Thursday, August 4, 2011

Where did the Romans get the wood for the siege of Masada?

I am at a conference this week and don't have as much time to blog. But I did run across this story about study which investigates where the Romans got the wood for the siege of Masada.

If you have been to Masada or even seen pictures you will know that there are no trees for miles around. There aren't a lot of trees in Israel and there are none around Masada. Some studies have suggested that the desert region around Masada was more humid at one time and thus supported the growth of trees. The below article, however, suggests that was not the case.

Where did the timber for the Roman rampart at Masada come from?

Earlier studies claimed that the Judean Desert was much more humid 2,000
years ago, but a new study has revealed: The Romans reaching Masada faced
arid desert conditions that could not supply timber for their siege, and the
isotopic composition of the wood probably reflects a distant wood source.

The Roman Legion that lay siege on Masada some 2,000 years ago was forced to
use timber from other areas in the land of Israel for its weapons and
encampments, and was not able to use local wood as earlier studies have
proposed. This has been revealed in a new study conducted at the University
of Haifa, refuting earlier suggestions that described the Judean Desert area
as more humid in the times of the Second Temple.

You can read the rest of the article here. Although I am away there will still be a Friday book giveaway tomorrow. Be sure to check back.


  1. There never was a seige of Masada. Masada was taken in a few days by Nero's army of 66.

    Geoff Hudson

    1. There most definitely was in 73 AD. Read Josephus if you don't believe.

  2. The battle or seige of Masada was a Roman misclaimed victory.

    Geoff Hudson

  3. Geoff, so what about the siege ramp and the Roman camps? Was the ramp built and used in a few days time? And if the Romans were there only a few days then why build the ramp, the camps and the siege wall that surrounds Masada and is still visible today?

  4. Even if the area around Masada was more humid and supporting more trees than today, the Romans would likely have soon used up the local supply of wood. Most likely the majority of their wood was imported.

    Also, as an observation, they most likely did not burn precious wood for fires and cooking fires, but could easily have used dried animal dung (or human waste) as their daily fuel. This has been used in many parts of the world in the past (even our pioneers), and in a few parts of the world among impoverished peoples today.

  5. For an excellent account of Masada, read the book, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman about the last years of Masada, taken from Josephus. It is fiction but based on years of historical reasearch and visits to Masada.

  6. Quite a book. Just finished it.

  7. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.