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Hero'des I. or Hero'd the Great or Hero'des Magnus

Ἡρώδης), surnamed the GREAT, of the Jews. He was the second son of Antipater, and consequently of Idumaean oriogin. [See Vol. I. p. 202.] When, in B. C. 47, his fatheir was appointed by Julius Caesar procurator of Judaea, the young Herod, though only fifteen years of age, obtained the important post of governor of Galilee. In this situation he quickly gave proof of his energetic and vigorous character, by repressing the bands of robbers which at that time infested the province, the leaders of whom he put to death. But the distinction he thus obtained excited the envy of the opposite party, and he was brought to trial before the sanhedrim, for having put to death Jewish citizens without trial. He presented himself before his judges in the most arrogant manner, clad in a purple robe, and attended by a guard of armed men; but becoming apprehensive of an unfavourable decision, he departed secretly from Jerusalem, and took refuge with Sex. Caesar, the Roman governor of Syria, by whom he was received with the utmost favour, and shortly after appointed to the government of Coele-Syria. Of this he immediately availed himself to levy an army and march against Jerusalem, with the view of expelling Hyrcanus and the party opposed to him, but the entreaties of his father Antipater and his brother Phasael induced him to withdraw without effecting his purpose.

These events took place in B. C. 46. Not long after, Sex. Caesar being put to death by Caecilius Bassus, Antistius, the Roman general in command in Cilicia, collected a large force, with which he marched against Bassus, and blockaded him in Apameia. Herod and his brother united their forces with those of Antistius, but notwithstanding the subsequent arrival and co-operation of Statius Murcus, the war was protracted until after the death of Caesar, when Cassius Longinus arrived in Syria (B. C. 43), and terminated the war by conciliation. Herod quickly rose to a high place in the favour of Cassius, which he gained particularly by the readiness with which he raised the heavy tribute imposed on his province: he was confirmed in the government of Coele-Syria, and placed at the head of a large force both by sea and land. Meanwhile, his father Antipater was poisoned by Malichus, whose life he had twice saved. Herod at first pretended to believe the exeuses of Malichus, and to be reconciled to him, but soon took an opportunity to cause him to be assassinated near Tyre. As soon as Cassius had quitted Syria, the friends and partisans of Malichus sought to avenge his death by the expulsion of Herod and Phasael from Jerusalem, but the latter were triumphant; they succeeded in expelling the insurgents, with their leader, Felix, and even in defeating Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus, who had invaded Judaea with a large army. The pretensions of Antigonus to the throne of Judaea were supported by Marion, king of Tyre, and by Ptolemy Menneus, prince of Chalcis; but Herod soon obtained a far more powerful auxiliary in the person of Antony, who arrived in Syria in B. C. 4 1, and whose favour he hastened to secure, by the most valuable presents. The aged Hyrcanus also, who had betrothed his grand-daughter Mariamne to the young Herod, threw all his influence into the scale in favour of him and his brother Phasael; and it was at his request that Antony appointed the two brothers tetrarchs of Judaea. Their power now seemed established, but the next year (B. C. 40) brought with it a complete revolution in the state of affairs. The exactions of the Roman governors in Syria had excited general discontent, of which the Parthians took advantage, to invade the country with a large army under Pacorus, the king's son, and the Roman general, Labienus. They quickly made themselves masters not only of all Syria, but great part of Asia Minor, when Antigonus invoked their assistance to establish him on the throne of Judaea. Pacorus sent a powerful army, under Barzapharnes, against Jerusalem, and Herod and Phasael, unable to meet the enemy in the field, or even to prevent their entrance into Jerusalem, took refuge in the strong fortress of Baris. Phasael soon after suffered himself to be deluded by a pretended negotiation, and was made prisoner by the Parthians, but Herod effected his escape in safety, with his family and treasures, to the strong fortress of Masada, on the shores of the Dead Sea. Here he left a strong garrison, while he himself hastened to Petra to obtain the assistance of the Arabian king Malchus, on whose support he reckoned with confidence. But Malchus proved false in the hour of need, and refused to receive him; on which Herod, dismissing the greater part of his followers, hastened with a small band to Pelusium, and from thence to Alexandria, where he embarked at once for Rome. On his arrival in that capital, he was received with the utmost distinction both by Antony and Octavian, between whom a reconciliation had just been effected. Antony was at the time preparing to take the field against the Parthians, and foresaw in Herod an useful ally; hence he obtained a decree of the senate in his favour, which went beyond his own most sanguine hopes, as it constituted him at once king of Judaea, passing over the remaining heirs of the Asmonean line. (J. AJ 14.9, 11-14, B. Jud. 1.10-14; D. C. 48.26; Appian, App. BC 5.75.)

