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Herod’s tomb reported found

May 8, 2007
Courtesy Hebrew University of Jerusalem
and World Science staff

A long search for Her­od the Great’s tomb has ended with the dis­cov­ery of re­mains of his gra­ve, sar­coph­a­gus and mau­so­le­um, ac­cord­ing to ar­chae­o­lo­gists.

Palestine’s Roman-appointed rul­er at the time of Je­sus’ birth, Her­od is said in the Bi­ble to have or­dered a slaugh­ter of ba­bies in or­der to be rid of the child. Al­though the tale is un­con­firmed, his­tor­i­cal sources por­tray him as hav­ing be­come blood­thirsty in these lat­er years of his reign, among oth­er things kill­ing three of his own chil­dren.

The po­di­um, or base, of He­rod's tomb. (Cour­te­sy He­brew Uni­ver­si­ty of Je­ru­sa­lem)


But Her­od, who ruled from 37 to 4 B.C., was al­so re­nowned for mon­u­men­tal build­ing pro­jects. These in­clud­ed the re­con­struc­tion of the Tem­ple in Je­ru­sa­lem, the pal­ace at Masada and his great­est pro­jec­t—a com­plex at Her­od­ium, south of Je­ru­sa­lem, said ar­chae­o­lo­gist Ehud Net­zer of the He­brew Uni­ver­si­ty of Je­ru­sa­lem.

The re­mains were un­earthed there, at Mount Her­o­di­um’s north­east­ern slope, Net­zer added.

Her­odium is the on­ly site that car­ries Her­od’s name and is where he chose to be bur­ied and to me­mo­ri­al­ize him­self, said Net­zer, who con­ducted the re­search with col­leagues and with the par­ti­ci­pa­tion of lo­cal Bedouins. 

The team reached the bur­i­al site via a mon­u­men­tal stair­way lead­ing to the hill­side and built, they said, for Her­od’s ex­trav­a­gant fu­ner­al pro­ces­sion. Ex­ca­va­tions on the slope of the moun­tain, topped by a famed com­plex of a pal­ace, a for­tress and a mon­u­ment, be­gan last Au­gust.

The lo­ca­tion, the unique na­ture of the find­ings and the his­tor­i­cal rec­ord leave no doubt that this was Her­od’s bur­i­al site, Net­zer said. But the mau­so­le­um it­self was al­most to­tal­ly dis­man­tled in an­cient times, leav­ing on­ly part of its stur­dy po­di­um, or base.

Among the ru­ins were a group of dec­o­rat­ed urns used to store ash­es and chunks of a large, dec­o­rat­ed sar­coph­a­gus of red­dish lime­stone and be­lieved to be Her­od’s own, the re­search­ers said. No­ta­bly, this was bro­ken in­to hun­dreds of pieces, no doubt de­lib­er­ate­ly, ac­cord­ing to Net­zer and col­leagues.

Jew­ish rebels ap­par­ent­ly de­stroyed the mon­u­ment in the years 66-72 dur­ing the first Jew­ish re­volt against the Ro­mans, Net­zer said. That is when rebels took over the site, ac­cord­ing to the con­tem­po­rary his­to­ri­an Jo­se­phus, who also led that up­ris­ing. The rebels were known for their ha­tred of Her­od and all he stood for, as what they saw as a pup­pet rul­er for the Ro­mans, though Her­od saw him­self as a Jew.

Jo­se­phus de­scribed Her­od’s fu­ner­al as mag­nif­i­cent, writ­ing: “The bier was of sol­id gold, stud­ded with pre­cious stones, and had a co­vering of pur­ple, em­broi­dered with var­i­ous col­ors; on this lay the body en­vel­oped in pur­ple robe, a di­a­dem en­cir­cling the head and sur­mounted by a crown of gold, the scep­ter be­side his right hand.”


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A long search for Herod the Great’s tomb has ended with the discovery of the remains of his grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum, according to archaeo logists. Palestine’s Roman-appointed ruler at the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod is said in the Bible to have ordered a slaughter of babies in order to be rid of the child. Although the tale is unconfirmed, historical sources portray him as having become bloodthirsty in these later years of his reign, among other things killing three of his own children. But Herod, who ruled from 37 to 4 B.C., was also renowned for monumental building projects. These included the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the palace at Masada and his greatest project—a complex at Herodium, south of Jerusalem, said archaeo logist Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The remains were unearthed there, at the northeastern slope of Mount Herodium, Netzer added. Herodium is the only site that carries Herod’s name and is where he chose to be buried and memorialize himself, said Netzer, who conducted the research with colleagues and with the partici pation of local Bedouins. The team reached the burial site via a monumental flight of stairs leading to the hillside and built, they said, for Herod’s extravagant funeral procession. Excavations on the slope of the mountain, topped by a famed complex of a palace, a fortress and a monument, began last August. The location, unique nature of the findings and the historical record leave no doubt that this was Herod’s burial site, Netzer said. But the mausoleum itself was almost totally dismantled in ancient times. In its place remained only part of its sturdy podium, or base. Among the ruins were a group of decorated urns used to store ashes, and chunks of a large, decorated sarcophagus of reddish limestone and believed to be Herod’s own, the researchers said. Notably, this was broken into hundreds of pieces, no doubt deliberately, according to Netzer and colleagues. Jewish rebels apparently destroyed the monument in the years 66-72 during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, Netzer said. That is when rebels took over the site, according to the contemporary historian Josephus and archaeo logical evidence. The rebels were known for their hatred of Herod and all that he stood for, as what they saw as a puppet ruler for the Romans, though Herod saw himself as a Jew. Josephus described Herod’s funeral as magnificent, writing: “The bier was of solid gold, studded with precious stones, and had a covering of purple, embroidered with various colors; on this lay the body enveloped in purple robe, a diadem encircling the head and surmounted by a crown of gold, the scepter beside his right hand.”