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The Other Herodium

Er Raya: Peli-1152 27 Jan 2011
Candidate Mound at er Raya, Jordan (Click on image for more photographs.)

Based on an investigation by E. Jerry Vardaman(1)
Installed on 08 Jun 2010. Latest update 17 Oct 2018.
New or changed material is in bold.

Here is Whiston's English translation(2) of the passage from Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 21, Section 10, which mentions two different fortresses built by Herod the Great and given the same name, Herodium. [Emphasis added]

10. And as he transmitted to eternity his family and friends, so did he not neglect a memorial for himself, but built a fortress upon a mountain towards Arabia, and named it from himself, Herodium; and he called that hill that was of the shape of a woman's breast, and was sixty furlongs distant from Jerusalem, by the same name. . . .

Thackeray's translation(3) of the passage reads: [Emphasis added]

(10) But while he thus perpetuated the memory of his family and his friends, he did not neglect to leave memorials of himself. Thus he built a fortress in the hills on the Arabian frontier and called it after himself Herodium. An artificial hilla, sixty furlongs from Jerusalem, was given the same name, but more elaborate embellishments. b [60 furlongs = 7.5 miles.]

    a Literally " in the form of a breast."
    b Built in memory of his victory over the Jewish allies of the Parthians. §265; modern Jebel Fereidis ("Hill of Paradise" or Frank mountain), some 4 miles S.E. of Bethlehem. The site of the other Herodium is unidentified.

Here is an excerpt from Vardaman's research on what he called the Herodium Beyond Jordan and alternately, Herodium Facing Arabia. [Ref. (1), Page 1]

      Almost all of the Herodian fortress palaces which are mentioned in the New Testament and Josephus have now been identified satisfactorily. One of those Herodian fortresses whose location still remains unknown is Herodium beyond Jordan. This place is mentioned only by Josephus (War I. 21.10 [419]) in the whole of the ancient literature now available. The following article is presented because the writer feels that this lost fortress has been satisfactorily identified in recent days. In relocating this spot, Perea's southern boundary in Herodian times has been clarified, as well.
      Various scholars have attempted to identify Herodium beyond Jordan, or to solve the problem in other ways. Charles Clermont-Ganneau believed that Herodium beyond Jordan was simply another name which Josephus used for Machaerus; he suggested that these two places were one and the same.1 Alexis Mallon, on the other hand, thought that El Hubeisa, in the area of the ancient "fields of Moab" in the Jordan Valley, was the true site of Herodium beyond Jordan. A. Segal boldy ventured the opinion that there was no "Herodium beyond Jordan," and that one should understand by this reference that Josephus means the same place as Herodium near Bethlehem.3 Other brief notices on Herodium beyond Jordan have appeared in recent years, but mostly older views have been restated and little or no real advance in locating the lost fortress of Herodium beyond Jordan has been made.4 Any new light concerning the location of Herodium beyond Jordan is welcome, therefore.
      1 See his Recueil d'Archéologie Orinetale. (Paris: E. Leroux, 1885-.) See: Vol. II (Juin 1897, Livraison 13), p. 200, note 2. Cf. A. Schlatter. Z.D.P.V, XIX, p. 228, Cf. A. Kammerer, Pétra et la Nabatène (Paris: P. Geuthner, 1929), Texte, p.246, n.1 and Carte I.
      2 See his article in Biblica (1933), "Deux fortresses au pied des monts de Moab," pp. 401-407. Cf. F.-M. Abel, Histoire de la Palestine. Paris: Gabalda, 1952, I, p.371, note 5.
      3 See I.E.J. 23 (1973), pp. 27-29; esp. p. 29, note 16; Cf. the author's response to Segal in I.E.J. 25, pp. 45-46, esp. 46.
      4 For other material on this problem, see American Journal of Archaeology 35 (1934), p. 289; T.O. Hall, "Herodium in Perea," Interpreter's Dict.of Bible, Suppl. Vol., pp. 409-410; R.W. Funk, "Herodium," Interpreter's Dict. of Bible, Vol. 2, pp. 595-596, esp. p. 595. Does Funk Confuse "Idumea" with "Arabia" at that time?

