As the client king of Rome, Herod ruled in ancient Judea for 34 years, where he managed to leave his mark with fortresses and palaces that survive to this day.
Herod’s design style was drawn from the classical architecture of the time – derived from the Greek, Hellenistic empire. The Romans continued this style of building with some Etruscan influence early on in their imperial period. During the full flowering of the Roman Empire, the Romans imported Greek craftsmen into Rome in order to use their skills, especially for imperial-era buildings.
Herod, who lived during the time of both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, visited Rome and saw the wonders of the capital. Absorbing those design lessons, he returned to Judea, and having been given the ancient Hasmonean kingdom, he ruled and spent his time on a series of magnificent building projects.
Known as an innovator, Herod combined palace and fortress in a new method. Both Herodiom in the Judean Hills near Bethlehem, the ruined Antonia Fortress of Jerusalem and of course, Masada, are classic examples of ensuring one’s home couldn’t be stormed by the average Roman legion. Herod focused on the colossal – implying that he was both egomaniacal and single-minded when it came to construction.
Herod also had opportunities to share his building style and design techniques outside of Judea – extending his influence outside of ancient Israel, in particular on the Greek Isles. He innovated with his harbor building project in Caesarea, along with his system of aqueducts and his improved use of ritual bath/mikvah design for Roman baths, the frigidarium. There’s even evidence that his particular style of luxury was influential on wealthy Romans building villas during this period. Visit the remains of Herod’s winter palaces in the Judean desert in order to marvel at the opulence of ancient life –rooms for bathing, entertaining and handling administrative affairs.
The Rebuilt Second Temple
Herod’s biggest project, begun in the 18th year of his reign (20–19 BCE), was the rebuilt Second Temple in Jerusalem. The finished temple, later destroyed by Titus’s Romans in 70 ACE, was a marvel of construction in gleaming, white marble. Walk the excavations along the southern wall of the Temple Mount to see the closed arches of the Hulda Gates and wonder at the size of the stones of the walls. It’s almost impossible to imagine the brute strength that was required along with ancient building cranes to erect those walls.
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