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Herodium: Herod's Other Masada

When people think of King Herod and a palace fortress they usually think of Masada in the desert next to the Dead Sea. But King Herod built a similar one several miles south of Jerusalem where his (likely) tomb was also recently discovered after a long search. In place a of a natural mesa though, he had to build his own hill.

In 40 BCE Herod fled from Jerusalem toward Masada after the Parthians conquered Roman controlled Syria and Judaea in favor of his arch rival. On the way, he was met by Jews loyal to his enemy Antigonus, and after a battle there Herod emerged victorious. According to the historian Flavius 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".

Antiquities of the Jews 14:360

Josephus also describes Herodion (English: Herodium) as follows:

“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 for himself, Herodion; and he called that hill that was of the shape of a woman’s breast, and was sixty stadia from Jerusalem, by the same name (Herodion). He also bestowed much curious art upon it with great ambition, and built round towers all about the top of it, and filled up the remaining space with the most costly palaces round about, insomuch that not only the sight of the inner apartments was splendid, but great wealth was laid out on the outward walls, and partitions, and roofs also. Besides this, he brought a mighty quantity of water from a great distance, and at vast charges, and raised an ascent to it of two hundred steps of the whitest marble, for the hill was itself moderately high, and entirely artificial. He also built other palaces about the roots of the hill, sufficient to receive the furniture that was put into them, with his friends also, insomuch that on account of its containing all necessaries, the fortress might seem to be a city, but, by the bounds it had, a palace only.”

The War of the Jews 1:419-421

Archaeologists studying Herodium perceive that the palace was designed by architects and built by slaves and paid workers. Herod was considered one of the greatest builders of his time and was not daunted by geography. So determined was he to memorialize his victory that this palace was built on the edge of the desert atop an artificial hill. Ruins show the largest of the four towers was built on a stone base 60 feet 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 50 feet in diameter. Outside, several cisterns are still present that were used to collect rainwater and channeled it into the palace.

Herodium was conquered and destroyed by the Romans in 71 CE one year after the fall of Jerusalem and two years before the fall of Masada. At the beginning of the Bar Kokhba revolt sixty years later, Simon bar Kokhba declared Herodium as his secondary headquarters. The fortress was commanded by Yeshua ben Galgula, who was likely Bar Kokhba's second or third in command. Archaeological evidence for the second 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 second revolt. Herodium is considered a national park by Israel today, although the Palestinian Authority has challenged the legality of taking artifacts from there to display in the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem.

Cry For Jerusalem is a series of historical fiction books covering the seven years leading up to the burning of Herod’s Temple and the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Author Ward Sanford gives this period of history new depth in Cry For Jerusalem and showcasing the works of eyewitness historian Flavius Josephus in a new way with this fictional yet fact-based dramatization.

In the CFJ blog section Ward covers subjects to do with the vast amount of research that went into the CFJ novel series, including Ancient Jerusalem, the Roman Empire, and Biblical topics and the writings of Josephus.

To learn more about the series and purchase click here or more about the history behind the series click here.

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