Archaeologist Says Remnants of King Herod’s Tomb Are Found
JERUSALEM, May 8 — After a long quest in search of King Herod’s tomb, an archaeologist announced Tuesday that he had found what appear to be the ornate remnants of the Roman-era king’s burial site on the edge of the Judean Desert.
Ehud Netzer, a Hebrew University archaeologist, said he knew he had solved the puzzle of Herod’s grave when his team uncovered pieces of a large sarcophagus made of pink Jerusalem limestone and decorated with expertly carved floral motifs. They were found among the ruins of a mausoleum on the site traditionally thought to be the ancient king’s burial grounds.
“The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod’s burial site,” Mr. Netzer told reporters.
He noted, however, that no inscriptions had been found that would more definitively verify that the tomb was Herod’s. He ruled Judea on behalf of Rome from 37 to 4 B.C. and, as recounted in the Gospel according to Matthew, was said to have ordered the killing of all boys in or around Bethlehem under the age of 2 in an effort to kill the infant Jesus.
(While this “Slaughter of the Innocents” is not recounted by anyone other than Matthew, Herod is known to have had two of his sons strangled, executed one of his 10 wives for treason, killed numerous in-laws and on his deathbed ordered his eldest son beheaded.)
Mr. Netzer had been excavating the site of Herodium, a palace complex about seven miles south of Jerusalem and situated in the occupied West Bank, since 1972, with the goal of unearthing the various buildings on the site and the tomb. But until an early morning discovery almost three weeks ago, the precise site of the tomb had eluded him.
An account by the first-century historian Flavius Josephus told of the king’s elaborate funeral procession to Herodium, but he did not mention exactly where the tomb was.
Herodium was one of Herod’s many architectural masterpieces in the Holy Land, and according to some, his finest work. For this man of great ego and architectural vision — responsible for the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the desert fortress of Masada, as well as building up the port city of Caesarea and other major projects — this was the place he had chosen to be buried and memorialized.
As part of the excavations, Mr. Netzer uncovered a flight of stairs leading to the edge of the hillside where Herod was presumably buried. He said the staircase would have been part of the route of the elaborate funeral procession planned by Herod himself.
Josephus described the procession as attended by relatives, soldiers from across the ancient world dressed for war and hundreds of attendants carrying spices. He reported that the king’s body was covered in a purple shroud and carried on a bier of solid gold bejeweled with precious stones.
The sarcophagus, with its triangular cover decorated on all sides, was a unique specimen, Mr. Netzer said. It was still clearly identifiable, although it had been smashed into pieces, most likely, he said, by Jewish rebels fighting in the years A.D. 66 to 72, decades after the king’s death.
Some of the rebels who were fighting Roman rule were still angry with Herod, whom they accused of being a puppet of the empire.
“Herod was a great king, but he had a lot of enemies,” said Yaakov Kalman, an archaeologist working with Mr. Netzer.
As for proof that the find is Herod’s tomb, he said, “You cannot say that it is 100 percent it until you find something written ‘Herod,’ but all the facts show it’s the one.”