Aerial View of Masada Aerial View of Masada looking south. In the foreground is the northern section discussed by Netzer (1991)

Wikipedia - Andrew Shivta - SA 4.0


Names

Transliterated Name Language Name
Masada Hebrew מצדה
Hebrew מִדְבַּר יְהוּדָה
Arabic صحراء يهودا
Hamesad Aramaic
Marda Byzantine Greek
Masada Latin
Introduction

According to Josephus (in his book The Jewish War), the fortress at Masada was first built in Hasmonean times. Afterwards, King Herod built or rebuilt both a fortress and a refuge on the site. Masada's location, a veritable island atop steep walled cliffs, made it almost impregnable - until the Romans arrived. Again, according to Josephus, during the first Jewish war against Rome, the "Zealots" commandeered the fortress and were the last holdouts in that war when they collectively committed mass suicide rather than be taken captive in the spring of 74 CE. Afterwards, the Romans stationed a garrison on the site. The Romans eventually moved on and later a Byzantine Church and monastery were built there (Stern et al, 1993). After that, it was left abandoned and desolate until modern times. Masada may be subject to seismic amplification due to a topographic or ridge effect as well as a slope effect for those structures built adjacent to the site's steep cliffs.

Maps and Plans
Maps and Plans

  • Annotated Satellite Image (google) of the Masada from biblewalks.com
  • Model of Masada from biblewalks.com
  • Map of Masada from Wikipedia .
  • Model of Herod's Palace from biblewalks.com

Chronology
"Periods of Activity"

Period Start Date End Date Comments
Hasmonean The phase of Masada's existence about which very little is known as yet
Early Herodian building phase ca. 37 BCE ca. 30 BCE the proposed datessubdividing the Herodian period are tentative
Main Herodian building phase ca. 30 BCE ca. 20 BCE
Late Herodian building phase ca. 20 BCE ca. 4 BCE The reign of Archelaus (4 BCE -6 CE), Herod's son, should, for all practical purposes, be included in the Herodian period.
Procurators 6 CE 66 CE from the year 6 CE (the end of Archelaus' reign) to 66 CE, the year of Masada's occupation by the Zealots. This period includes the brief reign of Agrippa I in Judea from 41-44 CE.
Zealots 66 CE 73 CE from the arrival of the Zealots in 66 CE to the site's destruction ca. 73 CE
Post-Zealot 73 CE the occupation of Masada by the Roman garrison after it's destruction in ca. 73 CE
Byzantine during which Masada was occupied by a monastic community
Yadin (1965:30) indicates that the Byzantine occupation occurred after the earthquakes.

1st century BCE Earthquake

Although Karcz, Kafri, and Meshel (1977), listed Tilted walls, aligned fallen masonry, cracks, and collapse at Masada due to shocks in the 1st century BC and later, the 1st century BC part of this was rescinded in Karcz (2004) stating that the archeological evidence for the 31 BCE Josephus Quake is tenuous at best and Netzer (1991, 1997) in his detailed analysis of architectural complexes of Masada states that the signs of a possible seismic damage there are much later than 31 B.C.. Netzer (1991) only mentioned one earthquake between the 2nd and 4th centuries CE.

2nd - 4th century CE Earthquake

Netzer (1991:655) reports that a great earthquake [] destroyed most of the walls on Masada sometime during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE.

In an earlier publication, Yadin (1965:30) noted that the Caldarium was filled as a result of earthquakes by massive debris of stones. Yadin concluded that the finds on the floors of the bath-house represent the last stage in the stay of the Roman garrison at Masada. The stationing of a Roman Garrison after the conquest of Masada in 73 or 74 CE was reported by Josephus in his Book The Jewish War where he says in Book VII Chapter 10 Paragraph 1

WHEN Masada was thus taken, the general left a garrison in the fortress to keep it, and he himself went away to Caesarea; for there were now no enemies left in the country, but it was all overthrown by so long a war.
Yadin (1965:36)'s evidence for proof of the stationing of the Roman garrison follows:
We have clear proof that the bath-house was in use in the period of the Roman garrison - in particular, a number of "vouchers" written in Latin and coins which were found mainly in the ash waste of the furnace (locus 126, see p. 42). Of particular importance is a coin from the time of Trajan, found in the caldarium, which was struck at Tiberias towards the end of the first century C.E.*
The latest coin discovered from this occupation phase was found in one of the northern rooms of Building VII and dates to 110/111 CE (Yadin, 1965:119)**. Yadin (1965:119) interpreted this to mean that, this meant that the Roman garrison stayed at Masada at least till the year 111 and most probably several years later. Russell (1985) used this 110/111 coin as a terminus post quem for the Incense Road Earthquake while using a dedicatory inscription at Petra for a terminus ante quem of 114 CE.

