Herod the Great

From Academic Kids

Herod I, also known as Herod the Great was a Roman client-king of Judaea. (c. 74 BC - 4 BC March in Jerusalem). Though he is probably best known from the narrative in Gospel of Matthew of his ordering the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem around the time of the birth of Jesus, to avert the prophecy of a Messiah being born there, the details of his biography can best be pieced together from the works of the Romanized Jew, Josephus.



Herod the Great arose from a wealthy, influential Idumaean family. The Idumaeans, successors to the Edomites of the Hebrew Bible, settled in Idumea, also known as Edom, in southern Judea. When the Maccabean John Hyrkanus conquered Idumea in the decade 130s BC, he required all Idumaeans to obey Jewish law or to leave; most Idumaeans thus converted to Judaism. Herod identified himself as Jewish.

Herod was the second son of Antipater the Idumaean, founder of the Herodean dynasty, and his wife Cypros, a Nabatean princess from Petra, Jordan. The family rubbed shoulders with the greats in Rome, such as Pompey, Cassius, and in 47 BC his father was appointed Procurator over Judea, who then appointed his son governor of Galilee at the age of 25.

After his father was poisoned in 43 BC, allegedly by a tax-collector, Herod had the murderer executed. After returning from a campaign he was offered the betrothal to the teenage princess Mariamne (sometimes spelled Mariamme) from the Hasmonean dynasty who were the titular rulers of Judaea. As he was already married, he then banished his first wife Doris and her 3 year old son, also named Antipater, and married Mariamne.

In 40 BC Antigonos and the Parthians invaded Palestine, and Herod fled Jerusalem, for the first time to Rome. There he is titled King of Judaea by Mark Antony.

30s BC

39 BC-37 BC War against Antigonos. After the winning of Jerusalem and victory over Antigonos, Marc Antony executes Antigonos.

36 BC Herod makes his 17 year old brother-in-law Aristobulus III of Judea High priest. Herod feared the Jews would appoint Aristobulus as a full "king of the Jews".

35 BC Aristobulus drowns at a party. Historians claim there is insufficient evidence against Herod for his death.

32 BC Start of the war against Nabatea, with victory one year later.

31 BC strong earthquake in Palestine. Octavian defeats Mark Antony, so Herod switches allegiance to Octavian, later Augustus.

30 BC Herod was then shown great favour by Octavian who at Rhodes confirms him as King of Judaea.

20s BC

29 BC Josephus writes that Herod had great passion and also great jealousy concerning his wife Mariamne. She learns of Herod's plans to murder her, and stops sleeping with him. Herod puts her on trial on a trumped-up charge of adultery. His sister Salome (not Herodias' daughter Salom) was chief witness against her.

Mariamne's mother 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. Writings state that Mariamne was calm and serene at her execution at the age of 25 years, having given birth to 5 children in 7 years.

Alexandra, Mariamne's mother, then made a bid for power, declaring herself Queen and stating that Herod was mentally unfit to serve any longer. Josephus wrote that this was Alexandra's strategic mistake and Herod executed her without trial.

28 BC Herod executes 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 BC An assassination attempt on Herod is discovered in time. To honour Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Augustus) Herod rebuilds Samaria and renames it Sebaste.

25 BC After a great drought there is hunger and epidemics. Herod imports grain from Egypt and starts an exemplary aid programme. He also waives a third of the taxes.

23 BC Herod builds a palace in Jerusalem and the fortress Herodian in Judaea. Herod marries his third wife, also named Mariamne, the daughter of high priest Simon.

22 BC Bulding starts on Caesarea Maritima and its harbour. From the Romans he obtains the regions Trachonitis, Batanaea und Auranitis under his rule.

Circa 20 BC Expansion starts on the Temple of Solomon.

10s BC

Circa 18 BC Herod travels for the second time to Rome.

14 BC Herod supports the Jews in Anatolia and Cyrene. Due to the prosperity in Judaea he waives a quarter of the taxes. He argues with his sons.

