A Roman Siege

The offensive and defensive strategies of the Siege of Masada


The Environment

All of the area surrounding Masada is a sandy desert

  • the closest water source for attackers was ten miles away
  • it was extremely hot especially with Roman armor on
  • the heat and water restrictions served to decrease the morale of the Roman soldiers
  • soldiers became weakened by dehydration or heat stroke

The Plateau

Masada is on the top of a high plateau with steep cliffs

  • the cliffs formed a natural wall which had to be climbed up
  • the only way up was a winding exposed pathway up the mountain
  • defenders could easily attack people as they tried to climb up the path


Masada had a wall built around the top of the plateau to protect from attackers

  • the Romans would have to find a way to go over, through, or underneath this wall to get inside the fort
  • Defenders can shoot down from the top of the wall
  • Gates provide a way for defenders to exit for counter-attacks

Hot Sand and Water

Defenders can pour hot sand and boiling water onto troops attempting to climb the walls

  • these materials would go through armor and could cause serious burns
  • soldiers climbing the walls on ladders would fall down onto others
  • the Jews on Masada had more than enough of both sand and water


The Jews had stockpiles of both water and food

  • this prevented the Romans from just “waiting them out” until they ran out of supplies
  • the cisterns would catch rainwater meaning they had a renewable source of water
  • the system of twelve cisterns could hold more than of 10 million gallons of water

Soft Wall

When they caught sight of the Roman battering ram, the Jews quickly build a wooden wall

  • this wooden wall was soft enough that instead of crumbling under the beating of the battering ram, it would absorb the blows
  • because it was made of wood, this secondary wall was susceptible to burning by fire


Circumvallation Wall

The Romans made a circumvallation wall

  • this is a wall which completely surrounds the fort being besieged
  • this prevented the Jews from trying to retreat
  • the wall would also prevent people from bringing more supplies or soldiers into the fort

Siege Engines

Many siege engines could have been used at Masada, the onager is the one I made in Minecraft

  • Very similar to a catapult, the onager could launch projectiles such as rocks over large distances and was often used to break down walls
  • The ballista was more like a large crossbow which could fire either round stones or metal bolts
  • Siege engines could bombard a settlement from a long way
  • Rocks, bolts, other objects could be launched from siege engine; also, they projectiles could be covered in flammable substances and set ablaze.

Siege Tower and Battering Ram

The Romans built a large siege tower to attack with

  • This allowed the Romans to be protected as they drew closer to the wall
  • It would enable them to safely get up to the top of the walls
  • The siege tower at Masada had a battering ram to break through the walls of the fortress
  • Many siege towers also had places for artillery and ranged troops such as archers and slingers to fire on the enemy

Siege Ramp

The most impressive accomplishment by the Romans at Masada was the construction of the siege ramp

  • siege ramps were used as a way to get troops, or in this case a siege tower, to a desired height above the ground
  • they had to be very precise in their angles and measurements to ensure they would be at the right height at the right distance from the walls
  • the ramp had to be very smooth in order to wheel the siege tow up it safely


The Romans could build such large structures so quickly do to the number of Jewish slaves they had with them

  • the Romans brought thousands of Jewish prisoners to Masada to build
  • the Jews on Masada would not attack the enslaved Jews which allowed the Romans to build uninterrupted


One of the most useful siege weapons of the time was fire

  • the Romans used fire at Masada to burn down the wooden wall that was preventing their battering ram from doing its purpose
  • fire could be used to burn buildings and destroy everything inside of them such as food, housing and supplies
  • one of the most dangerous things fire does to a defending army is lower their morale, imagine the sight of your fortress set ablaze around you and how that could damage your hopes of victory

The End

Works Cited

Campbell, Duncan B., and Brian Delf. Greek and Roman Siege Machinery 399 BC-AD 363. Oxford: Osprey, 2003. Print.

"Catapult – Onager." My Wizards. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

Leyden, Joel. "Masada ARTchive @ PreteristArchive.com, The Internet's Only Balanced Look at Preterist Eschatology and Preterism." Masada ARTchive @ PreteristArchive.com, The Internet's Only Balanced Look at Preterist Eschatology and Preterism. Israel News Agency, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

Meyer, Joseph. Roman Siege Machinery and the Siege of Masada. Rep. N.p.: 2012 AHS Capstone Projects, 2012. Paper 14. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <http://digitalcommons.olin.edu/ahs_capstone_2012/14>.

"Siege Warfare." Siege Warfare. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

"Template." Template. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

"Verdi1." Verdi1. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.

Wigoder, Geoffrey. New Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1994. Print.

Meyer, Joseph. The Roman Siege Strategy for the Siege of Masada. Rep. AHS Capstone, 08 May 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

Langfur, Stephen. "Masada." N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

Comment Stream

2 years ago

Excellent! How long did it take you to make this in Minecraft?