"King Herod’s prestigious gardens come alive"

Herod the Great (74/73-4 BCE), the Roman client king of Judea, is known as the most important builder in ancient Jewish history, and a patron of a number of colossal building projects throughout his realm and abroad. Archaeological excavations have revealed the presence of gardens in Herod’s palaces and monumental buildings; however, as is often the case, the plants of these royal gardens remain an enigma. Recently, a breakthrough was achieved in the study of ancient gardens, when the botanical components of a royal Persian garden were identified at Ramat Rahel, (excavated by Lipschits oeming and Gadot); The reconstruction of the vegetation of this Persian garden (5th-4th centuries BCE), was based on a unique method of extracting fossil pollen grains from ancient plaster found on various surfaces around the garden (Langgut et al. 2013). I then applied this technique in several of Herod's gardens: the courtyard of the Promontory Palace at Caesarea, the peristyle garden of the Winter Palace at Jericho and the three royal gardens identified in Herodium. In order to complete the picture, pollen has also been collected from contexts other than plaster (e.g. planting pots, garden soils); wood and charcoal remains have been identified as well from relevant contexts. Preliminary results based on the above methods show some resemblance to other Roman gardens, indicating that Herod was displaying plants popular in the western Roman Empire. The study has the potential to shed light on questions such as the use of plants as a status symbol, elite behavior, importation of plants for royal display, and planting and horticultural techniques. Above all, the study’s most important contribution is to show different techniques for investigating the vegetation of ancient gardens: sampling strategies, extraction techniques and states of preservation in the varied environments of the eastern Mediterranean region (Mediterranean, semi-desert and desert environments).

Together with:

Prof. Kathryn Gleason - Cornell University

Prof. Burrell Barbara - University of Cincinnati

Dr. Rahel Bar Natan – Israel Antiqiuty Authority

Roi Porat - Hebrew University

Rona Evyasaf - Hebrew University

Staff involvement (from the lab) – Dr. Eitan Kremer, Mark Cavanagh, Vala Epstein, Macy Moore

The research is being founded by the Israel Science Foundation (given to Dafna Langgut, Grant no. 997/15).