Titus roman camp Masada israel

The view from the walls of Masada: ruins of one of the eight camps the Romans built surrounding the mountain citadel, and from which they organized the building of a ramp and the eventual attack on Masada.

Many have heard the story of the siege of Masada, when Jews who escaped the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD retreated three years later to the stronghold on top of a remote desert mountain. The 400 meter high plateau was well supplied, as its use as a retreat had been anticipated. Nevertheless, the Romans were relentless.

The Roman legion, 8000 men, surrounded the mountain, built a rolling protective tower, and behind that tower began construction of a dirt and stone ramp across the valley and up to the gates of Masada. For months the defenders of Masada had to watch the persistent approach of the ramp, and the Romans.

And, as the Romans reached and breached the gate, the 960 Jews in the citadel all committed suicide to avoid the crucifixions or slavery.

The story of the Masada Jews is seen now as an inspiration for the current state of Israel. As one Israeli told me, “We know what happens if we surrender to an aggressor. Never again.”

The citadel was originally built by King Herod in the first century BCE as a retreat, an opulent palace, and as a possible refuge. A huge storage area dominates one end of the fortress, and it’s stores were used by the Jews when they holed up against the Romans. The site itself has a few remnants of Herod’s palace, including some walls which still show the original frescoes. The large storage areas are mostly preserved, as are the cisterns which captured and held drinking water.

There are buses which go to Masada, as well as any number of private tours you can take as a day trip from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

Titus ramp Masada israel

The ramp built by the Roman soldiers that led to the gate of the citadel. One the Romans breached the gate, the defenders committed suicide rather than be captured.

watchtower Masada israel

A lonely watchtower at Masada.

view palace of herod Masada israel

A view from Herod’s palace off the cliff to the Roman ramp. The ramp is still there (in the center of the photo,) and you can walk up it to enter the city.

dead sea view Masada israel

The view over the wall of Masada of the nearby Dead Sea and Judean Desert. You can get an idea of the scale of the desolate area surrounding Masada.

 

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