Joshua's attack, King Herod's winter palaces

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Woman Rahab the harlot in Jericho

Rahab the prostitute

King Herod the Great, as depicted in the TV series 'Rome'

King Herod the Great

Clay-covered skull from ancient Jericho

Bible archaeology Jericho

Reconstructon of the tiered palace built by Herod the Great at Masada

Ancient palaces

Assyrian archers

Ancient warfare

Islamic bathhouse, Jericho

Islamic architecture
Jericho in later centuries 

Did the Israelites conquer Jericho?
The archaeological evidence






The earliest cities at Jericho

JERICHO: BIBLE ARCHITECTURE: map showing Jericho's position in Judea/SamariaJericho is one of the earliest  settlements in the world, dating possibly from about 9,000BC.  It is an ancient city with many stories.

For two thousand years a Neolithic town flourished at Jericho, but around 5,000BC urban life seemed to die out, for unknown reasons.

The site was later re-settled, but then in the 15th century BC, or last quarter of the 14th century BC, there is evidence of destruction and abandonment. 

Jericho is famous as the first town attacked by the Israelites under Joshua after they crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 6). After its destruction by the Israelites it was, according to the biblical account, abandoned and then later re-established in the 9th century BC (1 Kings 16:34). 

Was this evidence of the invasion of the Hebrew tribes, described in the Bible? Hard to say, at least if you are depending on archaeological evidence. The Hebrews were semi-nomads, with little or no material culture. They were only lightly equipped with the sort of Pottery from Jericho circa 3300-1550BC objects that survive the centuries, or that can be dug up by archaeologists. Certainly they infiltrated the area over a period of time that may have begun in the 14th century BC, but they only gradually took possession of villages and towns. 

Whenever this happened, the invaders adapted to Canaanite culture - there is no break, for example, in the production  and design of pottery and domestic articles throughout this period. Moreover, the practice of Canaanite religion keeps popping up in Bible references - Jericho had been an early center of worship for the moon goddess and her cycles - which suggests that the Israelites were never able to completely suppress the Canaanite culture or people whose land they had infiltrated.

Did the walls of Jericho come tumbling down at the sound of Joshua's horn? Again, hard to say. In Joshua 2:1 he commands his soldiers to reconnoiter the city, and it is subsequently destroyed. 'Shofar', photograph by Galitz And the walls certainly did come tumbling down. There is evidence of a collapsed stone and mud brick support wall. 

There is also evidence of destruction by fire. Archaeological teams have discovered a number of storage jars containing charred grain from the last Canaanite city that existed at ancient Jericho. This would seem to indicate that the city was conquered at harvest-time and then burned. This evidence matches the biblical account of Joshua 6. 

But it is impossible to tell whether this destruction was caused by invasion or earthquake. Possibly both occurred and both were responsible - and why not? Both were part of God's unfathomable plan for his people. 


The ancient city of Jericho, as seen from the air

The ancient city of Jericho, as seen from the air

Neolithic watch tower, built in about 8,000-7,000BC

This Neolithic watch tower was built and destroyed in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic era, in about  8000-7000 B.C.  The 8m diameter tower stands 8m tall and was connected on the inside to a 4m thick wall.

JERICHO: BIBLE ARCHITECTURE: excavated mud brick wall in the city of Jericho

An excavated mud brick wall in the city of Jericho


Joshua captures Jericho

JERICHO: BIBLE ARCHITECTURE: stone revetment wall

The city had a stone revetment wall (see above) at the base of the tel, and this wall held a high rampart in place. Above the rampart was a mud brick wall which was the outer wall of the city. 


JERICHO: BIBLE ARCHITECTURE: artist's reconstruction of the collapse of the walls of Jericho

The artist shows Jericho's walls collapsing as an earthquake shakes and twists the earth under its foundations. The revetment foundations and the mud brick wall above it start to crumble. The bricks fall into a pile at the base of the wall, forming a ramp on which an invader could ascend to get inside the now-defenseless city. This may have been the incident described in the Bible, where Joshua and his troops successfully invade and conquer Jericho.

Archaeologists have debated whether or not the Israelites  conquered Jericho. Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated Jericho in the 1950s, claimed that Jericho was destroyed in  the 16th century BC, before the time of Joshua, but a  comprehensive new survey of Kenyon’s evidence at Jericho has led Bryant Wood to conclude that a walled city existed at Jericho until about 1400 BC when it was destroyed in a conquest similar to the Biblical account. 

The artist based the reconstruction on  the archaeological evidence in the photograph below

JERICHO: BIBLE ARCHITECTURE: excavated stone revetment wall

The stone revetment wall is in the lower right of the photograph. You can judge the height of the wall by comparing it with the figure of the man standing beside it, at right.  The revetment wall surrounded the city at the base of the sloping earthen rampart and provided a first line of defense for the city. A mud brick parapet wall is clearly visible above it. Behind the parapet, across the center of the photo, are the remains of houses - these were poorly built, only one brick thick. Bryant Wood suggests that Rahab, the prostitute who assisted Joshua’s spies, might have lived in one of these houses on the sloping rampart between the revetment wall encircling the bottom of the hill and the city wall above it.


Excavations showed evidence of some event involving terrible destruction. The meter stick in the upper center of this photograph shows the thick level of debris from an incident which seems to have destroyed the whole city.

The Winter Palaces at Jericho

Herod's palace at Jericho was preceded by successive palaces built by the kings of the Hasmonean dynasty, from the end of the 2nd to the middle of the 1st century BCE. The Hasmonean palaces consisted of an open courtyard surrounded by rooms, clearly reflecting Hellenistic architectural influence. Noteworthy are elegant rooms for entertaining (triclinia) with colonnaded façades and bathrooms with bathtubs. These were decorated with colored frescos in imitation of marble and in geometric patterns of Hellenistic style. There were "twin swimming pools", and one of the palaces was built atop a 15 m.-high artificial mound, surrounded by a wall with a glacis, towers and a broad 7 meter deep moat.

Towards the end of Hasmonean rule, the palace complex was renovated and a more sophisticated bathhouse was added. It had several rooms, some decorated with frescos, bathtubs and mikva'ot (pools for Jewish ritual bathing). The main room in the bathhouse was paved with mosaic, in red, black and white geometric patterns, one of the earliest mosaic floors so far uncovered. 

A political assassination, recorded by Josephus Flavius (Antiquities 16:50-51), occurred in Jericho's Hasmonean palace. Fearful that his kingdom would be taken from him by the Romans and given instead to the young Hasmonean prince whom many people thought was the rightful ruler (the younger brother of Herod's beautiful aristocratic wife Mariamme), Herod ordered his servants to drown the boy in the swimming pool of the palace.

Herod's palaces

Well acquainted with the advantages of the Jericho oasis, Herod also built a palace there. It was much larger and more magnificent than that of his Hasmonean predecessors. Built in three stages, it covered extensive areas on both sides of Wadi Qelt, with a bridge connecting the two parts. During this time, Roman imperial style in architecture was first applied in the Land of Israel and parts of the palace complex were obviously built by Roman artisans, working alongside local architects and builders.

(Below) Plan of the two-storied Hasmonean Palace at Jericho, built by Herod the Great. 
Rooms opened onto a central courtyard.

Plan of the two-storied Hasmonean Palace at Jericho

The First Palace was situated on the southern bank of Wadi Qelt, in the region which Herod leased from Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, who had received it as a gift from Marcus Antonius in 36 BC. The Hasmonean palace north of the wadi remained in use during this period. This First Palace was rectangular (87 x 46 m.), with distinctly Roman architectural features. It was fortified and had a single entrance. At its center was a large peristyle courtyard surrounded by rooms on three sides; to the west of the courtyard was a large guest hall with rows of columns along three sides, open to the courtyard on the fourth. An elaborate bathhouse in Roman style, with six rooms, was one of the innovations introduced by Herod. At the center was the caldarium (hot room), heated by a hypocaust (the floor raised on rows of ceramic supports, creating a space under the floor through which hot air was forced, heating the floor and thus, the entire room). The floors of the bathing rooms were paved with mosaics in colored, geometric patterns.

Bathhouse from the Winter Palace of King Herod

Bathhouse from the Winter Palace of King Herod. The photograph shows the laconicum or 'sweating hall' in the thermal baths of the Northern Palace (the 'Second Palace')


The Second Palace was built north of Wadi Qelt, east of the Hasmonean Palace and on parts of it, after the destruction of the first palace by earthquake in 31 BC. The twin swimming pools of the Hasmonean palace were joined into a single large one (32 x 18 m.) and surrounded by gardens. Trees and shrubs were planted in clay pots set into the ground; many of them were found in their original position. The palace had an unobstructed view of the surrounding scenery; it was divided into two wings, the northern built on a terrace 5 m. higher than the southern, connected by a broad staircase.

