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MACHAERUS , Transjordanian frontier fortress erected by the Hasmonean king Alexander *Yannai (Jannaeus) in southern Perea, E. of the Jordan and adjacent to the border of Nabatean Arabia (Jos., Wars, 1:161; 3:46; 7:163–170). The place served as one of the depositories for his treasures (Jos., Ant., 13:417). It served as a base for Alexander and *Aristobulus in their resistance against the Romans. Pliny describes it as one of the strongest points in the region after Jerusalem (Pliny, Historia Naturalis, 5:16, 72) and Strabo lists the fortress among the Hasmonean strongholds (16:2, 40). Taken by Gabinius and destroyed, it was later rebuilt by Herod the Great. Machaerus was also the place where *John the Baptist was executed. According to Josephus (Ant., 18:116–117) John's activities in the lower Jordan River region so alarmed the Tetrarch *Herod Antipas (nicknamed the "fox": Luke 13:32), son of Herod the Great, that he had him executed. The story given in the gospels regarding the reason for John's execution is different, but in no way contradicts the reason given by Josephus. According to Mark (6:17–18; cf. Matt. 14:3–4; Luke 3:18–20) John spoke out publicly about the unlawfulness of the union between Herod and Herodias (in keeping with Lev. 18:6) which annoyed Herod considerably, but he was eventually beheaded owing to a request made by Salome on the occasion of Herod's birthday (Mark 6:14–29; Matt. 14:1–12). The place served as one of the stations for signaling the appearance of the new moon and the arrival of holidays (Tosef., rh 2:2). Herds, mainly of goats, were said to have been raised in the mountains of Machaerus (Tam. 3:8). In the Jewish War against the Romans the fortress was taken over by the Zealots (Jos., Wars, 2:485) and remained one of their strongholds even after the fall of Jerusalem (Jos., Wars, 4:555). In 72 c.e. the Roman legate Lucilius Bassus captured it after a short siege (Jos., Wars, 7:164ff.; which also includes a description of the site). Machaerus (Jabal al-Mishnaqa) is situated close to the present-day village of al-Mukāwir, 14 mi. (c. 22 km.) southwest of Madaba. The site was visited in the 19th century by J.L. Burckhardt, H. Tristram, and C.R. Conder. F.M. Abel made a survey of the site in 1909. In the 1920s a sculpted head identified by P. Ilton as the head of Salome was said to have been found in a cave 80 ft. north of Machaerus. Excavations were first made at the site by J. Vardaman in 1968, but the results were never published. In the early 1970s Strobel made a survey of the Roman siege-works around the site. Bassus' unfinished ramp is still visible on one side of the site. Father V. Corbo undertook major excavations at the site from the late 1970s. A few tombs from the first century c.e. were recently investigated at the site.


F.M. Abel, Une Croisière autour de la Mer Morte (1911), 30–41. add. bibliography: F.M. Abel, "Mélange I, exploration de la vallée du Jourdain," in: Revue Biblique, 10 (1913), 218; J. Vardaman, "The Excavations of Machaerus" (manuscript in Hebrew University Library); A. Strobel, "Observations about the Roman Installations at Mukawer," in: adaj, 19 (1974), 101–27; idem, in: zdpv, 90 (1974), 128–84; On V. Corbo's excavations: M. Picccirillo, "First Excavation Campaign at Qal'at el-Mishnaqa-Meqwer (Madaba)," in: adaj, 23 (1979), 177–83; V. Corbo, "La Fortrezza di Macheronte," in: la, 27 (1978), 217–31; also S, Loffreda, in: adaj, 25 (1981), 85–94; V. Corbo, in: la, 29 (1979), 315–26; D. Genequand, "Un hypogée hérodien à Machéronte (Jabal al-Mishnaqa, Jordanie)," in: C. Bottini, L. Di Segni, and L. Daniel Chrupcala (eds.), One LandMany Cultures (2003), 327–39; and for a general summary about the site and the remains: S. Gibson, The Cave of John the Baptist (2004), 242–48.

[Michael Avi-Yonah /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]