جبل فريديس
Aerial view of the acropolis of Herodium
Alternative nameHerodion
LocationWest Bank, Palestine
RegionBethlehem Governorate
Coordinates31°39′57″N 35°14′29″E / 31.66583°N 35.24139°E / 31.66583; 35.24139
Height758 m (2,487 ft)
BuilderHerod the Great
Founded22–15 BCE
Abandoned71 CE and 134/5 CE
PeriodsSecond Temple period, Roman Empire
Site notes
ArchaeologistsVirgilio Canio Corbo, Stanislao Loffreda, Ehud Netzer, Roi Porat
ManagementIsrael Nature and Parks Authority[1]

Herodion (Ancient Greek: Ἡρώδειον; Arabic: هيروديون; Hebrew: הרודיון), Herodium (Latin), or Jabal al-Fureidis (Arabic: جبل فريديس, lit.'"Mountain of the Little Paradise"') is an ancient fortress located 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem and 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) southeast of Bethlehem. It is located between the villages of Beit Ta'mir, Za'atara and Jannatah. It is identified with the site of Herodium, built by King of Judea Herod the Great between 23 and 15 BCE.[2][3][4] Herodium is 758 meters (2,487 ft) above sea level.[5]

The site is in Area C of the West Bank, formally under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Civil Administration, a body of military officers, and in practice it is administered jointly with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.[6][7] Israel asserts that it is entitled to work in the area under the Oslo Accords, but the Palestinian authorities say Israel has no right to undertake digs there or remove artifacts that Israel discovered in excavations there.[8]


Upper Herodium, looking south. The columns to the left near the wall belong to the peristyle hall.

Herodium is the only site that is named after King Herod the Great. It was known by the Crusaders as the "Mountain of Franks". Palestinian locals historically called it Jabal al-Firdous or Jabal al-Fureidis (Arabic: جبل فريديس, lit. "Mountain of the Little Paradise");[9] Edward Robinson in 1838 described it as "Frank Mountain", in reference to the Crusaders.[10]

In 1841, Edward Robinson's identified the site in Biblical Researches in Palestine as Herodium based on the description found in Josephus.[11][12] Josephus described a palace fortress and a small town, named after Herod the Great, built between 23 and 15 BCE. A sarcophagus discovered in 2007 was claimed to belong to Herod as it was more ornate than others found in the area.[2][3][4]

The modern English name is a transliteration of the Greek spelling (Ancient Greek: Ἡρώδειον). This is followed by the Modern Arabic (Arabic: هيروديون) and the Modern Hebrew (Herodion Hebrew: הרודיון). The name Herodis (Hebrew: הרודיס) was found in the 1960s inscribed in one of the Bar Kokhba letters recovered from the Muraba’at Caves in the Judaean desert,[13] and is thought to represent the original Hebrew name for the site.



In 40 BCE, after the Parthian conquest of Syria, Herod fled to Masada. On the way, at the location of Herodion, Herod clashed with Jews loyal to his enemy Antigonus, and emerged victorious. According to the Roman Jewish historian Josephus, 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".[14]

Josephus describes Herodium as follows:

This fortress, which is some sixty stadia[15] 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.[16]

Archaeologists believe that the palace was designed by architects and built by slaves and paid workers (contractors). [citation needed] Herod was considered one of the greatest builders of his time and was not daunted by geography—his palace was built on the edge of the desert and was situated atop an artificial hill.[17] The largest of the four towers was built on a stone base 18 meters in diameter. This was most likely where Herod lived; he decorated his rooms with mosaic floors and elaborate frescoes. The other three towers, which consisted of living spaces and storage, were 16 meters in diameter. Outside, several cisterns were built to collect water that was channeled into the palace.

Great Revolt

In the midst of the First Jewish–Roman War, the defenders of Herodium transformed Herod's triclinium into a synagogue.[18] Herodium was conquered and destroyed by the Romans in 71 CE.

Bar Kokhba revolt

At the beginning of the Bar Kokhba revolt sixty years later, Simon bar Kokhba declared Herodium as his secondary headquarters. The fortress was commanded by Yeshua ben Galgula, who was likely in Bar Kokhba's second or third line of command. 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.

