Necromanteion – The Ancient Temple of the Dead

Necromanteion – The Ancient Temple of the Dead

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The Necromanteion was an ancient temple dedicated to the god of the Underworld, Hades, and his consort, the goddess Persephone. According to ancient Greek beliefs, while the bodies of the dead decayed in the earth, their souls would be released, and travelled to the Underworld via fissures in the earth. The spirits of the dead were said to possess abilities that the living did not have, including the power to foretell the future. Temples were therefore erected in places thought to be entrances to the Underworld to practice necromancy (communication with the dead) in order to receive prophecies.

Hades taking Persephone into the Underworld. ( Wikipedia)

Whilst other temples, such as the Temple of Poseidon at Tanaeron, as well as the temples at Hermione (Argolis), Cumae (Italy) and Herakleia (Pontos) were known to have practiced necromancy, it was the Necromanteion in Epirus that was the most famous of them all. The Necromanteion (“Oracle of the Dead”) was said to be located at the meeting point of three of the five rivers in the realm of Hades – Acheron (Joyless), Pyriphlegethon (Flaming with Fire) and Cocytus (Wailing). This site is believed to have been discovered by Greek archaeologist Sotirios Dakaris in Epirus in the 1960s.

The ruins in Epirus believed to be the Necromanteion. Credit: Dan Diffendale / flickr

The Necromanteion was mentioned by a number of ancient authors. In Homer’s Odyssey, for instance, the hero Odysseus enters the Underworld via the Necromanteion to seek out the spirit of the blind seer, Tiresias, in order to find the way to return to his home, Ithaca. The Necromanteion is also mentioned in Herodotus’ Histories. Herodotus gives an account of Periander, the Corinthian tyrant. According to this story, the tyrant wished to communicate with the spirit of his recently deceased wife, Melissa, so as to find out the place where she hid a certain amount of money. When Periander’s representatives consult her, the spirit of Melissa refuses to reveal the location of the hidden money, as she was cold in the Underworld, as a result of not having clothes burnt for her when she died. To prove her identity, she mentions something that only Periander knows of, i.e. ‘he put his loaves in a cold oven’. This cryptic message actually meant that the tyrant had sexual intercourse with the corpse of his wife, something that Periander alone would have, presumably, known. When Periander heard this, he immediately stripped the clothing off the local women and burnt them (the clothing) as an offering to Melissa.

Communicating with the dead, however, was not limited to the famous characters in the writings of the ancient Greek authors. Regular citizens were also about to visit the Necromanteion to seek counsel with the dead. They would first enter a dark chamber before performing certain elaborate rituals intended for their own protection and to gain the ability to communicate with the deceased. After this, a priest would lead them into a deeper chamber, where a ritual animal sacrifice would be performed, before passing through three gates which symbolised their entry into the Underworld. The celebrants would now be able to speak to the spirits of the Underworld.

Inside one of the underground chambers at Epirus. Credit: Dan Diffendale / flickr

Historical accounts make references to the necromancers seeing ‘ghosts’ or ‘shades’. Skeptics argue that these were simply hallucinations caused by ritual food or drink with psychotropic properties. Archaeology also provides a clue as to the way the ‘spirits’ appeared. Mechanical contrivances found by archaeologists inside the underground chambers suggest that these were used to make the ‘ghosts’ look like they were flying around in the chamber.

In 167 BCE, the Necromanteion was looted and damaged by the Romans. It was only in the 18 th century that the site was reused, when a monastery dedicated to St. John the Baptist was built on the site. An archaeological expedition in the 1960s concluded that this was the site of the Necromanteion. However, a recent study has challenged this claim, instead suggesting that the ruins may have been the base of an agricultural tower, and the underground chambers were storage areas for grain or water.

Featured image: Artist’s depiction of a ritual inside the Necromanteion. From Marc Jailloux ("Orion": The Oracles, 2011)

By Ḏḥwty


Atlas Obscura, 2014. Necromanteion of Ephyra. [Online]
Available at:

Herodotus, The Histories,
[Waterfield, R. (trans.), 1998. Herodotus’ The Histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.]

