The historian, Josephus, describes the death of Herod at great length. When
Herod's health began to fail him rapidly, he was moved to his winter capital in
Jericho. From there he was carried by stretcher to the hot springs on the shores
of the Dead Sea. The springs did no good; Herod returned home. Racked by
hopelessness, Herod attempted suicide. Rumors of the attempt caused loud wailing
throughout the palace. Herod's son, imprisoned by his paranoid father, mistook
the cries to mean his father was dead. Immediately, he tried to bribe his
jailers, who reported the bribery attempt to Herod. The sick king ordered his
son executed on the spot. Now Herod plunged deeper into depression. He was only
days away from his own death- and he knew it. What pained him most was the
knowledge that his death would be met with joy in Judea. To forestall this, he
devised an incredible plan.
Having assembled the most distinguished men from every village from one end
of Judea to the other, he ordered them to be locked in the hippodrome at
Josephus- Jewish Wars
Herod then gave the order to execute them at the very moment he, himself, died.
His sick mind reasoned that their death would dispel any joy in Judea over his
own death. The order was never carried out.
After Herod's death, his body was carried in procession from Jericho to the
Herodium outside Bethlehem for burial. Herod's body was adorned in purple, a
crown of gold rested on his head, and a scepter of gold was placed in his hand.
The bier bearing his body was made of gold and studded with jewels that sparkled
as it was carried along under the desert sun. Following the bier was Herod's
household and hundreds of slaves, swinging censers. Slowly, the procession
inched its way up the mountainside to the Herodium, where it was laid to rest.
Today, the excavated ruins of the Herodium stand out grandly against the clear
blue sky- reminding Bethlehem-bound tourists of the king who sought to kill the
child whom they have come so far to honor.
When Herod died, the pagans among them mourned while the Jews rejoiced.
Looking like a volcano, the Herodium is one of several fortress-palaces
built by Herod the Great. It was artificially shaped, with everything placed
inside its protected craterlike top.
Josephus wrote of the Herodium:
"Two hundred steps of purest white marble led up to it. Its top was crowned
with circular towers; its courtyard contained splendid structures."
In the 1960s archaeologists unearthed the courtyard, fortification towers,
and palace. No trace of Herod's remains were found.