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 2012.—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.

Herod’s desert fortress on the mountaintop of Masada was made famous as the site of the last stand between the besieged Jewish rebels and the relentlessly advancing Romans at the conclusion of the First Jewish Revolt. In the free ebook Masada: The Dead Sea’s Desert Fortress, discover what archaeology reveals about the Jewish 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.

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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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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in August 2012.
 

 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

New Testament Political Figures: The Evidence by Lawrence Mykytiuk

King Herod’s Ritual Bath at Machaerus

Anastylosis at Machaerus, Where John the Baptist was Beheaded

Baptismal Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” Added to UNESCO World Heritage List

Herod Antipas in the Bible and Beyond

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


 

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  • 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.

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