Herod's fortress palace and the execution of John the Baptist
The approach to the fortress of Machaerus. The land surrounding the fortress was so steep it was impregnable. John the Baptist, imprisoned there, could not have escaped. When it finally fell to the Romans, it was because some of the Zealots betrayed their fellow rebels to the enemy.
Aerial view of Machaerus with the Dead Sea in the background
generated model superimposed on the terrain of Machaerus. At the top are
the palace buildings and fortress; below are the buildings of the lower
city; to the left is the reconstructed aquaduct. John the Baptist was
probably imprisoned in the lower city rather than the palace itself. The
citizens of Machaerus suffered a terrible fate during the rebellion against Rome
in the mid-first century AD.
The location of Machaerus in relation to Jerusalem.
Machaerus stood between the Dead Sea
to the plan of the fortress of Machaerus
The foundation wall that supported the aqueduct that brought water to the fortress
The area within the walls of the Upper City was limited but luxurious
One of the cisterns used for water storage
Remains of a mikveh, the Jewish ceremonial bath for ritual purification
Remains of the Herodian baths. Considering the limited space, the allocation given to the Baths is lavish
This circa 1890's photograph shows a restored peristyle in Pompeii. The peristyle in Herod's fortress at Machaerus was of the same period as the Pompeian garden, and would have been similar in design
Partially reconstructed mosaic floor pattern from Machaerus
The walls of the triclinium had a design that did not show any image of a living creature
Since Machaerus was
reputed to be the fortress where John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed,
Machaerus - the fortress
Machaerus was never a safe place to be. A forbidding fortress, it was built to intimidate and control the troubled area between Palestine and Petra. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the fortress of Machaerus was the place in which John the Baptist was beheaded (Bellum VII.6.1-2). The fortress was remote enough to keep dissadents like John the Baptist - out of the public eye where they could be executed quietly if the need arose. It had a tragic and cruel history.
During the Jewish Revolt which began in 66AD, the Jewish rebels holed up within its seemingly impregnable walls. But the Romans, led by Lucilius Bassus, built siege works around the base of the fortress, leading up towards the walls. When the lower part of the fortress was captured and burned, the people in the upper city surrendered.
fortress of Machaerous was one of a string of strongholds that held
Israel's enemies at bay.
The Roman historian Josephus says that the naturally defended site was first chosen by Alexander Janneus (BJ VII, 6, 2). King Herod later rebuilt the fortress, and when he died his son Herod Antipas, who governed that territory on behalf of the Romans, inherited it.
The use of a siege ramp
similar to the one used by the Romans at Machaerus is described in
Jeremiah 6:6: 'Cut down trees and cast a mount against Jerusalem.'
Herod the Great added an elaborate palace inside the central area - according to Josephus, Herod 'built a wall round the summit and erected towers at the corners, each 27.4metres high. In the middle of this enclosure he built a palace, breath-taking in size and beauty'.
The upper city held the royal palace and at least three towers. The main upper structure (possibly from the Herodian phase) was divided into two main wings by a paved corridor stretching north south.
Columns, capitals and bases of Ionic and
Doric style have been found at the bottom of the cistern.
Only a few houses have been excavated in the lower city.
This area was connected to the fortress by a bridge 15meters high, which
served as an aqueduct bringing water to the cisterns dug into the
northern slope of the mountain.
in Old and New Testament times - Architecture of the Bible; Bible Study Resource
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher