Anastylosis at Machaerus, Where John the Baptist was Beheaded

January 14, 2014  (Source:

Originally published on Jan. 12

Who beheaded John the Baptist in the Bible? What were the circumstances of his death? This famous Biblical episode—the notorious dance that ended in death—is recounted in Matthew 14:1–12 and Mark 6:14–29. The sordid details play out much like a Greek tragedy: Princess Salome dances before her stepfather, King Herod, at his birthday party. Pleased, he offers to grant her anything that she desires. After conferring with her mother, Herodias, Princess Salome asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. (Earlier, John the Baptist had angered Herodias by saying that her marriage to Herod was not legal; Herodias had previously been married to Herod’s brother, Philip, but had divorced him so that she could marry Herod.) Herod complies with the wish of Salome, and John the Baptist is beheaded.

Where did this event take place? Where was John the Baptist beheaded? According to the Jewish historian Josephus, he was beheaded at Herod the Great’s palace-fortress of Machaerus on the east side of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan (Antiquities 18.5,2). Herod had built the fortified palace around 30 B.C. over the ruins of the earlier Hasmonean fortress. In the January/February 2015 issue of BAR, Győző Vörös, the director of the Machaerus Excavations and Surveys, details the restoration work taking place at Machaerus—giving archaeological context to this Biblical scene starring Princess Salome and John the Baptist—in his article “Anastylosis at Machaerus.”

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