Legendary site of the last stand in the First Jewish Revolt against Rome
Masada made the news recently—but not for the usual reasons. The extraordinary archaeological site and iconic symbol of Jewish freedom has most recently received publicity because U.S. President Donald Trump wanted to land his helicopter on top of it, but was denied permission to do so. West of the Dead Sea, Masada is a flat-topped mountain in the Judean Desert. Trump had been hoping to visit and make a speech at the UNESCO World Heritage site during his recent trip to Israel. Upon learning that he could not land his helicopter on Masada’s summit, he chose to forgo the excursion entirely, which is unfortunate because Masada is well worth the visit.
King Herod the Great built a lavish palace on Masada’s summit in the first century B.C.E. The Hasmoneans had fortified the site during the second century B.C.E., but it was Herod the Great who transformed the desert fortress into an oasis, replete with Roman bathhouses and swimming pools.
Masada is perhaps best known for the role it played in the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. During this revolt, Jewish Zealots took refuge at Masada—an ideal location because of its remoteness and impregnable fortifications. Masada was the last Jewish stronghold during the war, and when it finally fell in 73 C.E., the First Jewish Revolt came to an end. The Jewish historian Josephus reports that instead of surrendering to the Romans, the Jewish Zealots committed mass suicide—one final defiant act. Scholars have questioned the accuracy of this account, but the legend lives on.
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