Some 12 km. south of Jerusalem, on a hill shaped like a truncated cone that rises 758 m. above sea level, stood Herodium, the palace-fortress built by King Herod. It had a breathtaking view, overlooking the Judean Desert and the mountains of Moab to the east, and the Judean Hills to the west.
Herodium is described in great detail by the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius:
This fortress, which is some sixty stadia distant from Jerusalem, is naturally strong and very suitable for such a structure, for reasonably nearby is a hill, raised to a (greater) height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast. At intervals it has round towers, and it has a steep ascent formed of two hundred steps of hewn stone. Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament at the same time. At the base of the hill there are pleasure grounds built in such a way as to be worth seeing, among other things because of the way in which water, which is lacking in that place, is brought in from a distance and at great expense. The surrounding plain was built up as a city second to none, with the hill serving as an acropolis for the other dwellings.
(War I, 31, 10; Antiquities XIV, 323-325)
According to Josephus, Herodium was built on the spot where Herod won a victory over his Hasmonean and Parthian enemies in 40 BCE. (Antiquities XIV, 352-360) To commemorate the event, the king built a fortress and a palace there, which he named after himself. He also built, in the plain below the hill, an administrative center for the region, which had not been previously settled. Here, at Herodium, he also had a royal tomb built for himself; Josephus describes (War I, 33, 8; Antiquities XVII, 196-199) the king's funeral procession and burial at Herodium.
Herodium, together with Machaerus (in today's Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) and Masada near the Dead Sea, were the last three fortresses held by Jewish fighters after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Herodium was conquered and destroyed by the Romans in 71 CE. (War VII, 6, 1)
The site was identified in the 19th century; its name in Arabic, Jabal Fureidis, is probably a corruption of the ancient name, Herodis (mentioned in the Bar Kochba letters). Remains of the palace-fortress on the hilltop have been excavated by several expeditions since the early 1960s. Excavation of the buildings at the foot of the hill has been conducted intermittently since 1972 to the present time.
Herodium was built in two separate areas, each with a distinct function: a circular fortress, including an elaborate palace, surrounded by a wall with towers on top of the hill; and Lower Herodium, in the plain to the north, with a group of royal buildings around a large pool.