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MACHAERUS (Μαχαιρούς: Eth. Μαχαιρίτης, Joseph.), a strong fortress of Peraea, first mentioned by Josephus in connection with Alexander the son of Hyrcanus I., by whom it was originally built. (Ant. 13.16.3; Bell. Jud. 7.6.2.) It was delivered by his widow to her son Aristobulus, who first fortified it against Gabinius (Ant. 14.5.2.) to whom he afterwards surrendered it, and by whom it was dismantled ( § 4; Strab. xvi. p.762). On his escape from Rome Aristobulus again attempted to fortify it; but it was taken after two days' siege (6.1). It is however celebrated in the history of Herod the Tetrarch, and St. John the Baptist. It was situated in the mountains of Arabia (πρὸς τοῖς Ἀραβίοις ὄρεσιν (5.2), and on the confines of Herod's jurisdiction and that of Aretas king of Arabia, his father-in-law, but at this time the historian expressly states that it belonged to the latter (18.6.1.), being the southern extremity of Peraea, as Pella was the northern. (B. J. 3.3.3. 4.7.5.) When Herod's first wife, the daughter of Aretas, first suspected her husband's guilty passion for Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, she dissembled her indignation, and requested to be sent to Machaerus, whence she immediately proceeded to Petra, her father's capital. The fact of Machaerus being then subject to the jurisdiction of Aretas presents an insuperable difficulty to the reception of Josephus's statement that it was the place of St. John the Baptist's martyrdom: for suffering, as he did in one view, as a martyr for the conjugal rights of the daughter of Aretas, it is impossible to believe that Herod could have had power to order his execution in that fortress. (18.6. § § 1, 2.) It held out against the Romans after the fall of Jerusalem, and the account of its siege and reduction by the lieutenant Lucilius Bassus furnishes us with the most detailed account of this remarkable fortress, which Pliny (5.15) reckons second to Jerusalem for the strength of its works. Josephus's account is as follows. It was situated on a very high hill, and surrounded with a wall, trenched about on all sides with valleys of enormous depth, so as to defy embankments. Its western side was the highest, and on this quarter the valley extended 60 stadia, as far as the Dead Sea. On the north and south the valleys were not so steep, but still such as to render the fortress unassailable, and the eastern valley had a depth of 100 cubits. It had been selected by Herod, on account of its proximity to the Arabs and the natural advantages of its position, and he had enclosed a large space within its walls, which was strengthened with towers. This formed the city: but the summit of the hill was the acropolis, surrounded with a wall of its own: flanked with corner towers of 160 cubits in height. In the middle of this was a stately palace, laid out inlarge and beautiful chambers, and furnished with numerous reservoirs for preserving the rain water. A shrub of rue, of portentous size, grew in the palace yard, equal in height and bulk to any fig-tree. A large store of missiles and military engines was kept there so as to enable its garrison to endure a protracted siege. Bassus proposed to assail it on the east side, and commenced raising banks in the valley, and the garrison, having left the city and its inhabitants to their fate, betook themselves to the acropolis, from which they made a succession of spirited sallies against the besiegers. In one of these a youth named Eleazar, of influential connections, fell into the hands of the Romans, and the garrison capitulated on condition that his life was spared, and he and they allowed to evacuate the place in safety. A few of the inhabitants of the lower city, thus abandoned, succeeded in effecting their escape: but 1700 males were massacred, and the women and children sold into captivity. (B. J. 7.6.) Its site has not been recovered in modern times; but it is certainly wrongly placed by Pliny at the South of the Dead Sea (7.16; Reland, s. v. p. 880). The account given by Josephus of the copious hot springs of bitter and sweet water, of the sulphur and alum mines in the valley of Baaras, which he places on the north of the city of Machaerus, seems rather to point to one of the ruined sites, noticed by Irby and Mangles, to the northern part of the Dead Sea, in the vicinity of Callirrhoe, where these phaenomena are still found; but not the peculiarly noxious tree, of the same name as the valley, which was deadly to the gatherer, but was a specific against daemoniacal possession. [CALLIRRIHOE.] (Irby and Mangles, Travels, pp. 464, 465.)


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    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.15
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