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Herodian (Herodium) Fortress

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Herodian (Herodium) Fortress




1. The Herodian (Herodium) was a fortress and palace of King Herod located about 3 miles (5 km.) south of Bethlehem.


2. It’s on the edge of the Judean Wilderness that lies to the southeast.


3. Nearby dirt just north of the Herodium was hauled and placed upon an already existing mountain to form the Herodium, making it a perfect volcano-like shape. This added height gave it natural protection and allowed Herod to see Jerusalem from its northern tower.


4. It was massive in size and overshadowed everything in the area with its presence and majesty.

5. The location of the Church of the Nativity is northwest, in line with the lower pool complex below the Herodian.


Historical Background


1. King Herod was appointed by the Roman Empire to rule Judea on behalf of Rome from 37 to 4 BC. He was the king in power when Christ was born.

2. In 40 BC, Herod was forced to flee Jerusalem from Antigonus Mattathias, the last Hasmonean king. Antigonus had allied with the Parthians against the Romans. At that time, the Parthians controlled the region of Syria, including Jerusalem, and appointed Antigonus as ruler of Judah, so Herod was forced to flee from Jerusalem. As a result, he set out for Rome, where the Romans appointed him king of Judah.

Against all odds, Herod returned to Judah, vanquished Antigonus Mattathias, and ascended to the throne of Judah. The memory of this hard-fought battle, a testament to his resilience and determination, remained etched in his mind. In approximately 28 BC, he began the construction of Herodium, a monument to his triumph, and named it after himself.


3. He’s most known as the one who killed all the babies in Bethlehem, 2 years old and younger, in his attempt to kill Jesus.

Matthew 2:16: Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.


4. He was so powerful that with a mere spoken word, he could order a mass execution of children in Bethlehem without approval from anyone.  


5. King Herod dominated everything in Israel, and his Herodian Fortress was evidence of his domination and power.


6. He was also a master builder who was known for building things that defied nature and glorified his name.


  • He built Caesarea Maritime, which was a deep-water seaport larger than any in Rome, Athens, or Greece.


  • He built Masada, a fortress of protection and a winter palace that provided supplies for 10,000 people for 10 years.


  • He enlarged the Temple Mount, which was an engineering masterpiece.


  • He built a new temple for the Jews that was unparalleled in glory, size, and beauty.

  • He built a massive building over the Caves of the Patriarchs in Hebron. 


  • He built this Herodian Fortress, named after himself, among other accomplishments. 


7. War was common in his day, so the Herodian was built to protect himself and his kingship from those who tried to kill or remove him. The Herodian was on the highest mountain in the Judean Desert.


8. He had a great fear of betrayal from others attempting to usurp his throne. He had two of his sons strangled, killed numerous in-laws, and ordered his oldest son to be beheaded just before he died. He even had one of his wives killed out of fear that she was in a plot to betray him.


9. Construction of the Herodian began in 25 BC using thousands of slaves. Herod reshaped the summit of the hill to create a pleasure palace and virtually impregnable fortress. 


10. The Herodian was the third-largest palace in the world at the time of Herod, and it was a monument to his power and glory.


11. It could be seen from many miles away and rose in dominance and prestige.


12. It covered 45 acres (18 hectares) and had a small luxurious city at its base that included swimming pools, spas, a theater, and all the luxuries life could afford. An aqueduct brought water from a spring nearly 4 miles (6 km.) away.


13. It had four towers that gave it a commanding view of the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and the mountains of Moab. By using mirrors to reflect the sun, Herod could send messages from the Herodian to Jerusalem, Masada, and other places.


14. Herod is remembered as a jealous, self-serving person who built his own kingdom for his own glory. Because he was so despised and hated, at his death, he ordered many prominent Jews to be killed so there would be weeping in Jerusalem. He died at the age of 69 and was buried at the Herodian.


15. Today, all that’s left of Herod’s kingdom and glory are ancient ruins. 

16. Another great discovery dating back to the time of King Herod was unearthed here. This site was also used by others seeking to govern this area of Judea. Excavations in 1968 and 1969 reveal that Pontius Pilate also used this site. This is confirmed by the discovery of a very important bronze signet ring bearing a Greek inscription with the word "Pilato" written on it, meaning that it had belonged to Pontius Pilate, probably worn by one of his civil administrators.


17. The Herodian has been used for defense and religious purposes from the time of Herod and Pilate to the present. 

18. In 4 BC, Herod died in Jericho of a horrible stomach disease and was buried at the Herodium. Later, during the Jewish revolt in around 66 AD, because of the Jews' hatred of Herod, they destroyed his tomb and cast his bones everywhere.


Places of Interest


1. Lower Section


  • Park Entrance

  • Ballista balls at the park entrance.

  • Water Pool

  • City Ruins

  • Colonnade Pillars

  • Roman Garden

  • Staircase going up the mountain.

2. Upper Section


  • Herodian Palace and Fortress

  • Four Towers of the Palace (north, east, west, and south)

  • Synagogue converted from Herod's living quarters (used from 66–70 AD)

  • Mikvah

  • Bathhouse

  • Cisterns

  • Bar Kokhba Revolt Tunnels (132–136 AD)

  • Tunnels

  • Theater

  • Herod’s Tomb

3. The hill just to the north from where dirt was taken to build the upper part of the Herodium Fortress and shape its lower part.


A Contrast of Two Kingdoms in the Bible


1. Christ is the eternal majestic King of His kingdom.
Isaiah 9:6–7: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.


Micah 5:2: But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.


John 8:58–59: Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.


John 10:31–33: The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”


Revelation 22:12–13: Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.


2. Unlike Herod, who only cared about building his own kingdom, Christ came as a lowly servant to serve others.


  • Christ was born in a humble manger in the small frontier town of Bethlehem.

  • He owned no home and had nowhere to lay His head.

  • He held no public office.

  • He rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, which was a lowly symbol of peace.

  • He washed His disciples’ feet.

  • He died a criminal’s death between two thieves.


3. Unlike Herod, who glorified himself, Christ set aside His glory to become an obedient servant, even unto death on the cross.
Philippians 2:5–11: Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


4. Unlike Herod, whose kingdom came to ruins, Christ changed people and the course of history like no other person.


Faith Lesson from the Herodian Fortress


1. Herod mainly cared about his own glory and kingdom. What about us? Are we more like King Herod or King Jesus?


2. We all have an element of King Herod living within us. Will we follow those tendencies and desires?
1 John 2:15–17: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.


3. Do we have a prideful attitude like Herod or a humble spirit like Christ?


4. Are we mainly building our own kingdom or God’s?


5. What will be our legacy, and what will we leave behind? 
Matthew 6:19–21: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


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