It was before the close of the year 40 that Herod obtained this unexpected elevation. So quickly had the whole matter been transacted, that he was able to leave Rome again only seven days after he arrived there, and sailing directly to Syria, landed at Ptolemais within three months from the time he had first fled from Jerusalem. He quickly assembled an army, with which he conquered the greater part of Galilee, raised the siege of Masada, took the strong fortress of Ressa, and then, in conjunction with the Roman general Silo, laid siege to Jerusalem. But, rapid as his progress was at first, it was long before he could complete the establishment of his power; and the war was protracted for several years, a circumstance owing in part to the jealousy or corruption of the Roman generals appointed to co-operate with him. The Jews within the city appear to have been strongly attached to Antigonus, as the representative of the popular line of the Asmonean princes, and they held out firmly. Even when, in B. C. 37, Herod at length obtained vigorous assistance from Antony's lieutenant, Sosius, at the head of a regular army of Roman troops, it was only by hard fighting and with heavy loss that they were able to carry in succession the several lines of wall that surrounded the city, and it was with still more difficulty that Herod was able to purchase from the Roman soldiery the freedom from pillage of a part at least of his capital. (J. AJ 14.15, 16, B. J. 1.15-18; D. C. 49.22.) This long and sanguinary struggle had naturally irritated the minds of the people against him; and his first measures, when he found himself in secure possession of the sovereignty, were certainly not well calculated to conciliate them. All the members of the sanhedrim, except two, were put to death, and executions were continually taking place of all those persons who had taken an active part against him. These severities were prompted not only by vengeance but cupidity, for the purpose of confiscating their wealth, as Herod sought to amass treasures by every means in his power, for the purpose of securing the favour of Antony by the most lavish presents. He was indeed not without cause for apprehension. Immediately on his becoming master of Jerusalem, he had bestowed the high-priesthood (vacant by the death of Antigonus, whom Antony, at the instigation of Herod, had executed like a common malefactor) upon an obscure priest from Babylon, named Ananel, and by this measure had given bitter offence to Alexandra, the mother of his wife Mariamne, who regarded that dignity as belonging of right to her son Aristobulus, a youth of sixteen, and the last male descendant of the Asmonean race. Alexandra sought support for her cause by entering into secret correspondence with Cleopatra, whose influence with Antony rendered her at this time all-powerful in the East; and this potent influence, united with the constant entreaties of his beloved wife Mariamne, compelled Herod to depose Ananel, and bestow the highpriesthood upon Aristobulus. But the continued intrigues of Alexandra, and the growing popularity of the young man himself, so alarmed the jealousy of Herod, that he contrived to effect his secret assassination, in a manner that enabled him to disclaim all participation in the scheme. (J. AJ 15.1-3.) But the mind of Cleopatra was alienated from him, not only by the representations of Alexandra, but by her own desire to annex the dominions of Herod to her own, and it was with difficulty that the king could make head against her influence. Antony, however, resisted all her entreaties; and though he summoned Herod to meet him at Laodiceia, and give an account of his conduct towards Aristobulus, he dismissed him with the highest honours. Cleopatra herself, on her return from the Euphrates, whither she had attended Antony, passed through Judaea, and visited Herod, who received her with the utmost distinction, and even accompanied her as far as the confines of Egypt, but successfully avoided all her snares. (Id. 15.4.)

