The city of Gamala on the Golan derived its name from gamal (Hebrew for camel), since it was situated on a hill shaped like a camels rump. The Hasmonean ruler Alexander Yannaeus founded the city in the first century BCE and it continued to be inhabited by Jews, as attested to by Josephus Flavius (Antiquities of the Jews 13:394). Josephus, a Jew, was Commander of Galilee during the Jewish Revolt against Rome and in 66 CE fortified Gamala as his main stronghold on the Golan. He gives a very detailed topographical description of the city and describes the Roman siege under the command of Vespasian which led to its conquest in 67 CE. The Romans attempted to take the city by means of a siege ramp, but were turned back by the defenders; only on the second attempt did they succeed in penetrating the fortifications and conquering the city. Thousands of inhabitants were slaughtered, while others chose to jump to their deaths from the top of the cliff (Josephus, The Jewish War IV, 1-83). Gamala has not been rebuilt since.

Josephus failure to provide a detailed geographical description of Gamalas location on the Golan made it difficult to locate. The identification was firmly established only in the course of archeological excavations during the 1970s.

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