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Julius Marcus Agrippa

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Map of Judaea. Design Jona Lendering.
 

The House of Herod: Agrippa II

Julius Marcus Agrippa: oriental king, ruled 48-100. He was the last important descendant of king Herod the Great.

Julius Marcus Agrippa was born in 27 or 28 in Rome was the son of the Jewish prince Herod Agrippa and his wife Cyprus. When his father had to flee from his creditors, the boy visited Palestine for the first time - he must have been five years old. When his father returned to Rome in 36, Julius Marcus and his mother had to stay behind.

The elder Agrippa's career had not been very successful: he had lost his fortune, had gone bankrupt, had fled, had found a job in Galilee (where his uncle Herod Antipas ruled) and had lost this job. When he returned to Rome, he was imprisoned. However, he was released by the new emperor Caligula and made king of the territories that had once been ruled by his uncle Philip. Soon, new provinces were added, and in 41, father Agrippa had reunited the complete kingdom of his grandfather, king Herod the Great.

Herod the Great I
Herod the Great II
Herod Archelaus
Herod Antipas
Philip
Herod Agrippa
Julius Marcus Agrippa
Coin of king Agrippa II.
Agrippa II (!!)

The younger Agrippa was sent back to Rome to finish his studies. He was fourteen years old; and he was sixteen or seventeen when his father died unexpectedly in the summer of 44. Julius Marcus Agrippa was too young to be king and his father's territories became a Roman province.

The Roman government was obliged to offer the disinherited boy a kingdom of his own. In 48, his uncle Herod of Chalcis died, a brother of his father. (Chalcis was an independent town, halfway between Beyrut and Damascus.) It is probable that Julius Marcus Agrippa also was responsible for the temple in Jerusalem: he had the right to appoint the high priest.

He may have stayed in Rome until 53, when the emperor Claudius added the territories that had once been ruled by his father's uncle Philip to his realms: the Golan heights and several adjacent countries. To control him, Claudius appointed a powerful procurator in Samaria and Judaea, Marcus Antonius Felix, the brother of Claudius' adviser Pallas. One year later, Claudius' successor Nero added the city of Tiberias (the capital of Galilee) and parts of Peraea (the east bank of the river Jordan).

The young king took his residence in Jerusalem and Caesarea. In the first city, he enlarged the royal palace and renovated the temple; in the second, he met the Christian apostle Paul in 58. These two towns were also the residences of the Roman governor of Judaea, and they must have cooperated closely. In his own kingdom, he refounded the town Panias and named it after the emperor Nero: Neronias.

In 63, the temple was completed, which caused some unrest among the artisans now unemployed. It was not the only disturbance. Roman taxation had impoverished the working class of Judaea and there was a food shortage. In 65 or 66, the situation escalated, when Marcus Julius Agrippa was in Alexandria; people were killed in a tax riot and the Roman governor Gessius Florus crucified some bystanders. Agrippa's sister Berenice witnessed the atrocities, but was unable to prevent them. Agrippa returned, delivered a speech to dissuaded the Jerusalem populace from revolt, but failed.

War had become inevitable (more) and Agrippa sided with the Romans. Their legions were commanded by Vespasian, a successful commander, who started to reconquer Galilee and Judaea.

In June 68, the Roman attack was slowed down, because the emperor Nero was killed and a new emperor was chosen, Galba. Vespasian sent his son Titus to Rome to congratulate the new ruler; in his company were king Agrippa and queen Berenice, who had become Titus' lover. When they learned that Galba had been killed in January 69, Titus and Berenice went home, but Agrippa continued to Italy, where he witnessed the civil war: he must have met the new emperors Otho and Vitellius, and he must have been in Rome when heard that Vespasian had decided to rebel.

 
Agrippa's palace in Caesarea Philippi. Photo Marco Prins.
Agrippa's palace in Caesarea Philippi


Agrippa hastened home in the first weeks of 70, at the right moment to be present when Titus, who had succeeded his father as commander, attacked Jerusalem. He must have witnessed the destruction of the temple that he had renovated himself.

In 75, Agrippa was back in Rome, where he must have been present when Vespasian inaugurated the Forum of Peace (a public garden in the center of Rome), must have met his wife Berenice, and received new territories in Syria: Arca, east of modern Tripoli.

There was not much left that would have made him a Jewish king: the temple was destroyed, his realm was situated in Syria and only a few of his inhabitants were Jews.

He must have continued to rule for some twenty-five years. An inscribed lead weight found in the neighborhood of Tiberias mentions his forty-third regnal year (i.e., 97/98) and the Byzantine scholar Photius informs us that he has read that Agrippa died in the third year of the Roman emperor Trajan (100). There are indications that he lost some territories after 93, and what remained was incorporated in the Roman empire in 100.

It is unclear whether he left behind a family. Our sources do not mention any children.




Literature

  • The most important ancient source for the rule of king Herod was written by Flavius Josephus: his Jewish Antiquities and his Jewish war.
  • Modern literature: Nikos Kokkinos, The Herodian Dynasty: Origins, Role in Society and Eclipse (1998 Sheffield)




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