Herodium: The Tomb of King Herod Revisited

Was Herod’s tomb really found?

In Search of Herod’s Tomb

Rising above the Judean hills, the artificially conical mountain of Herodium still bears witness to the building prowess of its namesake, King Herod the Great. Photo: Duby Tal.

“Herod was borne upon a golden bier studded with precious stones of various kinds and with a cover of purple over it. The dead man too was wrapped in purple robes and wore a diadem on which a gold crown had been placed, and beside his right hand lay his scepter. [Thousands must have been in the procession, including] the whole army as if marching to war … followed by 500 servants carrying spices. And they went eight stades [or 200 furlongs] toward Herodium, for it was there that the burial took place by his own order.”
—Josephus, Antiquities 17.197–199

After Herod died in 4 B.C., he was buried at Herodium—but where? A few years ago, it seemed that the question was solved. Eminent Herodium archaeologist Ehud Netzer declared that he had found Herod’s impressive mausoleum. (Netzer passed away in 2010, and all of his BAR articles—including his posthumously published article on the discovery of Herod’s Tomb—are available here for free).

The Israel Museum put together the exhibit Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey around the 25-mile procession from the throne room in Jericho to the tomb Netzer discovered in Herodium. This extremely popular exhibit guided visitors around the modest tomb of the megalomaniac ruler. This discrepancy gave some scholars pause; would one of history’s most renowned builders (and, let’s not forget, largest egos) really have been interred in a simple tomb?

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The mausoleum uncovered by Ehud Netzer sits halfway up the slope and is connected to Lower Herodium by a monumental stairway. Although Josephus states that Herod was buried at Herodium, he does not specify where. Was he buried in the mausoleum on the slope or in the fortress at the summit? Reconstruction by Hiram Henriquez/National Geographic Stock.

The mausoleum uncovered by Ehud Netzer sits halfway up the slope and is connected to Lower Herodium by a monumental stairway. Although Josephus states that Herod was buried at Herodium, he does not specify where. Was he buried in the mausoleum on the slope or in the fortress at the summit? Reconstruction by Hiram Henriquez/National Geographic Stock.

Hebrew University scholars Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas are just as confident that this was not Herod’s tomb as Netzer was sure that it was. In “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” in the May/June 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, editor Hershel Shanks examines the evidence and weighs in as the hunt for Herod’s tomb continues.

Shanks writes, “Netzer did find an impressive mausoleum at Herodium. It contained three remarkable sarcophagi. It is located, however, on the slope of the dramatic man-made mountain that marks the site from afar.” Patrich and Arubas compare Herod’s tomb at Herodium with contemporary royal tombs of the period, and Herod’s pales in light of the others’ monumentality.

So where was King Herod’s tomb at Herodium? Shanks writes:

On top of the mountain-like mound that is Herodium is a glorious, but relatively small, palace/fortress encircled by two concentric walls… On the four compass points of the enclosing wall are four towers. Three of them are half circles extending outward from the wall. The fourth (on the east) is not just a half circle but a full circle—and much larger than the others (55 feet in diameter compared to 45 feet of the three semicircular towers)—and solid! This large solid tower extends deep into the interior of the enclosure wall. The upper part of this tower no longer exists. Now only 50 feet high, it has been estimated to have originally been 120 feet high. Although its original height can only be guessed, it was surely much higher than the other three semi-circular towers.

Read Shanks’s article in the BAS Library to learn more about the eastern tower, including geophysical testing, assemblages of fine pottery at Herodium and the ongoing hunt for Herod’s tomb.


BAS Library Members: Read “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” by Hershel Shanks as it appears in the May/June 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on May 2, 2014.

Read more in Bible History Daily:

Ehud Netzer Publications Available to Public

Herod the Great—The King’s Final Journey

Monumental Entryway to King Herod’s Palace at Herodium Excavated

Herod the Great: Friend of the Romans and Parthians?


11 Responses

  1. Herod’s Tomb True Or False? says:

    […] and great building projects, would have had a much finer tomb. You can read more about that here.… A good description with photos of Herodium, and the possible tomb are in this online issue of the […]

  2. James Chavez says:

    Was there this past October with Danny “the Digger” Herman. I thought he made compelling arguments that the “found” tomb was a decoy. To me it seemed a little understated for the resting place of a megalomaniac. Recall, the Pharaohs used decoy tombs to guard against grave robbers (not that it did them much good.) Could this be Herod’s fake tomb? Stay tuned.

  3. Leticia says:

    The finds in the Israel Museum are too impressive and I think that fact matches the Megalomania of Herod and also what Josephus writes

  4. Carl says:

    Sorry Andrew–the Israeli settlements in the area are not “illegal” under international law, and repeating a lie time after time doesn’t make it true. In any case the only activity that the Palestinians carry out in connection with archaeological sites is robbery.

  5. Andrew says:

    While the Israel Museum puts on exhibits at the Herodium, and while Hebrew University scholars carry out research there, the Herodium is not actually in Israel. The local inhabitants are in fact Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, and they have no say in how the site is excavated or managed, nor do they benefit from archeological interest in the site. There are numerous Israeli colonies within view of the summit of the Herodium, all of which are illegal according to international law, and some of which are illegal even according to Israeli law (which is rarely enforced when it comes to the protection of the rights of indigenous Palestinians in the West Bank).

    It is true that the Herodium is an impressive, important historical monument. It is also true that the archeological work done there and elsewhere is an instrument used in the ideology that justifies Israel’s colonial expansion into the West Bank. As long as archeologists and those who follow their work turn a blind eye to the realities of military occupation that surround the Herodium, the archeological community will be facilitating through its silence the oppression of innocent people that accompanies this colonial expansion.

  6. Roberrt Feather says:

    Hyrcania may not be the site of the tomb of Herod, but it holds another secret. John Allegro thought it contained some of the treasures from the Copper Scroll but after extensive searches he found nothing. The really amazing find, not yet fully disclosed, was the discovery by Captain Bob Morgan of the Bones of a Scapegoat! These will be illustrated in ‘Where Moses Stood’, my next book.

  7. Elena says:

    George — Jericho already exacted the curse in (OT) Biblical days.

    BHD — not all of us have “converted” to the PC-dating system. Many Christians take offense in saying that “our” ear is somehow “common.” Perhaps he could have given the Hebrew year and bracketed the date w/Gregorian calendar date.

    Draw a circle around the Herodium that extends to a radius of roughly 220 furlongs and look therein. There is no reason to doubt Josephus on this point.

  8. Kurt says:

    Another of Herod’s remarkable feats of engineering was his palace-fortress of Herodium, located on a prominent hill about three miles [5 km] southeast of Bethlehem. It consisted of two main parts: Upper Herodium and Lower Herodium. The upper part included an imposing palace-fortress topped by a five-story east tower—now in ruins—that once dominated the skyline. Two years ago (2007) international news agencies reported that remains of Herod’s tomb had been discovered on the upper slopes of Herodium, stating that this confirmed Josephus’ first-century report of Herod’s funeral procession there.

  9. Bob Miskimen says:

    BHD needs to understand that revisionists only reinterpret to distort. BCE

  10. Neil says:

    The term now used for dates prior to 2,014 years ago, is B.C.E., not B.C. Somebody should inform Noah Wiener.

  11. George W Walker. says:

    Would it be perfectly appropriate if indeed, Herod was buried in the Part of Nericho, even if he didn’t rebuild(Establish re: an alleged curse on it’s rebuilding!) of Jericho, did he do death to any, w/o just need. Just wondering.

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