Homer, The Odyssey,
Power, T. & Nagy, G. (trans.), 1900. Homer’s The Odyssey. [Online],

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Ministry of Culture and Sports, 2012. Nekromanteion of Acheron. [Online]
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Sophia, F., 2003. The Nekromanteio at Acheron. [Online]
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Xanthippos, D., 2010. The Necromanteion of Ephyra. [Online]
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The Necromanteion or Nekromanteion (Greek: Νεκρομαντεῖον ) was an ancient Greek temple of necromancy devoted to Hades and Persephone. According to tradition, it was located on the banks of the Acheron river in Epirus, near the ancient city of Ephyra. This site was believed by devotees to be the door to Hades, the realm of the dead. The site is at the meeting point of the Acheron, Pyriphlegethon and Cocytus rivers, believed to flow through and water the kingdom of Hades. The meaning of the names of the rivers has been interpreted to be "joyless," "burning coals" and "lament." [ 1 ]

A site in Mesopotamos, Epirus was proposed as the site of the Necromanteion in 1958, but this identification is now questioned.

Ioannina, the city of arts and letters… A crossroad of various nations and cultures , who left their own distinctive mark , forming this way the character and the identity of the modern town. Let our guides lead you to the secret paths of history from the Byzantine era to the Ottoman empire..

Zagori. The place beyond the mountains….A cluster of villages northwest of Ioannina spread all over the slopes of mountain Mitsikeli. Cobblestone paths branching inside the villages, stone houses and byzantine churches with murals that date back to 8th century, stone bridges which lie there for centuries and above all, the unique gastronomy.

The oracle of the Dead

I came across the Necromancy Temple of Acheron, the place where the ancient Greeks would go to talk to their dead, on the most appropriate of days: it was a cold, stormy day of February, on the last carnival weekend before Lent, many, many years ago.

It was the long weekend of the greek carnival and I was driving from Athens to the general direction of Igoumenitsa, to catch the ferry to Corfu. Going north, the clouds kept closing in on me, and the fog became thicker. The highways were almost empty, except for the occasional truck. I wasn’t paying much attention to the highway signs, trying rather to guess the scenery behind the fog and clouds: was there a hill over there, or just clouds shaped in a weird way? Were there vistas to the Ionian Sea after that turn or was the fog hiding stretches of rolling fields?

Suddenly, its blue contrasting with the whitish fog, a peculiar road sign registered. Written in greek only, signifying a local place rather than a tourist site, it read “Nekromanteion” – the Oracle of the Dead – its arrow pointing to the right. I had no idea such a place existed, a necromancy temple? in the middle of the greek countryside? … I had to go there.

So I took a right. The road was empty, the rain constant. I drove for a while, then the road arrived to a clearing. Two or three cars were parked, with no sign of their passengers. I got out of the car, wandered around cautiously, trying to understand what was this place. The sparse signs jogged my memory and I remembered all about Ulysses’ descent to Hades in Homer’s Odyssey – and about the temple with the grand hall were the dead would appear to the living.

I came across a metallic ladder leading into the ground. It was narrow and slippery from the rain. I took a couple of hesitant steps, then went down all the way and found myself in a long vaulted hall. The walls were carved in stone the pillars supporting the arches created nooks from which hidden electric bulbs emanated a dim light. Slowly I walked the length of the hall, looking for secret passages in and out – there were none.

Suddenly, I heard what seemed like muffled footsteps, then whispers. I looked back, to the ladder: no-one was coming. I got slightly nervous, dismissing it right away: I missheard, I told myself, it’s the sound of the rain, maybe the wind picked up. I heard whispering again. Growing uncomfortable, I started making my way out. Now the whispers were coming from behind me, from the other end of the hall. I was really spooked I started climbing up the stairs really quickly. As my head was coming out of the hole, I saw what appeared to be huge footprints on the mud, leading into the hall, none leading out. I was scared now. I lost a step I slipped I let out a small cry and, with one leap I found myself out of the hole and well on my way to my car.

Out in the February light, near the comforting car, I paused to get my car keys out. Looking down, I saw the same footsteps going away from the car and back towards it. It hit me: these were my footprints, my extra-thick-sole-hiking-boot footprints. I laughed.

On the way to Igoumenitsa, I was still laughing with myself, thinking about the power of suggestion and all the myths about Hades – taught, but forgotten until today . The scary footsteps incident would make for a nice traveller’s tale, to be recounted, no doubt, many times over.

And then I thought: what about the whispers?

Maro K, – mythscapes CMO
The Necromanteion of Acheron (or of Ephyra as it is also known) is the most well – known oracle of the dead of the ancient greek world. Situated in Mesopotamos, Epirus, it is where the ancient Greeks would go to speak to their dead. You can read more about the site in the ministry of culture page here. The Necromanteion of Acheron is featured in the Mythscapes June 2013 Journey along via Egnatia tour.

