Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Emperors of Extravagance (bloody Herod)

King Herod taunts the Buddhist ascetic Jesus (St. Issa) in the musical version of his life.

King Herod, made famous in a runaway bestseller by King James and in the movie adaptation "Jesus Christ Superstar," has archaeologists talking. The extent of his extravagance has been further revealed.

Dancing girls, palaces, pleasure gardens, pyramids, underground temples, secret inner chambers, kings (particularly rapacious emperors) lived in unimaginable luxury. While we may think that we live at the historical height of hedonism and sensual craving, in fact, rulers in ancient times often spent all they could to re-create the heavens on Earth. They likely had visitors explaining what these celestial worlds were like; they may have even been taken to them.

Emperor Asoka became a great Buddhist

The Buddha often spoke of past republics and kingdoms. Their fate was always the same. But the diversity of the pleasures they indulged in is still mind boggling to us today. We hardly know the extent of what is going on now, but what happened thousands of years ago is coming to light:

Archaeologists find theater box at Herod's palace
Aisha Mohammed (AP)

Frescos discovered in King Herod's Herodium complex, West Bank, south of Jerusalem, Sept. 21, 2010. Israeli archaeologists have excavated a lavish private box in a 400-seat theater located at his winter palace in the Judean desert. Herod commissioned Roman artists to decorate the theater around 15 B.C. (AP/Bernat Armangue).

JERUSALEM – Israeli archaeologists have excavated a lavish, private theater box in a 400-seat facility at King Herod's winter palace in the Judean desert, the team's head said Tuesday.

Ehud Netzer of Jerusalem's Hebrew University said the room provides further evidence of King Herod's famed taste for extravagance. Herod commissioned Roman artists to decorate the theater walls with elaborate paintings and plaster moldings around 15 B.C., Netzer said. Its upper portions feature paintings of windows overlooking a river and a seascape with a large sailboat.

This is the first time this painting style has been found in Israel, Netzer said. Herod was the Jewish proxy ruler of the Holy Land under Roman occupation from 37 to 4 B.C. He is known for his extensive building throughout the area.

The team first excavated the site — sitting atop a man-made hill 2,230 feet high — in 2007. Netzer described the site as a kind of "country club," with a pool, baths and gardens fed by pools and aqueducts.

But archaeological evidence shows the theater's life was short-lived, Netzer said. Builders deliberately destroyed it to preserve the conic shape of the man-made hill. After Herod's death in the 1st century B.C., the complex became a stronghold for Jewish rebels fighting Roman occupation, and the palace site suffered significant battle damage before it was destroyed by Roman soldiers in A.D. 71, a year after they razed the Second Temple in Jerusalem. More>>

2,000 years of change (1000 BC-1000 AD)

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