Tag Archives: King Herod

Not in Herod’s Lifetime

Just came back from a press conference with Ronny Reich, archaeologist and professor at Haifa University. Probably every guide talks about the Western Wall, the supporting wall of the Temple Mount built by King Herod in 22BCE. According to the historian Josephus, Herod elongated the square Hasmonean platform (250 meters by 250m) by rebuilding new northern, western and southern supporting walls. The eastern wall was extended and the “seam” between the earlier Hasmonean wall and Herod’s can be seen near the south-eastern corner. Along the western wall Herod designed a main street (Ronnie Reich calls it the original Wall Street, the Palestinians probably call it occupied) and a vault supporting a large staircase crossing over the street and leading to the Royal Stoa, a building 288 meters long with 160 columns (it takes 3 people with arms extended to go around a single column). When Herod moved the western wall he had to move some residences that were in the way, at the bottom of the slope from the Western Hill. These buildings were destroyed but the basements, underground cisterns and mikvaot (ritual baths) were just filled in with debris/earth. One mikva directly under the path of the planned western wall, was filled in and covered with 3 large stones. In clearing out the drainage channel under Robinson’s Arch, the mikva was discovered under the Herodian stones of the western wall.

Some clay oil lamps and a small pottery jug typical of the Second Temple period were found.

When the mikva was emptied and the soil sifted 19 coins were found, the latest ones were from the rule of Valerius Gratus, the Roman Prefect (governor) of Judaea province under Tiberius from 15 to 26CE. He was succeeded by Pontius Pilate.

   

Reich said four small bronze coins were found with dates of 15CE and 16CE (IAA press release says 17 coins with dates of 17/18CE). Since the coins were found in the fill in the mikva under the wall, the first (lowest) row of stones in the wall must have been placed there after 16CE so the wall was built more than 20 years after the death of Herod (who died in 4BCE). If that is the case, then the Herodian street, the staircase and probably the Royal Stoa were all later additions, not completed in Herod’s lifetime!

By the way, these stones have the frame but were left with the boss (protuberance) since they were underground and would never be seen.

This confirms Josephus’ account in the last book of Jewish Antiquities that the Temple building project was the largest project the ancient world had ever heard of and was not completed until about 50CE in the rule of King Agrippa II, Herod’s great grandson (even though some 15-18,000 workers were employed on the project).

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Caesarea-Maritima, Herod’s Promontory Palace

On the Mediterranean coast, 40 km north of Tel Aviv was a small, sleepy Phoenician town founded about the 3rd C BCE with a modest port called Strato’s Tower. All that changed when Herod chose the site for the development of a large, protected harbor. This boosted trade and commerce (and made a lot of money for Herod) and enabled closer ties with the centers of the Roman empire. Caesarea was a well-planned urban center, a walled city with streets laid out in a grid, warehouses, a Roman temple, a large theater (the first one in Israel according to Netzer), a stadium/hippodrome, public baths and according to Josephus several palaces. There was plenty of water for the city brought by an aqueduct. To date, only a small percentage of the city has been excavated.

In Josephus there is a detailed description of Herod’s palace, preceding even the harbor which was an exceptional feat of engineering and probably a great source of pride to Herod. Its location on a promontory jutting 100 meters out into the sea makes it unique and the placement of a pool in the center (where one would expect to find an internal courtyard) shows Herod’s exceptional building style. The other two natural promontories at Caesarea were used to anchor the harbor. All of the pool is hewn into the kurkar sandstone bedrock, coated with hydraulic plaster and from the outset was filled with fresh water and was intended for swimming and bathing. Evidence that pozzolana cement was used in the construction of features of the pool is further evidence that it was constructed at the same time as the harbor.

