HEROD I. (surnamed the Great):

King of Judea 40-4 B.C.; founder of the Herodian dynasty; born about 73 B.C.; son of Antipater, and, consequently, of Idumean origin. It is said that when he was a boy of twelve an Essene named Menahem predicted that he would reign over Judea. Indeed, nature had endowed him with the qualities of ascendency. He was of commanding presence; he excelled in physical exercises; he was a skilful diplomatist; and, above all, he was prepared to commitany crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition.

His First Exploit.

At the age of twenty-five (the age fifteen given by Josephus is generally believed to be erroneous) Herod was appointed prefect of Galilee by his father, who was procurator of Judea. By his first act Herod showed that he intended to please the Romans at any cost. Contrary to the Jewish law, which granted to the vilest criminal the right of trial by the Sanhedrin, to which tribunal alone belonged the authority to pass sentence of death, Herod executed a band of fanatics who had attacked heathen towns and robbed caravans. This assumption of power, for which he was highly lauded by the Romans, infuriated the leaders of the national party, who perceived Herod's ultimate aims. Bringing pressure to bear upon the weak Hyrcanus II., they obtained permission to arraign the prefect before the Sanhedrin. Instead of presenting himself before that august body clad in black, as was the usual custom, Herod appeared arrayed in purple and attended by a strong guard, capable of meeting any emergency. He did not condescend to offer the slightest defense of his conduct, but tendered a letter of Sextus Cæsar, governor of Syria, in which Hyrcanus was threatened with dire consequences should Herod not be cleared of the charges preferred against him. Overawed, the judges did not dare to utter a word in his condemnation till the president of the tribunal, Shemaiah, rose to rebuke their pusillanimity and warned his colleagues that some day they would pay dearly for their weakness. At this turn of affairs Hyrcanus adjourned the session until the following day, and recommended the culprit to leave Jerusalem secretly during the night. Herod then took refuge with Sextus Cæsar, who appointed him prefect of Cœle-Syria. Herod collected an army and advanced on Jerusalem with the purpose of chastising the Sanhedrin; but he was dissuaded from his intended vengeance by his father and his brother Phasael.

Copper Coin of Herod the Great. Obverse: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΗΡΩΔΟΥ round a helmet. In field to left (year 3-38 or 35 B.C.); in field to right a monogram. Reverse: Macedonian shield, with disk surrounded by rays.(After Madden, "History of Jewish Coinage.")Betrothed to Mariamne.

The disturbance throughout the Roman empire caused by the murder of Julius Cæsar (44 B.C.) did not impede Herod's advancement, who knew how to turn every circumstance to his advantage. The protégé of Sextus Cæsar became, at the assassination of the latter, the friend of the Roman governor of Syria, Cassius, whose favor he won by promptly levying the hundred talents which Galilee was required to contribute to the war-tax of seven hundred talents imposed upon Judea. He was confirmedin his position of prefect of Cœle-Syria, and even received from Cassius a promise that he would be acknowledged King of Syria when the war against the triumvirs should be ended. Meanwhile his father was poisoned (43 B.C.) by the hireling of one Malich, who aspired to an influential position in Judea. Herod hastened to take the place of his father, but did not neglect to avenge his death. Malich was enticed to Tyre and there slain by hired assassins, with the connivance of Cassius. However, after the departure of the latter, Judea was in a state of revolt. Antigonus, the younger son of Aristobulus II., made an attempt, with the assistance of Ptolemy, the son of Mennæus of Chalcis, to secure the sovereignty of Palestine. Herod succeeded in quelling the revolt and in defeating Antigonus. On his return to Jerusalem he was greeted as a triumphant general by Hyrcanus, who, seeing in him the deliverer of the country, gave him in marriage to his beautiful granddaughter, Mariamne, daughter of Alexander and Alexandra.

The battle of Philippi (42 B.C.) put an end to the rule of the murderers of Julius Cæsar. The national party in Jerusalem now hoped to see the downfall of Herod and of his brother Phasael, who had been overzealous in support of the opponents of the victorious triumvirate. Some Jewish nobles met the victor, Antony, at Bithynia and complained of the maladministration of Judea. But Herod succeeded by bribes and flatteries in winning the favor of Antony, who remembered that while he (Antony) was fighting under Gabinius in the East, Antipater had rendered him many services. The charges against Herod were several times renewed, but they were of no avail. Hyrcanus himself pleaded the cause of the Idumean brothers, and they were appointed by Antony governors of Judea with the title "tetrarch."

