The Building Program of Herod the Great

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Beyond the influence of the matured Hellenistic architecture, the developing Roman architecture, and the local building activity of his predecessors, the Hasmonaeans, Herod's buildings benefited from his analytical mind, creative imagination, and deep understanding of the process of building and planning. The consequences are outstanding structures such as Masada's Northern Palace and Herodium's cylindrical palatial fortress, and the peak of his achievements are Caesarea Maritima with its deepwater harbor and the rebuilding of Jerusalem's Temple Mount.


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Having an architectural as well as archaeological background, Ehud Netzer is able to highlight Herod's personal involvement and contributions in his building projects. This book presents, in many aspects, the first comprehensive synthesis of Herod's enterprises from archaeological and, mainly, architectural viewpoints.

The Planning of Temples. And the new king continued to please the Romans, to make sure that they would continue their support.

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He sent lavish presents to their representative in the East, Mark Antony, and to his mistress, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. These gifts almost were Herod's undoing.

Herod The Great

The relations between on the one hand Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the East and on the other hand Octavian and the Senate in the West became strained, and civil war broke out in It did not last very long: in August, the western leader defeated the eastern leader, who fled to Alexandria. For the first time in his life, Herod had aligned himself with a loser. He managed to solve this problem, however. First, he had Hyrcanus executed, making sure that no one else could claim his throne.

Then, he sailed to the island of Rhodes , where he met Octavian. In a brilliant speech, Herod boasted of his loyalty to Mark Antony, and promised the same to the new master of the Roman Empire. Octavian was impressed by the man's audacity, confirmed Herod's monarchy, and even added the coast of Judaea and Samaria to his realm. Actually, Octavian did not have much choice: his opponents were still alive, and if he were to pursue them to Egypt, Herod could be a useful ally.

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As it turned out, Mark Antony and Cleopatra preferred death to surrender, and Octavian became the only ruler in the Roman world. Under the name Augustus , he became the first emperor. He rewarded his ally with new possessions: a. Jericho and Gaza, which had been independent. Herod's position was still insecure. He continued his building policy to win the hearts of his subjects. A severe earthquake in 31 BCE had destroyed many houses, killing thousands of people.

In Jerusalem, the king built a new market, an amphitheater, a theater, a new building where the Sanhedrin could convene, a new royal palace, and last but not least, in 20 BCE he started to rebuild the Temple. And there were other cities where he ordered new buildings to be placed: Jericho and Samaria are examples. New fortresses served the security of both the Jews and their king: Herodion, Machaerus, and Masada are among them.

But Herod's crowning achievement was a splendid new port, called Caesarea in honor of the emperor the harbor was called Sebastos , the Greek translation of "Augustus". This magnificent and opulent city, which was dedicated in 9 BCE, was built to rival Alexandria in the land trade to Arabia , from where spices, perfume and incense were imported. It was not an oriental town like Jerusalem; it was laid out on a Greek grid plan, with a market, an aqueduct, government offices, baths, villas, a circus, and pagan temples.

The most important of these was the temple where the emperor was worshipped; it commanded the port. The port was a masterpiece of engineering: its piers were made from hydraulic concrete which hardens underwater and protected by unique wave-breaking structures. Although Herod was a dependent client-king, he had a foreign policy of his own.

The Romans did not like this independent behavior, but on the whole, they seem to have been very content with their king of Judaea. After all, he sent auxiliaries when they decided to send an army to the mysterious incense country modern Yemen; 25 BCE. In 23, Iturea and the Golan heights were added to Herod's realms, and in 20 several other districts.

Using innovative engineering techniques, he created a harbor were no harbor had stood before from cement that hardened under water and was placed in wood forms set in place by divers. Huge sluices were installed to prevent silting. The cement was made from volcanic ash, and rock. It was first used to make foot-wide breakwaters and later to make quays that supported warehouses and docks for boats along with a light tower and a platform with statues. In the city surrounding the harbor was a large amphitheater, a hippodrome, luxurious villas, government buildings and a Roman temple dedicated to Augustus.

An aqueduct from Mount Carmel, which required tunneling through four miles of solid rock, supplied water for the baths and fountains. Herodium 11 kilometers form Jerusalem and 7 kilometers from Bethlehem is a fortified summer palace and district capital built by Herod. Built into a cone-shaped man-made hill near the birthplace of the Biblical prophet Amos, it embraced ritual baths with the remains of ancient wall mosaics , cisterns, upper and lower palace annexes, towers, gardens, burial ground, a synagogue and hidden apertures for sneak attacks.

