Food of the rebels on Masada?


Masada ruins
In the years 37 – 34BC Herod had his mountain fortress turned into a luxurious fortified palace complete with all the amenities a royal could want. At any one time there could be more than a hundred people on Masada and they needed to be fed. Excavation uncovered storerooms in the North Palace. In all there were 29 large 27 meter long storerooms, the remains of which we can still see today. These storerooms were used to hold essential provisions. Herod had the store rooms kept well stocked in case of siege. Being wealthy and powerful Herod could afford to have the finest cuisine imported to Masada. Excavation of the storerooms showed hundreds of clay pots which were used to store food. The excavation conducted by Prof. Yigael Yadin on Masada uncovered the remains of grains, olive pits, fruits, nuts and seeds. The dry desert climate could have contributed to the survival of the food. There were labels on some of the food jars reading fish, meat, beans, dried figs and fig cake.
When the zealots captured Masada from a small Roman garrison stationed there (66AD) they found that much of Herod’s food supply remained in the storerooms but at that point it would have been almost 100 years old. It is doubtful if any of the provisions were still edible. Yet Roman Historian Josephus wrote that the Jews found in Herod’s storerooms “a mass of corn amply sufficient to last for years, abundance of wine and oil, besides every variety of pulses and piles of dates.” It is possible that they did find supplied but that they were not left there by Herod but rather by the later Roman garrison which was stationed there from 6AD to 66AD. If the Jews had not found supplies already on Masada they could have brought supplies with them or gone out on raids of nearby settlements in Ein Gedi to bring back supplies. When the Romans took Masada (74AD) the zealots decided to commit mass suicide rather than be captured and tortured or killed by the Romans. Roman historian Josephus wrote that the Jews chose to leave the food supply intact to show the Romans that they had chosen to die of their own free will and not for lack of provisions.
Josephus also suggests that the Jewish rebels could have cultivated their own vegetables on the top of Masada where the soil was more fertile than the desert valley below. Ostraca (clay shards with writing on them) were found on Masada attesting to the importance of bread during the occupation by the Jewish rebels. The inscriptions describe large quantities of loaves being baked on Masada and ovens were indeed found in the rebel’s dwellings on Masada. A large Roman oven was also uncovered on Masada; this would have supplied Herod and his court with bread.



 

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