Herod the Great

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Roman client king of Judea
Reign37–4 BCE (Schürer)
36–1 BCE (Filmer)[1]
PredecessorAntigonus II Mattathias (as King of Judea)
Bornc. 72 BCE
Idumea, Hasmonean Judea
DiedMarch–April 4 BCE (Schürer) or January–April 1 BCE (Filmer)
Jericho, Judea
Most likely the Herodium
FatherAntipater the Idumaean
ReligionSecond Temple Judaism

Herod I (/ˈhɛrəd/; Hebrew: הוֹרְדוֹס, Modern: Hōrdōs, Tiberian: Hōrəḏōs; Greek: Ἡρῴδης Hērṓidēs; c. 72 – 4 or 1 BCE), also known as Herod the Great, was a Roman Jewish client king of Judea,[2][3][4] referred to as the Herodian kingdom. He is known for his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including his renovation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the expansion of the Temple Mount towards its north,[5] the enclosure around the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada, and Herodium. Vital details of his life are recorded in the works of the 1st century CE Roman–Jewish historian Josephus.[6]

Herod also appears in the Christian Gospel of Matthew as the ruler of Judea who orders the Massacre of the Innocents at the time of the birth of Jesus, although most Herod biographers do not believe that this event occurred.[7] Despite his successes, including singlehandedly forging a new aristocracy from practically nothing,[8] he has still been criticised by various historians. His reign polarizes opinion among historians, some viewing his legacy as evidence of success, and some viewing it as a reminder of his tyrannical rule.[6]

Upon Herod's death, the Romans divided his kingdom among three of his sons and his sister: Herod Archelaus became ethnarch of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea; Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea; Philip became tetrarch of territories north and east of the Jordan River; and Salome I was given a toparchy including the cities of Jabneh, Ashdod, and Phasaelis.


Herod was born around 72 BCE[9] in Idumea, south of Judea.[10] He was the second son of Antipater the Idumaean, a high-ranking official under ethnarch Hyrcanus II, and Cypros, a Nabatean Arab princess from Petra (in present-day Jordan). Herod's father was by descent an Edomite with a Jewish mother; his ancestors had converted to Judaism. Herod was raised as a Jew.[11][12][13][14][15][16] Strabo, a contemporary of Herod, held that the Idumaeans, whom he identified as of Nabataean origin, constituted the majority of the population of western Judea, where they commingled with the Judaeans and adopted their customs.[17] This is a view shared also by some modern scholarly works which consider Idumaeans as of Arab or Nabataean origins.[18][19][20][21] Thus Herod's ethnic background was Arab on both sides of his family.[12][11]

Herod rose to power largely through his father's good relations with the Roman general and dictator Julius Caesar, who entrusted Antipater with the public affairs of Judea.[22] Herod was appointed provincial governor of Galilee in c. 47 BCE when Herod was about either 25 or 28 years old (Greek original: "15 years of age").[23] There he faithfully farmed the taxes of that region for the Roman Senate, and he met with success in ridding that region of bandits.[24][25] Antipater's elder son, Phasael, served in the same capacity as governor of Jerusalem. During this time the young Herod cultivated a good relationship with Sextus Caesar, the acting Roman governor of Syria, who appointed Herod as general of Coelesyria and Samaria, greatly expanding his realm of influence.[26] He enjoyed the backing of Rome, but the Sanhedrin condemned his brutality.[27] When yet a private man, Herod had determined to punish Hyrcanus the Hasmonean king, who had once summoned Herod to stand trial for murder, but Herod was restrained from doing so by the intervention of his father and his elder brother.

In 41 BCE the Roman leader Mark Antony named Herod and his brother Phasael as tetrarchs. They were placed in this role to support Hyrcanus II. In 40 BCE Antigonus, Hyrcanus' nephew, took the Judean throne from his uncle with the help of the Parthians. Herod fled to Rome to plead with the Romans to restore Hyrcanus II to power. The Romans had a special interest in Judea because their general Pompey the Great had conquered Jerusalem in 63 BCE, thus placing the region in the Roman sphere of influence. In Rome, Herod was unexpectedly appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate.[28] Josephus puts this in the year of the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio (40 BCE), but Appian places it in 39 BCE.[1] Herod went back to Judea to win his kingdom from Antigonus. Toward the end of the campaign against Antigonus, Herod married the granddaughter of Hyrcanus II, Mariamne (known as Mariamne I), who was also a niece of Antigonus. Herod did this in an attempt to secure his claim to the throne and gain some Jewish favor. However, Herod already had a wife, Doris, and a young son, Antipater, and chose therefore to banish Doris and her child.

