Herod, sometimes called Herod the Great, was appointed king of Judea by the Romans in around 40 BC.
He greatly expanded the Jewish second temple and ordered building works in Caesaeria, Jericho and at the hilltop fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea.
He is best known to Christians from the Gospel of St Matthew in the Bible for ordering the Slaughter of the Innocents – the mass killing of male babies in Bethlehem in a bid to avert a perceived threat to his rule.
|Ehud Netzer said the find was “something
Herod built a palace on the flattened hilltop and was thought to have been buried there, but years of excavations failed to find the exact place of burial.
“The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod’s burial site,” Netzer said,
The pieces of the “large unique” sarcophagus, made of Jerusalem reddish limestone and decorated with rosettes, were discovered on the northeast slope of the hill.
Archaeological excavation had been underway there since August 2006.
It “was broken into hundreds of pieces, no doubt deliberately,” Netzer said, adding that it appeared to have been destroyed between 66 and 72 AD during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans.
Stephen Pfann, an expert in the Second Temple period at the University of the Holy Land, called the find a “major discovery by all means,” but said further research was needed.
He said all signs indicate the tomb belongs to Herod, but said ruins with an inscription on them were needed for full verification.
The Herodium find is likely to spark political fallout in a region where archaeological finds inevitably become linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Any claims that appear to strengthen one side’s connection to the land are viewed suspiciously by the other.
Shaul Goldstein, an official from the Gush Etzion Jewish settlement near the Herodium site, told Israeli army radio that the find “constitutes new proof of a connection between Gush Etzion and the Jewish people and Jerusalem.”
He called on the government to name Herodium “a national and religious site.”
Khulud Dwaibess, the Palestinian tourism minister who oversees archaeological sites, said a team of Palestinian archaeologists was due to inspect the site and that her ministry would not comment until seeing their report.