As far as his bathtubs were concerned, it is incorrect. Herod the Great’s royal tubs, one found decades ago in the Kypros fortress and one recently discovered in the palace of Herodium, both just south of Jerusalem, were made of stone quarried in Israel, not in Egypt.

Herod’s calcite-alabaster bathtub, found in Kypros fortress. Credit: Prof. Amos Frumkin / The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Analysis has demonstrated that they were his personal tubs, the team writes. Why did Herod have bathtubs, anyway? Because he sought to introduce Roman cultural norms to Judea, including Roman bathing culture, a habit recently demonstrated to have led the ancient Romans to share not only bathwater, but also parasites.

Anyway, asked when the local quarries that produced Herod’s tubs were operative, Amir explains that the one in Te’omim Cave operated from the Middle Bronze Age to the early Roman period.
Only the tubs? Not at all. “Additional things were checked that also turned out to be local,” Prof. Maeir confirmed – and the team will be in touch about it in due time.
In one of those twists, the researchers were given samples from the Temple Mount to check the source of the alabaster, but these turned out to be marble, Amir says. Yes, there are objects in ancient Israel that were made of alabaster imported from Egypt, she confirms.

It bears adding that all along, archaeologists have assumed that while fine alabaster projects were made of Egyptian stone, it was clearer that poorer quality vessels around the Levant were made of local gypsum. Herod would not have abided tacky materials in his great works, as Josephus says regarding the temple project: “…as esteeming it to be the most glorious of all his actions, as it really was, to bring it to perfection; and that this would be sufficient for an everlasting memorial of him,” which explains a great deal.

“Herod built in all sorts of places around Israel, and in Jordan. There are even historic sources saying he built in Turkey,” Prof. Maeir says. “He was a local king, but an important one. The Romans were his patrons, but he was an important client.”

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