Footnotes

*Yadin (1965:118) dated this coin to 99/100 CE - This would be coin #3808 - Plate 77 - Locus 104 - Caldrium 104 - Square 228/F/3

**perhaps this is coin #3786 which dates to 109/110 CE - Plate 77 - Locus 157 - Building 7 Room 157 - Square 208/A/10

Seismic Effects
2nd - 4th century CE Earthquake

  • Potential Seismic Effects
Location Source Date Effect(s)
Room 162 in the SW corner of Building No. 7 Netzer (1991:24)
  • The rock ceiling of a cisternpresumably collapsed in an earthquake pulling down much of the floor of the room above. The surviving features of the room probably date to the Zealot period
Storeroom Complex Netzer (1991:39)
  • The Storeroom Complex, more than any other part of Masada, [] provided the most graphic evidence - even before excavation had begun - of the earthquake that destroyed
    most of the walls of Masada.
  • In Storerooms 131 and 132, for example, one can actually count six or seven fallen courses
  • In Storeroom 131 on top of the debris one can discern some seven fallen courses, most probably collapsed from the western wall. The other unexcavated storerooms reveal a similar picture
Tepidarium 9 Netzer (1991:166)
  • The tepidarium was full of debris from the upper story, including fragments of a Corinthian capital painted in white and gilt. Owing to the pressure of the debris (perhaps also because of an earthquake), the eastern wall of the room was found leaning on its side
Caldarium Netzer (1991:88-89)
  • The caldarium was roofed over by a stone barrel-vaulted ceiling boasting the largest span of any vault or arch on Masada — 6.7 m. The remains of this vault were found mostly in the rubble cleared from the room; in a few cases whole courses of the vault fell en bloc, without disintegrating
    (see Ill. 145 ). The vault apparently collapsed during the violent earthquake that wreaked havoc with the buildings on Masada.
Columbarium Tower 725 Netzer (1991:372)
  • The tower was ruined either gradually or as a result of some catastrophe, such as an earthquake, with the beams of the ceilings falling to the floor.
Cistern 1063 - Northwestern section of casemate wall Netzer (1991:391)
  • After the ceiling had collapsed (presumably in an earthquake), debris and earth filled the entire cistern. In the debris the excavators found stones from the vault, as well as various architectural elements such as column drums and cornices. The debris also contained a large quantity of material finds. Altogether 15 coins were found in this cistern.
  • JW: Possible Slope effect as this is adjacent to a very steep slope
Room (Tower) 1260 - Southwestern section of casemate wall Netzer (1991:453-454)
  • The room contained an enormous amount of debris, consisting of large stones, up to a height of some 3.0 m above floor level. At a level of ca. 1.0 m above the floor parts of a human skeleton were uncovered, consisting mainly of the skull and legs. Theoretically speaking, these could be the remains of a person who happened to be on Masada during the earthquake that caused the most extensive destruction on the mount.
Walls of Masada Netzer (1991:655)
  • The great earthquake which destroyed most of the walls of Masada sometime during the second to fourth centuries.

Intensity Estimates
2nd - 4th century CE Earthquake

Effect Description Intensity
Collapsed Walls
  • The Storeroom Complex, more than any other part of Masada, [] provided the most graphic evidence - even before excavation had begun - of the earthquake that destroyed most of the walls of Masada.
  • In Storerooms 131 and 132, for example, one can actually count six or seven fallen courses
  • In Storeroom 131 on top of the debris one can discern some seven fallen courses, most probably collapsed from the western wall. The other unexcavated storerooms reveal a similar picture
VIII +
Collapsed Walls The tepidarium was full of debris from the upper story, including fragments of a Corinthian capital painted in white and gilt. VIII +
Fallen columns The tepidarium was full of debris from the upper story, including fragments of a Corinthian capital painted in white and gilt. V +
Penetrative fractures in masonry blocks the eastern wall of the room [Tepidarium 9] was found leaning on its side VI +
Collapsed Vaults The caldarium was roofed over by a stone barrel-vaulted ceiling boasting the largest span of any vault or arch on Masada — 6.7 m. The remains of this vault were found mostly in the rubble cleared from the room; in a few cases whole courses of the vault fell en bloc, without disintegrating (see Ill. 145 ). The vault apparently collapsed during the violent earthquake that wreaked havoc with the buildings on Masada. VIII +
Collapsed Walls The room contained an enormous amount of debris, consisting of large stones, up to a height of some 3.0 m above floor level. At a level of ca. 1.0 m above the floor parts of a human skeleton were uncovered, consisting mainly of the skull and legs. Theoretically speaking, these could be the remains of a person who happened to be on Masada during the earthquake that caused the most extensive destruction on the mount. VIII +
Collapsed Walls The great earthquake which destroyed most of the walls of Masada sometime during the second to fourth centuries. VIII +
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224). Masada may be subject to seismic amplification due to a topographic or ridge effect as well as a slope effect for those structures built adjacent to the site's steep cliffs.

Notes and Further Reading
References