Herod's Desert Fortresses PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Pompey the Great destroyed the Hasmonean desert fortresses, and Herod built all but one of his on their ruins. Here is the list, from north to south: Agrippina (north of the desert), probably where the Crusaders built their fortress of Belvoir; Alexandreion on the mountain of Sartabe, at the entrance of Wadi Fari'a; Docus on the "Mount of Temptation," protecting the road that leads from Jericho to the Benjamin Plateau; Threx and Cyprus, flanking the entrance to Wadi Qilt, which leads to Jerusalem; Hyrcania, dominating a desert valley whose roads lead to Bethlehem; Machaerus, on the eastern cliff of the Dead Sea (here Herod's son Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded); and Masada. Herodium (the only one founded by Herod) should not be in the list: although well fortified, it was mainly intended as a memorial to a crucial battle, a place for recreation and ultimately as the site of Herod's tomb.


This line of fortresses made good defensive sense in the Hasmonean period and the early part of Herod's reign. Once he controlled Perea east of the Jordan, they lost much of their relevance, except as potential bunkers in a time of need.