Royal theater box at the Herodium

Last week reports began to circulate about Herod’s royal theater box at the Herodium. Here are some excepts from the News Release published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Royal box uncovered at Herodium reveals further evidence of luxurious lifestyle of famed King of Judea

A “royal box” built at the upper level of King Herod’s private theater at Herodium (Herodion in Greek) has been fully exposed in recent excavations at the site, providing a further indication of the luxurious lifestyle favored by the famed Judean monarch.

The excavations, in the frame of Herodium’s National Park at the eastern edge of Gush Etzion, were conducted by Prof. Ehud Netzer under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology.

The theater, first revealed during the years 2008-2009, is located halfway up the hill close to Herod’s mausoleum, whose exposure in 2007 aroused worldwide attention. The highly decorated, relatively small theater was built in approximately 15 B.C.E., which was the year of the visit to Judea of Marcus Agrippa, second in the hierarchy of the Roman Empire, said Prof. Netzer, who has been assisted in the excavations by Yakov Kalman, Roi Porath and Rachel Chachy.

The royal box (measuring eight by seven meters and about six meters high) is the central space among a group of rooms attached to the upper part of the theater’s structure. This impressive room doubtlessly hosted the king, his close friends and family members during performances in the theater and was fully open towards the stage.

Its back and side walls are adorned with an elaborate scheme of wall paintings and plaster moldings in a style that has not been seen thus far in Israel; yet, this style is known to have existed in Rome and Campania in Italy during those years. This work, therefore, was no doubt executed by Italian artists, perhaps sent by Marcus Agrippa, who a year before his visit to Judea met Herod on the famous Greek island of Lesbos said Netzer.

On the upper parts of the walls are the room’s highlights: a series of unique “windows” painted with outfolded shutters on either side and various naturalistic landscapes within. They include scenes of the countryside, the Nile River and a nautical scene featuring a large boat with sails. One can identify features of trees, animals and human beings. Some of these windows have survived intact on the walls, whereas others were found in fragments on the floor and are undergoing restoration in the Israel Museum’s laboratory.

Painted windows with shutters appear in the late Second Pompeian Style in Italy, and mainly depict unrealistic views like theater settings and still-life. The closest parallels for the windows at Herodium are known from the “Villa Imperiale” at Pompeii, dated to the early Third Style, 15 to 10 B.C.E.

The News Release may be read in its entirety here.

Joseph I. Lauer secured the available photos and has been kind enough to share them.

Herodium theater royal box. Photo by Gabi Laron, Hebrew University.

Herodium theater royal box. Photo by Gabi Laron, Hebrew University.

The Hebrew University report says,

The data accumulated during the excavation proves that the theater’s lifetime was very short, less than ten years. Slightly before Herod’s death, It was deliberately destroyed in order not to disrupt the conic shape of the artificial hill. During the construction of the artificial hill (as well as the famous monumental stairway which begins at the bottom of the hill), parts of the theater, including the “royal box,” were temporarily used by the builders, leaving their footsteps in the form of subdivision walls, cooking installations and graffiti.

Herodium royal box. Photo by Tal Rogovski, Hebrew University.

Herodium theater royal box. Photo by Tal Rogovski, Hebrew University.

I had the opportunity to make some aerial photos of the Herodium December 15, 2009. Shadows were on the north side of the Herodium, but the massive area of the excavation can be seen. Note especially the theater. I feel certain that the royal box described above is under the blue roof. Click on the image to for a larger photo.

Aerial photo of the Herodium. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial photo of the Herodium. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Herodium is located about four miles southeast of Bethlehem. When we think of these two places together we recall Herod’s frantic attempt to kill Jesus.

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

All of the photos are suitable for use in teaching presentations.

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2 responses to “Royal theater box at the Herodium

  1. Pingback: Archaeologist Netzer dies after fall | Ferrell's Travel Blog

  2. Pingback: Herod the Great in the Israel Museum | Ferrell's Travel Blog

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