Masada Dig Reveals a Pleasure-Garden at King Herod’s Palace


Megan Sauter
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 21, 2018)—In 73 C.E., at the conclusion of the First Jewish Revolt, the Roman army led a siege on the clifftop site of Masada, where the last of the Jewish rebels had been hiding amidst the remains of King Herod’s palace-fortress. Today, Masada is a well-visited UNESCO World Heritage site that had undergone several excavation seasons since the 1960s—and it’s now being excavated once again. In “Masada Shall Never Fail (to Surprise) Again” in the September/October 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, dig directors Guy Stiebel and Boaz Gross share with readers the renewed excavation’s preliminary findings.

Comprised of specialists in field archaeology, archaeobotany, archaeozoology, archaeometallurgy, and paleomagnetism—along with a host of international volunteers—the archaeological team has now completed two field seasons at King Herod’s palace-fortress. The project has uncovered evidence of agricultural activity and aqueducts and irrigation systems from the time of King Herod. Although Masada is situated in the middle of the Judean desert, such excessive use of water for agriculture was not unheard of in antiquity. Scholars were already familiar with Herod’s lush gardens at Jericho, Caesarea, and Herodium; further, the writings of Jewish historian Josephus describing the soil at Masada offered clues.

“Learning from Josephus’s account that the soil of Masada was allegedly fertile, we wondered if we could identify evidence of such agricultural activity atop the mountain,” write Stiebel and Boaz Gross in Biblical Archaeology Review. “Together with the team from TAU’s archaeobotanical laboratory led by Dafna Langutt, we excavated a series of probes in the semi-hemispheric feature of the Northern Palace’s upper terrace, which had been suggested to be a viridarium, a plantation of trees constituting what many call a ‘pleasure-garden.’ The semi-hemispheric balcony provided the royal residences of the Northern Palace with a spectacular view of the Dead Sea, the Moab mountains, and the oasis of En Gedi.”

Learn more about what the renewed excavation at Masada unearthed in the September/October 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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