is a volcano-like hill with a truncated cone located 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem
, near the city of Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...
in the West Bank
The West Bank ) of the Jordan River is the landlocked geographical eastern part of the Palestinian territories located in Western Asia. To the west, north, and south, the West Bank shares borders with the state of Israel. To the east, across the Jordan River, lies the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan...
. Herod the Great
Herod , also known as Herod the Great , was a Roman client king of Judea. His epithet of "the Great" is widely disputed as he is described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis." He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including his...
built a fortress and palace on the top of Herodium, and may have been buried there. Herodium is 758 meters (2,487 ft) above sea level
Mean sea level is a measure of the average height of the ocean's surface ; used as a standard in reckoning land elevation...
Herodion was known by the Crusaders
The Crusades were a series of religious wars, blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church with the main goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem...
as the "Mountain of Franks". Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...
locals call it Jabal al-Fourdis
("Mountain of Paradise").
In 40 BCE, after the Parthian conquest of Syria, Herod fled to Masada
Masada is the name for a site of ancient palaces and fortifications in the South District of Israel, on top of an isolated rock plateau, or horst, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada is best known for the violence that occurred there in the first century CE...
. On the way, at the location of Herodion, Herod clashed with the Parthians and emerged victorious. According to the Roman Jewish historian Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...
, 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" (The Wars of the Jews I, Chapter 13).
Josephus describes Herodium as follows: "This fortress, which is some sixty stadia
Stadium or stadion has the plural stadia in both Latin and Greek. The anglicized term is stade in the singular.Stadium may refer to:* Stadium, a building type...
distant from Jerusalem, is naturally strong and very suitable for such a structure, for reasonably nearby is a hill, raised to a (greater) height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast. At intervals it has round towers, and it has a steep ascent formed of two hundred steps of hewn stone. Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament at the same time. At the base of the hill there are pleasure grounds built in such a way as to be worth seeing, among other things because of the way in which water, which is lacking in that place, is brought in from a distance and at great expense. The surrounding plain was built up as a city second to none, with the hill serving as an acropolis for the other dwellings." (The Wars of the Jews
The Jewish War , in full Flavius Josephus's Books of the History of the Jewish War against the Romans , also referred to in English as The Wars of the Jews and The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, is a book written by the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus.It is a description of Jewish...
I, 21, 10; Antiquities of the Jews
Antiquities of the Jews is a twenty volume historiographical work composed by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in the thirteenth year of the reign of Roman emperor Flavius Domitian which was around 93 or 94 AD. Antiquities of the Jews contains an account of history of the Jewish people,...
XIV, chapter 13.9).
Herodium was conquered and destroyed by the Romans
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....
in 71 CE. At the beginning of the Bar Kokhba revolt sixty years later, Simon bar Kokhba
Simon bar Kokhba was the Jewish leader of what is known as the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE, establishing an independent Jewish state of Israel which he ruled for three years as Nasi...
declared Herodium as his secondary headquarters. Archaeological evidence for the 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 revolt.
In Wars of the Jews, 1, 21, 10, Josephus mentions two different fortresses built by King Herod and given the same name, Herodium
. Here is Thackeray's rendition of the passage in Greek, followed by his English translation, including two notes.
δ' αιωνι τους
φιλους ουδε της εαυτου μνημης ημελησεν,
τωι προς 'Αραβιαν
δε φιλωτιμοτερον. . . .
"But while he thus perpetuated the memory of his family and his friends, he did not neglect to leave memorials of himself. Thus he built a fortress in the hills on the Arabian frontier and called it after himself Herodium. An artificial hill (a), sixty furlongs from Jerusalem, was given the same name, but more elaborate embellishments.(b)
(a) Literally "in the form of a breast."
(b) Built in memory of his victory over the Jewish allies of the Parthians. §265; modern Jebel Fereidis
("Hill of Paradise" or Frank mountain), some 4 miles S.E. of Bethlehem. The site of the other Herodium is unidentified."
Here is Whiston's English translation of the passage.
"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 from himself, Herodium; and he called that hill that was of the shape of a woman's breast, and was sixty furlongs distant from Jerusalem, by the same name."
The site of the other Herodium remains as yet unidentified.
A pre-year-70 synagogue at Herodium is of the Galilean-type, featuring stone benches built along the walls and aisles formed by columns that supported the roof. It is one of the oldest synagogues in Israel
The designation oldest synagogues in the Land of Israel requires careful definition. Many very old synagogues have been discovered in archaeological digs...
Tomb of Herod
Hebrew University Professor Ehud Netzer
Ehud Netzer was an Israeli architect, educator and archaeologist, known for his extensive excavations at Herodium, where in 2007 he found the tomb of Herod the Great; and the discovery of the oldest Jewish synagogue, located at Jericho....
reported on May 8, 2007 that he had discovered the tomb of Herod, above tunnels and water pools at a flattened site halfway up the hill to Herodium , 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem, at the precise location given by Josephus in his writings. Later excavations strengthened the idea that this site is Herod's mausoleum. The base of the tomb has now been uncovered and is visible to visitors to the site.
The 2009-2010 excavations uncovered near the tomb base a small 450-seat capacity theater with an elaborately decorated royal theater box.
Netzer died in October 2010 from injuries sustained from a fall at the site, and access to the mausoleum was subsequently blocked to the public pending review of the site's safety.