Tomb of King Herod discovered

Sarcophagus and mausoleum hidden under artificial hedge

Artificial hill where the tomb of Herod was found.k © Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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King Herod, known from the Bible, was a real historical person. But where exactly he was buried, was previously unknown. Now archaeologists have discovered remains of his sarcophagus and mausoleum in Herodium, an excavation site 15 kilometers south of Jerusalem.

Herod was king of Judea from 37 to 4 BC, established by the Romans. During this time, he not only washed his hands in innocence at the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, but also had numerous monumental buildings constructed, including a reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, the Palace of Masada and a vast palace complex on the edge of the Judean Desert, the Herodium.

End of a 30-year search

The search for Herod's grave began more than 30 years ago. Initial indications of the possible location of the tomb were provided by the historical records of the historian Flavius ​​Josephus, who described in detail both the Herodium palace and Herod's burial ceremony. But where exactly the ruler was buried, his reports left in the dark.

Already in the 1970s, the first excavations on the extensive area of ​​Herodium thread, but only in mid-2006, an archaeological team of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, led by Professor Ehud Netzer focused on an area at the bottom of the hillside located palace. In order to get to the relics of the alleged mausoleum, the scientists first had to excavate a large construction complex from the Byzantine period above it and cautiously recover it.

The tomb includes two monumental buildings and a large Jewish ritual bath, as well as a 350-meter-long and 30-meter wide "funeral street". Despite meticulous search, however, the archaeologists in the ruins of these buildings could discover no trace of a grave or mausoleum of Herod. Apparently the whole thing was set up for this purpose, but the ruler must have been undecided towards the end of his life and buried elsewhere. But where? display

Grave find in artificial hill

The answer to this question now provided new finds in an artificially piled conical hill. Because here the researchers discovered the long sought mausoleum of Herod. Even vainly destroyed during antiquity, only remains of its equipment have been preserved. But the nature and location of the finds, Netzer explains, left no doubt that this must be Herod's tomb.

The mausoleum is accessed via a six and a half meter wide monumental staircase. Parts of the pedestal on which the sarcophagus was preserved remain from the mausoleum. This podium is made up of large, white, ornate stone blocks that have never been found anywhere else in Herodium in this size and type. A group of decorated urns was scattered around the ruins. The ashes with a triangular lid are considered typical of the Nabatean period.

Sarcophagus willfully destroyed

From the sarcophagus of Herod, an almost two and a half meters long decorated stone coffin with triangular lid, individual pieces have been preserved. Among them fragments of rosettes of red limestone. According to the archaeologists, the destruction of the tomb was wanton. It was dated to the period 66-72 CE, an era in which the anti-Roman revolts by Jewish rebels reached a peak. According to historical records, Herod was a symbol of hated Roman rule for the "puppet king".

Sarcophagi of this size and rich ornamentation have so far only been found in Israel and only in the grounds of important rulers, such as the royal tomb of Salah-ed-Din-Stra in Jerusalem. Although neither the now discovered sarcophagus nor other objects carry any inscriptions in the mausoleum, the archaeologists do not rule out finding such clearer evidence.

(Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 09.05.2007 - AHE)