Hostilities soon after broke out between Antony and Octavian. Herod had assembled a large force, with which he was preparing to join Antony, when he received orders from that general to turn his arms against Malchus, king of Arabia, who had refused payment of the appointed tribute to Cleopatra: and these hostilities (which appear to have occupied the greater part of two years) fortunately prevented him from taking any personal part in the civil war. Still, when the battle of Actium had decided the fortunes of the Eastern world, Herod could not but feel his position to be one of much danger, from his well-known attachment to the cause of Antony. Under these circumstances, he adopted the daring resolution of proceeding at once in person to meet Caesar at Rhodes, and not only avowing, but dwelling upon, the warmth of his attachment to Antony, and the great services he had rendered him, so long as it was possible to do so: concluding that Caesar might thence learn the value and steadiness of the friendship which he now offered him. By this magnanimous conduct, he completely secured the favour of Octavian, who not only confirmed him in the possession of Judaea, but on his return from Egypt in the following year (B. C. 30), extended his dominions by the restitution of some districts which had been assigned by Antony to Cleopatra, and by the addition of Gadara and Samaria, as well as Gaza, Joppa, and other cities on the sea-coast. (J. AJ 15.5. 6, 7. § 3, B. J. 1.19, 20; comp. Plut. Ant. 72; Tac. Hist. 5.9; Strab. xvi. p.765.) Just before he had proceeded to Rhodes, Herod had thought fit to remove the only person whom he could any longer regard as in any degree a competitor for his throne, by putting to death the aged and feeble Hyrcanus, on a charge, real or pretended, of treasonable correspondence with Malchus, king of Arabia. Thus secured in the possession of an ample sovereignty, and supported by the favour of one who was now undisputed master of the world, Herod was apparently at the highest summit of prosperity. But his happiness was now clouded by a dark domestic calamity, which threw a shade over the whole of his remaining life. He was passionately attached to his beautiful wife, Mariamne; but with a strange and barbarous jealousy, he had left orders, when he repaired to meet Antony at Laodiceia, in B. C. 34, that in case of his falling a victim to the machinations of his enemies, Mariamne should be immediately put to death, to prevent her falling into the hands of Antony. The same savage command was repeated when he went to Rhodes to meet Octavian: on both occasions the fact became known to Mariamne, and naturally alienated her mind from her cruel husband. Her resentment was inflamed by her mother, Alexandra, while Cypros and Salome, the mother and sister of Herod, did their utmost to excite his suspicions against Mariamne. The king was at length induced to bring her to trial on a charge of adultery; and the judges having condemned her, he reluctantly consented to her execution. But his passion appears to have been unabated; and so violent were his grief and remorse, that he was for a long time on the verge of insanity, and was attacked by so violent a fever, that his life was despaired of. He recovered at length, but his temper was henceforth so gloomy and ferocious, that the slightest suspicion would lead him to order the execution even of his best friends. Immediately after his recovery he put to death Alexandra, whose restless ambition had been intriguing to obtain possession of Jerusalem, in case of his death: and not long afterwards, at the instigation of his sister, Salome, he ordered the execution of her husband, Costobarus, together with several of his own most intimate friends and counsellors. (J. AJ 15.3.5-9, 7, B. J. 1.22.)

But Herod's domestic calamities did not in any degree affect the splendour either external or internal of his administration. He continued to cultivate with assiduity the all-important friendship of Augustus, as well as that of his prime minister and counsellor Agrippa, and enjoyed throughout the remainder of his life the highest favour both of the one and the other. Nor were his services ever wanting when called for. In B. C. 25 he sent a chosen force to the assistance of Aelius Gallus, in his expedition into Arabia; and in B. C. 17, after having received Agrippa with the utmost honour at Jerusalem, he set out himself early in the following spring with a powerful fleet to join him in his expedition to the Bosporus and the interior of the Euxine Sea. For this ready zeal, he was rewarded by obtaining, without difficulty, almost all that he could ask at the hands of Augustus; and when the latter, in B. C. 20, visited Judaea in person, he not only refused to listen to the complaints of his subjects and neighbours against Herod, but increased his dominions by the addition of the district of Paneas, as he previously had by those of Ituraea ard Trachonitis. (J. AJ 15.10.1-3, B. J. 1.21.4; D. C. 54.9.) Herod displayed his gratitude for this new favour by erecting at Paneas itself a magnificent temple of white marble, which he dedicated to Augustus. It was indeed by costly and splendid public works that he loved above all to display his power and magnificence: nor did he fail to avail himself of these opportunities of flattering the pride of the Roman emperor by the most lasting as well as conspicuous compliments. Thus he rebuilt the city of Samaria, which had been destroyed by Joannes Hyrcanus, and bestowed on it the name of Sebaste; while he converted a small town on the sea-coast, called the Tower of Straton, into a magnificent city, with an artificial port, on a scale of the utmost grandeur, to which he gave the name of Caesareia. And not only did he adorn these new cities with temples, theatres, gymnasia, and other buildings in the Greek style, but he even ventured to erect a theatre at Jerusalem itself, and an amphitheatre without the walls, in which he exhibited combats of wild beasts and gladiators, according to the Roman fashion. But these innovations naturally gave the deepest offence to the Jewish people: a conspiracy was formed against the king by ten persons, who attempted to assassinate him in the theatre: and though, after the discovery of this plot, we hear no more of any distinct attempts upon the life of Herod, he was obliged to guard himself against the increasing spirit of disaffection, not only by the employment of numerous spies and secret agents, and by prohibiting all unusual assemblages, but by the construction of several fortresses or citadels around the city of Jerusalem itself, by which means he sought to hem in the populace on all sides, and prevent any possibility of an outbreak. The most remarkable of these forts was that called Antonia, in the immediate neighbourhood of the temple: another of them, called the Hyrcania, was converted into a prison, into which all persons who incurred his suspicions were hurried at once, without form of trial, and from whence they never again appeared. At the same time we find him repeatedly endeavouring to conciliate his subjects by acts of munificence and liberality, in all of which we discern the same spirit of ostentatious grandeur which appears to have been so deeply implanted in his character. Thus, on occasion of a great famine, which afflicted Judaea, as well as all the neighbouring countries, he at once opened the hoards of his treasury, brought up vast quantities of corn from Egypt, and not only fed the whole mass of the population at his own cost, but supplied many of the neighbouring provinces with seed corn for the next harvest. (J. AJ 15.9.) More than once also we find him remitting a great part of the heavy taxation, which was usually paid by his subjects. Yet these occasional acts of indulgence could but imperfectly compensate for the general arbitrary and oppressive character of his government: and the magnificence displayed in his public works, far from conciliating the minds of his subjects, served only to increase their mistrust and disaffection, as a proof of his leaning towards an idolatrous religion. In order, if possible, to dispel this feeling, he at length determined on the great work of rebuilding the temple of Jerusalem itself, which, on account of its being frequently used as a fortress. had suffered much during the late wars. The porticoes and the inner temple itself were completed in nine years and a half; but it appears that the whole structure was not finished until long after the death of Herod. (J. AJ 15.11, 20.9.7, B. J. 1.21.1.) Nor was it only in his own dominions that Herod loved to give proofs of his wealth and munificence: he also adorned the cities of Tripolis, Damascus, Berytus, and many others not subject to his rule, with theatres, porticoes, and other splendid edifices. On his voyage to join Agrippa in Greece, he gave large sums of money to the cities of Mytilene and Chios for the repair of their public buildings; and in B. C. 18, having touched in Greece, on his way to Rome, he not only presided in person at the Olympic games, but gave such large sums towards the revival of that solemnity, that he was honoured with the title of its perpetual president. (J. AJ 16.2.2, B. J. 1.21. §§ 11, 12.)

