The Lower Bathhouse

The Bathhouse of Lower Herodium


בית המרחץ התחתון

The large and lavish main bath-house of lower Herodium stands at the south-west corner of the pool area; there were two clear phases in the construction of this building. In the earlier phase, access was by way of a courtyard surrounded by a colonnade, forming a palaestra, an outdoor exercise area, which led to an anteroom cum changing- room. This led into the tepidarium (tepid room), which allowed access to the other rooms: the caldarium (hot room), largest of all the Herodian ones uncovered to date; the frigidarium (cold room), with a stepped pool which may have served as a ritual bath, a miqveh, and a number of small miscellaneous rooms. Like those of the upper Palace and other Herodian palaces, the caldarium was heated by a hypocaust with a raised floor and special flues in the walls, which circulated hot air and heated the whole space; its size required the installation of two furnaces (in the later phase a third was added). A few years later, a number of changes were made to the structure, possibly as a result of the cold evenings in this area, unsuited to outdoor bathing. In the context of this re-organization, the original caldarium became a small heated indoor pool, and the other rooms were also redesigned: the frigidarium, with its pool, was converted to an anteroom, while a circular caldarium, significantly smaller than the first, was built to its east; it had three niches, one with a plastered bathtub in situ. It was heated by a Hypocaust, and a number of short stone pillars and some of the flues were preserved in situ; the later caldarium appears to have been designed for a smaller number of bathers than the original. In both phases, the rooms were decorated with frescoes, mosaics and colored stone tiles (opus sectile). An exceptional find from the bath-house is a splendid marble basin decorated with reliefs of legendary figures (see below).


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בית מרחץ תחתון

The Ornamental Marble Basin (Labrum)


In the lower bath-house and elsewhere on the site, fragments of a relieved marble basin were found; it appears to have served as a water receptacle, fed by a main water pipe. The three feet are carved like those of animals, while the basin is decorated with Sirens (mythical sea-nymphs, renowned for their singing) and busts of Selinus (an associate of Dionysus). The reliefs are in neo-Attic style, typical of the first century BCE; a similar basin from the time of Augustus is known from Rome, suggesting that this basin may have been a gift to Herod from either the Emperor or Marcus Agrippa during the latter’s visit to Herodium in the year 15 BCE. In all other Herodian palaces, the iconic ban imposed by the Jewish Third Commandment was closely observed, making these reliefs and their mythological subjects exceptional and risque; there are very few other examples of figural representation, among them the scenes from the Royal Guest Room of the theater (link). It appears that in contrast to other sites, at Herodium Herod allowed himself to behave like a typical Roman, with these uncommon ornaments intended for his important Roman guests, Agrippa, for example.

*The restored marble basin and parts of the bathhouse are currently on display in the Israel Museum.


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  • נצר א’, קלמן י’, פורת ר’ וצ’אצ’י ר’. 2013. ” הרודיון”. בתוך: רוזנברג ס’, מבורך ד’ (עורכים).  הורדוס: מסעו האחרון של מלך יהודה. מוזיאון ישראל, ירושלים. עמ’ 144 – 145.