Some scholars regarded the pool as a fishpond and the entire structure a piscine, or fish market of sorts based on a network of open channels, intermediate pools and sluices linking the pool with the sea but according to Netzer this was at a later stage, 600 years after Herod when the pool was put to secondary use. Many fallen drums, pedestals and capitals were found at the bottom of the pool presumably from rows of columns that framed a peristyle courtyard. The pool is bordered on the east by the triclinium (formal dining room) and on the west by additional rooms closer to the sea (see layouts of the palace).  The floors of the triclinium and smaller rooms on each side had elaborate, geometric mosaic floors. Caesarea was battered by a strong storm in December 2010 (see Haaretz article) and 1000 year old artifacts were swept into the sea and lost forever (on my recent visit to the park I saw Park Authority staff working to cleanup the damage to the palace).

Additional excavations in 1976 followed the development of the east wing during the Roman period. Beside the triclinium was added a small caldarium, whose hypocaust and furnace were well preserved. One of the tiles of the furnace has the stamp of the Legion X Fretensis. Excavators found two inscribed marble columns with six dedicatory inscriptions that reveal important new information about officials of Caesarea from the 2nd-4th C CE.

Besides the architecture there is also the human drama. Josephus describes many incidents in peoples lives that happened in Herod’s palace. Agrippa I died in the palace after opening the Games and blaspheming in the stadium (Acts 12:20-23). A hall in the Upper Palace was the destination of the apostle Paul for a hearing before Antoninus Felix (Acts 23:35.). Later, Herod Agrippa II and his sister Berenike visited a new governor, Porcius Festus, and heard Paul’s self-defense there (Acts 25:23). Josephus relates a demonstration outside of the palace demanding the removal of Roman standards with the images of humans and animals from Jerusalem. Pilate had the Jews held in the stadium and threatened to kill them but backed down. In fact, the only archaeological evidence that Pilate existed is a dedicatory inscription with the name Pilatus that was found here (there is a copy at the site, the original is on display at the Israel Museum).

Walking through the hippodrome don’t miss the mosaic floor with images of birds, animals and people from a public building near the bath house. Interesting to compare it with the Bird mosaic from a 6th C mansion/palace nearby.

Archaeological Artifacts with Names

Of the myriad names of people that are familiar from the Bible and I’ll expand it to include the New Testament, Josephus and the Talmud, we have very little confirmation from archaeological evidence, inscriptions, papyrus or parchment, that these figures actually existed. I am excluding, for the moment, the names of rulers who appear on coins minted during their reign or names on bullae or seals.

Here are some of the names that have been found on archaeological artifacts:

  • The name Nicanor, from Alexandria who brought 2 large bronze gates to the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem, recounted in the Talmud Yoma 38a, was found on an ossuary in a burial cave on Mt. Scopus.
  • The name of the priestly family of Hezir, mentioned in the Bible (Nehemiah 10:20; 1 Chronicles 24:15), was found in an epitaph in the family mausoleum in the Kidron Valley.

  • The name of the priestly family Qatros, mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, was inscribed on a stone weight, found in the basement of the Burnt House, a private dwelling on the Western Hill in Jerusalem.
  • The name of the priestly family Caiaphas, mentioned in the New Testament, Josephus and the Talmud was found on two ossuaries found in Jerusalem.
  • The name Yehohanah, a granddaughter of the high priest Theophilus nominated high priest in 37CE the year Herod became king mentioned in Josephus was found inscribed on an ossuary.
  • The name “tzaddan malka” and “tzadda malkata,” the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek “Queen Helena”,  spoken of in Josephus and the Tosefta for her giving of charity to the poor of Jerusalem during a period of famine (Peah 4:1) was found inscribed on a sarcophagus from the Tomb of the Kings in Jerusalem.
  • The name Simon bar Kosiba or Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Second Jewish Revolt (132–135CE) against the Roman was found on letters in caves at Wadi Murabba’at and Nahal Hever and 4 lead weights. You can see images of these weights at this site: http://www.archaeological-center.com/en/monographs/
  • The name David was found in the excavations at Dan when a piece of basalt, part of a victory stele describing how the Aramaean King Hazael was victorious over the House of David was found in the wall by the outer outer gate.
  • The name Pontius Pilate was found on a stone inscription, part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar in Caesarea.
  • The name James (brother of Jesus) was found on an ossuary with the Aramaic inscription Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” as recorded in the New Testament and Josephus; the authenticity of the inscription has been contested and is the subject of ongoing scholarly debate.