During a Jewish revolt in A. Caesarea Herod's Palace was a great circular bastion surrounded by double-concentric walls that reached a height of 70 feet walls and foot towers at the for cardinal points. Besides costly living quarters the upper palace had a triclinium Greco-Roman formal dining hall side dn three sides by a couch , and bathhouse with a domed hewn-stone ceiling with a oculus round opening. At the base of the hill was a royal complex, known as Lower Herodium, that sprawled across 40 acres.

It most recognizable structure was an enormous xmeter pool, which contained a central island. Herodium was built at great expense. A five-kilometer-long aqueduct was built to supply it with water. The solution was to build a large palace, a country cluba place of enjoyment and pleasure. Decorations included rosettes and distinctive lines. The tomb was found about halfway up the hill on which Herodium was built. Such a building would have befitted a king he said. Herod's tomb?


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People that have included a French explorer, Italian Biblical scholar and a Silicon Valley geophysicist, had been searching for the tomb for more than years. Netzer spent 35 years looking for it. There were some doubts as to whether the tomb really belongs to Herod. This is a very promising discovery but we need evidence that this was the final resting place and not just another chamber. Where are bones? Why would they choose to bury him here?

Journal of Near Eastern Studies

The difficulty is to separate and identify the motives for the violent upheavals which followed the demise of the man who had walked the tightrope between pleasing the Romans and pleasing the Jews, both those in Judea and those of the diaspora. In our sources, especially Philo and Josephus, the motive of Jewish nationalism, closely linked to outrage at the defilement of religious symbols and practices, is foremost. So we are told that the first thing which happened when word leaked that Herod lay dying was that a small band of pious individuals pulled down the golden eagle from its place above the Temple entrance and chopped it to pieces.

But piety and nationalism do not tell the whole story. Marxist historians emphasize the recurrent phenomenon of the sicarii, Robin Hood style outlaws whom Herod had repeatedly tried to suppress, and who resurfaced with a vengeance in 4 BC. Many Jews also recalled that Herod and his sons, among whom the kingdom was partitioned after his death, were only Idumeans, residents of a Negev desert region south of Judea whose inhabitants had been converted wholesale to Judaism in the 's BC; those of the Sadduccees who had resisted cooperating, first with the Hasmoneans and then with Herod, saw their opportunity to regain control of the high priesthood.

Some pretenders to the throne in 4 BC, Simon and Athronges, were seekers after personal power, not manifestations of anti-Roman feeling. No fewer than three separate wills were produced.

How King Herod transformed the Holy Land

At first the eldest son, Archelaus, hoped to succeed to the entire realm; but his claim was contested by his brothers Antipas and Philip. While Archelaus and Philip were at Rome presenting their claims to Augustus and the Senate, the country was left in turmoil, exacerbated by the ineptitude of the Roman procurator Sabinus, who burned the Temple at Jerusalem. The governor of Syria, P. Quinctilius Varus, had to bring in troops to quell the riots.

Finally Augustus, who had intially shown reluctance to choose among the competing claims beyond firmly rejecting a delegation of anti-Herodians wanting self-government, decided to uphold Herod's third will. The lion's share of the kingdom went to Archelaus, who ruled Judea, Samaria, and Idumea Lesser realms fell to the other two sons, Antipas and Philip.

Extremely unpopular with the Jews, he exemplified all the worst of his father's qualities, and even the even-handed Josephus has little good to say of him. By 6 AD matters had come to a head, and in the wake of further riots prompted in part by the attempt of the Syrian legate Quirinus to conduct a census a delegation from Judea managed to persuade Augustus and the Senate to oust Archelaus.

The areas administered by the other sons of Herod continued for the moment as client kingdoms, but Judea and Samaria were annexed to the province of Syria and placed under the oversight of imperial prefects not called procurators until after 44, as epigraphical evidence shows. The first four of these, Coponius , Marcus Ambibulus , Annius Rufus , and Valerius Gratus left no special mark; even Josephus has little to say about them, and we gather that they were for the most part respectful of Jewish idiosyncracies. With the fifth procurator the situation worsens.

Christian writers noted that he had suppressed a riot by massacring a group of Galileans, and accused him of worse Luke "At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices". For the Jews Pilate's worst offense was belittling the taboo against graven images by introducing military standards into the city, and depositing golden shields inscribed with the name of Tiberius, imperial cult objects in other words, in the palace of Herod. As Philo tells it, Pilate worried about the Jewish protest over the shields, because he feared that if they actually sent an embassy they would expose the rest of his conduct as governor by stating in full the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injuries, the executions without a trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty Philo Emb.

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