King Herod’s tomb unearthed by Israeli archaeologists

Professor Ehud Netzer talks to the press on Tuesday: The discovery of the grave is the high point in the excavation at the site.Hebrew University announced on Tuesday that the thirty-year search for the tomb of King Herod, who ruled …

Professor Ehud Netzer talks to the press on Tuesday: The discovery of the grave is the high point in the excavation at the site.Hebrew University announced on Tuesday that the thirty-year search for the tomb of King Herod, who ruled Judea from 37 BCE until his death in 4 CE, has ended with the discovery of the remains of his grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum three weeks ago at Herodium.

Herod, or Hordos in Hebrew, the Roman-appointed King of Judea was responsible for massive building projects throughout the land of Israel, including the elaborate second Temple in Jerusalem, Caesarea, the palace at Masada, and the complex at Herodium, where his tomb was discovered, 10 miles south of Jerusalem. He is also mentioned in the New Testament.

At Herodium, Herod built one of the largest complexes in the Roman Empire. First, he built an artificial, cone-shaped hilltop, which is viewable from Jerusalem. He also built several palaces, a sanctuary, an administrative center, a mausoleum, and elaborate gardens and pools.

Herodium is the most outstanding among King Herod?s building projects. It is the only site that carries his name and the site where he chose to be buried and memorialized. “The discovery of the grave is the high point in the excavation at the site,” said Professor Ehud Netzer, the chief archaeologist of the excavation.

Netzer, of Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology and a former student of famed Israeli archaeologist Yigal Yadin, had been exploring Herodium since 1972. He is considered one of the world’s top experts on Herod. He had been leading a team of researchers, along with Yaakov Kalman and Roi Porath and the participation of local Bedouins on the site.

The discovery of Herod’s tomb solves one of Israel’s greatest archeological mysteries.
Researchers had long suspected that Herod was buried at the site, as it is mentioned in Flavius Josephus’s Jewish Wars. Nevertheless, until now, they were unable to locate the site despite multiple excavations. The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod’s burial site, Netzer said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Josephus describes Herod’s funeral:

Around the bier were Herod’s sons and a large group of his relations; these were followed by the guards, the Thracian contingent, Germans and Gauls, all equipped as for war. The reminder of the troops marched in front, armed and in orderly array, led by their commanders and subordinate officers; behind these came five hundred of Herod’s servants and freedmen, carrying spices. The body was thus conveyed for a distance of two hundred furlongs to Herodium, where, in accordance with the directions of the deceased, it was interred. So ended Herod’s reign. (Jewish Wars, 1,23,9)

The mausoleum was almost dismantled in ancient times. According to Netzer, the grave had been desecrated shortly after Herod’s death and the sarcophagus broken into hundreds of pieces. Netzer speculates that this destruction took place between 66-72 CE, during the Jewish revolt against the Romans while Jewish rebels held the site. The rebels hated the Hellenistic Herod, seeing him as pawn of the Romans.

Although there were no bones in the container, the location and appearance indicated it was Herod’s. “It’s a sarcophagus we don’t just see anywhere,” Netzer said. “It is something very special.”