The Building Program of Herod the Great

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And as is often the case with such discoveries, Netzer found it where, for years, he least expected it. Arriving at Herodium, which is not only an active archaeological site but also, since the late s, a national park, I drive partway up the mountain to the parking lot where I will meet Netzer. In the early s, before the first intifada turned the West Bank into a conflict zone, Herodium drew some , people per year. For the moment I'm the sole visitor. At a kiosk I buy a ticket that lets me ascend on foot to the summit.

At the base of the mountain the remains of a royal complex, known as Lower Herodium, sprawl across nearly 40 acres. Gone are the homes, gardens and stables; the most recognizable structure is an immense pool, by feet, which is graced with a center island. A narrow trail hugging the hillside leads me to an opening in the slope, where I enter an enormous cistern now part of a route to the summit, more than feet above the surrounding countryside. The air inside is pleasantly cool, and the walls are smooth and dry, with patches of original plaster.

I follow a network of tunnels dug during the second Jewish revolt against the Romans in A. Daylight pours in.

Herod the Great - A Brief Overview

I climb a steep staircase and emerge at the summit, in the middle of the palace courtyard. The palace fortress once reached close to feet high and was surrounded by double concentric walls accented by four cardinal point towers. Besides living quarters, the upper palace had a triclinium a Greco-Roman-style formal dining room lined on three sides by a couch and a bathhouse that features a domed, hewn-stone ceiling with an oculus round opening.

It's strange to find such a perfectly preserved structure amid the ancient ruins, and it leaves me with an eerie sense of standing both in the past and the present. Gazing out from the perimeter wall, I see Arab villages and Israeli settlements in three directions. But to the east cultivation abruptly stops as the desert exerts its authority, plummeting out of sight to the Dead Sea, then rising again as the mountains of Jordan.

Why would Herod build such a prominent fortress—the largest palace complex in the Roman world—on the edge of a desert?


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Though the site had little apparent strategic value, it held profound meaning for Herod. Born around 73 B. Herod, probably more shrewd than loyal, declared allegiance to Rome and fled Jerusalem with as many as 5, people—his family and a contingent of fighting men—under cover of night. Surging over rocky terrain, the wagon in which Herod's mother was riding overturned. Herod drew his sword and was on the verge of suicide when he saw she had survived. He returned to the battle and fought "not like one that was in distress In tribute to his victory and his mother's survival, he vowed to be buried there.

Herod sought refuge in Petra in today's Jordan —capital of the Nabateans, his mother's people—before heading to Rome. Three years later, with Rome's backing, Herod conquered Jerusalem and became king of Judea. A decade would pass before he would begin work on the remote fortified palace that would fulfill his pledge. Herod must have given a lot of thought to how Herodium would function, given the lack of a reliable water source and the mountain's distance from Jerusalem in those days, a three- to four-hour trip by horseback.

He arranged for spring water to be brought three and a half miles via an aqueduct, relocated the district capital to Herodium with all the staff that such a move implied and surrounded himself with 10 to 20 trustworthy families. Ongoing excavations by Netzer reveal the impressive variety of facilities that Herod built at his desert retreat, including a royal theater that accommodated some spectators. Netzer believes it was constructed to entertain Marcus Agrippa, Rome's second in command and a close friend of the Judean king, who visited Herodium in 15 B.

Netzer unlocks a plywood door that has been installed on the site and invites me into the royal box, where Herod and his honored guests would have been seated. The walls were decorated with vivid secco landscape paintings colors applied to dry, not wet, plaster. The colors, though subdued now, still feel vibrant, and we gaze at the image of an animal, maybe a gazelle, loping along.

Around 10 B. Even with unlimited manpower, it must have been a Sisyphean enterprise to pile all that earth some 65 feet high and comb it over the original slopes like a child's carefully smoothed sand hill. The borders of Judea were quiet during Herod's reign, enabling him to undertake an ambitious building program that brought employment and prosperity to the region. The major projects he completed include the incomparable Temple in Jerusalem, a stunning winter palace in Jericho, two palaces atop Masada and the harbor at Caesarea.

A palace garden in Jericho was elevated so that people strolling along the colonnades would see the foliage and flowers at eye level. Still, Herod's reign is remembered more for its ruthlessness and paranoia than its architectural feats. He tortured and killed family members, servants and bodyguards, to say nothing of his real enemies. In an Othello-like rage, Herod even ordered the execution of the woman he loved most—his second wife, Mariamne—believing that she had committed adultery.

Herod's eldest son and heir apparent, Antipater, convinced the king that two of his other sons were plotting against him—so Herod had them executed. And when Herod learned that Antipater was planning to poison him, he rose from his bed just five days before he died to order the murder of Antipater. But when Herod died, in Jericho at about age 69—probably of kidney failure exacerbated by a genital infection, according to Aryeh Kasher's recent biography King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor —the prisoners were released.

