Masada (Hebrew מצדה, pronounced Metzada (help·info), from מצודה, metzuda, "fortress") is the name for a site of
ancient palaces and fortifications in the South District of Israel on top of an isolated rock plateau, or horst, on
the eastern edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. After the First Jewish-Roman War a siege of the
fortress by troops of the Roman Empire led to the mass suicide of the Sicarii rebels. It is located about 20 km east
The cliffs on the east edge of Masada are about 1,300 feet (400 m) high and the cliffs on the west are about 300
feet (90 m) high; the natural approaches to the cliff top are very difficult. The top of the plateau is flat and
rhomboid-shaped, about 1,800 feet (550 m) by 900 feet (275 m). There was a casemate wall around the top of the
plateau totaling 4,300 feet (1.3 km) long and 12 feet (3.7 m) thick, with many towers, and the fortress included
storehouses, barracks, an armory, the palace, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater. Three narrow, winding
paths led from below up to fortified gates.
According to Josephus, a first-century Jewish Roman historian, Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31
BCE as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. In 66 CE, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War
against the Roman Empire, a group of Jewish extremists called the Sicarii overcame the Roman garrison of Masada.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, additional members of the Sicarii and their families fled Jerusalem and
settled on the mountaintop, using it as a base for harassing the Romans.
The works of Josephus are the sole record of events that took place during the siege. According to modern
interpretations of Josephus, the Sicarii were an extremist splinter group of the Zealots who were equally
antagonistic to both Romans and other Jewish groups. The Zealots (according to Josephus), in contrast to the
Sicarii, carried the main burden of the rebellion, which opposed Roman rule of Judea (as the Roman province of
Iudaea, its Latinized name).
The Sicarii on Masada were commanded by Elazar ben Ya'ir (who may have been the same person as Eleazar ben Simon),
and in 70 CE they were joined by additional Sicarii and their families that were expelled from Jerusalem by the
Jewish population with whom the Sicarii were in conflict shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second
Archaeology indicates that they modified some of the structures they found there; this includes a building which was
modified to function as a synagogue facing Jerusalem (in fact, the building may originally have been one), although
it did not contain a mikvah or the benches found in other early synagogues. It is one of the oldest synagogues in
Israel. Remains of two mikvahs were found elsewhere on Masada...