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Herod the Great

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37–4 BCE or 1 BCE

4 BC, Jericho


Herod Great

Possibly the Herodium

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Antigonus II Mattathias

Herod Archelaus,Herod Antipas,Philip the Tetrarchand Salome I

DorisMariamne IMariamne IIMalthaceCleopatra of Jerusalem

Antipater IIPrince AlexanderPrince Aristobulus IVPrincess SalampsioHerod IIHerod AntipasHerod ArchelausOlympias the HerodianPrince HerodPhilip

Herod Antipas, Herod Archelaus, Philip the Tetrarch

Mariamne I (m. 38 BC–29 BC), Mariamne II (m. 23 BC–4 BC), Doris (m. ?–4 BC)

Cypros, Antipater the Idumaean

Similar People
Herod Antipas, Herodias, Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, Herod Archelaus

32. Herod the Great

Herod (; Hebrew: הוֹרְדוֹס‎, Hordos, Greek: Ἡρῴδης, Hērōdēs; 74/73 BCE – 4 BCE), also known as Herod the Great and Herod I, was a Roman client king of Judea, referred to as the Herodian kingdom. The history of his legacy has polarized opinion, as he is known for his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including his expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Herod's Temple), 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. 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. Despite his successes, including singlehandedly forging a new aristocracy from practically nothing, he still garnered criticism from various historians. His reign polarizes opinion amongst scholars and historians, some viewing his legacy as evidence of success, or a reminder of his tyrannical rule.


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

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Herod the Great Who Was Herod the Great The BibleMesh Blog

It is generally accepted that Herod was born around 73 BCE in Idumea, south of Judea.. However, some authors think that he was born in about 72/71 BCE. He was the second son of Antipater the Idumaean, a high-ranking official under ethnarch Hyrcanus II, and Cypros, a Nabatean. Herod's father was by descent an Edomite whose ancestors had converted to Judaism. Herod was raised as a Jew.

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A loyal supporter of Hyrcanus II, Antipater appointed his son governor of Galilee in 47 BCE, when Herod was either about 25 or 28 years old. His elder brother, Phasael, was appointed governor of Jerusalem. Herod enjoyed the backing of Rome, but his brutality was condemned by the Sanhedrin.

In 41 BCE, Herod and his brother Phasael were named as tetrarchs by the Roman leader Mark Antony. They were placed in this role to support Hyrcanus II. Later, Antigonus, Hyrcanus' nephew, took the 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. Josephus puts this in the year of the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio (40 BCE), but Appian places it in 39 BCE. 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.

After three years of conflict, Herod and the Romans finally captured Jerusalem and Herod sent Antigonus for execution to Marc Antony. 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 BCE "the Romans accomplished nothing worthy of note" in the area. According to Josephus, Herod ruled for 37 years, 34 of them after capturing Jerusalem.

As Herod's family were converts to Judaism, his religious commitment was questioned by some elements of Jewish society. 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, and many had intermarried with the Jews and adopted their customs. While Herod publicly identified himself as a Jew and was considered as such by some, this religious identification was undermined by the decadent lifestyle of the Herodians, which would have earned them the antipathy of observant Jews.

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

Reign in Judea

Herod's rule marked a new beginning in the history of Judea. Judea had been ruled autonomously by the Hasmonean kings from 140 BCE until 63 BCE. The Hasmoneans retained their titles, but became clients of Rome after the conquest by Pompey in 63 BCE. Herod overthrew the Hasmonean Antigonus in a three-year-long war between 40 and 37 BCE, ruled under Roman overlordship until his death in 4 BCE, and passed on the throne to his sons, thus establishing his own, so-called Herodian dynasty.

Herod was granted the title of "King of Judea" by the Roman Senate. As such, he was a vassal of the Roman Empire, expected to support the interests of his Roman patrons. Not long after he assumed control of Judea, Herod needed to show his worthiness to be king of Judea to the new emperor Augustus (who was still known as Octavian), as he had previously showed support for Augustus' opponent Mark Antony. Herod won the trust of Augustus and continued to rule his people as he saw fit. Despite the freedom afforded to Herod in his internal reign over Judea, restrictions were placed upon him in his foreign policies towards other kingdoms.

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 generally in 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.

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 towards him. He sought to prohibit protests, and had opponents removed by force. He had a bodyguard of 2,000 soldiers. Josephus describes various units of Herod's personal guard taking part in Herod's funeral, including the Doryphnoroi, and a Thracian, Celtic (probably Gallic) and Germanic contingent. While the term Doryphnoroi does not have an ethnic connotation, the unit was probably composed of distinguished veteran soldiers and young men from the most influential Jewish families. Thracians had served in the Jewish armies since the Hasmonean dynasty, while the Celtic contingent were former bodyguards of Cleopatra given as a gift by Augustus to Herod following the Battle of Actium. The Germanic contingent was modeled upon Augustus's personal bodyguard, the Germani Corporis Custodes, responsible for guarding the palace.