How to Contact the Dead & Communicate with Spirits by Mirror Gazing

Moody has developed a technique for easily recreating a personal psychomanteum at home, or wherever one may desire, with the necessary tools. The following are his recommended steps for a successful mirror gazing session to contact the dead:

  • Food – Get into a serene state of mind by eliminating caffeine and dairy the day before. Eat simple meals leading up to your session, such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Location – Go to the quietest part of the house, where you can truly relax. Unplug all clocks and phones in that room.
  • Clothing – Take off all jewelry including watches wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  • Mirror – Place large mirror in front of a comfy chair, and place it so you can gaze at it comfortably. It’s best if you cannot see your own reflection.
  • Mood – Soothe yourself with aesthetically pleasing material for about 15 minutes by looking at works of art or listening to soft music, in order to stimulate awareness.
  • Memories – Gather photographs and personal items of the loved one you wish to contact. Touch them and remember your loved one. Imprint your loved one firmly in your mind. Family films and videos can help, or anything else that you associate with them.
  • Light – At twilight, light a candle and place it behind you. A dim light from behind you is ideal, but experiment with the light for proper adjustment. Twilight is best because it typically stimulates altered states, especially for first-timers.

After carrying out these steps, you should start to feel your arms getting heavy and possibly your fingers tingling. You will start to go into a trance-like, meditative state and the mirror might start to appear cloudy, as if it were a cloudy sky. Moody says it is important to stay passive at this point, as any attempt to guide the experience will remove you from your hypnagogic state and create interference. It can also be good to have a question in your mind before going into your mirror-gazing session, but not to develop and actively ask the question mid-session as this will, again, interrupt the experience.

Experiences typically last for only about a minute, according to Moody, but experiences can last longer for more advanced practitioners. Experiences from mirror-gazing sessions can range from seeing the spirits of loved ones, to entering the mirror, or even seeing future events. In fact, Nostradamus’ visions for his prophecies are said to have come from the use of a psychomanteum like the Greek’s used.

Moody says that preparing for sessions properly is the best way to achieve success. For clients of his that have gone through his process of preparation, he says that he has seen an 85 percent success rate in obtaining visions. Often his clients will also see or experience contact with the deceased later in their day or week after attempting contact through mirror gazing.

According to Moody, it is best to keep a log of your visions and continue to practice mirror gazing sessions as often as needed. He says that of the small percentage of people who fail to have a vision or otherworldly experience, when they give up believing or holding on to any hopes of it working, they suddenly have the most vivid visions.

The Jerusalem of Herod the Great

The Jerusalem Jesus knew nowhere near resembled the city David conquered in the tenth century BC. At that time, it had been a small, isolated hill fortress, valued more for its location than its size or splendor. Yet from that time on it was known as the City of David, and the kings of David's dynasty, especially his son Solomon, had enlarged and beautified it.

In the sixth century BC, the army of Nebuchadnezzar leveled Jerusalem and drove its citizens into exile. During the long years of captivity in Babylon, the Jews in exiles' prayers and longings focused on the distant Holy City. But the city rebuilt by the Jews who returned a century later was far inferior to its former splendor. It was, ironically, the hated tyrant Herod the Great who restored Jerusalem to its former grandeur.

In the 33 years of his reign (37-4 B.C.), Herod transformed the city as had no other ruler since Solomon. Building palaces and citadels, a theatre and an amphitheatre, viaducts (bridges) and public monuments. These ambitious building projects, some completed long after his death, were part of the king's single-minded campaign to increase his capital's importance in the eyes of the Roman Empire.

No visitor seeing Jerusalem for the first time could fail to be impressed by its visual splendor. The long, difficult ascent from Jericho to the Holy City ended as the traveler rounded the Mount of Olives, and suddenly caught sight of a vista like few others in the world. Across the Kidron Valley, set among the surrounding hills, was Jerusalem, "the perfection of beauty," in the words of Lamentations, "the joy of all the world."

The view from the Mount of Olives was dominated by the gleaming, gold-embellished Temple which was located in the most holy spot in the Jewish world and really God's world. This was the Lord's earthly dwelling place, He mediated His throne here and raised up a people to perform rituals and ceremonies here that would foreshadow the coming of His Messiah kinsman redeemer who would be the lamb of God, slain for the sins of the whole world.