Columbarium for doves

On one of the first trips on the guides course, we were driving along the southern coast with its sand dunes, from Gaza to Ashkelon. Haim Karel, the course coordinator, stopped the bus, we all got out and crossed the road to look at a large pit with rows of niches arranged in the walls built of kurkar blocks. The site is completely unmarked and not visible from the road – as the guide, you have to know where it is. Kurkar, is a kind of rock found along the Mediterranean coast, formed when the ocean spray carrying limestone glues the sand together to form rock. Haim explained that the structure is a columbarium, from the Latin columba meaning dove.

If you look up columbarium on the Internet you’ll find that a lot of the references are to cemeteries and crematorium. In his book on Masada Yadin describes  a circular “columbarium” southwest of the Western Palace from the time of Herod that they uncovered:

It is our conviction that this building, like similar though larger buildings discovered in Italy, was designed to receive the remains of cremations. It is probable that Herod built it for the burial of his servants, ministers or other members of his court who were not Jewish.

Two buildings, square not circular, but with similar niches in their walls, were found in the north-western part of the wall; it is possible that they fulfilled the same function.

Yadin even describes how Moshe Yoffe who worked on the excavation team  and raised pigeons at home brought in a very small pigeon but couldn’t cajole or force it into one of the niches.

In Jewish tradition where burial is outside the city and cremation is against Halacha (Jewish law) it seems unlikely; also, there were no human remains found here nor pottery shards, from the urns which may have held human ashes.

Another suggestion is that these caves were filled with water and used to raise fish. The consensus though is that they were used to raise doves or pigeons. The name columbarium comes from the Latin columba meaning dove. Doves/pigeons were used as a source of food and for sacrifice. My mother tells how in Israel in the 1950s when food was scarce and rationed, our neighbor kept pigeons and I was fed pigeon as a baby. The excrement makes excellent fertilizer for growing vegetables. The birds could be used for communication as they would fly back to their home.

But you don’t have to go as far as Masada, there are columbaria in other parts of Israel, for example, at Maresha/Bet Guvrin. After Alexander the Great’s conquest of Judea in 332 BCE, Maresha developed as a diverse town with Sidonians, Greeks, Jews and Egyptians arriving and settling there. Residents of Maresha took advantage of the naturally soft limestone to quarry water cisterns, olive presses and columbaria beneath their homes.

Don’t miss the columbarium at Tel Maresha where you descend into a tremendous cross-shaped cave with niches for more than 2,000 pigeons; so far more than 60 columbaria have been found in the Maresha region.

Near Nes Harim there is a nice hike through the natural oak, pistachio and carob trees in the Judean hills that takes us to the spring at Hurvat Itab among olive, fig and almond trees. In a large cave nearby is a columbarium for keeping pigeons.

At Ramat Rahel, a burial cave, columbarium and ritual baths characteristic of the Second Temple period were uncovered by Aharoni (1962). The caves and columbarium were hewn into soft nari bedrock. On one of my visits to the archaeological site, I had climbed down into the columbarium to look around and was able to take this photo of one of the niches.

Food Discoveries at Masada

Yigal Yadin led the archaeological excavations at Masada, an inaccessible fortress situated on the western coast of the Dead Sea between the years 1963-1965. The archaeological evidence from Masada suggests the great richness of King Herod’s stores as described by Josephus, who emphasizes that they are a greater object of admiration than the royal palace itself:

But the stores laid up within would have excited still more amazement, alike for their lavish splendour and their durability. For here had been stored a mass of corn, amply sufficient to last for years, abundance of wine and oil, besides every variety of pulse and piles of dates.

Among the finds archaeologists found some clay shards from Roman amphorae with bilingual Latin-Greek writing, garum BασιλέωϚ ‘of the king’ – referring to Herod. As well, they found shards of wine jars datable by a fragment of inscription bearing the consular name C. Sentius Saturninus to 19BCE. The inscription on the jar indicates that the Philonianum wine from the Italian producer L. Lenius was intended for the King himself.  One should probably add to Herod’s shopping list apples from Kyme, honey and olive oil. The inscriptions not only throw light on Herod’s culinary tastes but show that Herod was able to order such luxurious imports. Herod ordered only the best garum, from Spain which the Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, says was only surpassed in price by perfume and you can assume that it would have had to be kosher.

