King Herod was a Jew of doubtful origin who ruled Israel in the years 40-4 B.C.E. During this same period, the Roman republic was being replaced by the Roman Empire with its vast expansionist aims. Relying on Roman support for his power, Herod was, in effect, Israel's little Roman emperor. And he played the part, bringing administrative order and economic prosperity to the country and creating hugely ambitious architectural projects. In the Roman way, he was also cruel, paranoid, and thorough, killing his wife, three sons, and an assortment of other relatives and confidants.
During his lifetime Herod initiated four major architectural ventures: the port city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, two desert fortress-palaces, Masada and Herodion (Herodium in Latin), and the renovation and expansion of the second Temple. The last of these projects was undertaken in a failed attempt to win over the Jewish masses.
The extent of Herod's failure came to light in 2007 thanks to one of the most electrifying archeological finds in recent times: the discovery of his tomb at Herodion.
Herodion lies high on a cone-shaped hill at the edge of the Judean desert, ten minutes south of Jerusalem and five minutes east of Bethlehem. Like Herod, the structure is a bit schizophrenic. The monumental complex is divided into two main sections, a fortress-like upper level and a lower-level pleasure palace where the king entertained his guests with flowing pools and terraced gardens. Local Arabs still call the place baradis: paradise. Herod indeed designated Herodion to be his personal gateway to paradise, for he was buried there. After his death, the hill was commandeered by Jewish rebels who used it as a fortified redoubt in their wars against the occupying Roman forces in 70-72 and 130-32 C.E. For the next two millennia, the site remained buried under dirt.
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