Herod's second palace had a courtyard (34 x 28m) at the center of its northern wing, surrounded by a row of columns on all four sides. Atypically, the center of the courtyard was raised above the level of the surrounding porticos; the purpose of this architectural innovation is unknown. Located at the center of a row of rooms south of the courtyard was a grand triclinium, decorated with frescos. East and north of the courtyard were rows of rooms, probably guest rooms.

The southern wing of the palace included installations for the use of the court and its guests: a pool surrounded by a row of columns and a courtyard; a large hall opening towards the pool via a row of column on its façade; and a splendid bathhouse, its rooms paved with mosaics, its walls decorated with frescos. The hypocaust in the caldarium was built in an unusual way - its upper floor was supported by rows of small stone columns - instead of the usual fired bricks.

Plan of Herod's Third Palace at Jericho

Plan of Herod's Third Palace at Jericho

The Third Palace, the largest, was constructed on both sides of Wadi Qelt and covered an area of over seven acres, with a bridge over the wadi connecting its two wings. Some of the walls of this palace were made of a core of concrete, with stone facings, opus reticulatum (small rectangular or square stones set into the concrete). Since this construction technique, though widely used in Rome, was extremely rare elsewhere, it is probable that King Herod hired a team of Roman artisans.

The Northern Wing of the palace included halls, rooms, peristyle courtyards and a large bathhouse. The main entrance was in the south, opposite the bridge; its walls were decorated with frescos and its ceiling with stucco. At the center of the building was a courtyard surrounded by columns on three sides. The wider columns of the eastern colonnade were constructed of small stones and mortar and bore Corinthian capitals; the lower parts of the columns were plastered and painted red and black, while the upper portions were faced with grooved plaster.

North of the courtyard was the main bathhouse of the Third Palace. Entirely constructed of Roman concrete with stone facings in the opus reticulatum technique, it consisted of five rooms arranged in a row, with vaulted roofs. The main room served as an entrance hall where bathers undressed and relaxed. To the right one could walk to the caldarium (hot room), which was heated by a hypocaust. This room was rectangular, its walls thicker than usual and in each of them was a niche. On the left side of the caldarium was a circular, domed room (8 meters in diameter) probably a sudatorium (sweat room), heated by charcoal braziers. From the main room of the bathhouse, one could walk to a stepped pool, the frigidarium (cold room).

West of the bathhouse was a courtyard surrounded on three sides by columns with Ionic capitals. The walls of the courtyard were decorated with frescos, among the most lavish found in Herod's palaces. At the center of the courtyard was a garden, in which seven rows of twelve clay flowerpots were found. At the northern side of the courtyard, which had no columns, was a semi-circular plaza with walls built of Roman concrete. An entrance in the center of the rounded wall led to a rectangular, splendidly decorated room. Its walls were covered with frescos, its ceiling with stucco and the floor was of plaster, grooved to simulate tiles. This was probably the throne room, where the king received his visitors.

The largest of the halls of the palace was located on its western side. It measured 29 x 19meters and was undoubtedly used for large receptions; rows of columns surrounded it on three sides, the columns in the northern corner in the shape of a heart. The floor paving was of local and imported stone tiles, laid in opus sectile fashion (alternating colors and shapes placed so as to create geometric designs). The walls of the hall were covered with frescos and stucco.

The southern wing of the palace included a sunken garden, a large pool and the southern artificial mound. The sunken garden was  located within a rectangular structure measuring 145 x 40 m. The back wall of the structure, with a series of niches, was built into the hillside. At the center of the wall was a large, circular, stepped niche; it is assumed that a variety of plants were grown in the many flowerpots found there.

An artificial mound with a staircase ascending to its top was found south of the sunken garden. The mound was created by building a large 20.5 x 19.5 m. frame of high walls in a grid, creating nine hollow spaces, which were then filled with earth and stones. Earth was heaped outside the frame, to create an artificial hill with a steep slope. This formed a stable platform for the superstructure, which consisted of a single, circular reception hall, 15 m. in diameter. The walls, with semi-circular niches, were decorated with colored frescos. This hall, which was raised above its surroundings, afforded a wonderful view of the Jericho oasis.'  (Quoted from Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs web page: Jericho, The Winter Palace of King Herod)

What was a city in ancient times?

