Herod Flees from the Parthians and Defeats Antigonus at the Place He Would Later Call Herodium

While the Parthians deliberated what they should do—for they did not like the idea of openly attacking so powerful a man—and postponed the matter to the next day, Herod, who was in great perturbation and gave more weight to what he had heard about his brother and the Parthians’ plot than to the other side, decided when evening came to take this opportunity to flee and not to delay as if there were some uncertainty of danger from the enemy. Accordingly he set out with those soldiers whom he had there, and mounted the women on beasts of burden, including his mother and sister and the daughter of Alexander, the son of Aristobulus, whom he was to marry, and her mother, who was a daughter of Hyrcanus; he also took his youngest brother and all the servants and the rest of the crowd that was with them, and unknown to the enemy followed the road to Idumaea. And no enemy would have been found so hard of heart that on witnessing what was taking place at that time he would not have pitied their fate as the wretched women led their infants and with tears and wailing left behind their native country and their friends in chains; nor did they expect anything better for themselves.

Nevertheless, Herod let his spirit rise above the blow caused by this misfortune, and being himself of good courage in the face of misfortune, went to the others along the road and urged each of them also to have courage and not give himself wholly over to grief, for this, he said, would hinder them in their flight, in which alone their safety lay. And so at Herod’s exhortation they tried to bear their troubles. But once when a wagon overturned and his mother was in danger of death, he was near to taking his own life because of his anguish on her account and his fear that as a result of the delay caused by the overturn the enemy might overtake them in pursuit. Indeed he had drawn his sword and was about to stab himself when those about him restrained him and prevailed upon him by their number and also by telling him that it was not right for him to abandon them and leave them in the power of their foes, for it was not the act of a noble man to free himself from danger and disregard that of his friends. And so, being forced to desist from his rash act against himself by shame at their words and by the number of those who stayed his hand from carrying out his plan, he revived his mother and procured for her such care as was possible in the short time at his disposal, and continued on his way, making the journey to the fortress of Masada at great speed. Many were the battles he fought with the Parthians who harassed him in pursuit, and he was victorious in all of them.

But during his flight he was not safe from the Jews either, for they too attacked his party when they were sixty stades [about seven miles] from the city and engaged them in hand to hand combat along the road; but these too he routed and crushed as if he were in no such helpless and difficult position but were excellently prepared for war and had a great advantage; and later when he became king, he built a wonderful palace on the spot where he defeated the Jews, and founded a city round it, which he called Herodia [Herodium].

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XIV, 352–360.

The Appearance of the Fortress and the City of Herodium

Herod constructed another fortress in the region where he had defeated the Jews after his expulsion from the realm, when Antigonus was in power. This fortress, which is some sixty stades [about seven miles] distant from Jerusalem, is naturally strong and very suitable for such a structure, for reasonably near by is a hill, raised to a (greater) height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast. At intervals it has round towers, and it has a steep ascent formed of two hundred steps of hewn stone. Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament at the same time. At the base of the hill there are pleasure grounds built in such a way as to be worth seeing, among other things because of the way in which water, which is lacking in that place, is brought from a distance and at great expense. The surrounding plain was built up as a city second to none, with the hill serving as an acropolis for the other dwellings.

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XV, 323–325.

Herod’s Funeral and Burial at Herodium

The king’s funeral next occupied attention. Archelaus, omitting nothing that could contribute to its magnificence, brought forth all the royal ornaments to accompany the procession in honour of the deceased. The bier was of solid gold, studded with precious stones, and had a covering of purple, embroidered with various colors; on this lay the body enveloped in a purple robe, a diadem encircling the head and surmounted by a crown of gold, the sceptre beside his right hand. Around the bier were Herod’s sons and a large group of his relations; these were followed by the guards, the Thracian contingent, Germans and Gauls, all equipped as for war. The remainder of the troops marched in front, armed and in orderly array, led by their commanders and subordinate officers; behind these came five hundred of Herod’s servants and freedmen, carrying spices. The body was thus conveyed for a distance of two hundred furlongs to Herodium, where, in accordance with the directions of the deceased, it was interred. So ended Herod’s reign.

Josephus, The Jewish War I, 670–673.