Ritual bath found in King Herod’s palace

Archaeologists excavating the Machaerus fortress in Jordan, built by king Herod at a top of a steep hill south of Madaba, unearthed the remains of a royal ceremonial bathhouse, being the biggest of its kind ever found in Jordan. 

Digital reconstruction of the royal bathhouse (by Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus)

The newly discovered ritual bat consists of 12 steps and a reserve pool containing water to fill the pool when its water ran low. The structure was discovered three meters below the royal courtyard and has originally been equipped with a vaulted stone ceiling. Researchers also discovered a vast underground cistern some 18 meters deep, that watered the Dead Sea desert fortress gardens and bath. According to the archaeological record the cistern remained in use throughout the Herodian period. Herod also built a palace with a courtyard, a Roman-style bath, a triclinium for fancy dining, and a formal courtyard with a small royal garden (peristyle) surrounded by porticos on four sides within the complex.

Remains of the ritual bath (by Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus)

Machaerus was of critical importance to the defence of Judea, due to the citadel overlooking the capital, Jerusalem. Any army approaching Jerusalem from the east would first have to occupy Machaereus. The site was however destroyed in 71 AD when the 10th Roman legion, X Frentensis, headed by Lucilius Bassus, attacked the desert fortress, which at that point was sheltering Jewish fighters from the Great Jewish Revolt (66-73 AD).  It was the same Roman legion that captured the iconic fortress of Masada from the Jewish zealots.

Reconstruction of Herod’s fortified palace at Machaerus (by Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus)

Other finds include dozens of Hasmonean and Roman coins, as well as 47 pieces of broken pottery shards inscribed with Aramaic letters and collapsed walls, four Roman ballistic missiles and two collapsed massive column drums corresponding with the Roman attack at the fortress.

The 15.6-metre deep cistern in Machaereus (by Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus)

(after Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus & Haaretz)

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