Garum was a type of fermented fish sauce that was an essential flavour and condiment in ancient Roman cooking (think of worcestershire sauce today). Although it enjoyed its greatest popularity in the Roman world, it originated with the Greeks – its name comes from the Greek words gáron (γάρον) the name of the fish whose intestines were used in the condiment’s production.

Garum was traditionally made in one of two ways. The dry-salting method involved placing layers of small whole fish or the guts of larger fish into a vat on a layer of herbs and spices (dill, coriander, fennel, celery, mint, oregano, and others) and covered with salt “two fingers high”. Repeat until the vat is full and leave for 10 days in the sun after which mix it daily for 20 days (some recipes say allow to ferment for three months). Alternatively, garum makers began with a strong salt solution (brine) into which they placed whole fish or fish intestines. The brine was heated over a fire until the liquid had reduced to an acceptable level.

If you’re interested in making up a batch of garum to taste, you can find various recipes by searching for “garum fish sauce” or check out this great Israeli food blog with a recipe for a modern version:

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2010/07/17/garum-roman-ketchup/

Tour of Herodium Palace Complex

In Ehud Netzer’s book on the Palaces of the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great he writes:

In its day, Herodium was one of the largest palaces in the Greco-Roman world. It is actually the most spacious one of that time that is known to us from archaeological studies.

When I guide Herodium, I include a comprehensive tour of Lower Herodium, outside the archaeological park and the area that Prof. Ehud Netzer excavated in 1972 looking for Herod’s tomb. I point out

  • the overall planning of the site – the relationship between the palace/fortress on a man-made mountain south of the site and the palace complex at its foot
  • the concentration of structures around the pool, more characteristic of present day complexes such as a university campus or large hospital
  • the addition of formal gardens against the background of the barren Judean desert
  • where and how Herod overcame the topography and lack of water to build Herodium
  • Netzer’s discovery of the Monumental building where he thought Herod was buried

In its current state it can be difficult to imagine what Herodium must have looked like. Then I was introduced to the Hungarian-born artist and illustrator, Balage Balogh. Balogh has done paintings where he has recreated (Biblical) settings with a startling degree of accuracy based on a combination of intensive archaeological investigation, scriptural and ancient text research and a measured dose of interpretive insight. He has kindly given me permission to include his illustration of Herodium here. To better picture the ancient world check out his website at
http://www.archaeologyillustrated.com/


(Click on the image to view it in more detail)

Aqueduct at Caesarea

The first aqueduct was built by Herod at the time the city of Caesarea-Maritima was founded and brought water from the Shuni spring, south of Mount Carmel, about 10KM to the northeast of the city. The water flowed on a single raised channel.

When this was not sufficient, a second “lower” aqueduct was built by the Legions of the Emperor Hadrian (2nd C CE). It brought water from Tanninim (Crocodiles) river. This section, with a tunnel of about 6KM long, was tapped into the older aqueduct, and doubled its capacity and its width. The builders used the same building materials and style, so it may be difficult to see that the pair of channels were built at different times. The aqueduct continued to supply water to Caesarea for 1200 years.

Just past the entrance to Beit Hanania you can find the northern section of the aqueduct and the second aqueduct (Hadrian) connecting to the older one (Herod). In this section there are two stone tablets that were placed into the wall by its builders, the legion of the Emperor Hadrian. The right tablet clearly shows: “IMP CAES(ar) TRIAN HADR(ianus)”. The other tablet is of the Tenth Legion (the Imperial eagle without its head standing on a wreath).

The Israel Trail winds its way beside the aquaduct, through the Arab town of Jizr a-Zarka and then south along the coast to Caesarea. On the beach closer to the Caesarea archaeological park there is another section of the aqueduct. In fact it makes a great hike with the whole family from here along the beach north to Dor or a little further to Habonim.