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Battlefield Detectives - Siege Of Masada

Masada (Hebrew: מצדה metsada, "fortress") is an ancient fortification in the Southern District of Israel situated on top of an isolated rock plateau, akin to a mesa. It is located on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea 20 km (12 mi) east of Arad.

Herod the Great built two palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE.

According to Josephus, the siege of Masada by Roman troops at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of 960 people, the Sicarii rebels and their families who were hiding there.

Masada is one of Israel's most popular tourist attractions.

Archaeology vs. Josephus

No Hasmonean buildings found

Yadin's team could detect no architectural remains of the Hasmonean period, the only findings firmly dated to this period being the numerous coins of Alexander Jannaeus. Researchers have speculated that the southwestern block of the Western Palace and the auxiliary buildings east and south of it could be Hasmonean, relying on similarities to the Twin Palaces at Jericho. However, their excavators could make no archaeological discovery able to support this presumption.

Inaccurate description

According to Shaye Cohen, archaeology shows that Josephus' account is "incomplete and inaccurate". Josephus only writes of one palace; archaeology reveals two. His description of the northern palace contains several inaccuracies, and he gives exaggerated figures for the height of the walls and towers. Josephus' account is contradicted by the "skeletons in the cave, and the numerous separate fires".

Historicity of mass suicide

According to Kenneth Atkinson, no "archaeological evidence that Masada's defenders committed mass suicide" exists.


I presume Josephus lied. I believe he turned in his compatriots to be either arrested and killed or ambushed and killed. For that he was rewarded with status and privilege by Rome.

Posted by George Freund on May 19, 2019 at 12:31 PM 192 Views