The Fortress of Machaerus
There is no way of knowing whether Jesus ever went to Machaerus, but it certainly had strong associations for him since, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Machaerus was the place in which John the Baptist was imprisoned and then beheaded (Bellum VII.6.1-2). Jesus was only too aware of this event.
Herod was frightened by John’s fearless criticism of him, and of his power to stir people up – as he would later be frightened/intrigued by Jesus. Herod sensed he had met someone he could not control. Putting John into the prison at Machaerus removed John from his followers, and stopped them from communicating with their charismatic leader.
It was a forbidding fortress, built to intimidate and control the troubled area between Palestine and Petra. It did its job well. No-one could get in or out of Machaerus without Herod knowing about it.
When Herod decided to kill John, the walls of the fortess meant there could be no-one to oppose him.
When the Jewish Revolt broke out in 66AD, the rebels holed up within Machaerus’ seemingly impregnable walls. But the Romans built siege works around the base of the fortress and when the lower part of the fortress was captured and burned, the people in the upper city surrendered.
You can still see part of the Roman siege ramp on the west side of the mound, and ruins of the Roman camp lie on the hill to the west.
For information and some extraordinary photographs, go to Bible Fortress: Machaerus
Aerial photograph of Machaerus, with Roman-era acquaduct on the farther side of the fortress; within these walls John the Baptist died (photograph by Jane Taylor, March 2004)
Remains of the stone Roman-style aquaduct that brought water to the fortress of Machaerus