Machaerus: Beyond the Beheading of John the Baptist

Explore the site with reconstructions of the Herodian palace

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in August 2012. It has been updated.—Ed.


 
machaerus-colored

This cutaway reconstruction of the Herodian Palace at Machaerus shows the splendor of the Dead Sea fortress described by Győző Vörös in the September/October issue of BAR. Herod the Great added luxurious renovations including a courtyard with a garden, a Roman-style bath, a triclinium for dining and a peristyle courtyard. This reconstruction, published for the first time by the Biblical Archaeology Society, is courtesy of Győző Vörös and the Hungarian Academy of Arts.

Machaerus is the infamous setting of the beheading of John the Baptist. The historian Josephus corroborates a story from the Gospels in which John the Baptist condemned Herod Antipas’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. Herodias’s daughter Salome danced for her step-father, and when he offered to grant anything she asked, she demanded the beheading of John the Baptist. In “Machaerus: Where Salome Danced and John the Baptist Was Beheaded” in the September/October 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, excavation director Győző Vörös writes that “we can identify the very location of the party where Salome danced.”

While the beheading of John the Baptist lends the Herodian palace a special notoriety, Győző Vörös examines the archaeology and extended site history to show how the location of the Dead Sea fortress at Machaerus led to its special place in Herodian Judea. Looking across a longer expanse of history, the Hasmonean, Herodian and Zealot occupations at Machaerus tell the different stories of their respective periods, from regal luxury to the brutality of a Roman siege.

Masada, the mountaintop fortress that set the stage for one of the ancient world’s most dramatic tragedies, is today one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites. In the free ebook Masada: The Dead Sea’s Desert Fortress, discover what archaeology reveals about the defenders’ identity, fortifications and arms before their ultimate sacrifice.

machaerus-colored

This reconstruction shows the peristyle courtyard at Machaerus, where Herod Antipas sat and watched the deadly dance of his step-daughter Salome. Author Győző Vörös told Bible History Daily that this reconstruction was based on details from the excavation, including “hundreds of fragments from the red tiled roof of the former Herodian royal palace.” This reconstruction, published for the first time by the Biblical Archaeology Society, is courtesy of Győző Vörös and the Hungarian Academy of Arts.

Machaerus was the easternmost of Herod’s renovated palatial fortresses. While Vörös insightfully notes comparisons to the other fortresses, Machaerus stands out because of its location east of the River Jordan. Rising majestically above the Dead Sea (see the cover of the September/October 2012 issue of BAR), the fortress could be seen from as far north as Alexandrium and as far south as Masada, and smoke signals from the citadel were visible in Jerusalem. In addition to its natural defensible position on a rocky hilltop, Machaerus served as the first line of defense—and warning—against any eastern invaders.

Machaerus was more than just a military outpost; the extensive renovations by Herod turned the originally defensive center into a lavish palace that set the stage for a (deadly) Herodian birthday party. In “Machaerus: Where Salome Danced and John the Baptist Was Beheaded,” Győző Vörös explores the archaeology, architecture and history of the site, telling Machaerus’s tale from the lower city to the citadel’s peaks, and from its Hasmonean origins to a cruel ending at the hands of the Roman army.
 


 
For more about Machaerus, read Győző Vörös, “Machaerus: Where Salome Danced and John the Baptist Was Beheaded,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2012.

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Related content in Bible History Daily:

Herod Antipas in the Bible and Beyond

Gospel of John Commentary: Who Wrote the Gospel of John and How Historical Is It?

The Masada Siege: The Roman assault on Herod’s desert fortress

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9 Responses

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  1. Rob says

    Wow, that must have been a real wild party!

  2. tstile says

    @Rob –

    Seriously? That’s your response to an historical event like this? Have some respect for the people that were unfortunate enough to have to live through this and also respect the people that can piece these puzzles together.

  3. ricky says

    Terrible ruler, yet couldn’t overcome the power of the Lord Jesus

  4. steve says

    I got to go there a couple years ago. It’s quite the hike up to the place. Not much left of the fortress but it’s still a really neat place to visit.

  5. Jean-Raymond says

    The true father of Christianity is John the Baptist, our Lord Jesus calls him Elijah in the first three gospels! Elijah is the Jewish Messiah, Jesus only began is ministry after the beheading of John the Baptist to complete his destiny! John the Baptist was born in Bethlehem of the Judea in 6 BC during the Star of David, his parents Zachariah and Elizabeth , who were visited by the eastern royalty and fled to Egypt! Jesus was born in Bethlehem of the Judea in 4AD during the Octavian Census, so Jesus was 10 years younger than John. Also, Jesus did was a disciple of our lord John the Baptist for 3 years when he was Baptize, learned the Nazarene Rite and Prayers, Luke Chapter 11. Jesus was crucified 6 months after his Lord John the Baptist was beheaded at the Machaerus fortress for being both jewish socialist treats in the Roman Empire! Also Judaism is an Egyptian Sect , because Moses was a High Priest under the reign of the Cult of the Pharoeh Aknaheaten, which believe in the one God but was overthrown after the death of Queen Nerferty by Generals like Ramsays, who chase the cult out of Egypt thru the Reed Sea which is the Nile Delta. This Atonic Cult became Known as the Jews!

  6. Howard says

    I lived in Madaba, at the foot if Naval Nebo/Mount Nebo.
    The Israelis fraudulently reap in millions from gullible pilgrims, on the wrong side of the Jordan.
    It is obvious to me Bethany Beyond the Jordan is the Baptism Site.
    Home to Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, locally it is called All Maghtas, or Magdala!
    The Kerygma or transmitted oral Traditions of the Church never die, and why there is ridiculous debate as to where Magdala is within academia bemuses me.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. John the Baptist’s beheading, relics, and continued following | Near Emmaus linked to this post on January 8, 2013

    [...] Staff on the Herodian Palace at Machaerus where it is said that John was beheaded. It is titled, “Machaerus: Beyond the Beheading of John the Baptist”. Unfortunately, the full article is for members only, so it may be a while before I can access [...]

  2. Framing John the Baptist | Lessons in Lent linked to this post on March 19, 2014

    […] including the most plausible site for Bethany Beyond the Jordan (where Jesus was baptized by John), Machaerus (where John the Baptist was beheaded), and evidence recently discovered by credible archaeologists […]

  3. The Itsy Bitsy Spider | Ingrid in the World linked to this post on July 7, 2014

    […] first place we stopped, Machaerus, is famous for being the location of Herod the Great’s huge palace where John the Baptist is […]


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