Most historical information about Masada comes from the 1st-century Jewish Roman historian Flavius Josephus. According to Josephus the site was first fortified by Alexander Jannaeus, who lived sometime between 106-75 BCE. The second occupant, Herod the Great, arrived at Masada with his family in 40 BCE following a power-struggle that resulted from the death of his father, Antipater. Herod left his family, his brother Joseph, and 800 men at Masada to defend it against a siege made by Antigonus while he made his way to Petra.
Whoa! Jimmy and I made our way to Petra also while we were in the neighborhood! You don't want to miss this stunning red-rock Nabataean wonder. Now, back to King Herod.
With the threat diminished, Herod spent years transforming Masada into a luxurious fortress. Seems Herod was a bit paranoid when it came to his throne and his safety; he even had several of his own family members killed.
According to Josephus, “Herod furnished this fortress as a refuge for himself, suspecting a twofold of danger: peril on the one hand from the Jewish people, lest they should depose him and restore their former dynasty to power; the greater and more serious from Cleopatra, queen of Egypt”. And you thought all the tensions in the Middle East were a new phenomenon.
We toured the archeological remains of King Herod’s fortress, which provided evidence his palace once included a Roman style bathhouse,
It took Roman General Flavius Silva three months, 10,000 soldiers, thousands of Jewish prisoners of war, and a gigantic assault ramp on the western face of the mountain to breech the walls of the fortress following a deluge of flaming torches and missile-throwing machines called ballistae.
Historian Josephus also wrote of Eliezar’s stirring speech to the defenders with the end in sight; and of the ten men, chosen by lot, destined to kill all the others; of one of the ten destined to kill the other nine, and then himself.
Despite Josephus attributing his historical account to two women who survived the mass suicide by hiding with five children in the underground aqueducts, archaeological evidence contradicts his version of history. Therein lies the mystery.
The only other inhabitants of Masada were Byzantine monks during the fifth or sixth century, CE (Current Era). Thereafter, Masada was forgotten, until two American travelers identified the desert fortress in 1838. The first complete, organized archaeological excavation was conducted by Yigael Yadin in the 1960s.