The Great Jewish Revolt
The Great Jewish Revolt was the first of three wars between Jews and their Roman conquerors. It began in 66 AD with protests against heavy Roman taxation, to which the Roman governor of Judea responded by arresting prominent Jews and looting Jerusalem’s Temple. That escalated the protests into a full blown rebellion, and forced the Romans and their pet Jewish king to flee Judea.
Early on, a radical Jewish sect known as the Sicarii attacked and seized the fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea. They then descended upon nearby Roman enclaves to massacre whomever they could find, and slaughtered hundreds of Roman women and children. That ensured that there would be no turning back, and thus solidified the Sicarii’s ranks. It also confronted other Judeans with the prospect of massive retaliation and collective punishment of the innocent and guilty alike should the Romans win.
The Sicarii then joined another Jewish faction known as the Zealots, plus other rebels, to attack Jerusalem, which they liberated in 66 AD. Once in control of the city, the Sicarii began killing known and suspected collaborators en masse. They also killed any opponents, suspected opponents, and those who failed to express the requisite enthusiasm for the Sicarii’s cause.
That extremism led to a backlash and uprising by the city’s population, and a falling out with the other rebels. It culminated in Sicarii defeat, the capture, torture, and execution of their leader, and the group’s expulsion from Jerusalem. The survivors retreated to the fortress of Masada, and contented themselves with plundering the surrounding countryside.
In the meantime, the Zealots and other radicals retained control of Jerusalem until it was besieged, conquered, and razed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Romans then began mopping up operations, and eventually reached the last holdouts, the Sicarii in Masada, whom they besieged. Realizing that all was lost and that their fate would be grim if they were captured, the Sicarii resorted to mass suicide, killing their families and then themselves.