Masada

Masada - one of Herod the Great's magnificent building operations in the Judean desert on top of a mountain. Although used casually as a refuge and by wandering tribes, it was first made into an established garrison fortress by the Hasmoneans in the 2nd Century, BCE., subsequently becoming a Roman fortress. When Herod began to rule in the last quarter of the 1st Century, BCE., he chose to continue its strategic use adding greatly to its comfort, introducing palaces and improving its defences and its water supplies. On Herod's death it was again taken by the Romans who dismantled Herod's kingdom.
After the destruction of the Temple by Vespasian and his son Titus, in 70 CE., it fell into the hands of those legendary defenders, the Zealots, led by Eliezer ben Yair. Ben Yair fled here with about 950 fellow rebels, capturing it by some kind of subterfuge from the Roman garrison (Josephus is unclear as to how), and they remained here under siege to the Roman commander, Flavius Silva and his army of 15,000, for three years. At the end of that time the Romans, who in the meantime had built a ramp leading up to the walls from the western approach (see the second picture, below), broke in, only to find their adversaries slaughtered. Not wishing to fall under the barbaric rule of Rome, see their womenfolk and children butchered or worse, the Zealots had decided to enter into a communal suicide pact. Choosing by lot ten members in each group to slay all the others and then kill themselves, the deed was done and so was born the story of the heroism of Masada.

Both of my first pictures show very clearly the three gigantic "steps" on the northern face, where Herod constructed his "three- tiered" palace, the remains of which can be seen.
Here is an artist's conception, based on clear archæological evidence, of how the palace may have looked:-
Herod's 3-tiered palace

The second picture shows a little more clearly the so-called "white promontory" (Josephus, Wars: Book 7; Cap VIII; v.5), on which Silva constructed the ramp the remains of which are shown here:-

One of the most frequently asked questions is how and where did the people living on Massada get water? There is no doubt that there were natural caves of some sort round the cliffs and even pits on top where rain water on the plateau itself - although sparse during the winter - could be collected.
It is also possible that the Hasmoneans made attempts to improve and increase the capacity of these existing caves. However it was not until the coming of Herod that this problem was solved to a significant and satisfactory extent.
Herod undertook large-scale improvements and water schemes to ensure an adequate supply - not only for essential domestic needs but also for gardens, baths and decorative fountains, for all of which evidence remains. This next picture shows the north-west face of the cliff just under the three-tiered northern palace.

Clearly seen are two rows of openings to ten cisterns constructed by Herod and fed with the winter flood-waters from two stream flowing past the northern and southern edges of Massada. Aqueducts were constructed to convey the water across the valley to the cliff-side and then along the cliff face into the cisterns. Part of one of the aqueducts is still extant and in fact forms the continuation of the footpath leading across the face of the ramp and round onto the cliff face (see the picture above). The walls of the channel and parts of its water-proofing plaster can still be seen. These ten cisterns had a maximum capacity of nearly 1,400,000 cu.ft. of water (approximately 40,000 cu. m.). It should be pointed out that this represents only part of the water storage capacity of Massada; on the eastern approaches near the cable-car station is yet another large cistern also capable of holding some 140,000 cu.ft of water, while at the southern end is perhaps the largest single reservoir on Massada, shown here:-

Below you can see a photograph of the southern (major) supply stream in full winter spate; no trickle of water this, as can be seen by the diminutive figure of a man standing above looking at the flood!

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