History Files


The Middle East

King Herod's Tomb Discovered

Edited from BBC News & Haaretz.com, 8 May 2007



An Israeli archaeologist says he has found the tomb of King Herod, the ruler of Judea while it was under Roman administration in the first century BC.

After a search of more than thirty years, Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University says he has located the tomb at Herodium, a site south of Jerusalem. Professor Netzer is considered to be one of the most senior researchers on Herod. He has been as been excavating at the site since 1972 in his efforts to identify the burial site of the Judean king.

Herod was noted in the New Testament for his Massacre of the Innocents.

Told of Jesus' birth, Herod ordered all children under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, the Gospel of Matthew said.

According to the New Testament, Jesus' father Joseph was warned of the threat in a dream and fled with his wife and child to Egypt.

Major find

"When I realised it was the tomb there was great happiness," Prof Netzer said. "Everyone has an interest in the Holy Land and Herod's tomb is part of that story."

Herod, also known as Herod the Great, is remembered for his expansion of the Second Jewish Temple and the construction of the walls of the old city of Jerusalem.

He also built Caesaria, man monumental works, and the fortress of Masada which became the site of the last stand by Jewish rebels in AD 73.

If it is confirmed, this will rank as a major archaeological discovery.

Born in 74 BC, Herod died in Jericho in 4 BC after a long illness, and was appointed "King of the Jews" by the Roman authorities in about 40 BC.

Experts had assumed that King Herod was buried somewhere within the palace complex he had constructed on a flattened hilltop in the Judean desert, but they had repeatedly struggled to find any evidence to back up their theories.

Netzer's current dig focused on a different area that had not been excavated: halfway between the upper and lower palaces. Until now, the search had focused on the lower palace.

Herod chose to build his tomb at Herodium because of the two dramatic events that took place there during his lifetime. In 43 BC, while Herod was still governor of Galilee, he was forced to flee Jerusalem with his family after his enemies, the Parthians (based in Mesopotamia and Persia), besieged the city.

Near the site of Herodium, his mother's carriage overturned and Herod panicked, until he realised that she was only slightly injured. Shortly thereafter, the Parthians caught up with Herod and his entourage, but Herod turned the battle around and emerged victorious.

At Herodium, Herod built one of the largest royal sites in the Romano-Hellenic world which served as a residential palace, shelter and administrative centre, as well as mausoleum.

Herod first raised the level of the hill artificially, making it visible from Jerusalem, and then built the fortified palace on top, surrounded by guard towers for use in times of war. At the foot of the hill, he built a second palace, the size of a small town, known as the "Lower Herodium," which included many buildings, luxurious gardens, pools, stables and warehouses.

Herod spared no resources in efforts to make Herodium ostentatious. He built aqueducts from Solomon's Pools and imported soil for the gardens to the heart of the desert.

After Herod's death, his son and heir Archelaus continued to reside at Herodium. After Judea became a Roman republic, Herodium served as the seat of the Roman governors.

With the outbreak of the great revolt against the Romans, Herodium fell to the rebels, but they returned it without a fight after Jerusalem fell in AD 70.

The team of archaeologists announced its findings in detail at a news conference on Tuesday.

Yaakov Kalman, an archaeologist who participated in the excavations, said that many pieces of sarcophagus were spread across the site.

He said that the team of archaeologists are convinced that they have found Herod's tomb, which was described by the first century historian, Josephus Flavius.



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