Herod and Sosius, the governor of Syria, at the behest of Mark Antony, set out with a large army in 37 BCE and captured Jerusalem, Herod then sending Antigonus for execution to Mark Antony.[29] From this moment, Herod took the role as sole ruler of Judea and the title of basileus (Βασιλεύς, "king") for himself, ushering in the Herodian dynasty and ending the Hasmonean Dynasty. Josephus reports this as being in the year of the consulship of Agrippa and Gallus (37 BCE), but also says that it was exactly 27 years after Jerusalem fell to Pompey, which would indicate 36 BCE. Cassius Dio also reports that in 37 "the Romans accomplished nothing worthy of note" in the area.[30] According to Josephus, Herod ruled for 37 years, 34 of them after capturing Jerusalem.

As some believe Herod's family were converts to Judaism, his religious commitment was questioned by some elements of Jewish society.[31] When John Hyrcanus conquered the region of Idumaea (the Edom of the Hebrew Bible) in 140–130 BCE, he required all Idumaeans to obey Jewish law or to leave; most Idumaeans thus converted to Judaism, which meant that they had to be circumcised,[32] and many had intermarried with the Jews and adopted their customs.[33] While Herod publicly identified himself as a Jew and was considered as such by some,[34] this religious identification was undermined by the decadent lifestyle of the Herodians, which would have earned them the antipathy of observant Jews.[35]

Herod later executed several members of his own family, including his wife Mariamne I.[16]

Reign in Judea

Herod's rule marked a new beginning in the history of Judea. Judea had been ruled autonomously by the

Copper coin of Herod, bearing the legend "ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΗΡΩΔΟΥ" ("Basileōs Hērōdou") on the obverse

Herod was granted the title of "King of Judea" by the Roman Senate.[36] As such, he was a vassal of the Roman Empire, expected to support the interests of his Roman patrons. Nonetheless, just when Herod obtained leadership in Judea, his rule faced two threats. The first threat came from his mother-in-law Alexandra, who sought to regain power for her family, the Hasmoneans,[37] whose dynasty Herod had overthrown in 37 BCE (see Siege of Jerusalem).[38] In the same year, Cleopatra married the Roman leader Antony.[39] Recognizing Cleopatra's influence over Antony, Alexandra asked Cleopatra for aid in making Aristobulus III the High Priest.[37] As a member of the Hasmonean family, Aristobulus III might partially repair the fortunes of the Hasmoneans if made High Priest.[37] Alexandra's request was made, but Cleopatra urged Alexandra to leave Judea with Aristobulus III and visit Antony.[40] Herod received word of this plot, and feared that if Antony met Aristobolus III in person he might name Aristobulus III King of Judea.[40] This concern induced Herod, in 35 BCE, to order the assassination of Aristobulus, ending this first threat to Herod's throne.[41] The marriage of 37 BCE also sparked a power struggle between Roman leaders Octavian, who would later be called Augustus, and Antony.[39] Herod, owing his throne to Rome, had to pick a side, and he chose Antony.[42] In 31 at Actium, Antony lost to Octavian, posing a second threat to Herod's rule.[43] Herod had to regain Octavian's support if he was to keep his throne.[42] At Rhodes in 31 BCE, Herod, through his ability to keep Judea open to Rome as a link to the wealth of Syria and Egypt, and ability to defend the frontier, convinced Octavian that he would be loyal to him.[44][45][2] Herod continued to rule his subjects as he saw fit. Despite the autonomy afforded to Herod in his internal reign over Judea, restrictions were placed upon him in his relations with other kingdoms.[46]

Herod's support from the Roman Empire was a major factor in enabling him to maintain his authority over Judea. There have been mixed interpretations concerning Herod's popularity during his reign. In The Jewish War, Josephus characterizes Herod's rule in generally favorable terms, and gives Herod the benefit of the doubt for the infamous events that took place during his reign. However, in his later work, Jewish Antiquities, Josephus emphasizes the tyrannical authority that many scholars have come to associate with Herod's reign.[47]

Herod's despotic rule has been demonstrated by many of his security measures aimed at suppressing the contempt his people, especially Jews, had towards him. For instance, it has been suggested that Herod used secret police to monitor and report the feelings of the general populace toward him. He sought to prohibit protests, and had opponents removed by force.