The emperor Nero sent three legions—the Fifth, Tenth, and Fifteenth—under the command of General Vespasian to Judea in the spring of 67 CE. By the end of that year, Vespasian has reduced the Galilee and the Golan. He returned the following spring and campaigned in Trans-Jordan, on the coastal plain, and in Idumea, saving Jerusalem itself till last.
The war was interrupted for nearly two years while Rome went through “The Year of the four Caesars”, a period of instability and internecine warfare that resulted, finally, in Vespasian himself being crowned Caesar. His son Titus then continued the war, arriving in Judea in the spring of 70 CE. Jerusalem fell in the late summer of that year and Titus returned to Rome taking two of his three legions with him. The Fifth Legion Fretensis remained in Judea under the command of its general Flavus Silva.
Silva worked for two years to crush remaining resistance and restore some sort of law and order until, by the winter of the year 72 CE, only the fortress of Masada remained in revolt. Nearly 1000 Jewish rebels, including wives and children, still held out against Rome, refusing to negotiate any terms of surrender. Silva set out in December72 CE, to destroy this last pocket of resistance.
Masada is an isolated mountain plateau on the eastern edge of the Judean mountains overlooking the Dead Sea, cut off on all sides from the surrounding hills by deep erosional river beds. The legion built a siege wall around the mountain and then constructed the largest siege ramp known to antiquity from the western side right up to the top. The defenders inside resisted as best as they could, but in the end, when they knew their situation was hopeless, they determined not to give the Romans the satisfaction of capturing them alive. They cast lots to see which of them would kill the others and the women and children, then cast them again to see which would kill his immediate comrades and finally himself. There were 959 murders and one suicide that day. The fatal conclusion took place on Passover day of the year 73. Those lots are a grim reminder of that awful day.
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