After more than three decades of searching, Ehud Netzer of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and his team have located the burial place of King Herod. One of the most notorious biblical villains, Herod ruled the small Jewish state of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth, and he is perhaps best known for ordering the death of all children in Bethlehem under age 2, an event described in the book of Matthew. But Herod deserves a spot in history for sponsoring a number of innovative construction projects. Among them are the renovation of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the building of the impressive hilltop fortress at Masada, as well as Herodium, a massive mound about 800 yards high that functioned as an administrative center just south of Jerusalem.
According to the first-century historian Josephus, who observed Herod’s funeral procession, the ruler was buried at Herodium. Josephus provided no specific clues to the tomb’s location, however. Motivated by the chance to open a window into a key period of biblical history and hoping to find a trove of telling artifacts and riches, archaeologists have been looking for the tomb for years. The search has been further complicated because much of the 2,000-year-old site was destroyed during a Jewish revolt against Rome in the first century. While some scholars claimed the tomb lay on top of the mound, Netzer continued probing lower levels. He finally uncovered the shattered remnants of an ornately carved sarcophagus. It lay at the end of a wide staircase—just as Josephus had described, leaving little doubt that the chamber was Herod’s tomb. To anyone expecting a king’s riches, however, the find is rather disappointing. Any wealth, as well as skeletal remains, appears to have been looted centuries ago.