"It turns out Herod was not the only person to have been buried there."
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
A year and a half after the discovery of the tomb of King Herod on the Judean Desert hilltop known as Herodion, an Israeli archaeologist said Wednesday that ongoing excavation at the site has uncovered two additional sarcophagi which likely belonged to members of Herod's family.
Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed king of Judea from 37 to 4 BCE, was renowned for his many monumental building projects which included the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the palace at Masada, the harbor and city of Caesarea and the sprawling palatial complex at Herodion, 15 km. south of the capital.
The dig at the site, which is being directed by Hebrew University Professor Ehud Netzer, has determined that the mausoleum where Herod's sarcophagus was unearthed had been a lavish, two-story structure with an approximately 25-meter-high, concave-conical roof appropriate for someone of Herod's status and taste, Netzer said.
The excavations had also unearthed two additional sarcophagi, which likely belonged to members of Herod's family, he added.
"It turns out that Herod was not the only person to have been buried there," Netzer said at the press conference where the latest finds were presented.
"Which of the three sarcophagi is actually Herod's and who are the other two buried here remains an unanswered question," Netzer said.
The latest excavations have also uncovered the remains of a small theater just below and to the west of the mausoleum, with seats for 650-750 spectators and a VIP room at the top.
The theater was decorated with wall paintings and plaster moldings dated to 15-10 BCE, known to have existed in Rome and elsewhere but which had never before been found in Israel, Netzer said.
The theater and the VIP room had been destroyed to make way for the Herodion, which was apparently built at the very end of Herod's reign.
Netzer said that Herod chose the location of the mausoleum because it overlooked Jerusalem, and added that Herod had been determined to make it the crowning glory of his outstanding building career.
In all, the site includes a huge palatial complex, the theater, and a 2,000 year-old "country club," which included a large pool, baths and gardens, in addition to the mausoleum.
The palace was the largest of its kind in the Roman world at the time, said Netzer, and had attracted hundreds if not thousands of guests annually.
A documentary film on the historic 2007 discovery of Herod's tomb will premiere on Sunday night on the National Geographic Channel in the US and around the world.
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