The Temple stood high above the old City of David, at the center of a gigantic white stone platform.

To the south of the temple was THE LOWER CITY, a group of limestone houses, yellow-brown colored from years of sun and wind. Narrow, unpaved streets and houses that sloped downward toward the Tyropean Valley, which ran through the center of Jerusalem.

Rising upward to the west was THE UPPER CITY, or Zion, where the white marble villas and palaces of the very rich stood out like patches of snow. Two large arched passageways spanned the valley, crossing from the Upper City to the temple.

A high, thick, gray stone wall encircled Jerusalem. It had been damaged, repaired and enlarged over the centuries, and in Jesus' day it was about 4 miles in circumference, bringing about 25,000 people into an area about a square mile. At intervals along the wall were massive gateways. Just inside each gate was a customs station, where publicans collected taxes on all goods entering or leaving the city.

Necromanteion – The Ancient Temple of the Dead - History

Baptism for the Dead and the
Twelve Oxen Under the Baptismal Font

In 1840 Joseph Smith declared that those who had died before hearing the LDS gospel could have vicarious baptisms done on their behalf. RLDS historian Roger D. Launius observed:

Joseph Smith apparently first considered the propriety of baptism for the dead after reading the only biblical reference to it: "Else what shall they do, which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?" (I Cor. 15:29). His consideration led to the full-fledged development of the doctrine. He made the first public disclosure of it on 15 August 1840 in Nauvoo at the funeral sermon of Seymour Brunson. Simon Baker later remembered that Joseph Smith told the congregation that although baptism was necessary for salvation, "people could now act for their friends who had departed this life, and . . . the plan of salvation was calculated to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God" (in Ehat and Cook 1980, 49). At the October 1840 conference the Prophet instructed the Saints of Nauvoo about baptism for the dead and called for the construction of a temple, in part to accommodate the ritual which was then being conducted in the Mississippi River. (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 23, no. 2, p. 63)

Joseph Smith's plans for the temple included the design an unusual baptismal font in which they could perform their proxy baptisms. Historian M. Guy Bishop wrote:

At the Church's October 1841 general conference, Joseph Smith shocked the gathered congregation by stating, "There shall be no more baptisms for the dead, until the ordinance can be attended to in the Lord's House" (HC 4:426). The Nauvoo Temple project had been announced the previous January, but little progress had been made. In this instance Joseph Smith may have suspended the baptisms to motivate the Saints to press forward with the temple since it was just one month later that the baptismal font in the temple's basement was finished and dedicated. The oval-shaped wooden font was to be temporary until it could be replaced with one of cut stone (Colvin 1962), but must have seemed elegant. (Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 92-3)

In the History of the Church we read:

The baptismal font is situated in the center of the basement room, under the main hall of the Temple it is constructed of pine timber, and put together of staves tongued and grooved, oval shaped, sixteen feet long east and west, and twelve feet wide, seven feet high from the foundation, the basin four feet deep, the moulding of the cap and base are formed of beautiful carved work in antique style. .

The font stands upon twelve oxen, four on each side, and two at each end, their heads, shoulders, and fore legs projecting out from under the font they are carved out of pine plank, glued together, and copied after the most beautiful five-year-old steer that could be found in the country. (History of the Church, vol. 4, p. 446)

1912 Photo of the Salt Lake Temple Baptismal Font
(The House of the Lord, p. 117)

1983 Photo of the Salt Lake Temple Baptismal Font
(The Salt Lake Temple: A Monument to a People, p. 91)

The idea for a large basin on the backs of twelve oxen came from the description of Solomon's temple in the Old Testament, I Kings 7:25 and 2 Chron. 4:1-4. However, this basin was used by the priests for cleansing while officiating in the sacrifices of animals. It was never used for baptism, let alone baptism for the dead.

The baptismal fonts in the LDS temples are only used for proxy baptisms of the dead. Baptisms of the living are preformed in the local Stake Center and would resemble other church's fonts.

Oxen Cut From Twelve To Six

In some of the newer, smaller LDS temples they are only using six oxen in a half circle, against a wall of mirrors. In 1982 Peggy Fletcher commented:

Some months ago, while perusing periodicals for our section called "Mormon Media Image," I spotted a curious item in the newsletter of a group who call themselves, "Saints Alive in Jesus" (a group fervently dedicated to "exposing the Mormon fraud and reconverting its members to Christianity"). It read:

The LDS church unveiled plans for the smaller, economy size one story temples recently. Ten of the already announced new temples will use the new design. One interesting difference is that the baptismal font will rest on 6 oxen rather than 12, and a mirror will be used to create the other 6.

The newsletter went on to query sarcastically, One can only wonder which of the 12 tribes have been disenfranchised for the sake of a little economy?

Naturally I presumed it to be a false rumor, a bit silly at that, another attempt by this group to discredit the Church, but thought it worth checking out anyway. To my dismay the Church Building Department confirmed it to be a fact. Six oxen and mirrors. The brain reels with the possibilities that introduces. Said one of my editors, "Effective placement of mirrors in local chapels could quickly double sacrament meeting attendance while cutting in half the number of officers needed to staff the ward." Missionaries wouldn't need companions, only mirrors.

What sort of mind, I asked myself, came up with this innovative scheme to save money, substituting tricks and sleight of hand for sacred symbolism? (Sunstone Magazine, July 1982, p. 18)

Forerunner To LDS Baptism For The Dead

The following quote from Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought may provide some clues for those wondering if Joseph Smith could have gotten his idea for proxy baptism from a contemporary source:

Guy Bishop's comment [in Dialogue, Vol.23, No.2] that baptism for the dead was not a part of nineteenth-century American religion and that it was left to Joseph Smith and the Mormons "to establish a doctrinal stance on the subject" (p. 85) led me to reflect on a piece of information I picked up some years ago. This historical reference links the doctrine and practice with the eighteenth-century Seventh Day German Baptists of the Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania, and I thought it might be worth sharing with DIALOGUE readers.

In his book Conrad Weiser: Friend of Colonists and Mohawk (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1945), Paul A. Wallace gives an account of eighteenth-century frontiersman Conrad Weiser's experience at Ephrata (c. 1738). In a chapter entitled "Conrad Weiser Becomes A Priest After the Order of Melchizedek" Wallace says:

Out of the brain of Emanuel Eckering (Elimelech) there sprang that same year, 1738, the ingenious concept of the Baptism for the Dead. Persons who had died without the grace of total immersion might yet be saved if they were baptized by proxy. Peter Miller, who never lost his head amid all these insinuating mumeries, was against it but [Conrad] Beissel [leader of the Seventh Day Baptists], ready as always to follow a religious wil-o'-the-wisp, set his seal upon it. Emmanuel Eckerling was the first to receive baptism in this kind. In a pool of the Cocalico, under Beissel's hands, he was immersed on behalf of his departed mother. The principle once accepted, the thing became popular, and the next world must soon have been swarming with souls so astonished to find themselves sainted by Cocalico immersion in abstentia. (p. 104)

Wallace cites as his source volume 1 of J. F. Sachse's The German Sectarians of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1899), which adds that baptism for the dead was "practiced for many years" at Ephrata, that it outlived and went beyond that community and was accepted by people of other faiths. Sachse also claims that as late as the 1840s there were traditions of "children having become substitutes in Baptism for parents, or vice versa" (p. 366).

Whether there is any connection between Emanuel Eckerling's baptism for the dead in Pennsylvania and Joseph Smith's thinking a century later in Nauvoo would no doubt be difficult to ascertain. However, if we have learned anything about Mormon history over the past couple of decades, it is that nothing is as simple or as obvious as it seems—including perhaps what we thought was our unique Mormon concept of baptism for the dead. (Letters to the Editor, Frederick S. Buchanan, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 24, no. 1, p. 9)

Mormons commonly refer to Hebrews 11:40 as a support for their ordinances for the dead. However, this particular verse was rewritten by Joseph Smith in his revision of the Bible. Brent Metcalfe gave the following critique of Smith's change:

Smith periodically incorporated revisions into the Bible he later discarded because the King James Version (KJV) better articulated his Nauvoo, Illinois, theology. For example, the KJV renders Hebrews 11:40, "God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect."

Smith altered this to read: "God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect." [See Joseph Smith's "New Translation" of the Bible]

Later, however, when he enunciated a doctrine of vicarious baptism for the dead, he reverted to the KJV as a proof text. Salvation of the dead, he insisted, "is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect [KJV Heb. 11:40]—neither can we without our dead be made perfect" (D&C 128:15). Smith here specifically ascribed authorship of the KJV rendition to Paul, yet the JSR had suggested otherwise. Smith abandoned his JSR emendation that the living faithful are purified by suffering in favor of the KJV as the redemption of the unconverted deceased. ("Apologetic and Critical Assumptions About Book of Mormon Historicity," by Brent Lee Metcalfe, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 26, no. 3, p. 179)

Interestingly, Smith's revision of Hebrews 11:40 is listed in the footnote of the current LDS printing of the King James Version (see p. 1534). Thus leaving one to ponder which reading is considered the "inspired" one.

Archaeology in Israel: Masada Desert Fortress

Masada (Hebrew for fortress) is a place of gaunt and majestic beauty that has become one of the Jewish people's greatestsymbols as the place where the last Jewish stronghold against Roman invasion stood. Next to Jerusalem, it is the most popular destination of tourists visiting Israel.

More than two thousand years have passed since the fall of the Masada fortress yet the regional climate and its remoteness have helped to preserve the remains of its extraordinary story.

Masada was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.


Masada is located atop an isolated rock cliff at the western end of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.

On the east side, the rock falls in a sheer drop of about 450 meters to the Dead Sea and on the western edge it stands about 100 meters above the surrounding terrain. The natural approaches to the cliff top are very difficult.


The only written source about Masada is Josephus Flavius&rsquo The Jewish War. Born Joseph ben Matityahu into a priestly family, Flavius was a young leader at the outbreak of the Great Jewish Rebellion against Rome (66 CE) when he was appointed governor of Galilee. Calling himself Josephus Flavius, he became a Roman citizen and a successful historian.

According to Flavius, Herod the Great built the fortress of Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. Herod, an Idumean, had been made King of Judea by his Roman overlords and &ldquofurnished this fortress as a refuge for himself.&rdquo It included a casemate wall around the plateau, storehouses, large cisterns ingeniously filled with rainwater, barracks, palaces and an armory.

Some 75 years after Herod&rsquos death, at the beginning of the Revolt of the Jews against the Romans in 66 CE, a group of Jewish rebels overcame the Roman garrison of Masada. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) they were joined by zealots and their families who had fled from Jerusalem. There, they held out for three years, raiding and harassing the Romans.

Then, in 73 CE, Roman governor Flavius Silva marched against Masada with the Tenth Legion, auxiliary units and thousands of Jewish prisoners-of-war. The Romans established camps at the base of Masada, laid siege to it and built a circumvallation wall. They then constructed a rampart of thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth against the western approaches of the fortress and, in the spring of 74 CE, moved a battering ram up the ramp and breached the wall of the fortress.

Once it became apparent that the Tenth Legion's battering rams and catapults would succeed in breaching Masada's walls, Elazar ben Yair - the Zealots&rsquo leader - decided that all the Jewish defenders should commit suicide the alternative facing the fortress&rsquos defenders were hardly more attractive than death.

Flavius dramatically recounts the story told him by two surviving women. The defenders &ndash almost one thousand men, women and children &ndash led by ben Yair, burnt down the fortress and killed each other. The Zealots cast lots to choose 10 men to kill the remainder. They then chose among themselves the one man who would kill the survivors. That last Jew then killed himself.

Elazar&rsquos final speech clearly was a masterful oration:

"Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice . We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom."

The story of Masada survived in the writings of Josephus but not many Jews read his works and for well over fifteen hundred years it was a more or less forgotten episode in Jewish history. Then, in the 1920's, Hebrew writer Isaac Lamdan wrote "Masada," a poetic history of the anguished Jewish fight against a world full of enemies. According to Professor David Roskies, Lamdan's poem, "later inspired the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto."

The heroic story of Masada and its dramatic end attracted many explorers to the Judean desert in attempts to locate the remains of the fortress. The site was identified in 1842, but intensive excavations took place only in the mid-1960's with the help of hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers from Israel and from many foreign countries.

To many, Masada symbolizes the determination of the Jewish people to be free in its own land.

Herodian Fortress

The rhomboid, flat plateau of Masada measures 600 x 300 m. The casemate wall (two parallel walls with partitions dividing the space between them into rooms), is 1400 m. long and 4 m. wide. It was built along the edge of the plateau, above the steep cliffs, and it had many towers. Three narrow, winding paths led from below to fortified gates. The water supply was guaranteed by a network of large, rock-hewn cisterns on the northwestern side of the hill. They filled during the winter with rainwater flowing in streams from the mountain on this side. Cisterns on the summit supplied the immediate needs of the residents of Masada and could be relied upon in time of siege.

