home   :    Judaea   :   index    :    article by Jona Lendering

King Herod the Great

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
  Herod (73-4 BCE) was the pro-Roman king of the small Jewish state in the last decades before the common era. He started his career as a general, but the Roman statesman Mark Antony recognized him as the Jewish national leader. During a war against the Parthians, Herod was removed from the scene, but the Roman Senate made him king and gave him soldiers to seize the the throne. As 'friend and ally of the Romans' he was not a truly independent king; however, Rome allowed him a domestic policy of his own. Although Herod tried to respect the pious feeling of his subjects, many of them were not content with his rule, which ended in terror. He was succeeded by his sons.
Herod the Great I
Herod the Great II
Herod Archelaus
Herod Antipas
Herod Agrippa
Julius Marcus Agrippa
Map of Judaea after 63 BCE. Design Jona Lendering.
The Roman annexation

Early years

Herod was born 73 BCE as the son of a man from Idumea named Antipater and a woman named Cyprus, the daughter of an Arabian sheik. Antipater was an adherent of Hyrcanus, one of two princes who struggling to become king of Judaea.

In this conflict, the Roman general Pompey intervened in Hyrcanus' favor. Having favored the winning side in the conflict, Antipater's star rose, especially since he cooperated with the Romans as much as possible. In the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar, Hyrcanus and Antipater sided with the latter, for which especially the courtier was rewarded: in 47, he was appointed epitropos ('regent') and received the Roman citizenship.

It was obvious that Antipater was the real power behind Hyrcanus' throne. He managed to secure the appointment of his son Herod to the important task of governor of Galilee. He launched a small crusade against bandits, which made him very popular with the populace and impopular with the Sanhedrin.

On March 15, 44 BCE, Caesar was murdered. The new leaders in Rome were Caesar's nephew Octavian and Caesar's powerful second-in-command Mark Antony. They announced that they would punish Caesar's murderers, Brutus and Cassius, who fled to the East. Cassius ordered all provinces and principalities to pay money for their struggle against Octavian and Mark Antony, and Judaea had to pay some 15,000 kg of silver. Antipater and his sons had to take harsh measures to get the money, and in the ensuing troubles, Antipater was killed. With Roman help, Herod killed his father's murderer.

In 43, Hyrcanus' nephew Antigonus tried to obtain the throne. Herod defeated him, and secured the continuity of the line of Hyrcanus by marrying his daughter Mariamme. Of course, the young man was not blind to the fact that this marriage greatly enhanced his own claim to the throne.

Meanwhile, Octavian and Mark Antony had defeated Brutus and Cassius (at Philippi, in 42). Herod managed to convince Mark Antony, who made a tour through the eastern provinces that had supported Caesar's murderers, that his father had been forced to support their side. The Roman leader was convinced, and awarded Herod with the title of tetrarch of Galilee, a title that was commonly used for the leaders of parts of vassal kingdoms. (Herod's brother Phasael was to be tetrarch of Jerusalem; Hyrcanus remained the Jewish national leader in name only.)

This appointment caused a lot of resentment among the Jews. After all, Herod was not a Jew. He was the son of a man from Idumea; and although Antipater had been a pious man who had worshipped the Jewish God sincerely, the Jews had always looked down upon the Idumeans as racially impure. Worse, Herod had an Arabian mother, and it was commonly held that one could only be a Jew when one was born from a Jewish mother. When war broke out between the Romans and the Parthians (in Iran and Mesopotamia), the Jewish populace joined the latter. In 40, Hyrcanus was taken prisoner and brought to the Parthian capital Babylon; Antigonus became king in his place; Phasael committed suicide.

Herod managed to escape and went to Rome, where he persuaded Octavian and the Senate to order Mark Antony to restore him. And so it happened. After Mark Antony and his lieutenants had driven away the Parthians, Herod was brought back to Jerusalem by two legions, VI Ferrata (whose men had already fought in Gaul and the civil wars) and another legion, perhaps III Gallica (37 BCE). Antigonus was defeated and after he had besieged and captured Jerusalem, and had defeated the last opposition (more), Herod could start his reign as sole ruler of Judaea. He assumed the title of basileus, the highest possible title.


 home   :    Judaea   :   index