Mass Suicide in the First Jewish-Roman War, c. AD 73
In the spring of 73 AD the rock fortress of Masada on the western shore of the Dead Sea was the site of an event that was breathtaking in its courage and self-sacrifice. Here the last of the Jewish Zealots who, for nearly eight years, had waged war against the Roman occupiers of their country made their last stand.
The Zealots on Masada had withstood a two-year siege but with Roman victory finally assured, they were faced by two options: capture or death. They chose the latter and when the Roman legions forced their way into the hill fort the following morning they were met only with utter silence by row upon row of bodies. Rather than fall into enemy hands the 960 men, women and children who had defended the fortress so heroically had committed suicide.
The story of the siege and eventual capture of Masada is unique, not just in Israeli legend but in the history of the world. It is a story of bravery that even the Roman legionaries, well used to death and brutality, could see and appreciate. It was a massacre but a massacre with a difference: carried out by the victims themselves. The story of Masada has gone down in Israeli and Jewish folklore. It is little known elsewhere and it is time to redress the balance.