Excavation history

"Tel Hordos" area in 1943, in the Survey of Palestine
Remains of the eastern round tower

Upper Herodium

The archaeological excavation of Herodium was begun in 1962 by Virgilio Canio Corbo and Stanislao Loffreda, from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem, and it continued until 1967: they discovered the upper citadel, at the top of the hill.[19]

Pilate ring

In 1968–1969, during excavations directed by archaeologist Gideon Foerster, at a section of Herod's burial tomb[dubiousdiscuss] and palace hundreds of artifacts were found, including a copper alloy ring. The ring was overlooked but in 2018 it was given a thorough laboratory cleaning and scholarly examination. At the center of the ring is an engraved krater, or amphora similar in style to the monumental urn (handleless amphorae or acroteria) of Herodium [20] which is encircled by "partly deformed" Greek letters spelling out "of Pilates" in Greek. Although scientists were not sure about who is the "Pilates" mentioned on the ring, media published that it could have possibly belonged to Pontius Pilate. Archaeologist Roi Porat said that all explanations are equally possible for the owner of the ring: "It was important to publish a careful scientific article, but in practice we have a ring inscribed with the name Pilate and the personal connection just cries out."[21][22][23] While much of the debate has focused on the Greek name inscribed on the ring, the image is of equal significance and may further support that this was the ring used by Pilate's administrative assistant for sealing documents for Pilate. The image on the ring is possibly associated with Roman religious ceremonies (i.e., suovetaurilia, bacchanalia) and the imperial cult that were characteristic of the images on the coins that Pilate had minted during his term as governor.[20]

Lower Herodium

From 1972, excavations were carried out by Ehud Netzer, working on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and they were intermittent until the archaeologist's death in 2010. Netzer excavated mostly the lower palace, at the base of the hill.


Palace garden, the northern exedra

Herod's hilltop palace

Main article: Herod's Palace (Herodium)

Herod the Great built a palace within the fortress of Herodium. Herod himself commissioned a lavish palace to be built between 23 and 15 BCE atop Herodium for all to see. The palace itself consisted of four towers of seven stories, a bathhouse, courtyards, a Roman theatre, banquet rooms, a large walkway ("the course"), as well as extravagant living quarters for himself and guests. Once Herod died and the Great Revolt started, Herodium was abandoned. The Jews eventually had a base at Herodium where they built a synagogue which can still be seen today, unlike much of Herod's Palace.[24]

Section of mosaic floor unearthed at Herodion


The Roman bathhouse consisted of three areas, the caldarium, the tepidarium, and the frigidarium. It also had a very impressive dome which is still in good condition today despite thousands of years of earthquakes and wars. The caldarium had vaulted ceilings, raised floors, and channels in the walls to conduct heat. The tepidarium had mosaic floors and frescoes just like the living quarters of the palace. The frigidarium, the last stop in the bathhouse, was where guests would cool off in a large pool.


During the First Jewish–Roman War, the defenders of Herodium repurposed an existing structure within the upper palace as a synagogue,[18] considered one of the earliest in the Levant. The original space, formerly Herod's triclinium, underwent renovations that involved installing benches along the walls and constructing a mikveh outside the entrance. There is minimal evidence regarding any alterations made by the defenders to the existing decor or furnishings, and the space essentially functioned as a simple communal hall. The entrance faced eastward, while Jerusalem lay almost due north. The repurposed synagogue lacked specialized features commonly found in synagogues, such as a niche for housing the Torah scrolls and a reading desk.[18]


Netzer discovered the Roman Theatre just before his death in late 2010. The royal theatre was uncovered near the base of Herod's tomb (see Herod Family Tomb). The theatre contained an elaborately decorated loggia, or a theatre box, was discovered. This means that when Herod or other notable officials went to see a play, they would receive luxury treatment. The rest of the audience would be seated below on benches that could accommodate about 450–650 people. What is quite unique about this find is that frescoes of landscapes were discovered, of a kind suggesting that the painters were well travelled; they depict scenes of Italy and even the Nile River in Egypt. It is also assumed that the painters were on loan to Herod from Caesar in Rome.[25][26][27]

Herod's sarcophagus

Tomb of Herod

Hebrew University professor Ehud Netzer reported on 8 May 2007 that he had discovered the tomb of Herod with his team of archeologists, above tunnels and water pools at a flattened site halfway up the hill to the hilltop palace-fortress of Herodium, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem.[28] Later excavations strengthened the idea that this site is Herod's mausoleum.[29] The base of the tomb has now been uncovered and is visible to visitors to the site. His team consisted of Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman and Rachel Chachy-Laureys.[30]

The 2009–2010 excavations uncovered near the tomb base a small 450-seat capacity (see Theatre).