Copper Coin of Herod the Great.Obverse: a tripod with tray; on either side a palm-branch.Reverse: BA[CI]ΛΕΩC (indistinct) round a wreath, within which is an X.(After Madden, "History of Jewish Coinage.")Elected King by the Roman Senate.

The year 40 was the turning-point in Herod's life. With the help of the Parthians, who in that year overran Syria, Antigonus was proclaimed King of Palestine. Phasael was taken in an ambuscade and forced to commit suicide, Herod escaping a similar fate by flight. After passing through great hardships and greater dangers, he succeeded in reaching the fortress of Masada, where he left his family in the care of his brother Joseph. After having unsuccessfully attempted to obtain help from the Nabatæans of Petra, Herod went to Alexandria. There Cleopatra offered him a generalship in her army; but he declined it, and, braving all dangers, went to Rome. The triumvir Octavianus was won over as Antony had been, and, both pleading Herod's cause before the Senate, that assembly invested him with the ardently desired kingship. At the conclusion of the session Herod, walking between Antony and Octavianus and preceded by the consuls, went to the Capitol to return thanks to the gods.

The new king disembarked at Acre, and was soon at the head of a small army. The Roman generals Ventidius and Silo received the order to assist him in the conquest of Judea, which naturally was not willing to acknowledge his sovereignty; but they had been bribed by Antigonus, and their support was ineffectual. It was only in the spring of the year 37 that Herod, assisted by a large Roman force under the command of Caius Sosius, laid siege to Jerusalem. While the works were in course of construction, he went to Samaria to celebrate his marriage with the Hasmonean princess Mariamne, to whom he had been engaged for five years, after repudiating his first wife, Doris, the mother of Antipater.

After a siege of several months Jerusalem fell (probably in July) into the hands of the Romans. For several days the troops, unrestrained, indulged in murdering and pillaging, and Herod, to stop these horrors, had to pay out of his private fortune large sums to the legionaries. Antigonus was carried away captive by Sosius to Antioch, where by Antony's orders, instigated by Herod, he was executed.

Enmity of Alexandra.

Herod inaugurated his reign with acts of vengeance and cruelty. Forty-five of the most wealthy and most prominent of Antigonus' partizans were executed, and their estates confiscated in order to fill the empty treasury. Herod's agents showed themselves so greedy as to shake the dead bodies in order that any gold hidden in their shrouds might be disclosed. All the members of the Sanhedrin, with the exception of Pollio (Abṭalion) and Shemaiah, were slain. Of the members of the Hasmonean family with whom Herod had to contend, his bitterest enemy was his mother-in-law, Alexandra. As the aged Hyrcanus, who had now returned from his Parthian exile, could not reenter the high-priesthood, owing to the physical mutilation which had been inflicted upon him by Antigonus, Herod chose as high priest an utterly unknown and insignificant Babylonian Jew of the sacerdotal family, named Hananeel. This selection offended Alexandra, who considered that her young son Aristobulus, brother of Mariamne, was entitled to this office. She complained to Cleopatra; and Herod, fearing that the latter might exert her influence upon Antony, deposed Hananeel and gave the office to Aristobulus, his brother-in-law, who was then sixteen years old (35 B.C.). When the young high priest appeared before the public at the Feast of Tabernacles, arrayed in the gorgeous robes of his office, great enthusiasm prevailed, and a demonstration was made in his favor. Herod, who saw in him a possible rival, took umbrage, and determined to getrid of him. At the close of the feast he went with the priest to Jericho, where Alexandra had invited them to an entertainment. After the meal, while Aristobulus was refreshing himself with others in the bath, he was pushed under water, as if in sport, by some of the bathers who had been bribed by Herod, and held down until he was drowned. Herod feigned the most profound grief; but no one was deceived by his tears, and least of all Alexandra. She again invoked the help of Cleopatra, and Herod was summmoned to Laodicea (34 B.C.) to justify himself before Antony. He did not, however, go empty-handed, and as a result was dismissed with honors.

