The first edifices at Masada were built in the period of Hasmonean rulers of Judea (141-37 BC). Independence from the Ptolemaic tyrants had been won and the Jewish people formed their own dynasty of kings. One of them, Alexander Jannaeus who ruled over Judea from 103 to 76 BC, probably built the first buildings at the site.
However, most of construction at Masada was carried out by King Herod the Great. He ruled from 37 to 4 BC. Almost seventy years later, the governor of Judea Flavius Silva conquered and destroyed Masada. The place was abandoned and forgotten until it was rediscovered again by the American scholar Edward Robinson, in the 19th century.
During the time of King Herod, Masada was not occupied in summer months. Herod resided in his other palaces in summer located in Jerusalem, Caesarea, Jericho and Herodian, Caesarea Philippi (Banias) and other locations.
When the King was elsewhere, Masada housed a small garrison of soldiers and guards who took care of the palace and guarded Herod's property. They also ensured the water cisterns on the southern side of the cliff and below the road called The Snake Path were filled with water to the brim. How did they do that? They used mules to carry large leather pouches of water to the cisterns. The military garrison also guarded the entrance to the gate which was situated at the end of The Snake Path.
King Herod stayed at Masada for several weeks every winter. For him, it served as a kind of winter resort and a place of refuge in times of danger. Many soldiers and slaves arrived prior to his visit to prepare for Herod's coming.
The swimming pool was filled with water, the furnace of the bathhouse was heated, and delicious meals cooked in advance. Normally quiet throughout the year, Masada was instantly transformed into a thriving center of activity upon the arrival of the King.
In the year 40 BC, the Parthians invaded Judea. One of their aims was to depose King Herod and bring to the power 'their own' king, Mattathias Antogonus, who was a rightful heir to the throne from the Hasmonean dynasty.
Herod, 'feeling the heat' fled the city together with his family members including his mother Cypros, his brother Joseph, his sister Salome and his future wife Miriamne, the last Hasmonean princess. Close to the village Tekoa, the royal family was attacked but miraculously survived. Later, Herod commemorated this site by another grandiose edifice and called it Herodion.
Leaving his family under protection of the small garrison of soldiers at Masada, Herod continued to Petra and eventually he arrived in Rome. In the meantime, Herod's family, surrounded by the enemies, faced with a severe water shortage. Their lives were spared by a sudden rainfall which filled the cisterns. After Herod’s return, he had several more cisterns built to ensure adequate water supply.
Seventy years later when the Zealots seized the fortress, day to day life was completely different. The luxury of Herod's facilities did not matter to hundreds of refugees who flooded the fortress to escape the Romans; they only wanted to survive. They adapted the palaces and water installations for their practical and religious needs without consideration for beauty and comfort. For instance, on top of the colorful mosaic of the Western Palace they built rough constructions for washing their feet before use of the ritual bath. This and other finds from the period when Masada was occupied by the Zealots sent a clear message of their attitude to Rome and everything Roman.
In the year 73BC, the 960 Jewish zealots living at the top chose to die at their own hands rather than to be captured by the Romans, leaving behind a saga of courage, heroism, and martyrdom.
to be continued...