December 12, 2005 at 5:23 pm #97
I saw yet another fascinating show on the History Channel last night on Roman weaponry and engineering. One of the things discussed was the Roman battle against the Jews at the plateau fortress of Masada. My question deals with how we are able to know about what went on in the fortress right before the Jews commit mass suicide to prevent the Romans from capturing them. After a lengthy siege, the Romans built a long ramp made out of earth that stretched up to the fortress and allowed them to bring their battering ramps to smash the doors. But when the Romans do this, they enter a dead city as they discover the bodies of the Jewish warriors. We get our information on what happened the night before they entered from the writer Josephus, who says that the Jews chose 10 people kill the others (I think after picking straws), who in turn had one of them chosen to kill the other nine before committing suicide. But unless Josephus was inside, how could he know exactly how this took place?
One thing mentioned on the show was that it is believed that a few women and their children survived Masada by hiding in a water cistern. Does anyone know anything about them? Are they the link to how Josephus got his insider information of Masada?December 13, 2005 at 6:29 am #4685DonaldBakerParticipant
Just like with all ancient historians, we have to take their histories with a grain of salt. They were not objective and scientific about what they wrote. They had a singular purpose for writing their histories….for Thucydides he thought he was writing about the most momentus war in history, for Polybius; he was writing about the most prolific empire that ever was, and for Josephus, he was writing for the legacy of his people in the wake of Roman oppression. We just cannot verify all of the details these old historians jotted down. What we can do is recapture the imagery and emotion from their writings, which arguably was more important to them in the first place. 😉December 13, 2005 at 7:08 am #4686
True, and a good thing to remember. The History Channel program made it seem like Josephus’ account was factual, though I suppose it could have been more representational.
It's possibly Josephus' source could have been from written testimony that the Jews wrote down before they killed themselves, though that might be likely or unlikely, depending on the way you look at it. If they only had one night between the time they decided to kill themselves and the time the Romans broke through the gate, would they have written down the procedure of their sad deaths?December 15, 2005 at 5:45 am #4687DonaldBakerParticipant
A bigger question in my mind is whether or not Titus and the Roman Legions destroyed the evidence to cover up their barbarity in order to squash the Masada defenders’ legacy? It would have been in Rome’s interest to kill the heroicism that Masada represented. I’m sure they didn’t want a future Joseph Maccabeus to arise from the ruins of Masada.December 17, 2005 at 2:58 am #4688
Interesting question. Plutarch discussed how religion was used in Rome not out of belief in some deity, but because it was known how powerful and unifying of a force it could be for the masses. Likewise, it would have been known to the Romans how religion – and religious persecution – could be a rallying cry or a call to arms for more of the religious. Because of the difficulty that a small band (~990) of Jews posed at Masada (the siege lasted 6 months or more), the Romans wouldn’t have wanted to repeat those events. A cover up would be a natural political move, even though I know of no evidence that supports it.February 19, 2006 at 6:54 pm #4689inputinkParticipant
This is not my field of interest but if people want to find out more information on this then they may want to look up Yigael Yadin who excataved the site in the 1960s: –
I found this out on the Encarta Encylcopedia...
"Excavated by the Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin from 1963 to 1965, Masada is both a popular tourist attraction and an Israeli national shrine. The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001."April 21, 2020 at 5:12 pm #58744
…for Josephus, he was writing for the legacy of his people in the wake of Roman oppression.
Apparently, Josephus had a double angle. While a Jew, he was also writing his account of the siege of Jerusalem at the behest of the Flavian family (he became sponsored by the family) which wanted to establish legitimacy in the wake of this new dynasty (Vespasian was the first after Nero’s death ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty). Making the Roman war against the Jews as monumental as possible would have enhanced the might of the Flavians in the eyes of Roman readers.
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