Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I've just noticed a video of Jodi Magness posted on the Penn Museum's YouTube channel. In the video, she lectures on Masada, its structure and the Roman siege of the site during the first century Jewish revolt (video embedded below).

I enjoyed the video very much and I respect Dr. Magness a great deal (just a peek at her CV demonstrates her contribution to the field of Syro-Palestinian archaeology). Much of the video was not new to me, but there were several points at which I did learn interesting new facts. As I was watching it, I tried to clock the points at which her lecture shifts to new topics so that you can skip to parts that are most interesting to you if you do not have the time to watch the whole video.

  • A general intro goes from the opening to 21 minutes       
  • The siege provides the world's best preserved siege works (21:30) 
  • Dr. Magness (and others) excavate of one of the Roman forts (32:50)
  • A survey of the military equipment (49:20)
  • Descriptions using Roman soldier reenactments (58:00)
  • Back to the siege (1:02:30)
  • Excavation of the siege ramp (1:07:35) 
  • The speech after the Romans break through the wall (1:10:20)
  • Josephus' role (1:12:00)

A few points that I found to be most interesting were the description of the excavation of the siege ramp and suggestions about the length of the siege. The excavators were able to see that the ramp was created by building large wooden boxes, filling them with rubble, and then creating a terrace by building more boxes on top of those. When they excavated, they found the wood still preserved inside the ramp. This, would have been, it is suggested, a very efficient method. Dr. Magness points out that this was a professional army and they would have worked very quickly. When arriving at the site, they would have immediately built the circumvallation wall and camps to surround the fortress, and then begun work on the ramp. She suggests that the siege would have lasted a minimum of seven weeks to a maximum of six months.

One of the major questions that people have is whether the Jewish rebels committed suicide. Her answer: Don't know, don't care. It is not an archaeological question.

Isaac M. Alderman
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The Siege and Fall of Masada,” invited lecture in a series on Great Battles at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, 6 March 2013, Philadelphia, PA.

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