Herodium

Driving south from Jerusalem, the landscape is dominated by an artificial cone-shaped mountain on which Herod the Great built the fortress-palace he dedicated to himself. Herodium rises 758 metres above sea level with breathtaking views overlooking the Judean Desert as far as the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab. It is one of the most important and unique building complexes built by Herod and is considered among the most impressive structures of the ancient world.

Coordinates: 31° 39′ 57″ N, 35° 14′ 29″ E

Herodium

The construction of Herodium began around 25 BC on the location of his victory over his Hasmonean and Parthian enemies in 40 BC. To commemorate the event, the king built one of the largest monarchical complexes of the Roman Empire which served as a residential palace, an administrative centre and a mausoleum. Herod built many magnificent palaces throughout the Land. These palaces included guest rooms, bathhouses, swimming pools, and luxurious gardens, all decorated in the style of the lavish palaces of Rome. It was at Herodium that Herod entertained Agrippa, the son-in-law of the emperor Augustus, in 15 BC.

Herod planned the site as a complex of palaces consisting of three parts:

  • 1. The fortified mountain palace; The combination of fortress and palace is a uniquely Herodian innovation, which he repeated on several other sites, including Masada.
  • 2. Lower Herodium, combining a magnificent recreation area, a bathhouse, an administrative centre, and a system of structures to serve during the king’s funeral (including the procession way).
  • 3. The slope on the northern part of the hill where Herod built a huge three stories high mausoleum that could be seen from afar.
Reconstruction drawing of Greater Herodium from the time of Herod.
Reconstruction drawing of Greater Herodium from the time of Herod.

The search for Herod’s tomb was one of the greatest archaeological quests in Israel. The historian Josephus wrote that Herod was buried in Herodium but archaeologists had been unable to locate the tomb until 2007. Finally, after thirty years of searching at the site, the late Prof. Ehud Netzer of the university’s Institute of Archaeology announced that he had found the tomb of Herod. What he discovered were the remains of a large tomb and opulent coffins on the northern slope of the mountain facing Jerusalem.

Following Herod’s death, his son and heir Archilaus continued to reside at Herodium. After Judea became a Roman province, the site served as a centre for Roman prefects. During the Great revolt, the Zealots captured the fortress in 66 AD but then handed it over without resistance to the Romans following the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Fifty years later, Herodium was captured again by the rebels during the Bar Kokhva revolt. As part of their defense measures, they dug tunnels around the cisterns and hid there. During the Byzantine period, Lower Herodium was rebuilt on top of the ruins and constituted of a large village with three churches. The settlement appears to have continued until the 9th century AD after which the site was abandoned.

Today Herodium is a national park under the management of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. An astonishing archaeological site complete with a labyrinth of cool underground caves and tunnels, the Park recently opened a small Visitors’ Center with a lovely film production about King Herod and his funeral procession.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Ehud Netzer who died in October 2010 following a fall while preparing an exhibition of the findings for the Israel Museum. The exhibition “The King’s final journey” finally opened in 2013, showing Herod’s impact on the architectural landscape of the Land of Israel. More than 200 objects found at Herodian sites, including Jerusalem, Jericho, Cypros and Herodium were exhibited for the first time as well as the King’s reconstructed burial chamber.