Execution of His Uncle Joseph.

With this event began the first act of the drama of which Herod's own household became later the theater. Before leaving Jerusalem Herod had committed Mariamne to the care of his uncle and brother-in-law Joseph, directing him to slay her in case he (Herod) should not return. On arriving at Judea, Herod's sister Salome, who wished to get rid of her husband, Joseph, and at the same time to revenge herself on the haughty princess, who taunted her with her low birth, charged them with adultery. At first Herod gave no heed to the calumny; but when he learned that Mariamne knew of the secret command he had given to Joseph, he concluded therefrom that Salome's charges were well founded, and caused Joseph to be executed, without affording him an opportunity of being heard. In the same year Herod had the mortification of being obliged to receive at Jerusalem his enemy Cleopatra, who came to inspect the Palestinian coast and the most precious of Herod's domains, the district of Jericho, which had been given to her by Antony.

Execution of Hyrcanus.

During the civil war between Antony and Octavianus (32 B.C.), Herod, who would have helped his protector Antony, was by a happy chance sent by Cleopatra to combat the Nabatæan king Malich. At first Herod's army suffered a crushing defeat, but in the end he was victorious. On returning home Herod learned of the defeat of his protector Antony. The question now was how the new master of Rome would treat the friend of his defeated enemy. Herod promptly decided upon his course of action, and resolved to go and meet Octavianus. He contrived, however, to have the aged Hyrcanus removed, the only one who might prove a dangerous rival, as being nearer to the throne than himself. Upon the pretended charge of having conspired against Herod with the Arabian king, Hyrcanus was executed.

In the spring of the year 30 B.C. Herod met Octavianus at Rhodes. With considerable adroitness he pointed out the great friendship that had existed between himself and Antony and the benefits the latter had derived from it. This friendship he was now ready to give to Octavianus, to whom he would be equally true. Octavianus believed Herod, and confirmed him in all his titles. Herod succeeded so well in gaining Cæsar's favor that in the following year Octavianus gave him back Jericho and the other cities that Antony had taken from his domains, adding to them the towns of Gadara, Hippos, Samaria, Gaza, Anthedon, Joppa, and Strato's Tower.

Execution of Mariamne.

While his political affairs were thus prospering, his household became the scene of a tragedy of which Mariamne was the heroine. Before he had gone to Rhodes Herod had given the order to a certain Sohemus to slay Mariamne should he not return. Mariamne came to know this, and gave to Herod on his return proofs of her aversion. The charge of unlawful intercourse was repeated by Salome; and Herod saw again in the betrayal of his secret order a proof of guilt. Sohemus was immediately executed; Mariamne, after a judicial investigation by a sort of privy council, was condemned and executed (29 B.C.).

After the execution Herod, tortured with remorse, plunged into wild excesses to distract his thoughts. While he was hunting in Samaria he fell ill. A rumor of his death got abroad at Jerusalem. Alexandra then began to scheme so that in the event of Herod's death she might secure the throne. She tried to gain over the commanders of the two fortresses in Jerusalem; this was reported to Herod, and he caused her to be executed (28 B.C.). Herod's recovery was the signal for fresh crimes and bloodshed. The members of a family called "the sons of Baba" had signalized themselves under Antigonus by their zeal for the Hasmonean prince. In the moment of danger they were saved by Costobarus, who, after the execution of Joseph, had married Salome, the sister of Herod. Salome, having by this time become tired of her husband, betrayed all his secrets to Herod, who immediately put to death Costobarus and the sons of Baba (25 B.C.).

Builds Sebaste and Cæsarea.

