The ancient fortress of Masada was built on the ruins of a palace built by Herod the Great. Legions from the Roman Empire captured Masada in 73 CE after Jewish rebels called the Sicarii held out for three years.
Photograph by James L. Stanfield, National Geographic

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  • On April 16, 73, legions of the Roman Empire penetrated the mountaintop fortress of Masada, in the Roman province of Judaea (what is today Israel). The defenders of Masada, a group of Jewish rebels called the Sicarii, had held off the Roman Empire for three years. The Fall of Masada marked the end of the rebellion known as the Great Jewish Revolt, but became a powerful symbol of Jewish resistance and resilience.
    Residents of Judaea, mostly Jews, resisted the politics involved in being a Roman province. There were religious tensions between Jewish and polytheistic Romans. Judaeans also had to pay taxes they objected to. The Roman Empire responded by sacking Jerusalem, the capital of the province, and imposing strict laws in the region.
    The Sicarii evacuated to the hilltop fortress of Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada was originally constructed as a palace, but had been used as a fort for years. After three years, the Sicarii realized they could not resist Roman attacks, especially after the legions began building a ramp to the fortress. When the Romans reached Masada, all but a few of the Sicarii had ritually killed each other, allegedly insisting that “a glorious death is preferable to a life of infamy.”
    After Israel’s independence in 1948 and for many years afterward, Israeli troops who had completed their basic training took their patriotic oaths at the fortress, saying “Masada shall not fall again.” 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    alleged Adjective

    supposed or presumed.

    capital Noun

    city where a region's government is located.

    Encyclopedic Entry: capital
    evacuate Verb

    to leave or remove from a dangerous place.

    fortress Noun

    protected place. Also called a fort.

    infamy Noun

    very bad reputation.

    Jewish Adjective

    having to do with the religion or culture of people tracing their ancestry to the ancient Middle East and the spiritual leaders Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    legion Noun

    ancient Roman military unit, consisting of between 3,000 and 6,000 infantry and cavalry troops.

    palace Noun

    large home or mansion, often the home of a leader or dignitary.

    patriotic Adjective

    supporting and celebrating a nation and its people.

    penetrate Verb

    to push through.

    politics Noun

    art and science of public policy.

    polytheistic Adjective

    having a belief in many gods and goddesses.

    province Noun

    division of a country larger than a town or county.

    Encyclopedic Entry: province
    rebel noun, adjective

    person who resists the authority of government.

    rebellion Noun

    organized resistance to an authority.

    resilience Noun

    ability to recover from something.

    resist Verb

    to oppose or confront.

    revolt Noun

    rebellion or uprising.

    ritual Noun

    series of customs or procedures for a ceremony, often religious.

    Roman Empire Noun

    (27 BCE-476 CE) period in the history of ancient Rome when the state was ruled by an emperor.

    sack Verb

    to capture, loot, and largely destroy a city or other targeted area.

    strict Adjective

    always or almost always following limits, rules, or regulations.

    symbol Noun

    something used to represent something else.

    tax Noun

    money or goods citizens provide to government in return for public services such as military protection.