A royal box built at the upper level of King Herod's private theater at Herodium has been fully unveiled in recent excavations at the archaeological site, providing a further indication of the luxurious lifestyle favored by the well-known Jewish monarch, the Hebrew University announced in a statement released Tuesday.
The excavations at Herodium National Park at the eastern edge of Gush Etzion region, were conducted by Prof. Ehud Netzer under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology. The theater, first revealed in 2008, is located halfway up the hill near Herod's mausoleum, whose exposure in 2007 aroused worldwide attention. The highly decorated, fairly small theater was built in approximately 15 BCE, which was the year of the visit of Roman leader Marcus Agrippa to Judea, Emperor Augustus's right-hand man, according Prof. Nezter, who has been assisted in the excavations by Yakov Kalman, Roi Porath and Rachel Chachy.
The royal box (measuring eight by seven meters and about six meters high) is the central space among a group of rooms attached to the upper part of the theater's structure. This impressive room likely hosted the king, his close friends and family members during performances in the theater and was fully open facing the stage.
Its back and side walls are adorned with an elaborate scheme of wall paintings and plaster moldings in a style that has not been seen thus far in Israel; yet, this style is known to have existed in Rome and Campania in Italy during those years. This work, therefore, was probably executed by Italian artists, perhaps sent by Marcus Agrippa, who a year before his visit to Judea met Herod on the famous Greek island of Lesbos, said Netzer.
On the upper parts of the walls are the room's highlights: a series of unique “windows” painted with outfolded shutters on either side and various naturalistic landscapes within. They include scenes of the countryside, the Nile River and a nautical scene featuring a large boat with sails. One can identify features of trees, animals and human beings. Some of these windows have survived intact on the walls, whereas others were found in fragments on the floor and are undergoing restoration in the Israel Museum's laboratory.
Painted windows with shutters appear in the late Second Pompeian Style in Italy, and mainly depict unrealistic views like theater settings and still-life. The closest parallels for the windows at Herodium are known from the "Villa Imperiale" at Pompeii, dated to the early Third Style of painting between 10 and 15 BCE, some of which have been previously placed on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.