To maintain interior coolness in the hot and dry climate of Masada, the many buildings of various sizes and functions had thick walls constructed of layers of hard dolomite stone, covered with plaster. The higher northern side of Masada was densely built up with structures serving as the administrative center of the fortress and included storehouses, a large bathhouse and comfortable living quarters for officials and their families.

King Herod's Residential Palace

On the northern edge of the steep cliff, with a splendid view, stood the elegant, intimate, private palace-villa of the king. It was separated from the fortress by a wall, affording total privacy and security. This northern palace consists of three terraces, luxuriously built, with a narrow, rock-cut staircase connecting them. On the upper terrace, several rooms served as living quarters in front of them is a semi-circular balcony with two concentric rows of columns. The rooms were paved with black and white mosaics in geometric patterns.

Remains of the Masada bathhouse

The two lower terraces were intended for entertainment and relaxation. The middle terrace had two concentric walls with columns, covered by a roof this created a portico around a central courtyard. The lowest, square terrace has an open central courtyard, surrounded by porticos. Its columns were covered with fluted plaster and supported Corinthian capitals. The lower parts of the walls were covered in frescos of multicolored geometrical patterns or painted in imitation of cut marble. On this terrace was also a small private bathhouse. Here, under a thick layer of debris, were found the remains of three skeletons, of a man, a woman and a child. The beautifully braided hair of the woman was preserved, and her sandals were found intact next to her also hundreds of small, bronze scales of the man&rsquos armor, probably booty taken from the Romans.

The Storehouse Complex

This consisted of two rows of long halls opening onto a central corridor. The floor of the storerooms was covered with thick plaster and the roofing consisted of wooden beams covered with hard plaster. Here, large numbers of broken storage jars which once contained large quantities of oil, wine, grains and other foodstuffs were found.

The Large Bathhouse

Elaborately built, it probably served the guests and senior officials of Masada. It consisted of a large courtyard surrounded by porticos and several rooms, all with mosaic or tiled floors and some with frescoed walls. The largest of the rooms was the hot room (caldarium). Its suspended floor was supported by rows of low pillars, making it possible to blow hot air from the furnace outside, under the floor and through clay pipes along the walls, to heat the room to the desired temperature.

The Western Palace

This is the largest building on Masada, covering over 4,000 square meters (one acre). Located along the center of the western casemate wall, near the main gate towards Judea and Jerusalem, it served as the main administration center of the fortress, as well as the king&rsquos ceremonial palace. It consists of four wings: an elaborate royal apartment, a service and workshop section, storerooms and an administrative unit. In the royal apartment, many rooms were built around a central courtyard. On its southern side was a large room with two Ionic columns supporting the roof over the wide opening into the courtyard. Its walls were decorated with molded panels of white stucco. On the eastern side were several rooms with splendid colored mosaic floors. One of these, the largest room, has a particularly decorative mosaic floor with floral and geometric patterns within several concentric square bands. This room may have been King Herod&rsquos throne room, the seat of authority when he was in residence at Masada.

Stronghold of the Zealots

Remains of the Masada Synagogue

The synagogue, part of the Herodian construction, was a hall measuring 12.5 x 10.5 m., incorporated into the northwestern section of the casemate wall and oriented towards Jerusalem. This synagogue also served the Jews who lived in Masada during the Revolt. They built four tiers of plastered benches along the walls, as well as columns to support its ceiling. This synagogue is considered to be the best example of the early synagogues, those predating the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

An ostracon bearing the inscription me'aser kohen (tithe for the priest) was found in the synagogue. Also, fragments of two scrolls, parts of Deuteronomy and Ezekiel 37 (including the vision of the "dry bones"), were found hidden in pits dug under the floor of a small room built inside the synagogue.

Among the many small finds of artifacts &ndash most from the occupation period of the zealots &ndash were pottery and stone vessels, weapons (mainly arrowheads), remnants of textiles and of foodstuffs preserved in the dry climate of this area also hundreds of pottery sherds, some with Hebrew lettering, coins and shekels.

Of special interest among the postherds of amphora used for the importation of wine from Rome (inscribed with the name C. Sentius Saturninus, consul for the year 19 BCE), is one bearing the inscription: To Herod King of the Jews Several hoards of bronze coins and dozens of silver shekels and half-shekels had been hidden by the zealots the shekalim were found in superb condition and represent all the years of the Revolt, from year one to the very rare year 5 (70 CE), when the Temple was destroyed.