The following material deals with Dr. Vardaman's 22 July 1981 visit to the mound at er Raya, Jordan. The mound is his candidate site for Herodium Beyond (the) Jordan (River). [Ref. (1)]

Map of Dead Sea region showing er 
Raya locale
Dead Sea Region Showing er Raya Locale
(The red cross inside the white frame represents the approximate location of er Raya.)

Map showing location of er Raya
Vardaman's map showing the approach path to er Raya (dotted line)
[Er Raya is five miles (8 km) Southeast of Machaerus.]

According to historical sources, the Fortress of Machaerus was part of the defense system of the Jewish province of Perea near it's boundary with Nabatea. Dr. Vardaman conducted archaeological excavations at Machaerus in 1968.

er Raya mound from the East
Approaching the mound at er Raya from the East - Photo by Jack Elliott. Jr.


er Raya mound from the North
View of mound at er Raya from the North - Photo by Jack Elliott, Jr.
[Arrow added]

      "The view looks south and was taken from a spot north of the site. In the background one sees the Arabian hills which were watched over by Herodium beyond Jordan. One gets a good perspective of how large the mound was by comparing its size with the author who stands here on the northern part of the hill of er Raya." [Dr. Vardaman was about 6 feet tall.]

Wadi Heidan, which Vardaman thought may have been the border between Jewish Perea and Arabian Nabataea in the first century BC, is in the valley beyond the mound.

er Raya mound from the Southwest
Mound at er Raya as viewed from the Southwest - Photo by Jack Elliott, Jr.
"Weli" = burial marker (about same height as 6' figures, noted by red arrow)

house with threshing floor
House with threshing floor viewed from the Northwest. Note three filled grain bags.
Photograph by Jack Elliott, Jr.

* * *

Er Raya map 1982
1982 Map of er Raya, based on ground photographs by Jack Elliott
Surface objects of interest were located and identified by Dr. Vardaman.
[Most of the hand drawn labels (and text) were replaced with digital versions in June 2010.]


Two Google Earth images of the area are given here to provide a current picture of the mound area and the geography of the larger setting. (Note that Geographical North is not at the top of the second image.)

mound at Ain er Raya
GoogleEarth image of the Mound at 'Ain er Raya, Jordan
Coordinates for the centroid of the mound (top center) are:
31 deg 30 min 44 sec North 35 deg 40 min 48 sec East
The animal pen NNE of the house is adjacent to, but East of, the threshing floor photographed in 1981.

Mountain facing Arabia
Google Earth image showing that er Raya is situated on the concave
mountain-face of Al Jarwan (Jarwān) which is oriented toward Wadi Heidan.

* * *

Vardaman's conclusion about the er Raya region was:

      "... our research at er Raya certainly established that Herod's southern boundary of Peraea stretched as far as the Heidan. The Jewish coins found here are distributed in time from the early first century B.C., to the last half of the first century A.D., and argue forceably that during all of this period er Raya is to be thought of as located within the classical boundaries of Jewish Peraea, and not just within it during the Herodian period." [Ref. (1), Page 13c]


(1) "The Lost Fortress of Herodium Beyond Jordan Rediscovered," Copyright 1981, E.J. Vardaman.

(2) The Works of Flavius Josephus, to which are added seven dissertations, Translated by William Whiston, A.M. with an Introductory Essay by the Rev. H. Stebbing, DD., Page 642. The International Press, The John C. Winston Co., Philadelphia. [Published in 1737 or shortly thereafter.]

(3) Josephus in Nine Volumes, II The Jewish War, Books I-II with an English Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray, M.A. Cambridge Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, London, William Heinemann LTD., 1967, page 199.

* * *

The End Notes for this web page were removed on 04 Oct 2013. Most of them have resurfaced in Comments on E.J. Vardaman's article "The Lost Fortress of Herodium Beyond Jordan Rediscovered," (1981).

Contact: R.S. Fritzius at: