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Aerial view of the acropolis of Herodium
Herodium is located in the Palestinian territories
Shown within the Palestinian territories
Alternate name Herodion
Location West Bank
Region Judea
Type Fortification
Height 758 m (2,487 ft)
Builder Herod the Great
Founded 22–15 BC
Abandoned 71 AD
Periods Roman Empire
Site notes
Archaeologists Ehud Netzer
Management Israel Nature and Parks Authority[1]

Herodium or Herodion (from Ancient Greek: Ἡρώδειον; Hebrew: הרודיון‎, Arabic: هيروديون‎, Jabal al-Fraidees) is a truncated cone-shaped hill, located 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem and 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) southeast of Bethlehem, in the Judaean Desert, West Bank. Herod the Great built a fortress, a palace, and a small town in Herodium, between 23 and 15 BCE, and is believed to have been buried there.[2] Herodium is 758 meters (2,487 ft) above sea level,[3] the highest peak in the Judaean Desert.[4] Today, the site is managed by the Israel National Parks Authority.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • Emergence 2.1
    • Construction 2.2
    • Roman siege 2.3
  • Two Herodiums 3
  • Excavation 4
    • Herod's palace 4.1
      • Bathhouse 4.1.1
      • Theatre 4.1.2
    • Synagogue 4.2
    • Tomb of Herod 4.3
  • Legal aspects 5
  • Films 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Herodion excavations

Herodion is the only site that is named after King Herod the Great. It was known by the Crusaders as the "Mountain of Franks". Arab locals call it Jabal al-Fourdis ("Mountain of Paradise"). The Modern Hebrew name, Herodion (Hebrew: הרודיון), is actually a transliteration of the Greek spelling. However, modern Israeli archaeologists have confirmed that the site’s original Hebrew name was Herodis (Hebrew: הרודיס), just as this name is inscribed in one of the Bar Kokhba letters recovered from the Muraba’at Caves in the Judaean desert.[5] Some speculate that the Arabic name, Fourdis, may be a corruption of the Hebrew name.



In 40 BCE, after the Parthian conquest of Syria, Herod fled to Masada. On the way, at the location of Herodion, Herod clashed with the Parthians and emerged victorious. According to the Roman Jewish historian Josephus, he "built a town on that spot in commemoration of his victory, and enhanced it with wonderful palaces... and he called it Herodion after himself" (The Wars of the Jews I, Chapter 13).[6]

Josephus describes Herodium as follows:

"This fortress, which is some sixty stadia[7] distant from Jerusalem, is naturally strong and very suitable for such a structure, for reasonably nearby is a hill, raised to a (greater) height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast. At intervals it has round towers, and it has a steep ascent formed of two hundred steps of hewn stone. Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament at the same time. At the base of the hill there are pleasure grounds built in such a way as to be worth seeing, among other things because of the way in which water, which is lacking in that place, is brought in from a distance and at great expense. The surrounding plain was built up as a city second to none, with the hill serving as an acropolis for the other dwellings." (The Wars of the Jews I, 21, 10; Antiquities of the Jews XIV, chapter 13.9).


Archaeologists believe that the palace was built by slaves, paid workers (contractors), and architects. Herod was considered one of the greatest builders of his time and was not daunted by geography—his palace was built on the edge of the desert and was situated atop an artificial hill.[8] The largest of the four towers was built on a stone base 18 meters in diameter. This was most likely where Herod lived; he decorated his rooms with mosaic floors and elaborate frescoes. The other three towers, which consisted of living spaces and storage, were 16 meters in diameter. Outside, several cisterns were built to collect water that was channeled into the palace.[9]

Roman siege

Herodium was conquered and destroyed by the Romans in 71 CE. At the beginning of the Bar Kokhba revolt sixty years later, Simon bar Kokhba declared Herodium as his secondary headquarters. Archaeological evidence for the revolt was found all over the site, from the outside buildings to the water system under the mountain. Inside the water system, supporting walls built by the rebels were discovered, and another system of caves was found. Inside one of the caves, burned wood was found which was dated to the time of the revolt.

Two Herodiums

View of Herodion

In The Jewish Wars, 1, 21, 10, Josephus mentions two different fortresses built by King Herod and given the same name, Herodium. Here is Thackeray's English translation, including two notes.[10]

"But while he thus perpetuated the memory of his family and his friends, he did not neglect to leave memorials of himself. Thus he built a fortress in the hills on the Arabian frontier and called it after himself Herodium. An artificial hill (a), sixty furlongs from Jerusalem, was given the same name, but more elaborate embellishments.(b) (a) Literally "in the form of a breast." (b) Built in memory of his victory over the Jewish allies of the Parthians. §265; modern Jebel Fereidis ("Hill of Paradise" or Frank mountain), some 4 miles S.E. of Bethlehem. The site of the other Herodium is unidentified."

Here is Whiston's English translation of the passage.[11]

"And as he transmitted to eternity his family and friends, so did he not neglect a memorial for himself, but built a fortress upon a mountain towards Arabia, and named it from himself, Herodium; and he called that hill that was of the shape of a woman's breast, and was sixty furlongs distant from Jerusalem, by the same name."

The site of the other Herodium remains as yet unidentified.


Section of mosaic floor unearthed at Herodion

Excavation began in 1972 and was intermittent until the lead archaeologist, Ehud Netzer's, death in 2010. Netzer worked at Herodium on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.[12] Although there is much of the palace left to unearth, Netzer was the premier historian and had the most experience and knowledge of Herodium, so construction stopped in late 2010. Many archaeologists suspect that mosaic floors and frescoes were common throughout the palace, but it will take more work to reveal them because of the thousands of years that have passed since its construction.[8]

Herod's palace

Archaeological excavations of Herod's palace
Northern Palace Lobby

Herod the Great built a palace within the fortress of Herodium. Herod himself commissioned a lavish palace to be built between 23 and 15 BCE atop Herodium for all to see. The palace itself consisted of four towers of seven stories, a bathhouse, courtyards, a Roman theatre, banquet rooms, a large walkway (“the course”), as well as extravagant living quarters for himself and guests. Once Herod died and the Great Revolt started, Herodium was abandoned. The Jews eventually had a base at Herodium where they built a synagogue which can still be seen today, unlike much of Herod’s Palace.[12]


The Roman bathhouse consisted of three areas, the caldarium, the tepidarium, and the frigidarium. It also had a very impressive dome which is still in good condition today despite thousands of years of earthquakes and wars. The caldarium had vaulted ceilings, raised floors, and channels in the walls to conduct heat. The tepidarium had mosaic floors and frescoes just like the living quarters of the palace. The frigidarium, the last stop in the bathhouse, was where guests would cool off in a large pool.[9]


Netzer discovered the Roman Theatre just before his death in late 2010. A loggia, or a theatre box, was discovered. This means that when Herod or other notable officials went to see a play, they would receive luxury treatment. The rest of the audience would be seated below on benches that could accommodate about 650 people. What is quite unique about this find is that frescoes of landscapes were discovered. This suggests that the painters were well traveled; they depict scenes of Italy and even the Nile River in Egypt. It is also assumed that the painters were on loan to Herod from Caesar in Rome.[13][14]


A pre-year-70 synagogue at Herodium is of the Galilean-type, featuring stone benches built along the walls and aisles formed by columns that supported the roof. It is one of the oldest synagogues in the Levant.[15][16]

Tomb of Herod

Hebrew University professor Ehud Netzer reported on 8 May 2007 that he had discovered the tomb of Herod, above tunnels and water pools at a flattened site halfway up the hill to Herodium, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem.[17] Later excavations strengthened the idea that this site is Herod's mausoleum.[18] The base of the tomb has now been uncovered and is visible to visitors to the site.

The 2009–2010 excavations uncovered near the tomb base a small 450-seat capacity theater with an elaborately decorated royal theater box.[19]

Netzer died in October 2010 from injuries sustained from a fall at the site,[2] and access to the mausoleum was subsequently blocked to the public pending review of the site's safety.

In October 2013, archaeologists Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas challenged the identification of the tomb as that of Herod.[20] According to Patrich and Arubas, the tomb is too modest to be Herod's and has several unlikely features.[20] Roi Porat, who replaced Netzer as excavation leader after the latter's death, stood by the identification.[20]

Panoramic view of Herodion

Legal aspects

In February 2013 an exhibit dedicated to Herod at the Israel Museum featured finds from Herodium. Rula Maayah, the Palestinian tourism and antiquities minister said that according to international law Israelis have no right for excavations at Herodium, which is in the occupied West Bank, or to take any antiquities from it. Palestinian officials compared the exhibition to the historical plunder of archaeological treasures by former colonial powers.[21] The Israel Museum said that the items from Herodium will be returned to the site after the exhibition, "in better condition than before".[22] The Israel Museum cited the Oslo Accords as giving Israel a right to perform archaeology in the territories and said they will return it to the West Bank when the exhibition has ended.[23]

The site is in Area C, a term used to describe 60% of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control since the 1993 Oslo Accords.[22][24]


  • Herod's Lost Tomb (2008; National Geographic Society), in addition to examining Netzer's purported find of Herod's tomb, the palace and most of Herod's other large projects are reconstructed in CGI.

See also


  1. ^ Herodium (Herodion) National Park
  2. ^ a b "Israeli archaeologist dies after fall at King Herod dig". BBC. 2010-10-29. Retrieved 2014-12-17. 
  3. ^ Isachar Canetti, Hedva; Isachar, Hanan; Hazel Arieli; Moshe Yanai (2004). Images of the Holy Land. Hanan Isachar Photography. p. 71.  
  4. ^ Herodion National Park
  5. ^ Roland de-Vaux, Discoveries in the Judean Desert, vol. 2, Oxford 1961, pp. 126, 130 - 131
  6. ^ "Herodion". Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  7. ^ 60 stadia is about 11.1 kilometres (6.9 mi). The actual distance is slightly more—12.5 kilometres (7.8 mi)
  8. ^ a b Mueller, Tom (December 2008). "Herod: The Holy Land's Visionary Builder". National Geographic. 
  9. ^ a b Browns, Shmuel. "A Visit to the Herodium and Herod's Tomb". Word Press. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  10. ^ Josephus in Nine Volumes, II The Jewish War, Books I-II with an English Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray, M.A. Cambridge Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, London, William Heinemann LTD., 1967, page 199.
  11. ^ The Works of Flavius Josephus, to which are added seven dissertations, Translated by William Whiston, A.M. with an Introductory Essay by the Rev. H. Stebbing, DD., Page 642. The International Press, The John C. Winston Co., Philadelphia. [Published in 1737 or shortly thereafter.]
  12. ^ a b "Herodium - King Herod's Palace-Fortress". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  13. ^ Milstein, Mati. "Luxury Box Seating". Archaeological Institute of America. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  14. ^ Magness, Jodi (2001). "Where Is Herod's Tomb At Herodium?". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research: 43. 
  15. ^ Jacqueline Schaalje. "Herodion". Its date, of the first century CE, makes it one of the oldest synagogues in Israel 
  16. ^ "Archaeologist Netzer dies after fall during excavation". The Jerusalem Post - Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  17. ^ Kraft, Dina (May 9, 2007). "Archaeologist Says Remnants of King Herod’s Tomb Are Found". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  18. ^ "New Excavations Strengthen Identification Of Herod's Grave At Herodium". ScienceDaily. 19 November 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  19. ^ "Royal theater box at the Herodium". Ferrell's Travel Blog. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  20. ^ a b c Nir Hasson (October 11, 2013). "Archaeological stunner: Not Herod's Tomb after all?". Haaretz. 
  21. ^ Israel looting West Bank's treasures (The Daily Star, Al Jazeera, March 2, 2013)
  22. ^ a b Yolande Knell. "Modern politics overshadows Israel's historic Herod exhibit". BBC. Retrieved October 13, 2013. 
  23. ^ Rudoren, Jodi. NY Times, 13 Feb 2013, Anger That a Herod Show Uses West Bank Objects
  24. ^ "Holy Land excavation digs into Mideast rifts". AFP. Retrieved October 13, 2013. 

External links

  • The Herodium excavations (in memory of Ehud Netzer) - official site
  • Google Maps satellite view
  • Herodion Jacqueline Schaalje
  • Geophysical Exploration in Israel: The 1983 Field Season
  • Photos from Herodion
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