The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology

By Andrea M. Berlin; J. Andrew Overman | Go to book overview

12

In the footsteps of the Tenth Roman Legion in Judea

Jodi Magness

In the first century B.C.E., Herod the Great, client king of Judea, built a fortress and lavishly decorated palaces on top of the mountain of Masada, by the southwest shore of the Dead Sea. Seventy years after his death, in 66 C.E., the Jews of Judea rose up in revolt against Roman rule. A band of 960 Jewish rebels (sicarii) took over the top of the mountain and occupied it for the duration of the Revolt. They continued to hold out against the Romans even after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. In 72 or 73 C.E., the Tenth Roman Legion (Legio X Fretensis) arrived at the foot of Masada and set up a siege. The conquest of the mountain by the Romans, which ended with the famous and controversial mass suicide of the Jewish rebels, is related in dramatic detail by the ancient historian Flavius Josephus. 1 After the fall of Masada, the Tenth Legion was stationed in Jerusalem until it was transferred to Aila (modern Aqaba) in about 300. 2

Josephus does not provide many details of the day-to-day activities of the Tenth Legion while stationed at Masada, and no ancient sources discuss their subsequent actions in Jerusalem. A study of the pottery associated with the Legion at both sites, however, provides valuable insights on the manner in which the Roman army operated while in the field and when stationed in permanent camps.


Masada

The siege camps at Masada are probably the best-preserved examples anywhere in the Roman world (Richmond 1962; Yadin 1966:208-31; Magness 1996). A 4,000-yard long circumvallation wall and eight camps, labelled A - H, encircle the base of Masada. The wall was intended to prevent people from entering or escaping the mountain. The camps provided living quarters and protection for the soldiers, and dominated possible routes of escape. There are two large camps and six small ones. The large ones are B in the east and F in the west, each measuring approximately 150 by 170 yards. The main strength of the Tenth Legion (numbering about 5,000 men) is believed to have been housed in these two camps. A smaller camp (F2) in the southwest corner of Camp F was occupied briefly by a garrison after the fall of

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