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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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THE FORTRESS OF MASSADA

BASSUS died in Judea, and was succeeded in his government by Flavius Silva. When Silva arrived in Judea the whole country was subdued except one fortress,—that of Massada.

Massada was held by a band of Sikars or Assassins, and their commander was Eleazar, a descendant of Judas the Galilean, who held that as the Jews bowed to God as their master, they should not submit to the rule of any man. Eleazar and his followers believed in this doctrine, and so would not submit to Cæsar. Silva gathered together all the Roman forces, and immediately marched against Massada. That none of the besieged might escape, he built a wall around the fortress and guarded it with sentinels.

Massada stood upon a high rock, which was surrounded by deep ravines. It could be reached only by two narrow and [471] difficult paths from the east and from the west. On the east the path led up from the shore of the Dead Sea, and, winding upwards by the verge of frightful precipices, finally opened upon a plain at the summit, upon which Massada stood.

The fortress was first built by the high-priest Jonathan, but it was afterwards made stronger and added to by King Herod. Herod surrounded the summit with a high wall, which he fortified with thirty-seven strong towers. Herod also built a beautiful palace upon the western ascent. He cut in the rock a number of cisterns, so that the place should never want for water. The fortress was thus very strong, and well fortified both by nature and art. For the path on the east was so steep and narrow that it could not be used by an attacking party, while that on the west was barred by a huge tower built at the narrowest part. It was not possible to pass this tower, nor was it easy to reduce it.

The fortress was well stocked with provisions (enough to last for years), and there was also a vast quantity of arms (enough for ten thousand men), with great stores of unwrought iron, brass, and lead. For King Herod had provided this fortress as a refuge for himself in case of a revolt among his subjects, and also because he feared Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, who had always desired his throne. Because of this twofold danger Herod had fortified Massada, little thinking that one day it would be the last refuge of the Jews in a war against Rome.


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