His Buildings

Herod and the Jews

Herod had high hopes for Hellenization among his Jewish subjects. Of course, Herod considered himself a Jew. Herod knew better than to force Hellenization upon his Jewish subjects.

Gradually he tried introducing them to those Greek habits of life which he himself admired. Jerusalem also benefited from his building activity. He erected a theater and a hippodrome within the city.

Foreign visitors to his capital would feel more at home and would not look down upon him as an insignificant king of a "barbarian" people.

Herod - The Builder

According to the Greek standards of that day, a good king encouraged games and theaters and was active in building. King Herod was considered one of the greatest builders of the ancient world.

He constructed pagan temples and amphitheaters in various Greek cities within and outside his domain. Athens, Sparta and Rhodes benefited from his liberality and he made large contributions of money to the Olympic games.

Rome was very interested in King Herod's ability to bring peace to the territories on his northeastern frontier and Augustus granted these territories to Herod's kingdom: Trachonitis, Batanea, and Auranitis in 23 B.C. and the territory of Ituraea in 20 B.C.

To make Augustus even more grateful and to further the emperor's cultural policy, Herod invested in vast building enterprises. Many old cities were refounded and new cities were built.

Temples, hippodromes and amphitheaters were constructed, not only in Judea but in foreign cities such as Athens. Within his own kingdom he rebuilt Samaria and renamed it Sebaste, after the emperor (Sebastos is the Greek equivalent of the Latin Augustus).

King Herod also rebuilt Strato's Tower on the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean and built a large artificial harbor. He called the new city Caesarea, also in honor of the emperor. This project lasted some twelve years, from 22 to 10 B.C.

There are many more projects that can be mentioned in these areas and throughout the land, settlements and strongholds, many of which bore names honoring the emperor or members of Herod's own family, such as Antipatris (on the road from Jerusalem to Caesarea), Cypros (at Jericho), and Phasaelis (west of the Jordan).

At Jerusalem he built a royal palace for himself connecting the Western Wall. He rebuilt the Hasmonean fortress of Baris and renamed it Antonia (after Marc Antony).

But the greatest of all of King Herod's building enterprises was his reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This massive project was begun early in 19 B.C.

One thousand Levites were trained as builders, and they fulfilled their work in such a way that the sacred rituals of the holy place were never interrupted while the work was happening.

The tremendous outer court was enclosed, surrounded by colonnades, and the whole area was splendid and beautiful with awesome gateways and other architectural marvel s. The Temple became world renowned for its magnificence:

"Far off appearing like a Mount of alabaster, topped with golden spires."

Although the majority of the work of reconstruction was completed in the first few years and while Herod was still alive, the final details were not completed until 63 A.D., only seven years before its destruction.

The Jews appreciated much of Herod's buildings and achievements but would never forgive him for his destruction of the Hasmonean family, they would also not forget his Edomite ancestry. No matter how generous he was, and how much money he spent on the Temple and other projects, he could never win the favor of his Jewish subjects.

Augustus Caesar and Herod's friend Agrippa said: "Herod's realm was far too small for his liberality."

Rome herself as well as Herod's Gentile subjects were happy that he liked to please them. To them Herod was "Herod the Great."

Other achievements are worth mentioning, especially in the area of culture. History was being recorded: King Herod's court chronicler, Nicolas of Damascus, wrote a Universal History in 144 books. This work included a detailed record of Herod's reign, which Josephus used as a principal source for this part of Herod's history in his writings.