The Enigma that is Herodium

Today I was at Herodium with clients. As we descended into the bowl of the upper fortress/palace I noticed a group of workers sitting eating lunch in front of the wooden doors to the excavations taking place in the staircase. I immediately recognized Roi Porat and Yakov Kalman who had been in charge of the excavations of the tomb area with Prof. Netzer when I volunteered at the site in summer of 2008. Yakov was kind enough to let us peek inside. Here he shares some of his views about excavating at Herodium.

You have to put aside what you read in the books and examine and evaluate what you see as you excavate in order to understand what is going on. Herodium is not a simple site. The staircase was filled in with earth in Herod’s time, it doesn’t appear that the stairs were completed or ever used. There are two levels of arches, the lower ones to support the stair bed, the upper ones to define the space in which to walk – but there is no stair bed. Along one side is a covered drainage channel that carried water from the courtyard to the cistern. There is a small entrance hall with plastered walls and frescoes; the walls of the stairwell are rough stones.

I thanked him and mentioned that my week working at the excavation was very important to my understanding of Herodium and one that I value very much as a guide. And then Yakov had to get back to work. I did manage to take a few photos on my cell phone.

Herodium staircase

Looking down the staircase, covered channel on the left resting on unfinished lower arches.

Herodium frescoes in staircase

Small entrance way, plastered walls with fresco.

Herodium enigma

Small area between the entrance way and staircase.


4 thoughts on “The Enigma that is Herodium

  1. Robert Gottlieb

    Brilliant snippet — reads like a real life mystery. Makes one want to watch for the unfolding (what is discovered next.) Also, for a cell phone — fine photos. Nice catch.

    The whole experience / episode reminds me that being a Tour Guide is not simply the memorization of some facts and figures, but is the compilation of a lifetime of observation, experience, and social interactions.

    Thanks again for your rich and lovely Blog.

  2. Outremer

    Shmuel, hi…
    Great to see these “inside” photos. It’s always nice to “know someone”, yes?

    The channel looks pretty crudely built to me, and situated in an odd way. Almost certainly a zealot installation from one of the revolts, wouldn’t you guess? The surface runoff from the summit would have been critical once the great pool below was rendered off-limits by a Roman siege.

    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC USA

  3. Outremer

    Follow-up thought: Going back, I see that Yakov states the staircase was filled in already in Herod’s time. My bad. Or maybe they’ll have to change their theory… (TP)

  4. Balage Balogh

    There was a finished staircase leading up to the fortress in Herod’s time. It was taken apart and filled in by rebel forces to prevent Roman troops from climbing up. The Herodium was a completed and functioning complex in Josephus’ time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s