Herod had the singular good fortune to rule over his dominions during a period of near thirty years, from his confirmation on the throne by Augustus till his death, undisturbed by a single war, foreign or domestic; for the occasional hostilities with the robbers of Trachonitis, or the Arab chiefs that supported them, scarcely deserve the name. Once only, during his temporary absence from Syria, did these plundering tribes ravage Judaea to a considerable extent, but they were repressed immediately on his return. But the more prosperous appears the condition of Herod as a sovereign, whether we regard his internal policy or his external relations, the darker shows the reverse of the picture when we look to the long series of domestic tragedies that mark the latter years of his reign. Into the details of this complicated tissue of crimes and intrigues it is impossible for us here to enter: they are given by Josephus (our sole authority) with a circumstantial minuteness, that naturally leads us to inquire whence his knowledge was derived,--a question which we have unfortunately no means of answering. A lively abridgment of his picturesque narrative will be found in Milman's History of the Jews, vol. ii. book xi. A very brief outline is all that can be here given.

In B. C. 18, Herod paid a visit to Rome in person, where he was received with the utmost distinction by Augustus. When he returned to Judaea, he took with him Alexander and Aristobulus, his two sons by the unfortunate Mariamne, whom he had previously sent to Rome to be brought up at the court of Augustus. Having thus reccived an excellent education, and being just in the prime of their youth, the two young men quickly attained the greatest popularity, and enjoyed especial favour of Herod himself. Among other marks of this, he married Alexander to the daughter of Archelaus, king of Cappadocia, and Aristobulus to Berenice, the daughter of his sister Salome. But the favour of the young princes excited the envy of Pheroras and Salome, the brother and sister of Herod, who contrived to poison the mind of the king against his two sons. In an evil hour Herod was induced to recal to his court Antipater, his son by a former wife, Doris; and this envious and designing man immediately set to work, not only to supplant, but destroy, his two brothers. So far did the combined artifices of Antipater, Salome, and Pheroras succeed in working upon the mind of Herod, that in B. C. 11, he took the two princes with him to Aquileia, where Augustus then was, and accused them before the emperor of designs upon the life of their father. But the charge was manifestly groundless, and Augustus succeeded in bringing about a reconciliation for a time. This, however, did not last long: the enemies of the young princes again obtained the ascendancy, and three years afterwards Herod was led to believe that Alexander had formed a conspiracy to poison him. On this charge he put to death and tortured many of the friends and associates of the young prince. Alexander, in return, accused Pheroras and Salome of designs upon the life of Herod; and the whole court was in confusion, when the intervention of Archelaus, king of Cappadocia, once more effected a reconciliation. A third attempt of Antipater was more successful: by the instrumentality of Eurycles, a Lacedaemonian, at that time resident at the court of Herod, he brought a fresh accusation against Alexander and his brother; to which the king lent a willing ear, and having first obtained the consent of Augustus, Herod brought his two sons to a mock trial at Berytus, where they were condemned without being even heard in their defence, and soon after put to death at Sebaste, B. C. 6. But the execution of these unhappy youths was far from removing all the elements of discord within the house of Herod. Repeated dissensions had arisen between him and his brother Pheroras, whom he at length ordered to withdraw into his own tetrarchy of Peraea. Here he soon after died: his widow was accused of having poisoned him, and the investigations consequent upon this charge led to the discovery of a more important conspiracy, which had been formed by Antipater and Pheroras in concert, against the life of Herod himself. Antipater was at the time absent at Rome: he was allowed to return to Judaea without suspicion, when he was immediately seized, brought to trial before Quintilius Varus, the Roman governor of Syria, and condemned to death. His execution was, however, respited until the consent of Angustus could be obtained. (J. AJ 15.10.1, 16.1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 17.1-5, B. J. 1.23-32; Strab. xvi. p.765.)

