History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.



Near East

King Herod's Tomb Discovered

Edited from BBC News & Haaretz.com, 8 May 2007. Updated 30 March 2020

In 2007 an Israeli archaeologist was able to state that he had found the tomb of King Herod, 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 said that he had located the tomb at Herodium, a site which lies to the south of Jerusalem. In his time Professor Netzer was considered to be one of the most senior researchers on Herod. He had long been excavating at the site - since 1972 - in his efforts to identify the location of the burial of the Judean king.

A client (subject) ruler of the Romans, Herod was noted in the New Testament for his 'Massacre of the Innocents'.

When told of the birth of Jesus, he ordered all children under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, according to the Gospel of Matthew.

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

Major find

'When I realised it was the tomb [I had been looking for] there was great happiness,' Professor 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, a good many monumental works, and the fortress of Masada which became the site of the last stand by Jewish rebels in AD 73.

If the find were to be confirmed, it would rank as a major archaeological discovery. The find generally does seem to have been accepted, but the lack of bones at the site, which was largely destroyed by Herod's opponents in the first century AD, will mean that final proof is almost certain never to be found.

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 around 40 BC.

Experts had assumed that Herod was buried somewhere within the palace complex which 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 most recent dig focused on a different area which 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 which 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 the Parthians (based in Mesopotamia and Persia), besieged the city. Herod took the shrewd decision to declare his allegiance to Rome and subsequently fled with around five thousand troops and staff, and his immediate family.

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, invigorated by his mother's survival, Herod turned the battle around and emerged victorious.

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

The level of the hill was first raised artificially, making it visible from Jerusalem, and then Herod 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 his efforts to make Herodium ostentatious. He built aqueducts from Solomon's Pools and imported soil for the gardens into what was (and is) 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.

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

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



Text copyright © BBC or affiliates and Haaretz.com. Images © BBC. No breach of copyright is intended or inferred.