Netzer died in October 2010 from injuries sustained from a fall at the site,[2] and access to the mausoleum was subsequently blocked to the public pending review of the site's safety.

In October 2013, archaeologists Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas challenged the identification of the tomb as that of Herod.[3] According to Patrich and Arubas, the tomb is too modest to be Herod's and has several unlikely features.[3][4] Roi Porat, who replaced Netzer as excavation leader after the latter's death, stood by the identification.[3]

Fragments of three stone sarcophagi were found near the mausoleum: one of them was reddish and the other two light-colored. The reddish sarcophagus, decorated in a sumptuous but restrained style, was identified by the excavators as Herod's sarcophagus. It was found smashed into hundreds of pieces. Scholars suggested that this sarcophagus held the king's body and was destroyed by Jewish rebels during the Jewish–Roman war. The sarcophagus is displayed today at the Israel Museum.[31]

Panoramic view of Herodium's hilltop palace-fortress, looking west (starting from left) moving towards north (to the right), ending with the large eastern tower.

Legal aspects

The area in a United Nations OCHA map of the West Bank; the Herodium national park is the diagonal hashed area shown west of Za'atara, east of the Jannatah checkpoint, and north of the Sdeh Bar Farm settlement. The Palestinian village of Al Orentellah is within the confines of the national park.

In February 2013 an exhibit dedicated to Herod at the Israel Museum featured finds from among some 30 tons of material transferred from the Herodium site back into Israel.[32] The Palestinian National Authority protested,[33] and Rula Maayah, the Palestinian tourism and antiquities minister said that according to international law Israelis have no right to excavate Herodium, which is in the occupied West Bank, or to take any antiquities from it. Palestinian officials compared the exhibition to the historical plunder of archaeological treasures by former colonial powers.[34] Some Israeli commentators have argued that, such excavations of, and removal of material from, sites in the Palestinian territories go beyond what is permitted to an occupying power such as Israel.[35] One Israeli archaeologist, Yonathan Mizrachi, in an article co-written with Yigal Bronner, stated that, 'Since Herodion and Herod's palaces in Jericho are located in the territories that Israel occupied in 1967, they are—according to international law, the codes of ethics for the preservation of antiquities, and even the Oslo Accords—supposedly under Palestinian control and responsibility.'[32] The Israel Museum's director, James S. Snyder initially stated that the items from Herodium would be returned to the West Bank after the exhibition, "in better condition than before",[36] but later clarified that this did not mean the artifacts would be returned to the Palestinians after the exhibition.[37] The site is in Area C of the West Bank, under full Israeli control.[36][38] The Israel Museum cited the Oslo Accords as giving Israel a right to perform archaeology in the territories and said they will return it to the West Bank when the exhibition has ended.[39] In analyzing the controversy, Morag Kersel states that the site is regulated by Israeli military orders, the Jordanian Temporary Law no. 51, 1966, and the Oslo Accords. According to the provisions of the Oslo II Accord, archaeological issues of common interest would be handled by a joint Israeli–Palestinian committee. Few if any of these agreements have been implemented, and Palestinians have not been consulted or asked to collaborate in the work at the site.[40]