Meanwhile, it was clear that the days of Herod himself were numbered. He was attacked by a painful disease, which slowly consumed his stomach and intestines, and the paroxysms of pain that he suffered from this disorder served to exasperate the natural ferocity of his temper. During his last illness a sedition broke out among the Jews, with the view of tearing down the golden eagle which he had set up over the gate of the temple, and which the bigoted people regarded as an idolatrous emthe blem; but the tumult was quickly suppressed, and the leaders punished with unsparing cruelty. On his deathbed, too, he must have ordered that massacre of the children at Bethlehem which is recorded by the Evangelist. (Matth. 2.16.) Such an act of cruelty, confined as it was to the neighbourhood of a single village, may well have passed unnoticed among the more wholesale atrocities of his reign, and hence no argument can fairly be drawn from the silence of Josephus against the credibility of the fact itself. (See Winer's Biblisches Real Worterbuch, vol. i. p. 568.) Almost the last act of his life was to order the execution of his son Antipater, permission having at length arrived from Rome for him to act in this matter as he thought fit. Five days afterwards he himself died, in the thirty-seventh year of his reign (dating from his first appointment to the throne by Antony and Octavian) and the seventieth of his age, B. C. 4. 1 He was honoured with a splendid funeral by his son Archelaus, whom he had appointed his successor in the kingdom, and was buried at Herodium, a fortified palace which he had himself erected, not far from Jericho. (J. AJ 17.8, B. J. 1.33. §§ 8, 9.) Of his character it seems unnecessary to speak, after the narrative above given. There is abundant proof that he possessed great talents, and even great qualities, but these were little able to compensate for the oppression and tyranny which marked his government towards his subjects, not to speak of his frightful barbarities towards his own family.

Josephus is almost our sole authority for the events of his reign; though the general outline of the facts which he relates is supported by incidental notices in the Greek and Roman writers, especially by Strabo (xvi. p.765). Nevertheless, we cannot but deeply regret the loss of the contemporary history of Nicolas of Damascus, the friend and apologist of Herod, notwithstanding the partiality with which he is taxed by the Jewish historian.

Herod was married to not less than ten wives: viz. 1. Doris, the mother of Antipater, already mentioned; 2. Mariamne, the mother of Aristobulus and Alexander, as well as of two daughters ; 3, and 4, two of his own nieces, whose names are not mentioned, and by whom he had no children; 5. another Mariamne, a daughter of Simon, whom he appointed high-priest; she was the mother of Herod Philip; 6. a Samaritan, named Malthace, by whom he left three children, viz. Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and a daughter named Olympias ; 7. Cleopatra of Jerusalem, who was the mother of a son called Herod, otherwise unknown, and Philip, the tetrarch of Ituraea; 8. Pallas, by whom he had a son named Phasael; 9. Phaedra, mother of Roxana; and, lastly, Elpis, mother of Salome. In the preceding genealogical table those only of his wives are inserted whose offspring are of any importance in history.


1 * It must be observed that the death of Herod took place in the same year with the actual birth of Christ, but it is well known that this is to be placed four years before the date in general use as the Christian era. (See Clinton, F. H. vol. iii. p. 254)

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  • Cross-references from this page (20):
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 14.16
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.1
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.10.3
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 16.2.2
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 14.14
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 14.11
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 14.15
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 14.9
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.11
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.10.1
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.3
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.3.5
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.3.7
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.3.9
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.9
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 17.8
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 20.9.7
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.8.75
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 5.9
    • Plutarch, Antonius, 72
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