possession of the fortress. After the destruction of the Second Temple (AD 70) in Jerusalem by Titus, Jewish rebels and their families fled to the summit.

The only historical sources of the siege and final victory of Titus’ troops come from the books of Flavius ​​Josephus. According to modern interpretations of the works of Josephus, the Sicarians were an extremist splinter group of the Zealots. The goal of the uprising was the liberation from the Roman rule in Judea. Elazar ben Ya’ir led the sectarian on Masada in the Bible. From 72 AD, the Roman governor of Judea, Lucius Flavius, marched to Masada in the Bible with the Roman Legion X Fretensisand besieged the fortress. After several failed attempts to take the fortress, the commander set up a siege ring around the plateau to prevent any escape from the trapped Zealots from the outset.

The defeat at Masada in the Bible

They also set up various field camps for their troops, the primary base of which can still be seen today. Then the Romans built a ramp on the west side of the plateau. Thousands of tons of stone and earth were gradually piled up in an ever higher ramp. After about three months, the ramp was completed in the spring of 73. And the besiegers could pierce the fortress wall with a battering ram. 

When the Romans entered the fortress, they found no survivors. The defenders had killed themselves to save slavery from escaping. Only two women and five of their children survived because they hid in a cistern before committing suicide. This act made Masada in the Bible a symbol of the Jewish desire for freedom.

Since suicide was the worst of sins, they decided that each leader should kill their own family. And cast lots to determine who would be the last, charged with killing the other remaining leaders. When the Romans reached the top of Masada in the Bible, they found 960 corpses. And a large number of food supplies, clear evidence that the Jews had chosen to die voluntarily.

Twelve pieces of clay with the names of the Jewish leaders used for the fateful draw were found in the archaeological site of Masada in the Bible.

Herod’s Fortress

Around 40 BC, King Herod the Great built a large fortress in the Judean desert to escape a hypothetical attack by his enemies. Not content with having chosen an isolated place to erect the fort. He decided to have it built on the top of a 450-meter-high mountain.

The construction of Masada in the Bible was a challenge for the time. The kingdom’s engineers created warehouses to store food for years. And designed a canal system to collect the desert’s scarce rainwater.

Walking through the archaeological site, it is possible to see the remains of these warehouses: the watchtower, the three-stepped buildings, and the Roman baths.

masada in the bible

Representation of the Old City of Masada

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After the fall of the fortress of Masada in the Bible, the site remained abandoned for a long time. Christian monks settled the mountain in the 5th and 6th centuries. They built a church that is among the earliest churches in southern Judea. Some remains of this building have survived to this day. The fortress gradually fell into oblivion until it was rediscovered in 1838. Excavations took place in the 1960s under the direction of Yigael Yadin. Although Masada in the Bible was long forgotten and the historical reliability of the reports from Flavius ​​Josephus ‘ accounts was controversial, the tradition had a significant effect.

Therefore, the myth of Masada in the Bible became an essential part of the Zionist ideology. So, the Masada synagogue on the plateau is now a popular venue for bar mitzvahs. Indeed, Masada in the Bible is a major attraction for tourists visiting the Dead Sea, the Negev desert, and the nearby oasis of En Gedi. UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 


The imposing fortress of Masada in the Bible defied the defensive constructions of the time and became an impregnable bulwark in the middle of the Judean desert. Masada in Hebrew means fortress. But for a long time, this grand and sumptuous building erected in the middle of the desert was the refuge of Herod and a Jewish resistance group. Today, the Masada from the Bible archaeological site has become one of Israel’s most important tourist attractions. And also declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.