Herodium is located 7 miles south of the Jerusalem in the West Bank. It is an ambitious project that was started by king Herod the Great in the 20 BC.


Location: 12 km (7.5 mi) South of Jerusalem Map


Description of Herodium Castle Palace

Herodium castle- palace is situated on a hill with complex of a lower palace and a pool at the feet of the hill. At the death of Herod it became its mausoleum. Despite descriptions of many historians including Josephus Flavius, the tomb was not discovered until May 8, 2007 then professor of Hebrew University Ehud Netzer located the gravesite halfway up the hill. The Herodium consists of two circular walls with three semicircular towers and one main circular observation circular tower. The interior also had baths, cruciform hall, synagogue and a courtyard with columns around its perimeter. Water from underground cisterns provided security in case of a siege. However it did not prevent the castle from falling in the hands Lucilius Bassus and his X Fretensis on their way to Masada in 71 AD. During Second Revolt that broke out in 132 AD under leadership of Simeon Bar Kokhba many underground passages were dug in the hill. Remains of the burned wood is still visible on the floor of these passages. During Byzantine period monastery was found here, but abandoned in the 7th century.


History of Herodium

Herodium was built in 23-20 BC on the spot where Herod, then still a contender for the throne, won the battle against the army of Mattatius Antigonus, who forced him to flee from Jerusalem. The fortress was located on an artificial mountain, similar to a volcano, and consisted of two parts: the upper and lower Herodium. At the time of completion of construction, the height of the structure was 7-8 floors of a modern building.

At the top of the man-made mountain there was a palace (upper Herodium), and at its foot there was a palace building for close associates, a pool, a thermal bath.

Herod was very proud of his creation, although he rarely visited it, preferring Caesarea.

After the overthrow of the son of Herod Archelaus (6 AD), the fortress passed to the Roman governors, and in 66 to the Jews during the great uprising against the Romans. The rebels erected a synagogue and pools for ritual ablution in Herodium, but lived there for only 4 years, since the fortress was captured by the Romans.

Until 132-135, Herodium was abandoned until it was occupied by the participants in the Bar Kokhba uprising. The uprising was suppressed, and the fortress was again abandoned until the Byzantine period (V-VII centuries), when a large community of Byzantine hermit monks settled on the ruins, who built three churches here from the stones of ancient structures.

Later, Arab houses were built from the same stones in a circle. After the Arab conquest in the 7th century, the place was abandoned again until the Bedouins settled in its vicinity, who married Arab refugees from the camps several decades ago.

At the moment, Herodium is an archaeological site, where tourist excursions are regularly organized.


Archaeological excavations

For the first time, excavations in Upper Herodium were organized in 1962-1967 by Jerusalem Franciscan monks under the leadership of V. Korbo. They did not report any important finds.

Later excavations in lower Herodium were carried out by the archaeologist Ehud Netzer from 1972 to 1988 under the auspices of the Hebrew University. During this time, a system of secret fortifications from the period of the Bar Kokhba uprising was discovered, with tunnels and manholes for surprise attacks. Archaeologists also unearthed the remains of the central structure of Herodium - a round building with towers, a bathhouse. Underground water tanks have been excavated.

Since February 1997, excavations at Herodium resumed. They were again led by Ehud Netzer. Excavations continued for 10 years, and in 2007 an archaeologist reported the discovery of the tomb of King Herod the Great. In total, Netzer searched for this grave for 35 years. Archaeologists, however, did not find any inscriptions in the grave, nor the golden crown, scepter and jewelry that were placed in the sarcophagus during burial, so this statement is disputed by other scientists. Stone fragments of three sarcophagi and scattered small human remains were found.

On October 25, 2010, during a working visit to Herodium, Professor Ehud Netzer was seriously injured as a result of a fall in the theater area, and died three days later from his injuries.

The Herodium expedition continues its work to this day, under the joint leadership of R. Porat, J. Kalman and R. Chachis. As a result of the work, the entrance to the palace was excavated, and the restoration of the theater and frescoes continues.


Herod's grave

According to the famous Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, it was in this fortress that Herod bequeathed to bury himself. Apparently they did so.

“After that, they took up the burial of the king. Archelaus did everything to make the burial as magnificent as possible: he even took all the royal decorations out of the palace so that they could be carried behind the body. A funeral litter of pure gold was adorned with precious stones and trimmed with expensive purple. Herod's body was dressed in fine linen, a diadem rested on his head, and on top of it - a golden crown, a scepter was put into his right hand. The sons of Herod and all his numerous relatives followed the body, followed by bodyguards, followed by a column of Thracians, Germans and Gauls, all in full battle dress. Further, the army marched with full armament, maintaining its combat formation and led by military leaders, behind the army - 500 domestic slaves and freedmen, burning incense. The body was carried a distance of 70 stadia to Herodion, where, in fulfillment of the will of the late king, it was buried. Thus ends the story of Herod.
— Flavius ​​Josephus


The location of Herod's tomb is one of the mysteries of modern archeology. Herodium is just one of the alleged burial places of the legendary ruler. Despite the statement of Ehud Netzer, a number of skeptics still doubt that the mystery has been solved, because no written evidence was found in the grave, and the gene analysis of the remains was also not carried out.

In fact, archaeologists have found only elements of a badly damaged mausoleum. “Most likely, this is the work of the Jewish rebels who controlled Herodium during the two rebellions against Rome,” says Professor Netzer. - The act of vandalism took place approximately in 66-72 years of our era. The rebels were famous for their special hatred of everything that was connected with Herod.

One of the corners of the mausoleum base has been well preserved under a layer of soil and stone scree. At its foot, archaeologists discovered the remains of a sarcophagus smashed to smithereens. Its length is two and a half meters, the cross section is square. The upper part of the coffin is triangular in shape. It is made of pink-red limestone and decorated with ornaments. “Stylistically, the sarcophagus, fragments of the mausoleum and the ornament are fully consistent with the Herodian period,” say the participants in the excavations. In numerous interviews, Netzer insists that a combination of factors such as the location of the tomb, the nature of the decoration and fragments of the sarcophagus clearly indicates that Herod the Great was once buried in this place. However, in addition to this, not a single artifact was found that would have a direct bearing on Herod.

In addition to the aforementioned sarcophagus, fragments of two more white stone sarcophagi of a similar shape were found. On one of them, an ornament in the form of laurel branches is carved, the second sarcophagus is smooth, without any decorations.