Rome had been growing and strengthening during the Hasmonean
Period. In 161 BCE, near the beginning of the Hasmonean Period, Judah the Maccabee had made a treaty with Rome.
Corruption within the Hasmonean family speeded the fall of the Hasmonean Empire. Aristoboulos, a typical Hasmonean "loving son," declared himself High Priest-King thirty
minutes before the death of his mother the queen. His brother, John
Hyrcanus, felt his brother hadn't played fair. He revolted against
him. By 67 BCE there was civil war in Judea , and the land was ripe
for conquest. Rome took advantage of the situation. John Hyrcanus
allied himself with Rome under
General Pompey. Together, they succeeded in smashing most of
Aristobulos' forces in 63 BCE. John and Pompey entered Jerusalem unopposed, but the Temple Mount, with its own fortifications, posed
some problems. It took three months to take the Temple, and Rome
gained control of Judea.
Confusion ensued. Rome was in a
state of flux, with power struggles between Pompey and Julius Caesar;
Caesar won. Julius Caesar appointed a governor to keep watch over the
country, the son of an Idumean who had been forced to covert to
Judaism, a man named Herod. After Caesar's death, Cassius, Mark
Antony, and Octavian all struggled for control of the Roman Empire.
They all kept Herod in power.
The Hasmonean family wasn't willing to give up, and, with the support of the
Parthians (a nation in Asia Minor), there was a mini-revolt which was
After putting down the
Judean/Parthian revolt against their rule, Rome appointed Herod king
of Judea. Herod had complete authority, and he used it ruthlessly. He
established an enormous secret police force, brutally killed anyone
suspected of plotting against him, and created Roman peace by
slaughtering all dissidents.
Herod controlled the sacrificial
cult by placing a lackey in the position of High Priest. In any of
his appointees was foolish enough to displease him, Herod killed him
and replaced him with another lackey.
The vast majority of popular
tourist sites in present-day Israel were originally built by Herod.
Herod was security conscious. He built fortresses throughout the land
just in case he should ever need sanctuary. These included Sabaste in
the Hills of Ephraim, the central region of Israel; Herodium, just
east of Bethlehem; and Jericho.
Each of these fortresses was architecturally unique.
Sabaste was originally called
Samaria. It had been the capital of Israel during the Divided
Kingdom, and Samaria became the name for the entire northern region.
Herod built over the ruins of Samaria, which had been built atop a
mountain. He ordered the construction of an enormous colonnade of
imported marble starting from the base of the mountain and rising to
The mountain Herod had chosen for
the fortress Herodium was too low. Herod has his architects raise the
summit and build his palace inside this man-made cone. It is
generally believed that Herod was buried in Herodium, but no grave
was ever found. Equally puzzling is the fact that archaeologists have
been unable to discover a water source there.
To supply water for the Jericho fortress, Herod had an enormous aqueduct built which carried water
from Ein Kelt.
One of Herod's greatest building
projects was in Jerusalem. He wanted to enlarge and embellish the Temple,
but the mountain on which Solomon had built the First Temple and on which Zachariah and Haggai had built the Second was just too
small for his plans. That didn't stop Herod. He dramatically
increased the size of the Temple Mount by constructing huge
encasement walls and filling them in with pure dirt, creating a large
trapezoid. He was then able to proceed with his architectural plans
to enlarge the Temple and
Herod protected the Temple Mount
with a large military fortress called Antonia, honoring Mark Antony.
He protected the western entrance of Jerusalem (and, incidentally, his villa situated there) with a huge tri-towered
fortress called the Citadel. The Citadel loomed over the wealthy part
of town, called the Upper City.
Herod's most famous fortress was Masada.
Located on the shores of the Dead Sea, Masada was built on a high
plateau. Access was only along a steep, sharply winding path called
the Snake Path. At the top, Herod had two palaces: a magnificent
three-tiered northern palace complete with columns and frescoes
offered a spectacular view of the Dead
Sea. A larger mosaic- decorated western palace was probably
planned as an administrative headquarters.
Herod's architects created water
channels and cisterns to provide drinking water during the long, dry
summers. Huge storehouses guaranteed food in case of siege. A strong
casemate wall enclosed the entire summit of the plateau. It was an
awesome fortress and appeared to be invulnerable.
Herod's projects were built through
the use of thousands of Jews as forced laborers moving enormous
blocks of limestone. Many of these blocks weighed more than ten tons.
Because of his despotic actions, the Jews despised and feared Herod.
Even projects that he commissioned to endear him to the people failed
to change their hatred for him.
Herod continued to build.
In honor of Octavian (Augustus Caesar), Herod took the
ancient port city of Straton's Tower just south of Haifa and renamed it Caesarea.
There he created a deep sea port, surrounded the city
with a wall, and constructed an amphitheater. To supply
the port with ample water, Herod build another enormous
Although Herod was a terrible
tyrant, his buildings and fortresses remain awesome architectural
achievements even today.
to Jewish Heritage