Instead of mourning, rejoicing filled the land. Josephus wrote that Herod's body was conveyed to Herodium, "where, in accordance with the directions of the deceased, it was interred. In the s, Felicien de Saulcy, a French explorer, searched for Herod's tomb on the island in the center of the vast pool in Lower Herodium. Father Virgilio Corbo led an excavation at the summit from to on behalf of the Franciscan Faculty of Biblical Sciences and Archaeology in Rome.

In , a team led by Lambert Dolphin, a Silicon Valley geophysicist, used sonar and rock-penetrating radar to identify what Dolphin thought was a burial chamber inside the base of the highest tower on the mountaintop. Netzer, however, did not find Dolphin's data convincing enough to redirect his efforts from other, more promising sites—notably a monumental building in the lower complex. Moreover, Netzer and others argue that entombment in the tower would have been unthinkable, because Jewish law proscribed burial within a living space.

Barbara Burrell, a classics professor at the University of Cincinnati, wrote in that interring Herod inside the palace "would have horrified both Romans and Jews, neither of whom dined with their dead. The septuagenarian offers me a hand as I seek a toehold. He greets the crew in Hebrew and Arabic as we pass from one section, where workers wield pickaxes, to another, where a young architect sketches decorative elements.

The tomb site is nearly barren, but the podium that bore the royal sarcophagus hints at magnificence. It is set into the stony earth, partially exposed and unmarred, the joints between the smooth white ashlars slabs of square stone so fine as to suggest they were cut by a machine. Netzer has also found the corner pilasters columns partially built into the walls , enabling him to estimate that the mausoleum, nestled against the side of the mountain, stood on a base 30 by 30 feet and was some 80 feet high—as tall as a seven-story building.

It was built of a whitish limestone called meleke Arabic for "royal" that was also used in Jerusalem and in the nearby Tomb of Absalom—named after the rebellious son of King David, but likely the tomb of the Judean King Alexander Jannaeus. The remnants of the mausoleum's facade are composed of the three elements of classical entablature: architraves ornamental beams that sit atop columns , friezes horizontal bands above the architraves and cornices crown molding found on the top of buildings.

Netzer has also found pieces of five decorative urns. The urn was a funerary motif, used notably at Petra. Despite the work still to be done—excavating, assembling, publishing the data—Netzer is clearly gratified by what he has learned, which is, he says, the "secret" of Herodium: how Herod found a way to keep his vow and be buried in the desert. Continue or Give a Gift. Privacy Policy , Terms of Use Sign up. SmartNews History. History Archaeology. World History. Featured: The Suspect in City Hall.

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Photo of the Day. Video Ingenuity Awards. Smithsonian Channel. Video Contest. Games Daily Sudoku. Universal Crossword. Daily Word Search. Mah Jong Quest. Subscribe Top Menu Current Issue. Apollo 50 Shop. Archaeology U. History World History Video Newsletter. Herod in an painting by Giuseppe Fattori vowed that he would be buried at his palace fortress on Herodium. Herod built an elaborate palace fortress on the foot mountain, Herodium, to commemorate his victory in a crucial battle.

The entrance to a cistern at Herodium, the palace of King Herod the Great. Doron Nissim. Archaeologist Ehud Netzer found decorated red limestone fragments near the remains of the tomb. After reassembling the pieces, Netzer concluded they were part of a royal sarcophagus more than eight feet long. The royal sarcophagus once sat on a finely crafted podium made from smooth white ashlars square stone.


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  • Gila Yudkin. Some still believe that King Herod is buried in a secret chamber at the base of the palace's highest tower.

    The Real Herod (Biblical Tyrant Documentary) - Timeline

    Felicien de Saulcy, a 19th-century French explorer, thought the tomb was located in an island at the center of a vast swimming pool at the foot of Herodium. Herodium was "a place of enjoyment and pleasure" the domed ceiling of a royal bathhouse. August 2, - Published on Amazon. Verified Purchase.

    There are many books about Herod the builder, by Netzer, Shalit and others. All of what I read is emphasized on the architecture per se. Roller brings it from a different angle all together. In order to understand Herod as a great builder in the Levant, we need to understand Herod's world, background. His exposure to Hellenistic, Roman and Egyptian art and architecture. And this is what Roller's book is all about.

    The Building Program of Herod the Great by Duane W. Roller

    One can also understand Herod's influence on the future urban and landscape planning, Also it is written in such a fluent language. Roller really opens your eye to understand and even visualize the Levant at Herod's times and future.. June 29, - Published on Amazon. Well researched after many years in the field it is exactly what I wanted but not a bedside read. Herod's building program was the most ambitious of antiquity, and a technically gifted effort. If the Romans had not torn down the Temple Mount I believe it would still be standing.

    Lots of detail in inside. March 11, - Published on Amazon.

    Its really amazing in this day and age that more people don't know about the building program of Herod the Great which was truly monumental.



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