Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Masada Martyrs? Volume 50 Number 6, November/December 1997
by Haim Watzman

Skeletons found at Masada by Yigael Yadin between 1963 and 1965 and later given a state burial by the Israeli government were not those of Jewish patriots but Roman soldiers, says Joseph Zias of Jerusalem's Rockefeller Museum.

The claim that the skeletons were those of the Jewish fighters who defended Masada against the Romans in A.D. 70 has long been questioned. Yadin's photographs of the remains in situ seem to show far fewer than the 25 skeletons officially reported. Furthermore, Yadin confirmed in 1982 that pig bones were found with the human ones. Since the zealots of Masada would not have buried their dead with the bones of an unclean animal, some scholars suggested that the remains were those of Christians who inhabited Masada in Byzantine times.

The bones are not available for examination, so Zias carbon-dated textiles found with them. The tests date the burial site to the time of the Jewish revolt, but Zias notes that Romans sacrificed pigs at burials. He concludes that the skeletons may well be the remains of soldiers from the Roman garrison that occupied Masada after the Jewish rebellion was surpressed. Zias says that Yadin had doubts about the identification of the skeletons, but that pressure from Israeli political leaders to connect the bones with the Masada legend led him to acquiesce to the state funeral.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America