PORtFOLIO

The great colonnaded pool (70x46x3m) at Lower Herodium, it held almost 10,000 cubic metres of water and was used as a swimming pool as well as a water reservoir for the irrigation of the adjacent orchards.
The great colonnaded pool (70x46x3m) at Lower Herodium. The pool held almost 10,000 cubic metres of water and was used as a swimming pool as well as a water reservoir for the irrigation of the adjacent gardens. Lower Herodium covered an area of some 38 acres
Overview of Lower Herodium from the mountain-palace fortress.
Overview of Lower Herodium from the mountain-palace fortress with the great pool in the middle. To the left of the pool stood the bathhouse with included an apodyterium (changing room), a large caldarium (hot room) and a frigidarium (cold room). To the right of the pool stood the monumental building whose function is still unclear.
Reconstruction of a part of the round hot room (caldarium) from Herod's bathhouse at Herodium with remains of the frescoes and flues from the walls of the room and a mosaic floor decorated with scrolls, 1st century BC. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Reconstruction of a part of the round hot room (caldarium) from Herod’s bathhouse at Lower Herodium with remains of frescoes and flues from the walls and a mosaic floor decorated with scrolls.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Model of the fortress in Upper Herodium.
Model of the mountain palace-fortress in Upper Herodium.
Reconstruction drawing of the mountain palace-fortress. The unusual structure served simultaneously as a palace, a fortress and a monument.
Reconstruction drawing of the mountain palace-fortress. The unusual structure served simultaneously as a palace and a fortress.
Overview of Upper Herodium surrounded by a double wall and by four towers. The diametre of the structure was 63m while the height was ca. 30m.
Overview of Upper Herodium surrounded by a double wall and by four towers. The diametre of the structure was 63m while the height was ca. 30m.
View of the round eastern towers and the central courtyard surrounded by on three sides by colonnades with Corinthian capitals.
View of the round eastern towers and the central courtyard surrounded by on three sides by colonnades with Corinthian capitals.
Corinthian capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and volutes.
Corinthian capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and volutes.
The palace courtyard.
The palace courtyard.
Reconstruction drawing of the of the palace courtyard surrounded by a roofed colonnade whose columns bore Corinthian capitals. Two large exedrae were built on both sides of the courtyard.
Reconstruction drawing of the palace courtyard surrounded by a roofed colonnade whose columns bore Corinthian capitals. Two large exedrae were built on both sides of the courtyard.
The reception room (triclinium) on the southwestern side of the palace used for banquets. During the Jewish revolts the reception hall was turned into a synagogue and benches were built along its walls.
The reception room (triclinium) on the southwestern side of the palace used for banquets. During the Jewish revolts the reception hall was turned into a synagogue and benches were built along its walls.
Mosaic floor from Herod's Palace at Herodium with a rosette at its centre and palmettes and pomegranates in the corners. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Mosaic floor from Herod’s Palace at Herodium with a rosette at its centre and palmettes and pomegranates in the corners.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Migveh (ritual bath) and weapons foundry from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD).
Migveh (ritual bath) and weapons foundry from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD).
The underground tunnel network.
The underground tunnel network.
One of the largest water cisterns from Herod's time which collected rainwater from the hill’s slopes. The large stones came from Herod's tomb.
One of the largest water cisterns from Herod’s time which collected rainwater from the hill’s slopes. The large stones came from Herod’s tomb.
The underground tunnel network from the Great Jewish Revolt (66–73 AD).
The underground tunnel network from the Great Jewish Revolt (66–73 AD).
The underground tunnel network from Bar Kokhba's time (132-135 AD).
The underground tunnel network from Bar Kokhba’s time (132-135 AD).
The Monumental Stairways which served the King and his court and any distinguished visitors invited to ascend to the upper complex and later used for Herod’s sumptuous funeral procession.
The Monumental Stairways which served the King and his court and any distinguished visitors invited to ascend to the upper complex and later used for Herod’s sumptuous funeral procession. (source)
The royal theatre (under scaffolding in 2016), measuring about 12m in diametre with seating for about 400 located at the west of Herod's mausoleum. At the top was a private chamber for the King and his guests.
The royal theatre (under scaffolding in 2016), measuring about 12m in diametre with seating for about 400 located at the west of Herod’s mausoleum. At the top was a private chamber for the King and his guests. (source)
One of the ornate window paintings that adorned the royal room above the theatre. The scene depicts a sea view along with bull, trees, a temple, a palm tree and a boat alluding to the conquest of Egypt by Augustus, 20-15 BC. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
One of the ornate window paintings that adorned the royal room above the theatre. The scene depicts a sea landscape along with bull, trees, a temple, a palm tree and a boat alluding to the conquest of Egypt by Augustus, 20-15 BC.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Wall painting fragment from that decorated the royal room above the theatre. The scene depicts a naval battle, it may represent the victory of Octavian at Actium, 20-15 BC. Israel Museum, Jerusalen.
Wall painting fragment from that decorated the royal room above the theatre. The scene depicts a naval battle which may represent the victory of Octavian at Actium, 20-15 BC.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Location and model of Herod's tomb built on the slope of the hill, it was free-standing and three storeys high (25m) and would have been clearly visible from Jerusalem.
Location and model of Herod’s tomb built on the slope of the hill. It was three stories high (25m) and would have been clearly visible from Jerusalem.
The podium of Herod's mausoleum preserved in situ.
The podium of Herod’s mausoleum preserved in situ. It was built from hard white limestone, suitable for carving, which was carried near the site.
The model of Herod's mausoleum, the first storey was a plinth which supported the second, square one; above this was a circular tholos, which incorporated an internal chamber surrounded by an Ionic colonnade, topped by a dome.
The model of Herod’s mausoleum. The first storey was a plinth which supported the second, square one; above this was a circular tholos, which incorporated an internal chamber surrounded by an Ionic colonnade, topped by a dome. (source)
The model of Herod's mausoleum.
The model of Herod’s mausoleum. The roof was a concave cone crowned by a magnificent Corinthian capital with an urn (imitating cinerary urns) above it, while another six urns surrounded the roof’s edge. (source)
Architectural elements from Herod's mausoleum and his sarcophagus. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Architectural elements from Herod’s mausoleum and his sarcophagus carved from reddish limestone.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Rosette on the sarcophagus of Herod the Great which was found in 2007 after 35 years of search. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Rosette from the shorter side of Herod’s sarcophagus which was found in 2007 after 35 years of search.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Panoramic view from the top of the hill towards the Judean desert and the Dead Sea.
Panoramic view from the top of the hill towards the Judean desert and the Dead Sea.

Links:

Source:

  • Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey by Rozenberg, Silvia and Mevorah, David, The Israel Museum, 2013 (buy it here)

Recommended guide for groups and VIP private tour: Ran Ortner (M.A graduate and PhD in Roman military history classics & archaeology) –  Email: ortner.ran@gmail.com

5 thoughts on “Herodium

  1. I really like your posts and trips..I really would like to visit all these amazing places, maybe one day. As you, I love Hadrian and everything about him even if my blog is not so great like yours I just started exploring Italy and Greece first, as a former classical studies student ancient latin and greek world are my big passion! Hope you will visit my blog too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Carolina for your lovely comment. I have been following your blog too and you’ve posted some great pictures of the ancient world!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing details and photographs of Herodium, it is very interesting and informative! I love to read about your journeys. It gives me ideas to expand my bucketlist and feeds my passion ;).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Annum novum faustum felicem vobis! | FOLLOWING HADRIAN

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