Herod's tomb has been discovered near Jerusalem, Hebrew University's Ehud Netzer will announce today. The discovery of the grave at Herodium solves one of the great mysteries of archaeology in the Land of Israel. Professor Netzer, considered one of the most senior researchers on Herod, has been excavating at the site south of Jerusalem since 1972 in efforts to identify the burial site of the King of the Jews. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem will release the details regarding the grave and its exact location at a press conference this morning.
Herod, also known as Herod the Great, expanded the Second Temple and built Caesaria, Masada and other monumental works. Born in 74 B.C.E., he died in 4 B.C.E. in Jericho after a long illness. Most researchers believed Herod was buried at Herodium based on the writings of historian Josephus Flavius, however the grave had not been found in the excavations. Netzer's current dig focused on a different area that had not been excavated: halfway between the upper and lower palaces. Until now, the search had focused on the lower palace.
Herod chose to build his tomb at Herodium because of the two dramatic events that took place there during his lifetime. In 43 B.C.E., while Herod was still governor of Galilee, he was forced to flee Jerusalem with his family after his enemies, the Parthians, besieged the city. Near the site of Herodium, his mother's carriage overturned and Herod panicked, until her realized she was only slightly injured. Shortly thereafter, the Partheans caught up with Herod an his entourage, but Herod turned the battle around and emerged victorious.
At Herodium, Herod built one of the largest royal sites in the Roman-Hellenist world which served as a residential palace, shelter and administrative center, as well as mausoleum. Herod first raised the level of the hill artificially, making it visible from Jerusalem and then built the fortified palace on top, surrounded by guard towers for use in times of war. At the foot of the hill, he built a second palace, the size of a small town, known as the "Lower Herodium," which included many buildings, luxurious gardens, pools, stables and warehouses.
Herod spared no resources in efforts to make Herodium ostentatious. He built aqueducts from Solomon's Pools and imported soil for the gardens to the heart of the desert. After Herod's death, his son and heir Archelaus continued to reside at Herodium. After Judea became a Roman republic, Herodium served as the seat of the Roman governors. With the outbreak of the great revolt against the Romans, Herodium fell to the rebels, but they returned it without a fight after Jerusalem fell in 70 C.E.
Fifty years later, the Herodium served the Bar Kochba uprising but was later abandoned. At about 150 C.E., Byzantine monks settled the place which later served as a leper colony until its abandonment in the 7th century.
The first excavations of the site were conducted in 1956-1962 by a Franciscan monk, who uncovered most of the remains known today. After the 1967 Six-Day War, the area was conquered by the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli excavations at the site began in 1972.
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