World Coins

This Day in History: April 16

The 2009 Israeli coins honoring Masada (like the gold 10-new-Israeli-shekel coin) show an aerial view of the site on the obverse and a view of the steeply stepped side of the cliff-top redoubt on the reverse.

Coin images courtesy of the Bank of Israel; Masada image courtesy of Andrew Shiva.

When Roman invaders finally took hold of the Jewish fortress of Masada on April 16, A.D. 73, after a months-long siege, all but seven of the inhabitants inside had committed suicide rather than die at the hands of the enemy.

The successful breach of the fort on a massive hill in the Judean Desert brought an end to the Great Jewish Revolt (or First Jewish Revolt). The center of the fighting was Jerusalem, when in A.D. 66 a sect of Jews captured the temple from the Romans, who retaliated and murdered thousands of Jews. 

The Jewish leaders of the revolt minted their own coins to emphasize their newly obtained independence from Rome.

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Fighting continued throughout the countryside for four years, until A.D. 70 when the Romans were able to lay siege to Jerusalem, shutting off an estimated 1 million people from supplies and food.

Jewish fighters were scattered across the countryside, and a succession of Roman leaders waged warfare to defeat them. In the fall of 72, Lucius Flavius Silva was sent to the last Judean stronghold, Masada, a two-day trip 50 kilometers south of Jerusalem, near the Dead Sea.

The region surrounding Masada is a place of gaunt and majestic beauty, with sheer-faced mesas jutting from the desert floor. Masada is located on one of those mesas, and the cliffs on Masada’s east face rise some 450 meters from the Dead Sea to the top.

Reaching the summit is a challenge today, unless you ride a tram to the top. 

Built as a refuge for Herod in case his people revolted, it became the final resting place for the last Jewish fighters of that war.

In 2009 the Bank of Israel issued three commemorative coins depicting Masada and remembering the sacred site.

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