13 BC Herod makes his firstborn son Antipater (son from Doris) first heir in his will.

12 BC Because Herod suspects both his sons (from the first Mariamne) Alexandros and Aristobulos of threatening his life, he takes them to Aquileia to be tried, but Augustus is able to reconcile the three. Herod supports the financially strapped Olympic Games and ensures their future. Herod adjusts his will so that Alexandros and Aristobulos rise in the royal succession but Antipater would be higher in the succession.

Circa 10 BC The newly expanded temple in Jerusalem is inaugurated. War against the Nabateans.

0s BC

9 BC The inauguration of Caesarea Maritima is a marvelous spectacle with a festival. Due to the course of the war against the Nabateans Herod falls into disgrace with Augustus. Herod again suspects Alexandros intends to kill him.

8 BC Herod accuses his sons from Mariamne (1.) of high treason. On the one hand Herod is reconciled with Augustus, on the other hand this gives Herod the permission to proceed legally against his sons.

7 BC The court hearing takes place in Berytos (Beirut) before a Roman court. Mariamne's sons are found guilty and executed. Now the succession is changed so that Antipater is the exclusive successor to the throne. In second place the succession incorporates the son from the second Mariamne - Herod Philip.

6 BC Herod proceeds harshly against the Pharisees, who had announced that the birth of the Messiah would mean the end of his rule.

5 BC Antipater is brought before the court charged with intended murder of Herod. The sentence must first be approved only by the Roman emperor. Herod makes his son Herod Antipas from his 4th marriage with Malthace as his successor. Herod is seriously ill.

4 BC Young Torah-students smash the golden eagle over the main entrance of the Temple of Jerusalem after the Pharisee teachers claim it is a Roman symbol. Herod arrests them, brings them to court, sentences and punishes them. Emperor Augustus approves of the death penalty for Antipater. Herod executes his son.

He again changes his will, as he has just executed his sole heir: Herod Archelaos (from the marriage with Malthace) will rule as King over the Herod's entire kingdom, while Antipas (from Malthace) and Philip (from the fifth marriage with Cleopatra of Jerusalem - not the Egyptian Queen) as Tetrarchs over Galilee and Peraea, also over Gaulanitis (Golan), Trachonitis (Hebrew: Argob), Batanaea (now Ard-el-Bathanyeh) and Panias.

Herod died at the end of March, or early April of 4 BC. As Augustus does not confirm his will, no one gets the title of King. However the three children do get the stated territories.

Date of His Death

Some chronologers hold that he died in the year 5 or 4 BC. Their chronology is based to a large extent on Josephus’ history. In dating the time that Herod was appointed king by Rome, Josephus uses a "consular dating", that is, he locates the event as occurring during the rule of certain Roman consuls. According to this, Herod's appointment as king would be in 40 BC, but the data of another historian, Appianos, would place the event in 39 BC. By the same method Josephus places Herod's capture of Jerusalem in 37 BC, but he also says that this occurred 27 years after the capture of the city by Pompey (which was in 63 BC). (Jewish Antiquities, XIV, 487, 488 [xvi, 4]) His reference to that latter event would make the date of Herod's taking the city of Jerusalem 36 BC. Now, Josephus says that Herod died 37 years from the time that he was appointed king by the Romans, and 34 years after he took Jerusalem. (Jewish Antiquities, XVII, 190, 191 [viii, 1]) This might indicate that the date of his death was 2 BC or perhaps 1 BC.

According to Josephus, Herod died not long after an eclipse of the moon and before a Passover. (Jewish Antiquities, XVII, 167 [vi, 4]; 213 [ix, 3]) Since there was an eclipse on March 11, 4 BC. (March 13, Julian), some have concluded that this was the eclipse referred to by Josephus.

On the other hand, there was a total eclipse of the moon in 1 BC, about three months before Passover, while the one in 4 BC was only partial.

Another line of calculation centers around the age of Herod at the time of his death. Josephus says that he was about 70 years old. He says that at the time Herod received his appointment as governor of Galilee (which is generally dated 47 BC), he was 15 years old; but this has been understood by scholars to be an error, 25 years evidently being intended. (Jewish Antiquities, XVII, 148 [vi, 1]; XIV, 158 [ix, 2]) Accordingly, Herod's death occurred in 2 BC or 1 BC.


