Five Unique Facts about Masada
Masada is one of the most fascinating sites to tour in Israel. It combines enchanting desert landscapes, rare archaeological findings, and a dramatic and tragic story. Two thousand years ago, hundreds of Jewish rebels and refugees fled to Masada, escaping from the Romans, and eventually chose death over enslavement. Below are five unique facts about Masada that demonstrate further its significance:
1. Masada Bears the Best-Preserved Remains of a Battle from Roman Times
Even before the excavations, the remains of the Roman siege were well visible. The Romans built eight camps, a circumvallation wall with watchtowers, and a ramp facing Masada’s western side. The size of the camps suggests a force of 6,000 men or more. That means that the tenth legion may have brought auxiliary forces. It is also possible that Jewish captives from Jerusalem were kept in some of the camps. First-century Jewish Historian Josephus states that Jewish captives were used to bring supplies. Archaeologist Amnon Ben-Tor suggests that the force needs 26,000 liters of water and 16 tons of food every day.
2. Masada is a Significant Symbol for the Zionist Movement
Due to its dramatic, although the tragic story, the Zionist movement adopted Masada as a symbol of Jewish resistance and struggle for independence. Youth groups would climb to the top and recite, “Masada will never fall again!”. During the Second World War, the Jews feared a Nazi invasion of the region and made a defense plan which they called “Masada on the Carmel.” After the establishment of the State of Israel, Army units conducted some of their ceremonies on Masada, and Israeli school groups still visit the site often.
3. Masada was the First Site in Israel UNESCO Recognized as a World Heritage Site
In 2001, UNESCO announced that Masada is a “World Heritage Site”. This was the first time UNESCO recognized a site in Israel as such. Among the reasons behind this declaration – “The tragic events during the last days of the Jewish refugees who occupied the fortress and palace of Masada make it a symbol both of Jewish cultural identity and, more universally, of the continuing human struggle between oppression and liberty.”
Since then, 15 additional sites in Israel have been recognized as World Heritage sites, spanning from prehistorical sites to modern Tel-Aviv.
A 2,000-Year-Old Date Seed Found in Masada was Successfully Planted
In the 1960s, a team from Hebrew University conducted intensive excavations at Masada and made many discoveries. Among other things, the expedition found seeds of different trees. Dr. Solowey later studied a seed of a date tree and geminated it. To her surprise, in 2005, it sprouted into a young date palm. Initially thought to be botanically impossible, the old-new tree became world headlines and was given the name “Metushelach.” Next, Dr. Solowey sprouted six more ancient seeds, one of which proved to be a female, so it was pollinated with Metushelach. In 2021, the first fruit of these world-famous trees was finally harvested! The date’s flavor resembles the Moroccan Medjool, a semi-dry with honey tones.
5. Masada is the Most Significant and Influential Archaeological Site in Israel
Masada’s excavations are significant because they shed light on a critical period in Jewish history and validate the historical account by archaeological means. The renowned archaeologist Prof. Yigael Yadin, a former chief of staff of the Israeli Army, led these excavations. He recruited a team of students and volunteers, and funds to sponsor the dig. The excavations were unprecedented in scale, and the finds were often media headlines. Many of the students were so moved by the experience that they became archaeologists as well: A. Ben-Tor, D. Ussishkin, D. Bahat, G. Forester, E. Netzer, Y. Tsafrir, M. Kokhavi, A. Kempinski, Y. Shiloh, Z. Meshel, M. Ben-Dov and more.