See also


  1. ^ "Herodium (Herodeion) National Park". Archived from the original on April 4, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Israeli archaeologist dies after fall at King Herod dig". BBC. 2010-10-29. Retrieved 2014-12-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e Nir Hasson (October 11, 2013). "Archaeological stunner: Not Herod's Tomb after all?". Haaretz.
  4. ^ a b c Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas (2015). "Revisiting the Mausoleum at Herodium: Is it Herod's Tomb?". Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 147 (4): 299–315. doi:10.1179/1743130114Y.0000000018. S2CID 162456557.
  5. ^ Isachar Canetti, Hedva; Isachar, Hanan; Hazel Arieli; Moshe Yanai (2004). Images of the Holy Land. Hanan Isachar Photography. p. 71. ISBN 9789652800855.
  6. ^ On which Side is the Grass Greener? National parks in Israel and the West Bank: "The national parks and nature reserves in Area C of the West Bank are managed by the Civil Administration and are designated as “parks.” The parks cover an area of 498,500 dunam, approximately 14.5% of Area C... One of the units of the Civil Administration is the Staff Officer (SO) for Nature Reserves and National Parks. Since Israeli law does not apply to the West Bank, the Staff Officer for the Nature Reserves and National Parks operates under Order 373, a military order that regulates their operation. This order came into effect in 1970 and replaced a previous order (Order 81 regarding Parks) which came into effect in 1967, at the end of the Six-Day War. Order 373 states that once an area in the West Bank has been declared a park, it is the duty of the commander of the area to appoint an authority to manage its affairs (section 4), such as determining rules of conduct in parks, carrying out various construction activities, setting entrance fees, and appointing inspectors (sections 5-7). Order 373 does not stipulate who can be appointed as a managing authority. In practice, the parks in the West Bank are managed by the Staff Officer for Nature Reserves and National Parks and by the National Parks Authority, which the former appointed to manage many parks. Visitors to the parks and reserves in the West Bank can use membership cards issued by the National Parks Authority, and observe the National Parks Authority flags that line the entrances to many of the parks. The blurring of the boundaries between the National Parks Authority and of the Staff Officer obscures the physical and legal boundaries between the West Bank and Israel."
  7. ^ Jonathan Cook, 'Herod exhibit digs up controversy,' Al Jazeera 1 Mar 2013: 'Both the archeological sites at Herodium and Jericho are regulated by the Civil Administration, a body of military officials who oversee Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. Israel has justified its control of the sites on the grounds that they are located in Area C, the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank over which Israel was given control by the Oslo Accords until a peace deal with the Palestinians was agreed.
  8. ^ Robert Tait (19 December 2014). "Royal passageway to King Herod's palace discovered". The Telegraph.
  9. ^ Guérin, Victor. "Description de la Palestine (Description of Palestine)". L'imprimerie Impériale: Paris 1869, pp. 125–132.
  10. ^ Biblical Researches, volume 3, p.210
  11. ^ Finding King Herod’s Tomb: "Long an object of scholarly as well as popular fascination, Herodium, also called Herodeion, was first positively identified in 1838 by the American scholar Edward Robinson, who had a knack for locating biblical landmarks."
  12. ^ Robinson, Edward; Smith, Eli (1841). Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838, volume 3. Murray. p. 173.
  13. ^ Roland de Vaux, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, vol. 2, Oxford 1961, pp. 126, 130-131. The letter reads (partially effaced): "On the 20th day of the month Shevat, in the 2nd year of Israel's redemption by Simeon the son of K[osi]ba, the nasi of [Is]rael, in the camp that is situated at Herodis..."
    Original Hebrew: בעשרין לשבט שנת שת[ים] לגאלת [י]שראל על יד שמעון בן כ[וס]בא נסיא [יש]ראל במחנה שיושב בהרודיס
  14. ^ (The Wars of the Jews I, Chapter 13) "Herodion". Retrieved 17 December 2014.. On the historical circumstances of the building of Herodium, see: Jonathan Bourgel & Roi Porat, "Herodium as a Reflection of Herod’s Policy in Judea and Idumea," Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 135/2 (2019), 188-209.
  15. ^ 60 stadia is about 11.1 kilometres (6.9 mi). The actual distance is slightly more—12.5 kilometres (7.8 mi)
  16. ^ The Jewish War I, 21, 10; Antiquities of the Jews XIV, chapter 13.9
  17. ^ Mueller, Tom (December 2008). "Herod: The Holy Land's Visionary Builder". National Geographic.