Herod spent lavish sums on his various building projects and generous gifts to other kingdoms, including Rome. His buildings were very large, ambitious projects. Herod was responsible for the construction of the Temple Mount, a portion of which remains today as the Western Wall. In addition, Herod also used the latest technology in hydraulic cement and underwater construction to build the harbor at Caesarea. While Herod's zeal for building transformed Judea, his motives were not selfless. Although, he did build fortresses (Masada, Herodium, Alexandrium, Hyrcania, and Machaerus) that he and his family could go to in case of insurrection, all these vast projects were aimed at gaining the support of the Jews and improving his reputation as a leader. While gaining the support for the Jews, Herod also built Sebaste and other pagan cities because he wanted to appeal to the country’s substantial pagan population as well as the Jews. However, in order to fund these expenses, Herod utilized a Hasmonean taxation system that weighed heavily on the Judean people. Despite the economic burden placed by Herod's building projects and gifts, these enterprises also brought employment and opportunities for the people's provision. In some instances, Herod took it upon himself to provide for his people during times of need, such as during a severe famine that occurred in 25 BCE.

Although he made many attempts at conforming to traditional Jewish laws, there were more instances where Herod was insensitive, which constitutes one of the major Jewish complaints towards Herod as highlighted in Jewish Antiquities. In Jerusalem, Herod introduced foreign forms of entertainment, and erected a golden eagle at the entrance of the Temple, which suggested a greater interest in the welfare of Rome than of Jews. Herod's taxes garnered a bad reputation - his constant concern for his reputation led him to make frequent, expensive gifts, increasingly emptying the kingdom's coffers, and such lavish spending upset his Jewish subjects. The two major Jewish sects during his reign, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, both showed opposition to Herod. The Pharisees were angry because Herod disregarded many of their demands for the Temple's construction. At the same time the Sadducees, who were known for their priestly responsibilities in the Temple, opposed Herod because he replaced their high priests with outsiders from Babylonia and Alexandria, in an effort to gain support from the Jewish Diaspora. These efforts proved ineffective, and at the end of Herod's reign, anger and dissatisfaction were common amongst Jews. Heavy outbreaks of violence and riots followed Herod's death in many cities, including Jerusalem, as all the built-up grievances against him were unleashed. The momentum from these revolts led to an increased demand for Jewish freedom from Roman rule. Herod's leadership caused enough anger for it to become a prime cause of the Great Revolt of 70 C.E.

Architectural achievements

Herod's most famous and ambitious project was the expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Herod’s rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem was done so that he would “have a capital city worthy of his dignity and grandeur” and with this reconstruction Herod hoped to gain more support from the Jews. Recent findings suggest that the Temple Mount walls and Robinson's Arch may not have been completed until at least 20 years after his death, during the reign of Herod Agrippa II.

In the 18th year of his reign (20–19 BCE), Herod rebuilt the Temple on "a more magnificent scale". Although work on out-buildings and courts continued for another 80 years, the new Temple was finished in a year and a half. To comply with religious law, Herod employed 1,000 priests as masons and carpenters in the rebuilding. The finished temple, which was destroyed in 70 CE, is sometimes referred to as Herod's Temple. Today, only the four retaining walls remain standing, including the Western Wall. These walls created a flat platform (the Temple Mount) upon which the Temple was then constructed.

Herod's other achievements include the development of water supplies for Jerusalem, building fortresses such as Masada and Herodium, and founding new cities such as Caesarea Maritima and the enclosures of Cave of the Patriarchs and Mamre in Hebron. He and Cleopatra owned a monopoly over the extraction of asphalt from the Dead Sea, which was used in shipbuilding. He leased copper mines on Cyprus from the Roman emperor.


Herod died in Jericho. Based on the work of Emil Schürer in 1896, most scholars have agreed that Herod died at the end of March or early April in 4 BCE. Evidence for the 4 BCE date is provided by the fact that Herod's sons, between whom his kingdom was divided, dated their rule from 4 BCE, and Archelaus apparently also exercised royal authority during Herod's lifetime. Josephus states that Philip the Tetrarch's death took place after a 37-year reign, in the 20th year of Tiberius (34 CE). Other scholars have continued to support the traditional date of 1 BCE. Filmer and Steinmann in particular have thought that Herod was named king by the Roman Senate in 39 BCE, but he died in 1 BCE, and Herod's heirs backdated their reigns to 4 or 3 BCE.

Josephus tells us that Herod died after a lunar eclipse. He gives an account of events between this eclipse and his death, and between his death and Passover. An eclipse took place on March 13, 4 BCE, about 29 days before Passover, and this eclipse is usually taken to be the one referred to by Josephus. There were however three other total eclipses around this time, and there are proponents of both 5 BCE—with two total eclipses, and 1 BCE.