In the area in front of the northern palace, eleven small ostraca were uncovered, each bearing a single name. One reads "ben Yai&rsquor" and could be short for Eleazar ben Ya&rsquoir, the commander of the fortress. It has been suggested that the other ten names are those of the men chosen by lot to kill the others and then themselves, as recounted by Josephus. Evidence of a great conflagration were found everywhere. The fire was pobably set by the last of the zealots before they committed suicide. Josephus Flavius writes that everything was burnt except the stores &ndash to let the Romans know that it was not hunger that led the defenders to suicide.

UNESCO World Heritage Designation

Criterion (iii): Masada is a symbol of the ancient Jewish Kingdom of Israel, of its violent destruction in the later 1st century CE, and of the subsequent Diaspora.

Criterion (iv): The Palace of Herod the Great at Masada is an outstanding example of a luxurious villa of the Early Roman Empire, whilst the camps and other fortifications that encircle the monument constitute the finest and most complete Roman siege works to have survived to the present day.

Criterion (vi): The tragic events during the last days of the Jewish refugees who occupied the fortress and palace of Masada make it a symbol both of Jewish cultural identity and, more universally, of the continuing human struggle between oppression and liberty.


Due to its remoteness, and the harsh climate of the southern end of the Judean Desert, following the dissolution of the Byzantine monastic settlement in the 6th century the Masada site remained untouched for more than thirteen centuries until its rediscovery in1828. The property encompasses the remains of the site on its natural fortress and the surrounding siegeworks.

Of equal importance is the fact that the setting of Masada, the magnificent wild scenery of this region, has not changed over many millennia. The only intrusions are the lower visitor and cable car facilities, which in their new form have been designed and relocated sympathetically, to minimize visual impact, though the siting of the summit station, is still controversial.


This is a site that remained untouched for more than thirteen centuries. The buildings and other evidence of human settlement gradually collapsed and were covered over until they were revealed in the 1960s. There have been no additions or reconstruction, beyond an acceptable level of anastylosis, and inappropriate materials used in early conservation projects are being replaced. Limited restoration works have been carried out to aid visitor interpretation with original archaeological levels being clearly defined by a prominent black line set in the new mortar joints. Certain significant archaeological elements, such as the Roman camps and siegeworks, remain virtually untouched. The authenticity is therefore of a very high level.

Protection and management requirements

The Judean desert remains a sparsely settled area, with the harshness of the environment serving as a natural barrier against modern urban and rural development pressures.

The property and buffer zone are owned by the State of Israel, and the archaeological sites are protected by the 1978 Antiquities Law. Since 1966 the entire Masada site, and its surroundings, have been designated a National Park, updated by the 1998 National Parks, Nature Reserves, National Sites and Memorial Sites Law. The National Park is further protected through being entirely surrounded by the Judean Desert Nature Reserve, also established under the 1998 Act.

The property is managed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority. An important aspect of the current management plan is the decision to carry out no further research excavation on the main site "in the present generation", although limited excavation will be permitted when required by conservation, maintenance or restoration projects.

Almost entirely invisible from the summit, a new visitor centre was opened on the plain beneath the eastern side of Masada in 2000. Providing all the anticipated facilities, the centre was designed to accommodate the 1.25 million visitors per annum. The cable car, originally installed in the 1970's, was replaced by a new, less intrusive, and heavily used system to connect the visitor centre with the summit. It is also still possible to undertake the arduous climb to the summit by the two historic pedestrian access routes.

The policy of prohibiting commercial activities of any kind, and picnicking on the summit, is rigorously maintained.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry
Joseph Telushkin Jewish Literacy, NY:
William Morrow and Co., 1991. Reprinted by permission of the author

Masada photo courtesy of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. All rights reserved to Itamar Greenberg and to the Ministry of Tourism.

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<< Our Photo Pages >> Necromanteion - Ancient Temple in Greece in Northern Greece

The Necromanteion (4th century BCE) was a temple of necromancy devoted to Hades and Persephone close to the ancient town of Ephyra . "Necromanteion" means "Oracle of Death". It is one of the oldest and most important "Oracles" in ancient Greece and the only Oracle of Death. Scientists found descriptions of this site in Herodotus and Homer work.
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Necromanteion submitted by Armand

Necromanteion submitted by Armand
Central room

Necromanteion submitted by Armand
Information panel site

Necromanteion submitted by Armand
Site in Northern Greece and Macedonia Greece

Necromanteion submitted by Armand
Underground chamber

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