The throne was now firmly established. Of all the members of the Hasmonean family who could give him umbrage there remained only the daughter of Antigonus. Herod then entered upon the prosperous period of his reign. Splendid public works were commenced and new cities were built. Thus Herod rebuilt the city of Samaria, to which he gave the name of "Sebaste," in honor of the Roman emperor. The small town on the seacoast called the Tower of Strato was transformed into a magnificent city with an artificial harbor, on a scale of the utmost grandeur, and named Cæsarea." Temples in honor of Augustus were multiplied in all directions. To celebrate the quinquennial games which had been instituted in almost all of the Roman provinces, likewise in honor of Augustus, Herod erected in Jerusalem a theater, an amphitheater, and a hippodrome. Citadels and cities rose in honor of the different members of Herod's family: Antipatris, in honor of his father; Cypros, commemorating his mother; Phasaelis, as a memorial to his brother; and the two strongholds named Herodium in honor of himself. Military colonies were planted at Gaba in Galilee, and at Heshbon; and the fortresses Alexandrium, Hyrcania, Machærus, and Masada were rendered impregnable.

Restoration of the Temple.

Of all Herod's building operations, however, the most magnificent was the restoration of the Temple at Jerusalem. This work, begun in the eighteenth year of Herod's reign, was completed in its essential parts in eight years. Its beauty was proverbial. "He who has not seen Herod's building has never seen anything beautiful," was a common proverb of the day (comp. Suk. 51b; B. B. 4a; see Temple).

Moreover, Herod did not content himself with erecting architectural monuments in his own country only; Ashkelon, Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Byblus, Berytus, Tripoli, Damascus, Antioch, Rhodes, Chios, Nicopolis, Athens, and Sparta also received proofs of his generosity in many a monumental structure. He defrayed, too, the cost of the erection at Rhodes of a temple devoted to the Pythian Apollo, and gave a fund for prizes and sacrifices at the Olympian games.

Opposition of the Pious.

All the worldly pomp and splendor which made Herod popular among the pagans, however, rendered him abhorrent to the Jews, who could not forgive him for insulting their religious feelings by forcing upon them heathen games and combats with wild animals. The annexation to Judea of the districts of Trachonitis, Batanea, Auranitis, Zenodorus, Ulatha, and Panias, which Herod through his adulations had obtained from Augustus, could not atone for his crimes. In the eyes of the pious Jew Herod's government was not better than that of Antiochus Epiphanes. Like him, but by other means, Herod endeavored to Hellenize Judea. But the approbation of the pagan world was dearer to him than the religious feelings of the Jews. The most important functions of the state were entrusted to Greeks. Nicolas of Damascus and his brother Ptolemy were Herod's counselors; another Ptolemy was at the head of the finances. It is not surprising, therefore, that from time to time there were conspiracies against Herod's life. These conspiracies were quelled with the utmost cruelty. The fortresses, especially Hyrcania, were crowded with prisoners, who after a short detention were put to death. At the slightest sign of uprising the soldiers, all mercenaries—Thracians, Germans, and Galatians—struck right and left. Only once during his long reign did Herod give evidence of interest in his Jewish subjects. This was during the years of the famine, 24-23 B.C. He deprived himself of his silver plate and bought from Egypt great quantities of corn, which he divided gratuitously among the inhabitants.

Intrigues Against His Sons.

The last years of Herod's reign were, like the first, full of horrors. The actors in the tragedy which had ended in the execution of Mariamne resumed their work of slander on the return of her two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, from Rome (17 B.C.), where they had been educated. Endowed with the physical beauty of their mother, which was enhanced by the polished manners they had acquired in Roman society, Alexander and Aristobulus were very much liked by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who still remembered their mother and her ancestors, the legitimate sovereigns of the country. This popularity, which possibly rendered them a little vain and imprudent, was a thorn in the side of Herod's sister Salome, who was full of gloomy hatred against the Hasmonean race. In concert with her brother Pheroras, tetrarch of Peræa, she plotted the ruin of the two brothers, although one of them, Aristobulus, had become her son-in-law by marrying her daughter Berenice. Herod was incessantly warned of the danger threatening him from them. It was said that they openly avowed their intention of avenging their mother's death. To wound their pride and to show them that there was another possible heir to the throne, Herod gave a high post at court to Antipater, who with his mother, Doris, Herod's first wife, had been kept in seclusion. This act was a most unfortunate one, as Antipater from this time endeavored by every means to get rid of his stepbrothers in order to remove every barrier between himself and the throne. The breach between the father and his sons Alexander and Aristobulus widened to such an extent that Herod took them to Aquilea and accused them before Augustus. The latter effected a reconciliation; but it was not of long duration.

