James A. Sauer

The desert fortress of Machaerus, with its distinctive truncated conical shape, rises in the wilderness east of the Dead Sea, in Jordan. Fortified by the Hasmoneans in the first century B.C., rebuilt by Herod the Great and then occupied by Roman forces, Machaerus was abandoned to Jewish rebels during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–70 A.D.). Like the more famous Masada on the western side of the Dead Sea, Machaerus became a desert refuge for Jewish revolutionaries and a staging place for guerrilla attacks against Roman forces after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Josephus describes the Roman army, led by Lucilius Bassus, as marching “hastily to the Garden of Jardes” (somewhere near Machaerus) where “a great many who had fled from Jerusalem and Machaerus had gotten together.” The Romans knew that if the refugees were allowed to live unmolested in the desert, they would form a fighting band that would continually harass the imperial forces.