The Jewish Millionaire Who Surrendered to the Romans

Dozens of coins from the tenth Roman Legion, uncovered during the last excavation season at the Herodian palace in Ramat Hanadiv, offer some insight on the demise of the glamorous palace. Prof. Yizhar Hirschfeld, a Hebrew University archeologist who has been managing the excavations at the site since the 1980s, says that it is possible to learn from the presence of the coins that that the palace was abandoned during the Great Rebellion that started in 66 CE not far away from there, in Caesarea.

The findings at the site do not make it possible to determine whether the palace was captured by force or abandoned and then fell into Roman hands, says Hirschfeld. But they do say something about the haste of the residents as they left. Among other things found at the site were a gold earring and a gold clasp - jewels that even a person of means does not leave behind during a leisurely moving to another place.

The jewels join numerous other findings testifying to the wealth of whoever built the palace and his senior status during the reign of Herod, who ruled over Judah from 43-44 BCE. First and foremost, the palace dimensions themselves indicate the owner's status. It sprawled across an area of 6,000 sq. meters and contained around 100 rooms, most of which have been well preserved. A two-meter thick wall surrounds the palace, with large watchtowers built into its four corners.

The walls of the rooms were covered in marble imported from Italy. In many of them excavators found clay pottery also made in Italy, and considered very luxurious and high quality. In the palace gardens, excavators found a round marble table standing on three legs, each in the shape of a panther - an animal that symbolizes Dionysus, the god of wine. The panther head is made of marble; a fragment of one table leg is today on exhibit in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

At the foot of the hill on which the palace is built, a spring flows; beside it was a full-fledged Roman bathhouse, built with all the fittings and details - as well as a pool, where the residents could refresh themselves on hot summer days. A staircase built at the foot of the hill descended to the bathhouse and pool.

The spring water was used for purification and therefore a mikveh, (ritual purification bath) was not built inside the palace, says Hirschfeld, but there are other signs indicating that the palace dwellers (the person who built it and his heirs, who were forced to abandon it) were Jewish. One of the most obvious signs is the numerous stone vessels that remained in the palace. At the time it was built, at the end of the Second Temple period, it was commonly accepted that stone vessels did not receive impurity and therefore they were used in Jewish communities.

Another sign is the clay lamps, which were common among Jews and were made on a potter's wheel, the tips sliced off with a knife. Their manufacturing center was in Jerusalem and their presence in the Ramat Hanadiv palace is another indication of the palace owner's good connections in the city that was the seat of power.

The identity of the owner remains a mystery. Thus far no inscriptions have been found in the palace that might indicate who built the palace and who inherited it. The major source of information about this period - Josephus Flavius' book, "Antiquities of the Jews" - does not mention them. However, it is clear that, like all senior figures of authority at the end of the Second Temple period, their luck also did not improve with the outbreak of the Great Rebellion and they were forced to abandon their home.