Herodium Lower Garden Complex


Iudaea (province) (Pleiades)

Province Description

Judaea, the Roman province, included parts of the areas of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms, notably Biblical Judah, Samaria, and Edom. Its capital was Caesarea Maritima. Roman influence in the region began in 63 CE, when the Roman general Pompey the Great conquered Syria from Mithridates of Pontus, besieged Jerusalem, and captured the Second Temple; he appointed Hyrcanus, one of the two Hasmonean brothers fighting for kingship, as ethnarch of Judaea. Later, Julius Caesar appointed Antipater, the father of Herod, as Judaea's first Roman Procurator. Later these ties allowed Herod to seek backing from Rome against the Hasmoneans in 40 BCE, when the Senate recognized him as “king of the Jews.” His territories came to include the regions of Galilee, Gaulanitis (the Golan),Peraea and the Decapolis, and Augustus later granted him the coastal cities, Batanaea, Auranitis, and Trachonitis. Herod balanced his allegiance to Rome with the independence of his kingdom, often employing architectural projects to express his ambitions and control of nature to express his capacity to rule . His many palaces, placed strategically around the kingdom, feature dramatically designed landscapes and gardens. Upon his death, his son and heir Archelaus was unable to maintain order and the major part of Judaea was annexed to Syria in 6 CE, with its own prefect, while two other sons of Herod, Philip and Antipas, received territories as tetrarchs. By the time of Trajan, Judea was reduced in size and many of the Herodian palaces abandoned, preserving them over the millennia for archaeologists. Hadrian renamed the province After the Bar Kochba revolts (132-135)Hadrian renamed the province Syria Palaestina, erasing the name of Judaea.
The geography of Judaea comprises a wide variety of biomes, from richly watered plains of the Galilee and the Jordan, to the semi-arid Judean Hills, the humid, fertile coastal plain of the Mediterranean, and the deserts of the Dead Sea valley and the Negev. The period for which we have the richest evidence of a garden culture in this region is during the reign of Herod the Great. An allied king of Rome, Herod’s relationships with Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Augustus, and Marcus Agrippa and other officials ave been preserved in the texts of Flavius Josephus. These constitute a rare record of interactions between Rome and its territories, and provide a valuable context for understanding the trends of design in the early imperial period. The proximity of Judaea to Alexandria, whose palaces and gardens lie beneath the modern city and its harbors, may also provide a suggestion of the late Hellenistic garden culture that Romans emulated. Evidence of gardens in the Hasmonean winter palaces at Jericho and the palace identified as that of Hyracanus the Tobiad at 'Iraq al-Amir on the other side of the Jordan Valley provide rare cases where texts can illuminate archaeological evidence. These gardens require further investigation and both are threatened by local development.


Herodium (Pleiades)

Location Description


Herod the Great’s primary residence and burial place appears to have been this large palace complex 15 km southwest of Jerusalem. Here his court was within easy reach of the city, and on clear days the palace and the Mt. of Olives are visible in both directions. Herodium was an entirely new administrative and residential complex, commemorating his military victory over Antigonus for control of Jerusalem in 40 BCE. Herodium was begun c. 23-20 BC and offered a Herod a range of facilities in which he could perhaps live and conduct business more freely here than in Jerusalem. (Jewish Antiquities, XV, 323-325) The palace has two primary residential areas: the fortified palace atop a natural, but raised hilltop; and an unfortified palace that spans a gentle valley below. (Fig. 1) (Josephus Jewish War I, 419-421; Jewish Antiquities, XV, 323-325).


Royal Garden


Garden Description

Lower Herodium

Lower Herodium (Fig. 1C) comprises several units. Here the central focus is the large pool, the water of which was supplied by a 6 km long aqueduct built by Herod from the spring at the modern village of Artas. The pool is set into a huge garden terrace 120 X 110 m. in size. It was constructed by blocking and leveling a whole section of a valley with up to 8 m of fill. A stepped retaining wall, like a dam, supports the terrace to the east of the garden, as well as two long halls, one on the garden level and the other below, looking down the valley. The garden itself is surrounded on three sides (north, west and south) by wide colonnades situated about 1.5m higher than the garden. The pool was probably used for swimming, for small boats, as a water reservoir, and as a central architectural focus at “the heart” of Lower Herodium. A tholos-type pavilion topped the circular stone foundation (13.5 m in diameter) exposed in the center of the pool. The majority of the buildings at Lower Herodium, still largely unexcavated, are laid out in a “U” shaped cluster around this large garden.

A limited examination of the courtyard area by K. Gleason in December 1985 supports the theory that the courtyard was planted, although it may have had substantial areas with plastered walks and seating areas, as one might expect around a pool. Immediately below the plaster surface, above the terrace fill, a rich, mottled loam with potsherds, suitable for cultivation was identified, suggesting either an earlier garden planted over the entire area, or simply a soil layer that permitted trees and shrubs to be planted within an overall scheme of trees, shrubs, and paved places for bathers to relax. Small test trenches did not reveal any planting pits; however, the rich soil was seen in the stratigraphy of earlier trenches throughout the site suggesting shaded smooth plastered surfaces and probable areas of garden beds.


Fig. 1:Plan of the complex at Herodium showing the Fortress Palace with its small peristyle garden (A), the Tomb Garden (B) and the Lower Palace with its central pool and cultivated grounds (C) (Yaniv Korman after Netzer).

Fig. 1:Plan of the complex at Herodium showing the Fortress Palace with its small peristyle garden (A), the Tomb Garden (B) and the Lower Palace with its central pool and cultivated grounds (C) (Yaniv Korman after Netzer)


30 BCE - 60 CE


  • E. Netzer, “Greater Herodium” in Qedem, Monographs of the Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 13, 1981 (worldcat)
  • E. Netzer The Palaces of the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great, Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, 1999, 98-107 (worldcat)
  • I. Nielsen, Inge, Hellenistic Palaces, 1994, 201-203. (worldcat)
  • R. Porat, R. Chachy, and Y. Kalman. "Herodium I: Herod’s Tomb Precinct, Final Reports of the 1972-2010 Excavations Directed by Ehud Netzer." Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society (2015). worldcat
  • D. Langgut, M. Cavanagh , R. Evyasaf, Y. Korman, R. Porat, G. Stiebel., K. Gleason. "The reconstruction of Herod the Great’s palatial gardens in Herodium: a botanical perspective", In: Chachy R, Kalman Y, and Porat R (eds.), "Lower Herodium," in HERODIUM II; Final Reports of the 1972-2010 Excavations Directed by Ehud Netzer, Jerusalem. In press

Pleiades ID





Ehud Netzer

Kathryn L. Gleason ORCID: 0000-0001-6260-8378

Publication date

21 Apr 2021