(Μασάδα), a very strong fortress not far south of Engedi (Josephus, War; Ant. 1:12, 1), on the west of the Dead Sea (Pliny, v. 17), in a volcanic region (Strabo, 16, p. 764), minutely described by Josephus in various places, especially in the account of its final tragedy (War, 7:8). It was built by Jonathan Maccabaeus on an almost inaccessible rock, and was probably one of his "strongholds in Judaea" (1 Maccabees 12:35), as it had possibly been in earlier times a refuge of David (1Sa 23:14,29; comp. 2Sa 5:17). It was much enlarged and strengthened by Herod the Great, who placed Marianne here for safety when he was driven from Jerusalem by Antigonus (Josephus, War, 1:13, 7). It resisted, at that time, the attack by the Parthians (ib. 15, 3), but was afterwards taken from the Romans through treachery by Judas the Galilaean (ib. 17, 2). It was the last stronghold of the Jews in the final struggle with the Romans under Flavius Silva, who took it by assault, the garrison, in their desperation, having immolated themselves (ut sup.). The site was conjectured by Dr. Eli Smith to be that of the modern Sebbeh (Robinson, Researches, 2:24); which has been abundantly confirmed by later travelers, who have attested the prodigious strength of the place, and its exact agreement with the description of Josephus (Traill's Josephus. 2:109 sq.; Biblioth. Sacra, 1843, p. 62 sq.; Van de Velde, Narrative, 2:97 sq.; Tristram, Land of Israel, p. 293 sq.).
The description of Josephus, in whose histories Masada plays a conspicuous part, is as follows: A lofty rock of considerable extent, surrounded on all sides by precipitous valleys of frightful depth, afforded difficult access only in two parts — one on the east, towards the Lake Asphaltis, by a zigzag path, scarcely practicable, and extremely dangerous, called "the Serpent," from its sinuosities; the other more easy, towards the west, on which side the isolated rock was more nearly approached by the hills. The summit of the rock was not pointed, but a plain of 7 stadia in circumference, surrounded by a wall of white stone, 12 cubits high and 8 cubits thick, fortified with 37 towers of 50 cubits in height. The wall was joined within by large buildings connected with the towers, designed for barracks and magazines for the enormous stores and munitions of war which were laid up in this fortress. The remainder of the area, not occupied by buildings, was arable, the soil being richer and more genial than that of the plain below; and a further provision was thus made for the garrison in case of a failure of supplies from without. The rain-water was preserved in large cisterns excavated in the solid rock. A palace, on a grand scale, occupied the north-west ascent, on a lower level than the fortress, but connected with it by covered passages cut in the rock. This was adorned within with porticoes and baths, supported by monolithic columns; the walls and floors were covered with tessellated work. At the distance of 1000 cubits from the fortress, a massive tower guarded the western approach at its narrowest and most difficult point, and thus completed the artificial defenses of this most remarkable site, which nature had rendered almost impregnable. In attacking the fortress, the first act of the Roman general was to surround the fortress with a wall, to prevent the escape of the garrison. Having distributed sentries along this line of circumvallation, he pitched his own camp on the west, where the rock was most nearly approached by the mountains, and was therefore more open to assault; for the difficulty of procuring provisions and water for his soldiers did not allow him to attempt a protracted blockade, which the enormous stores of provisions and water still found there by Eleazar would have enabled the garrison better to endure. Behind the tower which guarded the ascent was a prominent rock of considerable size and height, though 300 cubits lower than the wall of the fortress, called the White Cliff. On this a bank of 200 cubits' height was raised, which formed a base for a platform (βῆμα) of solid masonry, 50 cubits in width and height, and on this was placed a tower similar in construction to those invented and employed in sieges by Vespasian and Titus, covered with plates of iron, which reached an additional 60 cubits, so as to dominate the wall of the castle, which was quickly cleared of its defenders by the showers of missiles discharged from the scorpions and balistae. The outer wall soon yielded to the ram, when an inner wall was discovered to have been constructed by the garrison- framework of timber filled with soil, which became more solid and compact by the concussions of the ram. This, however, was speedily fired. The assault was fixed for the morrow, when the garrison anticipated the swords of the Romans by one of the most cold-blooded and atrocious massacres on record. At the instigation of Eleazar, they first slew every man his wife and children; then, having collected the property into one heap, and destroyed it all by fire, they cast lots for ten men, who should act as executioners of the others while they lay in the embrace of their slaughtered families. One was then selected by lot to slay the other nine survivors; and he at last, having set fire to the palace, with a desperate effort drove his sword completely through his own body, and so perished. The total number, including women and children, was 960. An old woman, with a female relative of Eleazar, and five children, who had contrived to conceal themselves in the reservoirs while the massacre was being perpetrated, survived, and narrated these facts to the astonished Romans when they entered the fortress the following morning, and had ocular demonstration of the frightful tragedy. On the present ruined site the ground-plan of the storehouses and barracks can still be traced in the foundations of the buildings on the summit, and the cisterns, excavated in the natural rock, are of enormous dimensions. One is mentioned as nearly 50 feet deep, 100 long, and 45 broad. The foundations of a round tower, 40 or 50 feet below the northern summit, may have been connected with the palace, and the windows cut in the rock near by, which Mr. Wollcot conjectures to have belonged to some large cistern, now covered up, may possibly have lighted the rock-hewn gallery by which the palace communicated with the fortress. From the summit of the rock every part of the wall of circumvallation could be traced, carried along the low ground, and, wherever it met a precipice, commencing again on the high summit above, thus making the entire circuit of the place. Connected with it, at intervals, were the walls of the Roman camps, opposite the north-west and south-east corners, the former being the spot where Josephus places that of the Roman general. A third may be traced on the level near the shore. The outline of the works, as seen from the heights above, is as complete as if they had been but recently abandoned. The Roman wall is six feet broad, built, like the fortress walls and buildings above, with rough stones laid loosely together, and the interstices filled in with small pieces of stone. The wall is half a mile or more distant from the rock, so as to be without range of the stones discharged by the garrison. No water was to be found in the neighborhood but such as the recent rains had left in the hollows of the rocks, confirming the remark of Josephus that water, as well as food, was brought thither to the Roman army from a distance. Its position is exactly opposite to the peninsula that runs into the Dead Sea from its eastern shore, towards its southern extremity. See Smith, Dict. of Class. Geog. s.v.