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HYRCANIA , a Judean fortress. Hyrcania was probably built by the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus and named after him. Josephus relates that Queen *Salome Alexandra stored her treasures there (Jos., Ant., 13:417). It was one of the strongholds held by the Jews who fought against Rome after Pompey's conquest (63 b.c.e.) and was occupied by Alexander the son of Aristobulus ii (Wars, 1:161, 167). Herod took Hyrcania from the sister of Antigonus (ibid., 1:364) and turned it into one of the principal fortresses of his realm. It was one of the places which he showed to Marcus *Agrippa during his visit in 14 b.c.e (Ant., 16:13). Herod used the fortress as a prison and as the place where opponents of his kingdom were executed (ibid., 15:366). His son Antipater was buried there after his execution (ibid., 17:187; Wars, 1:664). After Herod's death, Hyrcania seems to have lost its importance as it is not mentioned in the history of the Jewish War (66–70/73). Since 1897 Hyrcania has been identified with Khirbet al-Mird, a prominent hill in the Judean Desert 9 mi. (15 km.) southeast of Jerusalem, on the way leading to the Buqeaʿ Plain and the Jordan Valley. In 492 c.e. a monastery called Castellion was established there – one of those headed by St. Saba – and it was in existence until the ninth century. Excavations at the site in 1961 uncovered early Christian papyri and the remains of buildings and an aqueduct probably of Hasmonean date. Previously in 1960 during a survey at the site under the direction of J.M. Allegro, who was leading the Copper Scroll Expedition, two rock-cut tunnels were identified in Wadi Secaca next to Hyrcania. Between 2000 and 2005 excavations were conducted within these tunnels by O. Gutfeld on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The western tunnel is situated about 525 ft. (160 m.) below the summit of Hyrcania, and it was cut in soft Senonian limestone to the height of a person, a few meters above the riverbed. Steps descended into the heart of the mountain at a sharp angle (56.5 degrees). The interior of the tunnel was lit with lamps placed in niches. The tunnel narrows and widens at different points and, eventually, it separates into two branches extending for at least 55 ft. (17 m.). The eastern stepped tunnel is situated not far from the western tunnel (250 ft. (75 m.) away) and it was cut into rock about 3 feet (1 m.) above the riverbed. A stretch of 120 ft. (36 m.) has so far been cleared. These mysterious tunnels were clearly hewn as part of some royal or public enterprise, but apart from the discovery of a small quantity of Iron Age and Second Temple period potsherds, no other finds were made that could shed light on the date of these tunnels. Because of the proximity of these impressive tunnels to Hyrcania and to a Herodian-period cemetery, the working assumption is that they date from the Second Temple period.


Rhetore, in: rb, 6 (1897), 462; Schick, in: zdpv, 3 (1880), 19ff.; Van Kastfren, ibid., 13 (1890), 110; Ploeger, ibid., 71 (1955), 148ff.; Mader in: jpos, 9 (1929), 122ff.; idem, in: Oriens Christianus, 12 (1937), 27ff., 192 (Ger.); Wright, in: Biblica, 42 (1961), 1ff. (Eng.); Milik, ibid., 21ff. (Eng.).

[Michael Avi-Yonah /

Oren Gutfeld (2nd ed.)]