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Like a Sumptuous Toad

Herodium - an aerial shot showing the famous breast-like shape of the fortressBird's eye view of Herodium        

Herodium was meant to impress. The great building crouched like a sumptuous  toad on the flattened top of a hill about 400 feet above the countryside. 

These days, of course, there are only ruins to be seen, and perhaps the best way of seeing them is from the sky, taking
a bird's eye view.

But they are remarkably intact, and tell us much about the original buildings - and the man who built them. 

Frank Thring in the role of Herod Antipas in the 60's biblical film 'King of Kings'

Herod Antipas: 'the fox'

Herod the Great seems to have been two things at once: a paranoid murderer who had good reason to believe he was hated; and a creative visionary who dreamed of dragging Israel into line with the rest of the Roman world. 

His buildings reflected his tormented personality - Herodium is a perfect example.

It is both a fortress and a palace - a fortress for protection against the many people who hated him, and a palace to show everyone, especially Romans, that Israel could have buildings as luxurious as any in the Empire.

He built variations on this theme in several places, including the blood-stained Masada. Herodium was a luxurious bolt-hole, a hill-top palace-fortress visible for miles.

The Fortress

Herodium: a reconstruction of the central area with surrounding towersHerodium had a breathtaking view overlooking the Judean Desert and the mountains of Moab to the east, and the Judean Hills to the west.

Reconstruction of the fortress/palace is based on archaeological remains, but also on the detailed description of the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus: 

This fortress, which is some sixty stadia 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
. (War I, 31, 10; Antiquities XIV, 323-325)

As far as Herod was concerned, the place had good, if not happy, memories. It was built on the spot where he won a great victory over his Hasmonean and Parthian enemies in 40BC. 

Never modest about his triumphs, Herod named the new fortress after himself. Herodium commemorated his victory.  Not content with this, he built a sophisticated administrative center for the region on the plain below.

So much for the fortress. But where did the luxury-loving Herod live?

Go to 'WHERE HEROD LIVED' to find out...


  Looking up towards the fortress from the bathhouse and pool

                  Bathhouse and Pleasure Gardens



Mad, bad and dangerous: the Bible's King Herod - BIBLE PEOPLE: HEROD


Herod the Great, a Top Villain -  BIBLE TOP TEN: VILLAINS




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