Josephus wrote that Herod's final illness—sometimes named "Herod's Evil"—was excruciating. Based on Josephus' descriptions, one medical expert has diagnosed Herod's cause of death as chronic kidney disease complicated by Fournier's gangrene. Similar symptoms accompanied the death of his grandson Agrippa I in 44 CE.

Modern scholars agree Herod suffered throughout his lifetime from depression and paranoia. Josephus stated that Herod was so concerned that no one would mourn his death, that he commanded a large group of distinguished men to come to Jericho, and he gave an order that they should be killed at the time of his death so that the displays of grief that he craved would take place. Fortunately for them, Herod's son Archelaus and sister Salome did not carry out this wish.

After Herod's death, Augustus divided Herod's kingdom among three of his sons, as was called for by Herod's will. Herod's son Herod Archelaus became ethnarch of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea from 4 BCE to 6 CE, referred to as the tetrarchy of Judea. However, Augustus then judged Archelaus to be incompetent, removing him from power and combining the same provinces (Samaria, Judea proper, and Idumea) into Iudaea province under rule of a prefect until the year 41. As to Herod's other sons, Augustus made Herod Antipas the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea from 4 BCE–39 CE and Philip became tetrarch of territories north and east of the Jordan.

"Suicide" of Herod

Josephus records that the pain of his illness made Herod attempt to kill himself by stabbing, but he was seen and prevented by a cousin. Other much later accounts recorded that Herod had successfully committed suicide, and this was sometimes depicted in medieval art (for example the 12th-century Eadwine Psalter) and drama, although other depictions follow Josephus in making it merely an attempt, as in the Ordo Rachelis.

Herod's tomb

The location of Herod's tomb is documented by Josephus, who writes, "And the body was carried two hundred furlongs, to Herodium, where he had given order to be buried." Professor Ehud Netzer, an archaeologist from the Hebrew University, read the writings of Josephus and focused his search on the vicinity of the pool and its surroundings. An article in the New York Times states,

Lower Herodium consists of the remains of a large palace, a race track, service quarters, and a monumental building whose function is still a mystery. Perhaps, says Ehud Netzer, who excavated the site, it is Herod's mausoleum. Next to it is a pool, almost twice as large as modern Olympic-size pools.

It took thirty-five years for Netzer to identify the exact location, but on May 7, 2007, an Israeli team of archaeologists of Hebrew University, led by Netzer, announced they had discovered the tomb. The site is located at the exact location given by Josephus, atop tunnels and water pools, at a flattened desert site, halfway up the hill to Herodium, 12 kilometers (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem. The tomb contained a broken sarcophagus but no remains of a body.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Gush Etzion Regional Council intend to recreate the tomb out of a light plastic material.

In October 2013, archaeologists Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas challenged the identification of the tomb as that of Herod. According to Patrich and Arubas, the tomb is too modest to be Herod's and has several unlikely features. Roi Porat, who replaced Netzer as excavation leader after the latter's death, stood by the identification.

Opinion of his reign

The study of Herod's reign includes polarizing opinions on the man himself. His critics have described him as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis", "the evil genius of the Judean nation", and as one who would be "prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition." His extraordinary spending spree is cited as one of the causes of the serious impoverishment of the people he ruled, adding to the opinion that his reign was exclusively negative. Herod's religious policies gained a mixed response from the Jewish populace. Although Herod considered himself king of the Jews, he let it be known that he also represented the non-Jews living in Judea, building temples for other religions outside of the Jewish areas of his kingdom. Many Jews questioned the authenticity of Herod's Judaism on account of his Idumean background and his infamous murders of members of his family. However, he generally respected traditional Jewish observances in his public life. For instance, he minted coins without human images to be used in Jewish areas and acknowledged the sanctity of the Second Temple by employing priests in the construction of the Temple.

However, he was also praised for his work, being called "the greatest builder in Jewish history," and one who "knew his place and followed [the] rules." In fact, what is left of his building ventures are now popular tourist attractions in the Middle East, which many have come to cherish as both a historical and religious area.

30s BCE

  • 39–37 BCE – Roman war against Antigonus. After the conquest of Jerusalem and victory over Antigonus, Mark Antony executes him.
  • 36 BCE – Herod makes his 17-year-old brother-in-law, Aristobulus III, high priest, fearing that the Jews would appoint Aristobulus III as "King of the Jews" in his place.
  • 35 BCE – Aristobulus III is drowned at a party on Herod's orders.
  • 32 BCE – The war against Nabatea begins, with victory one year later.
  • 31 BCE – Judea suffers a devastating earthquake. Octavian defeats Mark Antony, so Herod switches allegiance to Octavian, later known as Augustus.
  • 30 BCE – Herod is shown great favor by Octavian, who at Rhodes confirms him as King of Judea.
  • 20s BCE

  • 29 BCE – Josephus writes that Herod had great passion and also great jealousy concerning his wife, Mariamne I. She learns of Herod's plans to murder her, and stops sleeping with him. Herod puts her on trial on a charge of adultery. His sister, Salome I, was chief witness against her. Mariamne I's mother Alexandra made an appearance and incriminated her own daughter. Historians say her mother was next on Herod's list to be executed and did this only to save her own life. Mariamne was executed, and Alexandra declared herself Queen, stating that Herod was mentally unfit to serve. Josephus wrote that this was Alexandra's strategic mistake; Herod executed her without trial.
  • 28 BCE – Herod executed his brother-in-law Kostobar (husband of Salome, father to Berenice) for conspiracy. Large festival in Jerusalem, as Herod had built a theatre and an amphitheatre.
  • 27 BCE – An assassination attempt on Herod was foiled. To honor Augustus, Herod rebuilt Samaria and renamed it Sebaste.
  • 25 BCE – Herod imported grain from Egypt and started an aid program to combat the widespread hunger and disease that followed a massive drought. He also waives a third of the taxes. Herod began construction on Caesarea Maritima and its harbor.
  • 23 BCE – Herod built a palace in Jerusalem and the fortress Herodion (Herodium) in Judea. He married his third wife, Mariamne II, the daughter of the priest Simon Boethus; immediately Herodes deprived Jesus the son of Phabet of the high priesthood and conferred that dignity on Simon.
  • 22 BCE – The Roman emperor Augustus granted him the regions Trachonitis, Batanaea, and Auranitis to the northeast.
  • Circa 20 BCE – Expansion started on the Temple Mount; Herod completely rebuilt the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
  • 10s BCE

  • Circa 18 BCE – Herod traveled for the second time to Rome.
  • 14 BCE – Herod supported the Jews in Anatolia and Cyrene. Owing to the prosperity in Judaea he waived a quarter of the taxes.
  • 13 BCE – Herod made his first-born son Antipater (his son by Doris) first heir in his will.
  • 12 BCE – Herod suspected his sons from his marriage to Mariamne I, Alexander and Aristobulus, of threatening his life. He took them to Aquileia to be tried. Augustus reconciled the three. Herod supported the financially strapped Olympic Games and ensured their future. Herod amended his will so that Alexander and Aristobulus rose in the royal succession, but Antipater would be higher in the succession.
  • Circa 10 BCE – The newly expanded temple in Jerusalem was inaugurated. War against the Nabateans began.
  • First decade BCE

  • 9 BCE –Caesarea Maritima was inaugurated. Owing to the course of the war against the Nabateans, Herod fell into disgrace with Augustus. Herod again suspected Alexander of plotting to kill him.
  • 8 BCE – Herod accused his sons Alexander and Aristobulus of high treason. Herod reconciled with Augustus, who also gave him the permission to proceed legally against his sons.
  • 7 BCE – The court hearing took place in Berytos (Beirut) before a Roman court. His sons Alexander and Aristobulus were found guilty and executed. The succession changed so that Antipater was the exclusive successor to the throne. In second place the succession incorporated (Herod) Philip, his son by Mariamne II.
  • 6 BCE – Herod proceeded against the Pharisees.
  • 5 BCE – Antipater was brought before the court charged with the intended murder of Herod. Herod, by now seriously ill, named his son (Herod) Antipas (from his fourth marriage with Malthace) as his successor.
  • 4 BCE – Young disciples smashed the golden eagle over the main entrance of the Temple of Jerusalem after the Pharisee teachers claimed it was an idolatrous Roman symbol. Herod arrested them, brought them to court, and sentenced them. Augustus approved the death penalty for Antipater. Herod then executed his son, and again changed his will: Archelaus (from the marriage with Malthace) would rule as ethnarch over the tetrachy of Judea, while Antipas (by Malthace) and Philip (from the fifth marriage with Cleopatra of Jerusalem) would rule as tetrarchs over Galilee and Peraea (Transjordan), also over Gaulanitis (Golan), Trachonitis (Hebrew: Argob), Batanaea (now Ard-el-Bathanyeh) and Panias. Salome I was also given a small toparchy in the Gaza region. As Augustus did not confirm his will, no one received the title of King; however, the three sons were granted rule of the stated territories.
  • Wives and children

    It is very probable that Herod had more children, especially with the last wives, and also that he had more daughters, as female births at that time were often not recorded.


    F=Olinivvia II

    "Cypros II". Calmets Great dictionary of the holy bible. 1812. p. 340. Image of p. 340 at Google Books ‡ Family Tree of Herod


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