Roman forces in Palestine left behind vestiges of their body gear and weaponry, evidence that Jewish freedom fighters in their desert redoubts faced formidable opponents.

This second-century A.D. bronze helmet (below) has three typical elements: a skull-plate, or cassis, with a browguard to protect the face against downward blows; cheek pieces to protect the sides of the face; and a neckguard to cover the back of the neck. On many helmets, a special fitting permitted the attachment of a crest.

The bronze scales shown here (below) are but a handful of more than 1,000 found at Masada. Originally attached to a fabric backing to create a form-fitting hip-length garment, the scales were cut from cast sheet metal. Like these examples, most of the scales found at Masada have four holes in a square pattern and are strengthened by a rib in the center and a raised border.

Roman forces were divided into the heavily equipped and armored legionnaries (recruited from Roman citizens) and the more mobile, lightly armed non-Roman auxiliaries. Scale armor was more typical of auxiliaries than legionaries, who often wore segmented cuirasses (chest armor) and chain mail. (See Jodi Magness, “Masada—Arms and the Man,” BAR 18:04.)

The defenders of Masada, according to Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer, probably took advantage of their high position to catapult stones at the Romans below, who were hastily building a ramp to lift their siege engines into position to batter Masada’s walls. These stones found at Masada (top), piled into a pyramid and never hurled by the defenders, are mute testimony to the last desperate hours before the Roman forces broke through.