Friday 21 March 2014


First view of Masada...

Another view of Masada

And yet another, from the foot of the Roman ramp

The Roman ramp

Herod's plaster - fresh as if it were done yesterday

Masada - for its geography, landscape, beauty, colour, tragedy, after the glorious days of Herod the Great.

Herod faced the Parthians at what later became Herodion and overcame them against all odds. Even Josephus, who has no sympathy for Herod, says that he was saved only by divine intervention. Herod never forgot the place, and that is why he built his mausoleum there - the unbelievably magnificent Herodion. From Herodion he went to Masada with his mother and Mariamne, as well as a younger brother, and from there to Petra to ask for financial help with which to ransom his brother Fasael who was being held prisoner by the Parthians in Galilee. The King of Petra, however, refused; and Fasael committed suicide by banging his head on his prison wall.

Herod then went to Egypt, to ask for help from the Jewish community of Alexandria. While he was there, Cleopatra invited him to dinner and to spend the night with him, but Herod, not trusting her, refused, and managed to flee to Anatolia by the last ship. From Anatolia, he went on to Rome, where eventually he obtained the kingship.

What survives of Herod’s construction is still magnificent: the northern and the southern palaces, the huge water cisterns half way up the hill, with the arrangement to get water from the catchment area above, the baths – all interspersed with poorer constructions from the Sicari who occupied it and who chose to die rather than fall into the hands of the Romans who were at the gates. The extraordinary Roman ramp is still there, after all these years, as are the stone boundaries of the 8 Roman camps and the circumvallation that the Romans put up to prevent anyone from escaping from the fort. And also a smallish Byzantine church: the monks were the last inhabitants of Masada. We went up from the Roman ramp side, and came down from the Snake Path. Those who wanted climbed down also to the extraordinary northern palaces on their three levels.

Perhaps the most poignant remains from the Sicari are the ten ostraca, with names: probably the lots cast by Eleazar ben Yair to see who would have to do the killing of all the others, before dying themselves.  

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