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Old April 7th, 2012, 04:55 PM   #1
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The Siege of Masada.


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In AD 66 the province of Judaea rebelled against the Roman Empire. One extremist force known as the Sicarii - from the curved flick-knife they used - infiltrated and captured the fortress of Masada, built by Herod the Great as a place of refugee.
Despite initial success, the Jewish rebellion was supressed in several years of heavy fighting that eventually led to the storming of Jerusalem in AD 70. Only a reduced numbers of strongholds continued to hold out, and the last of these to resist was Masada.
In AD 73 Flavius Silva (meaning the blond - Flavius), governor of Judaea, led an army against the fortress.


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1) Forces

The Romans: Legio X Fretensis and auxiliary units. Both the legion and the auxiliaries were probably severely understrengh and mustered little more than 5.000 men.

The Sicarii: around 1000 men led by the famous Eleazar Ben Yair. A part of his force was of non-combatants such as women and the elderly.

2) The battle

Masada is situated in a remarkably strong position on a steep-sided, rocky hill, accessible only by a difficult pathway on the eastern side.
It had granaries and deep cisterns cut in the rocks to store water from the rare rainstorms of the area. There was also space for cultivation of crops on the summit.
Due to its supplies, the fortress could resist from several years of siege hence the Romans realized they could not starve the enemy into submission. In other words, the prospects were dare for assalting such a postion would be extremely hard.

Since a direct attack up the eastern path seemed impracticable, Flavius ordered his men to build a massive siege ramp against the sheer western side of the hill.


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The sheer sides rise 600 feet on the western face and 820 feet on the eastern face; the Dead Sea lies 1,300 feet below.
To prevent escape, nd as reminder that they were now under siege, the Romans built a line of circumvallation around the hill, strengthened it with six forts nd a number of towers.

(Remnants of a fort just outside the circumvallation line)
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As soon as the ramp was completed, a siege tower carrying a battering ram ascended it a made a breach in the fortress's walls.
Josephus writes that when the ramp was finally complete, the Romans assaulted the fortress with rams, having previously bombarded the walls with their ballistae.
The Sicarii could do little to stop the assault, but as the walls began to crumble they hastily built a wooden wall behind the breach and filled the intervening space with dirt and rubble. That delaying tactic lasted until the Romans set the back wall afire.
Before the final assult on the next day, the Sicarii killed their families and committed suicide*.

3) Outcome.


The Jewish rebellion was over nd the Romans had delivered a warning to the other provincials also the Romans captured Herod's armory with weaponry for 10,000 soldiers.
The event has become a matter of some controversy among Jews. Some embraced it as a heroic last stand of Jewish nationalists who chose death over slavery in their struggle against an aggressive Empire. Others see it as a case of Jewish radicals refusing to compromise and instead reduced the Jewish population by suicide and murder of their families, both prohibited by Rabbinic Judaism.

*Upon burning their possessions, each man was to kill his own wife and children. Then, ten men chosen by lot would kill the men and one of the ten would kill the other nine. The lone survivor would then kill himself, being the only one who would suffer a horrific afterlife for committing the sin of suicide.

SOURCES:

Ben-Yehuda, Nachman. Sacrificing Truth: Archaeology and the Myth of Masada, Humanity Books, 2002.
Duncan B. Campbell, "Capturing a desert fortress: Flavius Silva and the siege of Masada".
Goldsworthy, A. The Complete Roman Army (2007)
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Old April 7th, 2012, 05:13 PM   #2

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Jewish civilians outnumbered 5:1 by a professional Roman army. No contest.

It was an impressive campaign, but a terrible victory.
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Old April 7th, 2012, 05:13 PM   #3

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A fine example both of Roman perseverance and ingenuity (almost as impressive as the Siege of Tyre) and of the insanities of religious fundamentalism.
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Old April 7th, 2012, 05:15 PM   #4

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Good thread; definitely one of the more tragic episodes in ancient history. Masada remains an ultimate symbol of Jewish independence and resistance in Israel.
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Old April 7th, 2012, 05:20 PM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah View Post
Good thread; definitely one of the more tragic episodes in ancient history. Masada remains an ultimate symbol of Jewish independence and resistance in Israel.
IIRC, until recently, new recruits to the Israeli Armed Forces were sworn in at Masada.
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Old April 7th, 2012, 05:29 PM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by pixi666 View Post
IIRC, until recently, new recruits to the Israeli Armed Forces were sworn in at Masada.
You are correct; this custom was first started by Moshe Dayan.

Masada is also home to a museum and the remnants of a 5th Century Christian Church.
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Old April 7th, 2012, 05:31 PM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by pixi666 View Post
A fine example both of Roman perseverance and ingenuity (almost as impressive as the Siege of Tyre) and of the insanities of religious fundamentalism.
We really can not fault them for not wanting to be conquered.
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Old April 7th, 2012, 05:54 PM   #8
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Ty for the replies.

I want to point out that the event has become a matter of some controversy among Jews. Some embraced it as a heroic last stand of Jewish nationalists who chose death over slavery in their struggle against an aggressive Empire. Others see it as a case of Jewish radicals refusing to compromise and instead reduced the Jewish population by suicide and murder of their families, both prohibited by Rabbinic Judaism.
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Old April 7th, 2012, 05:55 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah View Post
You are correct; this custom was first started by Moshe Dayan.

Masada is also home to a museum and the remnants of a 5th Century Christian Church.
Interesting. I have a friend who was Bar Mitzvahed at Masada, which, as places go for being Bar Mitzvahed, is pretty good.

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We really can not fault them for not wanting to be conquered.
But slaughtering the women and children?
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Old April 8th, 2012, 01:14 AM   #10

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But slaughtering the women and children?
The alternative? Children enslaved and women raped and then enslaved or killed? We know the Romans all too well.
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