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by Wayne Blank
Masada is located in southern Israel. The oblong mountain looms about 430 meters (1,400 feet) over the nearby Dead Sea. Its features are a curious contradiction: steep, craggy sides that made defense against ancient military forces relatively easy, with a large, flat, open summit.
Masada's history included construction and fortification during the times of the first Temple (about 900 BC), to work done by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (around 90 BC), to more work done by Herod The Great at the time of the birth of Christ. It has a long history.
By 70 AD the Roman forces had taken all of Israel. Jerusalem was once again conquered by a foreign army, and the Temple was destroyed. In the end, all that remained was the rag-tag garrison atop Masada. Nevertheless, the Romans were about to find that the last hold-outs were not going to go down without a fight.
On paper, the outcome of the struggle would normally have seemed relatively certain - the Roman Tenth Legion of nearly 15,000 experienced troops (see Roman Legions), against less than 1,000 Jews, many just ordinary people with no military experience.
It took the Romans almost two years to conquer Masada, at the cost of many casualties, and only then because they managed to construct a siege ramp up one of the slopes of the mountain to breach the wooden walls of the fortress with fire. The Romans were then in for one more surprise.
Upon entering the summit, the Romans found that the Jews inside, rather than accept defeat, had nearly all committed suicide. Only seven women and children, who had hidden in part of a cistern, chose to survive and surrender.
Fact Finder: Who was the Roman emperor at the time of Christ's death?