In reading Jodi Magness work, The Archeology of the Holy Land, I have been looking for things I did not know before. There are several.
In regards to the early Roman period, which corresponds to the time of the New Testament gospels, here are two matters.
In 2007 Ehud Netzer discovered an elaborate tomb while excavating at Herodium.
Herodium is an amazing site created by Herod the Great and named after himself. It is an artificial mountain near Bethlehem. There was a natural hill there, but Herod constructed two stories-high stone walls that curved around a center point and piled great amounts of earth around them. The resulting mountain resembled a volcano in that it had a depression at the top. Herod built a palace in that depression with gardens and a Roman-style bath house. It had a Roman central heating system. It was quite an engineering feat. The photographs and illustrations at the end of her chapter help to visualize all this.
Josephus describes how when Herod died in 4 B.C.E. a funeral procession carried his body from Jericho to Herodium. So Netzer found a tomb fit for a king. It is almost certainly Herod’s tomb. Netzer has found some evidence that Herod’s stone coffin may have been smashed to pieces by angry anti-Herodian Jews shortly after his death.
The second matter concerns the use of concrete in construction by Herod. The famous ancient Greek buildings and monuments mostly consisted of marble. But marble was in short supply in Italy so the Romans experimented with other construction materials. Italy had an abundance of volcanic ash and stone that was ideal for mixing into concrete.
This brought about a change in architecture. Greek post and lintel construction suited stone. You could support a bulkhead with columns. Everything was horizontal or vertical. But concrete was poured as a semi-liquid, so you could have curves and arches and domes. The Romans did not use wooden frames like we do today. They poured concrete into brick or stone frames. So they learned to make curved designs with cut stone and bricks as well.
Herod’s architecture is largely Roman. As I wrote about the harbor at Caesarea, concrete was used. Herod also used concrete in three places that we have found for buildings. In these cases we can assume that he had Italian engineers at his disposal. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, friend and son-in-law of Caesar Augustus, visited Herod in 15 B.C.E. It seems that it was after this that Herod began to use Roman builders and workmen.
But even when concrete was not used, the Roman style of arches and vaults appears. The native building material in Israel was mud brick. Herod’s builders often covered mud brick with plaster.
We often talk about the Rome as a cruel and oppressive empire. But Rome also contributed the infrastructure of civilization, buildings, roads, and aqueducts. I can’t help but call to mind the Monty Python piece from the Life of Brian: What have the Romans ever done for us?