A city in biblical times could be anything from 6 hectares (15 acres) - Megiddo, to 10 hectares (25 acres - Ai, Gezer and Arad. It was protected by a rang of walls, with gates or posterns. The fortification could be a wall or a rampart. Inside the walls there were houses of varying shapes and sizes, but also monumental buildings which covered a substantial part of the area inside the wall. Among these were the temple and the palace, often at the center of the settlement or in a prominent position. All the houses were accessible via streets.

A city had to be situated near a water supply, with wells in the nearby plains or valleys.

City walls had different methods of construction and size. The earliest cities have mud brick walls from 2 to 6 meters thick on stone foundations, with projecting semicircular or rectangular towers. In another case, the walls were 8 to 10 meters wide. The gate had towers flanking it on either side.

The earliest type of house was the wide-room house. Its floor was below ground level and the house was entered by two steps. Benches ran along the walls. This basic form was enlarged by the addition of annexes and additional rooms, and a house often had several rooms, in which the entrance from the street was in the shorter wall.

Until the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, the biblical lands were a place of city states, independent of each other and, if we can judge from the amount of attention lavished on the walls and fortifications, often warring with each other. 

Herod's palaces

Recent excavations revealed parts of Jericho from the time of Herod the Great. A magnificent facade on Wadi al-Qult, a mile south of Old Testament Jericho, is probably part of Herod's palace. Its style is completely Roman, illustrating Herod's admiration for all things Roman. Traces of other fine buildings can be seen in this area. Herod had a winter palace there, and he died there in horrific circumstances in 4BC ('a fire glowed in him slowly... his entrails were exulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his aqueous and transparent liquor settled itself about his feet and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly...his privy member was putrified and produced worms....he had difficulty breathing....he had convulsions in all parts of his body.....' Josephus Antiquities 17:6:5)

'The oasis of Jericho, some 25 km east of Jerusalem, lies in the Jordan Valley, about 390m below sea level and has warm and pleasant winters. It was, therefore, chosen as the site for the winter palaces of the kings of the Hasmonean dynasty, and of King Herod in the Second Temple period. In this plain with fertile soil and an abundance of water from nearby springs, rare plants producing aromatic essences and spices were grown. Most famous among these was the opobalsamum plant (the Balsam of Gilead), whose oil was among the costliest substances in the ancient world, and very profitable to the growers.

The palaces were situated below the high cliffs of the Judean Desert at the entrance to Wadi Qelt - west of the Jericho oasis - about a day's horseback riding from Jerusalem. They were planned for rest and recreation, but also as administrative centers; the proximity to Jerusalem made it possible for the monarch to efficiently deal with affairs of state during his winter sojourn there. There was a regular water supply via aqueduct from the springs in Wadi Qelt (a wadi is a dry riverbed). The water filled reservoirs and swimming pools and was used to irrigate the palace gardens as well as tens of acres of agricultural land belonging to the crown, where dates and costly aromatic plants and spices were grown. 

The remains of the palaces cover an extensive area on both sides of Wadi Qelt. Excavations revealed a series of royal palaces from the Second Temple period, built successively one on top of the other, or adjacent to earlier structures. The excavations uncovered evidence of the opulent life at court.



Joshua attacked Jericho and 'the walls came tumbling down'. It was here that King Herod murdered his young brother-in-law Aristobulus, by having him drowned in one of the pools of the palace gardens (see plans below, and BIBLE TOP TEN: VILLAINS). The story of the Good Samaritan is set on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Jesus gave Bartimaeus his sight in Jericho.


The first town was built at Jericho before 6000BC. Joshua conquered what had once been a thriving city but was now down on its luck. Its walls did come tumbling down, but probably because of an earthquake.


Jericho lies in the great rift valley west of the Jordan River, about five miles (8km) from the northern end of the Dead Sea; Jericho is 670ft. below sea level, and so it is the world's lowest city


Jericho, possibly the world's first city, was built in the Stone Age sometime between 11,000 and 10,000 years ago


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Bible Architecture: Housing in Old and New Testament times - Architecture of the Bible; Bible Study Resource
Jericho: The City Walls, the Winter Palace of Herod; archaeology

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