Herod the Great: Part VI Building Program, Historicity, and Conclusion

Herod was a prolific builder.   His works spanned the eastern Mediterranean.  A catalogue of his architecture without an explanation would encompass many pages.

In Jerusalem, he constructed or reconstructed some 18 major works, including the Antonia Fortress (which is mentioned and described in Casting Lots, with the observation that Marcus Anthony may have wished that Herod had done more him than simply named a fortress after him), the Royal and Hasmonean Palaces, multiple towers, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, a theatre, multiple pools, including the Solomon Pools, and various aqueducts. The Temple was intentionally built to be far larger and grander than the Temple in Rome to Juppiter Optimus Maximus.

Throughout his kingdom, Herod built: new cities, such as Antipatras, Phasaelis, and the gem of them all, Caesarea Maritima, which required a harbor, mole, a breakwater, towers docks, warehouses and commercial buildings to start and finally emerged as the administrative center of Roman Judea; or refurbished existing ones, such as Sebaste, where walls gates, fortifications, colonnaded streets, Temples to Roma and Augustus were erected,  a stadium, a theatre and of course, aqueducts; palaces, almost by the score, including, Alexandreion, Hycrania, Machaerus, Cypros,  Jericho, with a reconstructed Hasmonean palace, a second palace, and a winter palace;  and fortresses and arsenals,  such as Sepphoris, Masada, Herodium East,  and Herodium West; military colonies, such as Heshbon, Bathyra, and Gaba;  as well as baths, fountains, and colonnades. Caesarea Maritima was the subject of this blog on May 12, 2014.  Caesarea Maritima is a major location for the story of Casting Lots.

Herod did not only lavish his attention upon his kingdom, but built structures throughout Phoenicia and the Roman province of Syria such as theatres at Sidon and Damascus; gymnasiums at Tripolis, Damascus, and Ptolemais;  streets in Antioch, porticoes in Berytus, and walls in Byblus.  He did not stop even here.  For he bestowed gifts upon many Greek cities (whether or not he was looking to head the Olympic Games is not the issue here). Chios, Pergamum, Lycia, Athens, Samos, Delos, Ionia, and other cities received “Herod’s gifts” which he gave freely and were large in scale.

A brief note on the historicity of Herod the Great is in order before concluding the life of this extraordinary individual. Herod is mentioned in a large number of inscriptions that have been unearthed.  These range from inscriptions on the handles of wine jugs found at Masada, to those that were apparently on buildings at Delos, to gifts of pavement stones with the dates of his reign, to gifts made to Herod of statues, to finally, a gift to Herod from the people of Athens of a statute at the Parthenon.  Further, coins minted during his reign both dated and undated exist in large quantities.  Finally, Herod is mentioned by numerous Roman historians and writers.

It is interesting to note that the inscriptions by Herod simply say “King”. They do not include the word great. Further, many of them set forth the following formula: “Herod, King, a Jew”; not King of the Jews, although some scholars disagree with this reading of the inscriptions.

In conclusion, Herod was a man with the gift of being able to make friends and to work himself out of almost impossible situations.  He was able to befriend Romans who were enemies and get them to do what he wanted. He clearly had a gift for building. He surrounded himself with a court of intellectuals and appeared to have a great deal of intellectual curiosity.   He could, of course, be brutal.  He ruthlessly killed members of his family and his close friends, if convinced that they were plotting against him.  Yet, he was a man of courage.  His voyage to Rome during the winter and facing down a terrible storm speaks of a determined man, who would do anything to overcome adversity. He reigned for a long time 40 BC to 4 BC, because he was able to adapt and because he was able to read a situation and make the most out of it.

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