An interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, historians, and engineers led by Ehud Netzer, professor of archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, have announced that they have discovered the tomb of King Herod I at Herodium, an archaeological excavation site about 15 miles from Jerusalem. Better known as King Herod the Great, Herod ruled the then-Roman provinces of Judea and Galilee from 37 to 4 BCE.
There had been no serious doubt as to the historical reality of the life and works of Herod, whose accomplishments include the construction of the mountaintop fortress of Masada, the rebuilding of King Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem (now known as the Second Temple) and the extensive governmental/royal palace complex at Herodium. It was at Herodium where Herod allegedly ordered the infamous “Massacre of the Innocents” reported in the Gospel of Matthew. The discovery, however, provides confirmation to many reports by other writers dating from the period.
Prof. Netzer, quoted in the press release announcing the discovery, stated “The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod’s burial site.”
According to Prof. Netzer the tomb appeared to have desecrated and ransacked in ancient times, probably around the time of the First Jewish revolt which lasted from 66-72 CE. During the revolt, Jewish rebels defended the Herodium complex from the massive temple/fortress complex located atop the hill where the tomb was discovered. According to the historian Flavius Josephus the rebels despised Herod, viewing him as nothing more than a Roman puppet.
The archaeological evidence uncovered by the team included pieces of a sarcophagus that, when intact, would have been about 2 meters (about 7 feet) long which was decorated with carvings consistent with those found in the tombs of other prominent burials of that area as well as funerary structures described in Josephus’ History of the Jewish Wars (ca. 75 CE).
Prof. Netzer’s excavations at Herodium began in 1972 and soon uncovered a complex tunnel system that was constructed by Jewish rebels during the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132-135 CE. Activities at the site were suspended in 1987 due to the outbreak of hostilities in the first Intifada but resumed 10 years later. Following a second halt in 2000, Prof. Netzer’s team returned to the site in 2005 to resume full time excavations.
Excavations at the Herodium site first revealed the presence of a series of structures known as the “Tomb Estate,” which were built at the base of Herodium specifically for Herod’s burial. The Tomb Estate was found to include monuments and ceremonial structures as well as a 350 meters long by 90 meters wide (4 football fields long by 1 football field wide) road over which the funeral procession passed. When further excavations failed to find the tomb itself, Prof. Netzer began exploring other areas around Herodium.
When the archaeologist found a large monumental stairway that had been cut into the opposite hillside than the one facing the Tomb Estate they excavated along its route, following it to where it ended at King Herod’s tomb.