Machaerus is a fortified hilltop palace located in Jordan 25 km (16 mi) southeast of the mouth of the Jordan River on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. According to Flavius Josephus, it is the location of the imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist. According to the chronology of the Bible (Mark 6:24; Matthew 14:8); this infamous execution took place about 32 CE shortly before the Passover, following the imprisonment of two years. The site also provides the setting for four additional New Testament characters: Herod the Great; his son, Tetrarch Herod Antipas; his second wife, Princess Herodias, and her daughter, Princess Salome.
The History of Machaerus
The fortress Machaerus was originally built by the Hasmonean king, Alexander Jannaeus (104 BCE – 78 BCE) in about the year 90 BCE. serving an important strategic position. Its high, rocky vantage point was difficult to access, and invasions from the east could be easily spotted from there. It was also in the line of sight of other Hasmonean (and later Herodian) citadels. So other fortresses could be signaled if trouble appeared on the horizon. Nevertheless, it was destroyed by Pompey’s general Gabinius in 57 BCE. But later rebuilt by Herod the Great in 30 BCE to be used as a military base to safeguard his territories east of the Jordan.
Upon the death of Herod the Great, the fortress was passed to his son, Herod Antipas, who ruled from 4 BCE until 39 CE. In Fact, it was during this time, at the beginning of the first century CE, that John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded at Machaerus.
After the deposition and banishment of Herod Antipas in 39 CE, Machaerus passed to Herod Agrippa I until his death in 44 CE. After which it came under Roman control. Jewish rebels took control after 66 CE during the First Jewish Revolt. Shortly after defeating the Jewish garrison of Herodium, the Roman legate Lucilius Bassus advanced on Machaerus with his troops and began the siege in 72 CE. An embankment and ramp were created in order to facilitate Roman siege engines but the Jewish rebels capitulated before the Roman attack had begun. The rebels were allowed to leave and the fortress was torn down, leaving only the foundations intact.
The village on the plateau to the east of the mountain is known as Muqawir. The site was visited in 1807 by the Frisian explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, and the name of the village reminded him of the name of Machaerus in Greek. The archaeological excavation of Machaerus was begun in 1968 by Jerry Vardaman.
In 1973, the German scholar, August Strobel, identified and studied the wall by which the Romans encircled the defenders within the fortress. In 1978–1981, excavations were carried out by Virgilio Corbo, Stanislao Loffreda and Michele Piccirillo, from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem.
Within the fortified area are the ruins of the Herodian palace. Including rooms, a large courtyard; an elaborate bath, with fragments of the floor mosaic still remaining. Further down the eastern slope of the hill are other walls and towers; perhaps representing the “lower town,” of which Josephus also wrote.
Traceable also, coming from the east, is the aqueduct that brought water to the cisterns of the fortress. Pottery found in the area extends from the late Hellenistic to Roman periods and confirms the two main periods of occupation, namely, Hasmonean (90 BCE – 57 BCE) and Herodian (30 BCE- CE 72); with a brief reoccupation soon after 72 CE and then nothing further—so complete and systematic was the destruction visited upon the site by the Romans.