Herod the Great

Herod's rule accomplished a political and social revolution.

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The jewels in the crown of Herodian architecture were two new towns. Caesarea, on the coast, adorned with all the public edifices of a Roman city (theater, amphitheater, hippodrome), was to become the major port of the future province and the seat of the procurator. Sebaste, founded near ancient Samaria, was to provide the king with loyal soldiers.

There were also the royal citadels erected throughout the land, often on sites of former Hasmonean structures. The most famous example isMasada. This isolated rock on the edge of the Judean Desert was fortified in the Hasmonean period, and later transformed by Herod into a splendid palace and fort. Another citadel, Herodium, built on a hill in Bethlehem, was intended by Herod to serve as his burial place in imitation of such mausoleums built by Augustus.

Other fortresses overlooked the Judean Desert. Indeed, the route leading up from the valley of Jericho to Jerusalem was of prime strategic importance. Yet strategy was not the sole motivation: in these splendid winter palaces, the king could relax and live as he pleased, far away from the reproving eyes of orthodox subjects in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, however, was not neglected. Not only did he adorn hiscapital in Roman style, but with the idea of immortalizing himself while demonstrating his loyalty to Judaism, Herod also rebuilt the Temple in magnificent proportions. Even the sages, who disapproved of his conduct in private and public affairs, could not but express admiration for hissplendid Temple, saying that "He who has not seen Herod's building, has never seen a beautiful building."

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Isaiah Gafni is a Professor of Jewish History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He specializes in the history of the Jewish people during the Second Temple period.