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Herodion Fortress (Israel)

Herodion Fortress

Herodion Fortress

All those who are truly interested in the history related to Biblical events, will be amused to visit a historic site near Jerusalem in Israel, known as Herodion Fortress, or Herodium. Herodion Fortress can be very well observed from Jerusalem.

Herodion is located in the Judaean desert, 15 kilometres south of Jerusalem, and 5 kilometres south-east of Bethlehem. The fortress is situated near the old routes that lead to the Dead Sea. Herodion is one of the constructions of Herod the Great, bearing his name until now, and, presumably, it is the site of his burial.

Excavations in upper Herodion were conducted for the first time in 1962-1967 by Jerusalem Franciscan monks. Later, the excavations were continued by Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer. During the excavations under Ehud Netzer, a system of secret fortifications with water trenches, tunnels, and passages for sudden attacks was discovered. The finds testify of the builders’ great skill. He also unearthed an entrance to the palace and the remains of the central structure in Herodion – a round building with towers and Roman baths. In 2007, Ehud Netzer informed the public that he was able to discover the lost tomb of Herod the Great. No human remains were found in the tomb, as well as the crown, sceptre, and jewels, that were put in the sarcophagus. There were only stone fragments of the sarcophagus decorated with the king’s coat of arms. By this coat of arms it was established, that it was the assumed tomb of Herod the Great.

Herodion Fortress

Herodion Fortress

Herodion was built in 23-20 B.C. on the spot where Herod, being yet a contender to the throne, won the battle against the army of Miriam the Hasmonean, who forced him to flee from Jerusalem. The fortress was built on an artificial hill, which looked like a volcano, and consisted of two parts: upper and lower Herodion. At the time of the construction, the height of the structure was eight storeys of a modern building.

On the top of the hand-made mountain there was a palace (Upper Herodion), and at its foot there were the numerous court buildings for the members of the royal family.

Herod was very proud of his creation, although he did not come here too often, preferring Caesarea.

After Herod’s son Archelaus was overthrown (6 C.E.), the fortress passed under the Roman rulers, and in 66, – returned back to the Jews during the Great revolt against the Romans. The insurgents built a synagogue in Herodion and pools for ritualistic washing, but they lived there only for 4 years, because the fortress was captured by the Romans.

Before 132—135 C.E., Herodion stood desolate, until it was occupied by the participants of Bar Kokhba revolt. The rebellion was suppressed, and the fortress was abandoned again until the Byzantine period (V—VII centuries), when on its ruins a large community of Byzantine hermit monks settled, who built three churches here with the stones of the ancient buildings.

Later, from the same stones in the circle the Arab houses were built. After the Arab conquest in the 7th century, this place was abandoned again, until some Bedouins settled near it, who married refugees – Arab women from the camps a few decades ago.

According to the version of a prominent Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, it was in this fortress, where Herod willed to bury him. Presumably, that is what they did. “After this was over, they prepared for his funeral, it being Archelaus’s care that the procession to his father’s sepulchre should be very sumptuous. Accordingly, he brought out all his ornaments to adorn the pomp of the funeral. The body was carried upon a golden bier, embroidered with very precious stones of great variety, and it was covered over with purple, as well as the body itself; he had a diadem upon his head, and above it a crown of gold: he also had a sceptre in his right hand. About the bier were his sons and his numerous relations; next to these was the soldiery, distinguished according to their several countries and denominations; and they were put into the following order: First of all went his guards, then the band of Thracians, and after them the Germans; and next the band of Galatians, every one in their habiliments of war; and behind these marched the whole army in the same manner as they used to go out to war, and as they used to be put in array by their muster-masters and centurions; these were followed by five hundred of his domestics carrying spices. So they went eight furlongs to Herodium; for there by his own command he was to be buried. And thus did Herod end his life.” (Josephus Flavius).

The location of Herod’s tomb is one of the mysteries of modern archaeology. Herodion is only one of the supposed places of burial of the legendary ruler. Despite the pretentious announcement of Ehud Netzer, some sceptics are still questioning this solution of the mystery, because no written testimonies were found in the tomb, and the genetic research of the burial site has not been conducted.

In fact, the archaeologists have only found some elements of a severely damaged mausoleum. “Most probably, this was done by the hands of the Jewish insurgents, who controlled Herodion during the two rebellions against Rome, – says professor Netzer. The vandalism act happened approximately in 66—72 C.E. The insurgents were known for their extreme hatred for anything that was related to Herod”.

The Eastern Tomb, as the archaeologists called the burial site during the works, included two monumental structures and a large ritual pool.

Under a layer of the sandy ground, there was a well preserved stand of the mausoleum. At its base, the archaeologists found the remains of a sarcophagus shattered to pieces. Its length is two and half metres. The upper section of the coffin is triangular in shape. It is made from Jerusalem limestone and decorated with an ornament. “Stylistically, the sarcophagus, fragments of the mausoleum, and the ornaments fully match the Herodian period,” – assured the participants of the excavations. In his many interviews, Netzer insists that the combination of such facts as the location of the sepulchre, the character of decoration, and fragments of the sarcophagus clearly indicates that Herod the Great was once buried at this site. But besides this, no single artefact has been discovered that could be directly associated with Herod.

In the Book of Acts of the Apostles, chapter 12, verses 21-24, it says, “On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

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