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.
Masada, originally a Hasmonean defensive post, was the refuge for Herod’s family during the journey to Rome that led to his kingship. They nearly perished of thirst, but the winter rains arrived to fill the cisterns at the last possible moment. (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XIV. 358-60; 391) Once Herod consolidated his power, he turned this barren desert mountaintop into a luxurious oasis palace overlooking the Dead Sea (Josephus Jewish War VII, 289-291.) (Fig. 1) The site is more famous as the last stand of the Zealots during the Jewish Revolt of AD 66 and remains of Roman forts surround the palace on the lower slopes and valley floor.
The earliest phases of Herodian building are seen in the Western Palace area. These buildings are architecturally similar to the Hasmonean palaces at Jericho and include the garden features of the southern area of the mountain top: water channels, cisterns, two swimming pools, and a columbarium. Gleason has studied the garden area briefly in 1990 and 1996 and found evidence of garden soil fertilized with domestic debris including potsherds. (Fig. 2) The sherd scatters are the main remaining evidence of this soil. It is possible that when the Zealots built the earthen fortification on the last night of the siege that the soils of the gardens may have been the quickest to remove. This or wind erosion appears to have removed any trace of the hilltop “being of rich soils…softer than any plain and given up to cultivation.” The potsherd types indicate that the garden area was cultivated by both Herod and the Zealots. There is no evidence of cultivation in the south area during the Byzantine period. Aerial photographs dating prior to the excavations may suggest that the gardens were laid out and managed in the manner of Nabataean desert agriculture in the region and future work at the site may shed further light on the layout of the garden.
The Northern or Hanging Palace, the latest of Herod’s constructions on the site, is a spectacular feature of architecture, engineering and landscape architecture. A series of platforms were created by alternately creating retaining walls and carving into the precipitous northern face of the mountain. On these platforms, he built a series of pavilions for dining, reception, baths and guest quarters. The contrast between the interior luxury of these rooms and the brilliant and utterly desolate landscape of the Dead Sea is sublime. Room 88, in particular, sheltered guests amidst frescos of luxuriant garlands Fig. 3), and only steps away from an overlook of the desolate landscape of the Dead Sea. Herod’s reputation for “defying nature” is perhaps nowhere more refined than in this complex. (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 15. 331–341).
30 BCE - 60 CE
- G. Foerster, Masada VII: The Architectural Decoration. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1996
- E. Netzer, Masada V: The Architecture and Stratigraphy. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994 worldcat
- E. Netzer The Palaces of the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great, Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, 1999, 98-107 (worldcat)
- G. Kathryn L. “The Landscape Palaces of Herod the Great.” Near Eastern Archaeology, 77.2 (2014): 76-97. worldcat
21 Apr 2021