  18. ^ a b c Richardson, Peter (2004-01-01), "Pre-70 Synagogues as Collegia in Rome, the Diaspora, and Judea", Building Jewish in the Roman East, Brill, p. 127, doi:10.1163/9789047406501_012, ISBN 978-90-474-0650-1, retrieved 2024-04-03
  19. ^ Virginio Canio Corbo, Herodion. I: Gli edifici della reggia-fortezza, Jerusalem 1989
  20. ^ a b David E. Graves, “Pilate’s Ring And Roman Religion,” Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin 64 (2019): 1–20
  21. ^ "2,000-year-old 'Pilate' ring just might have belonged to notorious Jesus judge". timesofisrael.
  22. ^ Karasz, Palko (2018-11-30). "Pontius Pilate's Name Is Found on 2,000-Year-Old Ring". The New York Times.
  23. ^ "Pontius Pilate's ring may have been discovered at ancient biblical fortress". foxnews. 2018-11-30.
  24. ^ "Herodium – King Herod's Palace-Fortress". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  25. ^ Milstein, Mati. "Luxury Box Seating". Archaeological Institute of America. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
  26. ^ Magness, Jodi (2001). "Where Is Herod's Tomb At Herodium?". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 322 (322): 43–46. doi:10.2307/1357515. JSTOR 1357515. S2CID 163684886.
  27. ^ "Royal theater box at the Herodium". Ferrell's Travel Blog. 2010-09-20. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  28. ^ Kraft, Dina (May 9, 2007). "Archaeologist Says Remnants of King Herod's Tomb Are Found". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-14.
  29. ^ "New Excavations Strengthen Identification Of Herod's Grave At Herodium". ScienceDaily. 19 November 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
  30. ^ "Herodium Expedition - the Staff".
  31. ^ "Herod's sarcophagus". www.imj.org.il. 2021-10-07. Retrieved 2021-12-24.
  32. ^ a b Yigal Bronner and Yonathan Mizrachi, 'King Herod, long reviled, finds new love among Jewish settlers,' The Forward, 19 May 2013: 'Since Herodion and Herod's palaces in Jericho are located in the territories that Israel occupied in 1967, they are—according to international law, the codes of ethics for the preservation of antiquities, and even the Oslo Accords—supposedly under Palestinian control and responsibility. One could imagine a very different scenario. The exhibition at the Israel Museum could have been based on joint Israeli-Palestinian research, performed both in Israel and in Palestine, and, as is standard throughout the world, it could and should have loaned the artifacts from the Palestinian Antiquities Authority. Instead, the museum opted for the dominant "no partner" approach and simply appropriated tons of artifacts from West Bank sites, as if this were merely a matter of transferring Israeli property to its rightful place in the national museum. Indeed, the museum preferred to partner with the so-called "Civil Administration," which runs the occupation of the West Bank and turned Herodion into a profitable settlement (from which Palestinians are barred).'
  33. ^ Kersel, Morag M. (2015). "Fractured oversight: The ABCs of cultural heritage in Palestine after the Oslo Accords". Journal of Social Archaeology. 15: 24–44. doi:10.1177/1469605314557586. S2CID 144882653.
  34. ^ Israel looting West Bank's treasures Archived 2013-10-18 at the Wayback Machine (The Daily Star, Al Jazeera, March 2, 2013)
  35. ^ Benny Ziffer, 'Herodium Turns Into a Cultural Settlement,' Haaretz, 22 February 2013:' Amid the general enthusiasm, one small technical detail was almost forgotten: that the excavation was conducted on Palestinian territory. Under international conventions, an occupying power may not conduct excavations in territories under its military control, with the exception of "rescue" digs carried out to preserve an archaeological site unintentionally brought to the surface. In the case of Herodium, where the excavations have gone on for years, there was no way of considering them rescue digs. In a report aired on Israel's Channel 2 at the time, it could be clearly seen how the excavations had disrupted the lives of residents of the Palestinian village surrounding Herodium, turning the mound into a kind of settlement—a cultural settlement—maintained by military force. The sight was shocking, because here brutality was ostensibly used for the purpose of promoting high culture, and for scientific and artistic reasons.’
  36. ^ a b Yolande Knell (2013-02-16). "Modern politics overshadows Israel's historic Herod exhibit". BBC News. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  37. ^ Morag M. Kersel p.38
  38. ^ "Holy Land excavation digs into Mideast rifts". AFP. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  39. ^ Rudoren, Jodi. New York Times, 13 Feb 2013, Anger That a Herod Show Uses West Bank Objects
  40. ^ Kersel p. 29