The Epic tale of 900 Jewish zealots that held out against a 5000 man Roman legion on the mountaintop fortress of Masada after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.
Our story begins with the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by Romans. Eleazar Ben Yair (Peter Strauss) has emerged from the fiery holocaust of Jerusalem as leader of a small band of rebel Zealots. Along with 900 men, women and children who have survived, he prepares to harass the Roman occupation, vowing that the Judean war is not yet over.
At the 10th Roman Legion, leader Flavius Silva (Peter O’Toole) brilliantly averts a possible mutiny due to extreme conditions in Judea. He must remain there with his legion to deal with Eleazar and his activated Zealots.
A night attack on the village of Hebron by the zealots follows. In a fierce hand to hand battle, Eleazar and his band set fire to the sacks of grain which, by Imperial order, is collected from the citizenry as taxes to be bartered for gold.
Silva, in his anxiety to put an end to the war, arranges a meeting with Eleazar that illustrates the uncommon ability of both men to arrive at an intelligent plan for peaceful resolution. In Rome, Vespasian (Timothy West), under duress by members of the Roman senate, refuses to grant the terms of peace and sends Silva back to Judea under orders to dislodge the Hebrews from Masada and return them to Rome in chains.
Silva returns to Palestine and learns soon after that the zealots have stepped up their campaign of harassment by poisoning the water wells that supply the Romans. Eleazar has learned of the return of Silva and the breaking of the truce. The Romans encamp at night near Masada as Eleazar reminds his people that the desert elements will destroy the Roman will and effort.
The following day, the legion arrives at the base of Masada where Eleazar has taken his people to safety. The Romans unsuccessfully challenge the fortress; the Hebrew response is a bombardment of the army with sacks of manure. Silva brings Rubrius Gallus (Anthony Quayle) back with him from Rome; Gallus is a brilliant siege master who plans the attack against the zealot fortress.
After eliminating a pair of traitorous officers, Silva appropriates under his protection the high spirited and beautiful Hebrew slave girl, Sheva (Barbara Carrera), who has been a concubine to one of them. Gallus devises a plan to construct a huge ramp of earth and stone against the western side of Masada that will enable the Romans to reach the fortress wall. After weeks of work, when the ramp shows signs of development, Eleazar launches a stone barrage on the troops below, killing many and all but destroying the camp. Silva orders the camp rebuilt and the rounding up of 2,000 Jewish slaves to work on the reconstruction.
One night, Silva, out of his need and boredom, sends for the slave girl Sheva. She expects to be bedded, only to discover that Silva, mourning his dead wife of three years, wants only companionship and conversation. However Silva is soon attracted by her beauty as well as her spirit and steps beyond his original intention.
The construction of the ramp shows progress as the sun takes its toll and water rations are cut even further. One day at noon when the Romans are distributing the meagre water rations, Eleazar releases the turgid water out of the tanning vats on the top of the mountain. The thirsty slaves as well as Romans stand stunned as the watch the water cascading down the mountain and sucked into the parched earth.
Some nights later, Silva, responding to a strange chant, emerges from his tent to witness the arrival of Falco (David Warner), accompanied by a guard of German mercenaries. As a Roman senator, Falco is on assignment from Vespasian himself to determine the campaigns progress. Silva and Gallus distrust Falco and hold him in contempt. A dangerous and tense confrontation between Silva and Falco erupts simultaneously with the sudden death of Gallus, shot in the neck with an arrow, when he carelessly goes to the top of the ramp to make some calculations. Falco announces that he holds the Imperial baton of authority and is empowered to assume command from Silva. An embittered Silva reluctantly gives way.
The next morning, the new leader Falco calls the zealots to the walls to watch as he announces his intention to catapult one Hebrew slave at a time to his death against the mountain. The process will continue until Eleazar surrenders. After praying for a solution in the synagogue, Eleazar learns that the killing has stopped; the elders are convinced God has shown him to be a true leader. Unknown to the Hebrews, this has come about because Silva cannot abide the barbarous behaviour of Falco and reclaims his command with the help of his officers and men. Silva now orders renewed efforts to complete the ramp. Everyone works, including Silva, night and day.
Then comes the day when the ramp is finished. The Hebrew's run to the walls to witness a frightening apparition – an assault tower four stories high with a huge battering ram. Eleazar quickly decides on a counter move; they will build an inner wall of timbers at the point the tower will meet the outer wall. The tower, pulled by hundreds of slaves, finally reaches the top of the ramp and the battering ram is unsuccessfully slammed into the newly supported wall. Silva orders the wall to be burned. An officer reminds Silva of the possibility of a wind shift, directing the flames back into the assault tower. Nevertheless, Silva’s command is carried out.
Suddenly, there is a wind shift and the flames do turn back on the tower, forcing the Roman’s to withdraw. Silva concludes that the armament on the tower will resist the flames and the wind will eventually shift the flames back to the wall. He is proven correct; they will breach the burned out wall in the morning.
That night, Silva offers Sheva her freedom while proclaiming his love for her and she finally admits that she returns that love. On the mountain above, Eleazar gathers his people together to discuss their options. Rape and pillage – death or slavery – or stand and fight against hopeless odds. A decision is made. The final assault breaks through the burned out timbers. There are no sounds of combat... a strange silence. A perplexed Silva mounts the tower and goes through the breached wall. There are no signs of life.
Silva proceeds from place to place – from room to room – looking at the bodies of all the men, women and children of Masada. They have taken their own lives rather than submit to slavery. In a flashback, we see and hear what Eleazar finally said to his people the night before... “You can choose to fight them in the morning. They’ll kill you or enslave you. You can choose to hide from them. They’ll find you. Or you can choose to take their victory from them. And they will remember you.”
FOX Classics TV guide
Sunday, 26 May 2013
- 9:00 AM On the Buses
- 9:30 AM 'Allo 'Allo!
- 10:00 AM China Beach
- 11:00 AM Tour of Duty
- 12:00 PM Hellfighters
- 2:00 PM Rooster Cogburn
- 3:40 PM 'Allo 'Allo!
- 3:45 PM The Virginian
- 5:35 PM Centennial
- 8:00 PM Vicar of Dibley
- 8:35 PM Absolutely Fabulous
- 9:10 PM Father Ted
- 9:45 PM One Foot in the Grave
- 10:20 PM The New Statesman
- 10:55 PM Bottom
- 11:30 PM Dad's Army
- 12:00 AM The Big Valley
- 1:00 AM Gunsmoke
- 2:00 AM The Virginian
- 3:30 AM China Beach
- 4:30 AM M*A*S*H
- 5:00 AM The Big Valley
- End of programming for Sunday, 26 May 2013