King Herod

King Herod might have been just another footnote in the history of Judaea if it were not for the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was born in his kingdom.



To Antipater from Idumea, which was south of Judea, and Cyprus, the daughter of an Arabian Sheik, was born Herod in 73 BCE. To this he owed some of his conflicts. Since Antipater was from Idumea, the Jews considered him an outsider although he worshipped the Jewish God. Since they considered a person Jewish only if he had a Jewish mother, Herod’s mother being an Arab didn’t help matters although like his father, Herod was a practicing Jew.

Meanwhile, after the death of the Hasmonean Queen, Alexandra Salome who ruled over Judea, a bloody civil war was initiated by her sons Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. Judaea suffered. Hyrcanus won the struggle with the intervention of the Roman general Pompey and Antipater, who supported Hyrcanus, became the real power behind the throne.
Yet another civil war erupted, this time in Rome between Pompey and Julius Caesar in which Hyrcanus supported the latter. In 47 BCE, Caesar appointed Antipater a regent and granted Roman citizenship.
In 44 BCE, Caesar was murdered, bringing to power his nephew Octavian and his second-in-command Mark Antony.

Even as Brutus and Cassius, Caesar’s murderers, fled, Judaea had to pay thousands of kilos of silver. In the subsequent troubles, Antipater was killed. Herod in turn killed the murderers with the help of Rome.

When Hyrcanus’ nephew tried to usurp the throne in 43 BCE, Herod defeated him. He then divorced his wife Doris and sending her and their son away, he married Hyrcanus’ daughter Mariamne. With this alliance, he enhanced his claim to the throne.
With Octavian and Mark Antony defeating Caesar’s murderers at Philippi, Antipater was on the losing side, but Herod convinced Mark Antony that his father had been forced to take their side. Convinced of this, Mark Antony awarded the title Tetrarch of Galilee to Herod, indicating that he was the leader of a vassal kingdom. Hyrcanus was the Jewish leader, but only in name.
But, the Jews resented the appointment since Herod was not considered a Jew. They sided with the Parthians in the latter’s war against Romans. Hyrcanus was taken prisoner and Antigonus became king. Phasael committed suicide.

With the help of Rome, the Parthians were driven away and Herod came to Jerusalem with Roman legions, defeating Antigonus. Herod now became the ruler of Judaea.

To stabilise his position, he brought Hyrcanus, who was now an old man, back from the Parthians in Babylon, giving his reign the appearance of legitimacy.
King Herod embarked on an extensive building programme, leaving behind the new walls of Jerusalem and the citadel guarding its temple.
He minted coins in his name, and kept the Romans in good humour. While he tried to please Mark Antony in the east and Octavian in the West, civil broke out between the two leaders in 31 BCE in which Herod sided with Mark Antony who was defeated.


To secure his position, he had his father-in-law and the old king Hyrcanus executed. He then met Octavian, spoke to him frankly about his loyalty to Mark Antony, ending with the promise to be loyal to the Roman Empire.
Octavian who wanted Herod as an ally if he were to pursue Mark Antony, accepted Herod’s rule, adding Judaea and Samaria to the latter’s kingdom. Meanwhile Mark Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide and Octavian became the first Roman emperor and called himself Augustus. He rewarded Herod with Jericho and Gaza.

Herodian Architecture
King Herod’s most famous project was the reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 19 BCE. This would come to be known as the Second Temple of Jerusalem or Herod’s Temple. The temple itself was built in a year and a half, and construction on the outer builders continued for decades. Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. The Wailing Wall of Jerusalem is part of the four walls, which were built to create a flat platform called the Temple Mount. The temple itself was constructed over this.
Innovations in architecture and construction techniques are found in the constructions during King Herod’s reign, such as the use of the Jewish ritual bath as a frigidarium in the bathhouses in Herod’s palaces. His innovations in combining palace and fortress in Jerusalem, Herodium, Masada and Caesarea Maritima, and military architecture were followed during later periods.
He built great cities with notable constructions, including a new market, amphitheatre and a fortress in Jerusalem. Most of Herod’s structures were built over Hasmonean buildings.
The port of Caesarea was his achievement, and was built along the Greek plan with a market, an aqueduct, government offices, baths, and temples. Protected by wave-breaking structures and its piers made from hydraulic concrete that hardens underwater, the port was an engineering marvel.

End of Herod’s Reign
Herod continued to add land to his country, built a strong bureaucracy and enhanced economic development.
The different factions hated him for different reasons, but for economic reasons alone, he gave cause for dislike with his high taxation and had to resort to violence to ensure order and paying of levies.
Terror ruled the end of his reign. Herod fell ill and became increasingly erratic. When two teachers and their pupils removed the golden eagle from the Temple’s entrance, all of them were burned alive.
It is believed that a cancer-like gangrene afflicted Herod towards the end. His mental stability became questionable. He had Mariamne and her family killed. He disinherited his first son, Antipater and had him killed. He executed his sons Aristobulus and Antipater. After his death in 4 BCE, in the Herodion fortress which he had built and the Roman emperor divided Herod’s kingdom among the latter’s sons, Herod Antipas, Philip and Archelaus.
Herod had ruled Judaea between 37 and 4 BCE.

Feast of the Holy Innocents
According to the Gospel of Mathew, when the Magi go to Judaea in search of the newborn who would be the king of Jews, Herod asks them to let him know when they find him. The magi though, return another way after they find Jesus.