The Great Palace and “Course”

The Great Palace and “Course” at Lower Herodium


The Great Palace:


Second in size to the pool complex of Lower Herodium is the Great Palace, at the foot of the hill to its north. 130 m. long, and between 50 and 60 m wide, this rectangular complex shares its axis of symmetry with the circular building atop the hill, showing the high standard of planning at Herodium; only the foundations are preserved, apparently the result of intensive robbing during the Byzantine period.
The building’s foundations can be divided into two sections. The upper southern one comprises a large artificially flattened earth surface. The northern section is primarily made up of two subterranean halls, each 5m. wide, extending the whole length of the building (130 m.), which apparently served as storerooms. At least one of these halls, and possibly both, was originally covered by a stone vault.
There is another cellar with its original vault fully preserved at the south-eastern corner of the Palace foundations; it was used until recently by the local inhabitants as an animal-pen, and as a result of this subterranean hall’s preservation, the whole complex was referred to by Conder and Kitchener as a “stable”.
We can only guess at the building’s original function; its dominant position and size, and the commanding view of the whole of Lower Herodium, suggest that it may have been the main wing of the primary palace of the whole site. It clearly had the capacity to house a large number of guests, something which was not possible, and maybe undesirable, in the intimate and secluded Upper Palace.


“The Course”:


To the north of the Large Palace and parallel to it is a long, 350 m. by 30 m. manmade track; its construction required significant earthworks and the building of retaining walls along its whole length. While the length is suitable for a hippodrome, a race-course for horses and chariots needs to be at least 50 m. wide, and thus it cannot have been used for this purpose. As a running-track (stadium) it is overly long, almost twice the regular length; in any case, both types of courses are found generally in Herodian cities, but not in palaces.
It is reasonable to assume that the course was part of the extensive and opulent palace gardens, and served as the staging-point and processional way for Herod’s funeral; Josephus’ vivid description of the funeral strengthens this assumption.


Read more:


  • Netzer E., 1981. Greater Herodium, Qedem 13, Jerusalem.

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