Masada (Hebrew מצדה, pronounced Metzada from מצודה, metzuda, "fortress") is an ancient
fortification in the Southern District of Israel, on top of an isolated rock plateau
on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Herod the Great
built palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31
BCE. The Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire towards the end of the First
Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Jewish rebels holed up there.
Masada is located 20 kilometres (12 mi) east of Arad.
Masada is Israel's most popular paid tourist attraction.
In 72, the Roman governor of Iudaea Lucius Flavius Silva headed the Roman legion
X Fretensis and laid siege to Masada. The Roman legion surrounded Masada, and built
a circumvallation wall and then a siege embankment against the western face of the
plateau, moving thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth to do so. Josephus does
not record any attempts by the Sicarii to counterattack the besiegers during this
process, a significant difference from his accounts of other sieges against Jewish
fortresses. He did record their raid before the siege on Ein-Gedi, a nearby Jewish
settlement, where the Sicarii allegedly killed 700 of its inhabitants.
According to Dan Gill, geological investigations in the early 1990s confirmed earlier
observations that the 375-foot (114 m) high assault ramp consisted mostly of a natural
spur of bedrock that required a ramp only 30 feet (9.1 m) high built atop it in order
to reach the Masada defenses. This discovery would diminish both the scope of the
construction and of the conflict between the Sicarii and Romans, relative to the
popular perspective in which the ramp was an epic feat of construction. The rampart
was complete in the spring of 73, after probably two to three months of siege, allowing
the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April
16. According to Josephus, when Roman troops entered the fortress, they discovered
that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze
and committed mass suicide.