Herod the Great

(c. 73—4 bc)

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son of the Idumaean Antipater, was through him made governor of Galilee in 47 bc and then, with his brother, designated tetrarch by Mark Antony. Herod escaped the Parthian invasion of 40, and, while the Parthian nominee, the Hasmonean prince Antigonus, occupied the throne, Herod was declared king of Judaea by Antony and the senate. In 37, having married Mariamme, granddaughter to both of the feuding Hasmoneans, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, Herod took Jerusalem, with the assistance of Gaius Sosius. Octavian (the future Augustus), whom Herod supported at the battle of Actium, confirmed his rule, adding a number of cities. In 23, Herod received territories north-east of the Sea of Galilee—Trachonitis, Batanea, and Auranitis. Herod's rule meant that the kingship and high priesthood were now again separate in Judaea, though the latter was in the king's gift: he promoted a new high priestly class, centred on a handful of diaspora families, who thus acquired great wealth and standing. The palace élite, of mixed ethnic affiliation, also grew. Herod was an able administrator and a skilful financier. He taxed the country heavily, but also developed its resources, to which end his artificial harbour at Caesarea contributed. Spectacular building projects were a hallmark of his reign, including the rebuilding of Samaria as Sebaste, a characteristic string of fortress-palaces, most notably Masada, and Herodium, also his burial place. Jerusalem acquired an amphitheatre as well as a theatre, whose decorations aroused the suspicion of some Jews. But his greatest undertaking, the rebuilding of the Temple, was left entirely to priests, to preserve purity. There, offence was given by a golden eagle put over the gate at the very end of his reign, a time when tensions with the Pharisees, earlier his friends, were running high. Lavish donations outside Palestine established Herod as a benefactor on an empire-wide scale, as well as a flamboyant philhellene; the Olympian games and the city of Athens were among the beneficiaries. Through his personal good offices, his visits to Rome, and the mediation of Nicolaus and of Marcus Agrippa, Herod long retained Augustus' confidence. He may have been exempt from tribute. But, in 9 bc, an unauthorized war against the Nabataeans incurred imperial displeasure. Also increasingly unacceptable was his savagery towards the large family produced by his ten wives: intrigues led him to execute his favourite, Mariamme I, in 29, her two sons in 7, and his eldest son and expected their a few days before his death. Serious disturbances then allowed Roman intervention, and the division of his kingdom between his remaining sons, Herod Antipas, Archelaus, and Philip, was formalized.

Tessa Rajak

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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