Masada (məsāˈdə) [key], ancient mountaintop fortress in Israel, the final outpost of the Zealot Jews in their rebellion against Roman authority (A.D. 66–73). Located in the Judaean Desert, the fortress sits atop a mesa-shaped rock that towers some 1,300 ft (400 m) above the western shore of the Dead Sea. According to the ancient historian Josephus, Masada was first fortified sometime during the 1st or 2d cent. B.C. Between 37 and 31 B.C. Herod the Great, king of Judaea, further strengthened Masada, building two ornate palaces, a bathhouse, aqueducts, and surrounding siege walls. In A.D. 66, with the outbreak of the Jewish war against Rome, the Zealots, an extremist Jewish sect, seized the fortress in a surprise attack and massacred its Roman garrison. Masada remained under Zealot control until A.D. 73, when, after a siege, the 15,000 soldiers of Rome's tenth legion finally subdued the 1,000 men, women, and children holding the fortress. In a final act of defiance, however, almost all of the Jewish defenders had killed themselves rather than be captured and enslaved by the Romans. Only two women and five children survived to tell of the Zealots' last action. Most archaeologists believe the siege lasted several months, although some have suggested it may have taken only a few weeks. Excavated (1963–65) by Yigael Yadin and an international team of volunteer archaeologists, Masada is now a major tourist site and an Israeli historical shrine. Large-scale archaeological excavations were also conducted at the site in the 1950s.
See Y. Yadin, Masada (tr. 1966).