How Did the Romans Conquer Masada

king herod palaceIn 66AD the Great Jewish Revolution began; a group of Jewish zealots called Sicarii captured the isolated fortress on top of Masada and settled there. Following the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple more refugees arrived at Masada.  Having captured Jerusalem the Romans turned their sights to the last Jewish outpost, Masada.

Lucius Flavius Silva led the 10th Roman Legion with the aim of scaling Masada and capturing the mountain top fortress and the last remaining free Jews. First the leader would have surveyed the surroundings, chosen the weakest point at which to attack and then ordered the artisans and carpenters who traveled with the troops to construct their large weapons. The slaves would have been told to build a circumvallation wall of stones and rock. This was to make sure no enemies escaped and to give the Romans cover.  The Romans set up eight camps at the foot of Masada for the 10,000-15,000 soldiers, slaves and auxiliary forces.

The Romans began by trying to starve the Jews down off Masada, but when that didn’t work they turned to their arsenal of weapons. The Ballista was used like a large crossbow powered by twisted ropes which fired large stones approximately 300 meters. The Catapulta device had a wooden frame and a long arm which would fling stones or fire bolts at the enemy. The Grapple was a large metal hook used to pull down walls. The Onager was like a large sling shot. The Wild Ass flung stones from a basket; required 8 men to operate it and a solid earth or brick base to give the apparatus stability. Vitruvius, a Roman author of architecture and engineering, tells us that there were 10 Wild Ass weapons for each legion and that stones as heavy as 163kg were used at Masada.

For three years the Jewish zealots on Masada’s plateau managed to hold off the Roman troops. The final and successful weapon which the Romans employed was the battering ram. The battering ram would have been made of a tree trunk, tipped with iron and hung on chains to be swung back and forth. In order to get the contraption close enough and high enough up to the casement walls they first had to build a ramp up to the wall on the western face of Masada. The ramp was made of earth and was constructed by Jewish slaves. The Romans rightly thought the zealots would not fire at their own people. In 73AD the Roman battering ram breached the casement walls which Herod had constructed around Masada.

Israel flag on the top of Mount Masada Once the Romans had eventually breached the walls they were faced with a new inner wall which the Jews had hastily constructed. The Romans set fire to the wooden baulks which supported the wall and luckily the wind was in their favor and the wall came down. The Romans entered the fortress, armed with their swords only to find that the 960 Jews had chosen to take their own lives rather than be captured.

We have most of our information about what happened between the Romans and zealots from the writings of Roman-era historian Josephus Flavius and from archeological discoveries at Masada. Visitors to Masada can still see the Roman ramp on the western face.


mini-IMG_3788 mini-DSC_0392 mini-IMG_3662 mini-IMG_3722 mini-IMG_3809 mini-DSC_0359 Guided tour on mount Masada mini-DSC_0356 mini-IMG_3653 mini-DSC_0402 mini-DSC_0395 mini-IMG_3684 Masada ruins

Bein Harim Tours LTD, Hanamal St. 36, Tel Aviv, Israel 61131, P.O.B: 13221, Tel: 972-3-5422000 Fax: 972-3-5422001