As soon as Herod and his sons returned home, Antipater, supported by Salome and Pheroras, resumed his machinations. Letters were forged, and avowals of guilt extorted from tortured slaves. A new reconciliation was effected by Alexander's father-in-law, Archelaus, King of Cappadocia; but, like the first, it did not endure. By the instrumentality of a Lacedæmonian named Eurycles, at that time resident at the court, Antipater brought a fresh accusation against the two brothers; and having obtained the consent of Augustus to impeach them, Herod traduced them at a mock trial held at Berytus, where they were condemned without having been granted a hearing. Soon afterward they were strangled at Sebaste by Herod's directions (6 B.C.).

Execution of Antipater.

Antipater's villainies did not remain long unpunished. The investigation which had been made into the sudden death of Pheroras revealed all the plots hatched by Antipater to rid himself of his father. The guilty son, who, being at that time at Rome, anticipated no trouble, was induced under false pretenses to come home, and on his arrival was brought to trial before Varus, the governor of Syria. As his guilt was manifest, Herod had him put in chains and reported the matter to Augustus, asking his permission to carry out the sentence of death. Meanwhile Herod was attacked by an incurable disease. Instead of becoming gentler and more merciful, the thought of death only led him to greater cruelty. For an attempt to tear down the Roman eagle from the Temple gate, made, on the rumor of his death, by some young men led by two teachers of the Law, Judah ben Sarifai and Mattathias ben Margalot, forty-two persons, including the teachers, were burned alive. During his sickness Herod meditated only upon ways and means by which he might make the Jews mourn the day of his death. When he had returned from the baths of Callirrhoe to Jericho, he is said to have given orders that upon his death the most distinguished of the nation, whom he had caused to be shut up in the arena of that place,should be slain, so that there might be a great lamentation on his passing away. In his delirium he tried to kill himself, and the palace resounded with lamentations. Antipater, whose prison was near, on hearing these cries, concluded Herod was dead and endeavored to bribe his jailer to set him free; but the latter reported it to Herod, who at once gave orders for Antipater's execution. On hearing this, Augustus said: "It were better to be such a man's swine than his son" (see, however, Jew. Encyc. i. 640, s.v. Antipater).

Five days after the execution of Antipater Herod died at Jericho, leaving his throne to his son Archelaus. The corpse was transported with great pomp from Jericho to Herodium, where the burial took place. The day of his death was marked in the Jewish calendar as a festival.

Herod had in succession ten wives: (1) Doris, mother of Antipater; (2) Mariamne, mother of Aristobulus and Alexander as well as of two daughters; (3, 4) two of his own nieces, whose names are not mentioned, and by whom he had no children; (5) a second Mariamne, daughter of Simon Boethus (whom Herod appointed high priest), and mother of Herod Philip; (6) a Samaritan named Malthace, mother of Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and a daughter named Olympias; (7) Cleopatra of Jerusalem, mother of a son named Herod and of Philip, tetrarch of Iturea; (8) Pallas, mother of Phasael; (9) Phædra, mother of Roxana; and (10) Elpis, mother of Salome.

The connection of Herod with the alleged massacre of the Innocents as related in the New Testament is now generally admitted by independent Christian thinkers to be legendary.

  • Josephus, Ant. xv., xvi., xvii. 1-8;
  • idem, B. J. i. 18-33;
  • Ewald, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, iv. 543-585;
  • Grätz, Gesch. iii. 197-245;
  • Hitzig, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, ii. 534-559;
  • Schneckenburger, Zeitgesch. pp. 175-200;
  • De Saulcy, Histoire d'Hérode Roi des Juifs, Paris, 1867;
  • Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Gesch. 2d ed., pp. 307-329;
  • J. Derenbourg. Essai sur l'Histoire et la Géographie de la Palestine, pp. 149-165;
  • Stanley, History of the Jewish Church, pp. 458 et seq.;
  • F. W. Farrar, The Herods;
  • Schürer, Gesch. i. 360-418;
  • Renan, Histoire du Peuple d'Israel, v. 248-304.
J. I. Br.