Saturday, 16 April 2011


According to my historical almanac, today marks the anniversary of the fall of the Jewish fortress at Masada to the Roman legions in AD73, which marked the conclusion of the first Jewish-Roman War, otherwise known as the Jewish Revolt. When the Jewish Revolt began in AD66, a group of rebels with surprise on their side took the Masada fortress from a Roman garrison; later, after the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, their number was further supplemented. This remnant group then occupied the fortress for a further three years, until finally succumbing to the Romans. When the Romans finally entered the fortress compound by means of a gigantic earthen ramp built up to the height of the fortress's walls, they found only masses of dead bodies, the Jews preferring death at the hands of their own to slavery under the Romans.

Older readers may remember an American TV miniseries dramatising this revolt which aired back in the 1980s, if memory serves correct. I remember that the Roman leaders were portrayed by Englishmen with impeccable upper class accents, while the Jews were all-American actors. No doubt the Jewish interpretation of the story as a tale of an oppressed people battling a heartless occupier resonated with American sensibilities. Curiously, visitors to the historical site today can view the remains of the imitation Roman ramp constructed by the film crew of the miniseries, which was filmed on location.

Click on the post title to visit the 'Jewish Virtual Library' article on Masada.

An alternative view of the heroic "Masada myth" can be found here:

Ironically, Masada was first fortified by Herod the Great in the 30sBC as a possible refuge in case of a revolt by his subjects. Just as ironically, but perhaps understandably, this site of a mass suicide has become in modern times a symbol of Jewish survival in the face of persecution. For example, there are a number of Jewish institutions in Australia, from schools to a hospital, which bear the name 'Masada'.

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