During his reign, which lasted from 37 to 4 BCE, King Herod undertook major renovations of the Temple Mount and the Temple itself. Recent archaeological findings suggest that these included repaving the floors with a kind of polished stone tile known as opus sectile. Frankie Snyder, Gabriel Barkay, and Zachi Dvira write:
Opus sectile—Latin for “cut work”—is a technique for paving floors and walls in geometric patterns or figurative scenes using meticulously cut and polished polychrome stone tiles. These tiles were crafted and laid with such precision that there was hardly space to insert a knife-blade between them. Opus sectile floors were more prestigious than mosaic ones and were typically used in more important areas of buildings. Along with using frescoed walls, stucco decorations and elegantly carved columns, Herod introduced this paving technique to Israel to decorate many of his palaces, including Masada, Jericho, Herodium, and Cypros.
The 1st-century-CE Jewish historian Flavius Josephus comments about the pavements [on] the Temple Mount [thus], “The open courtyard was from end to end variegated with paving of all manner of stones.” . . . Continued research has allowed [archaeologists] to distinguish the time period in which many of the recovered opus sectile tiles were crafted and mathematically to reconstruct possible floor patterns. . . .
A key characteristic of Herodian tiles is their size, which is based on the Roman foot, 11.6 inches. In the floor patterns, each tile was surrounded by tiles of contrasting colors. Dark tiles were frequently made from bituminous chalk quarried locally just northwest of the Dead Sea, around Nebi Musa. Some of the contrasting light-colored tiles were made from local limestone and calcite-alabaster, while others were made of imported alabaster, africano, breccia coralline, breccia di Aleppo, breccia di Settebasi, giallo antico, pavonazzetto, and portasanta from Greece, Asia Minor, Tunisia, and Egypt.
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