Some of his achievements were: the rebuilding the water supplies for Jerusalem, rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem to the most beautiful in its time, rebuilding the Palace in Jerusalem, and creating new cities such as Caesarea Maritima. From the extraction of Asphalt at the Dead Sea, together with Cleopatra, he had almost a monopoly on its important use in shipbuilding. He leased coppermines on Cyprus from the Roman emperor. He had a dominant position in the production of bronze, using British tin.

Herod's cruelty

His cruelty was reflected in the biblical account of the Massacre of the Innocents. At the same time as Jesus was born, he was said to have ordered the slaughter of all children (boys) in Bethlehem under two years old. Herod was supposedly fearful of prophecies that said that a "King of the Jews" would be born in Bethlehem. This challenged his authority, and thus he ordered the crackdown to protect himself. This massacre is not mentioned in any non-biblical sources, however, and is very probably apocryphal.

Herod is known for being a ruthless ruler, but he was also an able and far-sighted administrator who helped in building the economic might of Judaea, founding cities and developing agricultural projects, the most famous project involving rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

Marriages and Children

1. married Doris

  • Son Antipater, executed 4 BC

2. married Mariamme (I.) - daughter of Hasmonaean Alexandros

  • Son Alexandros, executed 7 BC
  • Son Aristobulos, executed 7 BC
  • Daughter Salampsio
  • Daughter Cypros

3. married Mariamme (II.) - daughter of High-Priest Simon

  • Son Herod

4. married Malthace

  • Son Herodes Archelaos - Ethnarch
  • Son Herodes Antipas - Tetrarch
  • Daughter Olympias

5. married Cleopatra of Jerusalem

6. married Pallas

  • Son Phasael

7. married Phaidra

  • Daughter Roxane

8. married Elpis

9. married a cousin name unknown

10. married a niece name unknown

It is very probable that Herod had more children, especially with the last wives, and also that he had more daughters, as women at that time were not counted as important.

After his death

Herod's death also indicates the latest time at which the birth of Christ could have occurred. Because Herod's death is established to have occurred at latest in 1 B.C. and because Christ was born before Herod died, the traditional date of Christ's birth and the start of the Common era is incorrect.

After his death, his kingdom was divided between three of his sons: Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Herod Philip.

His son, Antipas, also called Herod, is a prominent character in the Gospel biblical history of the events leading up the death of Jesus. When Jesus was brought to trial, Herod was significantly disappointed by Jesus' demeanor. Rather than deal with Jesus directly, Herod delegated authority to Judea's Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

Herod's family trees

--- = married
 |  = descended from
... = sibling
dt  = daughter
b   = born
 ?  = not included here or unknown
Alexandra --- ?
           |                   |
Aristobulus III of Judea ... Mariamne, dt
(d. 35 BC)                   m. Herod the Great
last Hasmonean scion
 appointed high priest

Antipater the Idumaean --- Cypros, Arab princess
                        |  from Petra, Jordan in Nabatea
                Herod the Great
                 (74 BC-4 BC)

Herod the Great --- total 10 wives, 14 children

Herod the Great --- Cleopatra of Jerusalem
               Philip the tetrarch
                d AD 34

Herod the Great --- Doris
                d 4 BC?

Herod the Great --- Malthace, a Samaritan
   |                                   |            |
 Herod Antipas                       Archelaus    Olympias
   b 20 BC?   --- Phasaelis,
                    dt Aretas IV, king Arabia
      'divorced' to marry:
               --- Herodias,
                    dt of Aristobulus son of Herod the Great

Herod the Great --- Mariamne d 29 BC? dt of Hasmonaean Alexandros
   |             |          |                       |
 Aristobulus   Alexander   Salimpsio --- Phaesal   Cypros
  d 7 BC?     d 7 BC?                 |              m.
   m. Berenice                      Cypros          Antipater(2)
  Herodias, dt
     m. Herod Antipas

Herod the Great --- Mariamne dt of Simon the High-Priest
            Herod Philip
  • Antipater(2) was son of Joseph and Salome
  • Note: dates with ? need verifying against modern findings

References and External Links

es:Herodes I el Grande fr:Hrode le Grand he:הורדוס nl:Herodes I ja:ヘロデ大王 pl:Herod I Wielki sv:Herodes den store


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