1902 Encyclopedia > Herod


HEROD was the name of a family of Idumaean origin, which displaced the Asmoneans as the rulers of Judaea. The founder of the dynasty, and its most notable represen-tative in every way, was Herod the Great, who was king of the Jews for about thirty-seven years, from 40 to 4 B.C. Herod's father was Antipater, who during the troubles which broke out in the family of Alexander Jannaeus, attached himself to Hyrcanus, the weak-minded son of Alexander. In this way Antipater, though an Idumaean, soon became the most powerful man in Judaea, and in the Alexandrian war gave such effectual help to Julius Caesar that the dictator made him procurator of Judaea, Hyrcanus being high priest (47 B.C.). The same year, at the age of twenty-five, Herod was appointed governor of Galilee by his father. He soon gave proof of the remark-able energy of his character in rooting out the banditti who infested his province; but his summary measures gave a handle to the enemies of his house at Jerusalem, and he was summoned before the sanhedrin. There he appeared, not in the garb of an accused person, but gorgeously attired, and attended by a guard of soldiers. He found it expedient, however, to withdraw from Jerusalem without awaiting the sentence. He retired to Syria, where he met with a gracious reception from Sextus Caesar, who appointed him governor of Coele-Syria. Herod now marched with an army against Jerusalem, but at the persuasion of his father and brother was induced to depart without exacting vengeance on his enemies. After the death of Caesar, the fortunes of Herod were affected by all the changes which befell the Roman state. When Cassius took the command in the East, and began to gather his strength for the final struggle which was decided at Philippi, Herod managed to win his favour by the readiness with which he raised his share of the heavy exactions imposed upon the East. About the same time his father was poisoned, and to Herod fell the task of avenging his death, as well as of supporting the interests of his house in Palestine. After Philippi he gained Antony over by large presents of money. He and his brother Phasael were appointed tetrarchs of Judsea. In 40 B.C. the Parthians appeared upon the scene, overran the whole of Syria, and placed on the throne of Judaea Antigonus, son of Aristobulus, and representative of the rival branch of the Asmonean house. Herod was com-pletely overpowered; and, after placing his relatives in safety, so far as he could, he hastened to Rome to lay his case before Antony and Octavianus. He succeeded beyond his expectation, for, while he meant only to advocate the claims of Hyrcanus the Asmonean, the two heads of the state made him king of Judaea. Herod returned home without delay, and set about the task of winning the kingdom allotted to him. Owing chiefly to the slackness of the Roman generals who should have helped him, it was three years before he succeeded in taking Jerusalem (37 B.C.). Before that event he had married the beautiful Mariamne, a princess of the Asmonean house, a granddaughter both of Aristobulus and Hyrcanus. Herod's early measures were cruel; he put to death all the members of the sanhedrin except two, and spared no one that was likely to stand in his way. Aristobulus, the youthful brother of Mariamne, whom he had appointed high priest, he caused to be treacherously drowned because he was too popular with the patriotic party. On this occasion Alexandra, mother of Aristobulus, induced Cleopatra to take her part, and Herod had to appear before Antony to answer the charge of murdering the prince. Again Herod knew how to gain the Roman, and he returned home with confirmed power. During the war of Actium, Herod had the good fortune to be engaged in a war with the king of Arabia on Antony's behalf, and so escaped the risk of fighting against Octa-vianus. Yet he recognized the danger of his position as the friend of Antony, and faced it with his usual courage and foresight. Hastening to Rhodes (30 B.C.), he appeared in the presence of the conqueror, and avowing his loyalty to his friend Antony, proffered the same faithful service to Octavianus. Octavianus was gracious, and remained the constant friend and patron of Herod to the end. This was the last crisis of Herod's life ; he was henceforward undis-puted king of Judaea, and next to Agrippa the most trusted friend of Augustus. But while the friend of the great, and prosperous in all external relations, Nemesis pursued him in his family. When summoned to answer for himself before Antony, and again on his journey to Rhodes, he left the beautiful and beloved Mariamne in charge of one of his friends, but with the cruel injunction that she should be put to death should anything serious befall himself. On both occasions Mariamne discovered the secret, and, instead of regarding the command as a proof of his jealous love, abhorred it as another instance of the cruelty which had not spared so many of her nearest relatives. A horrible tragedy ensued : Mariamne openly expressed her disgust; and Herod, furious with rage, jealousy, and rejected love, ordered her death. The violence of his feelings threw him into a dangerous malady, and even drove him to the verge of insanity. His mind never recovered its healthy tone, and in later years the avenger again overtook him. In the meantime his government was marked by the greatest magnificence and apparent success. His turbulent subjects were kept tolerably quiet in spite of heavy taxes. He managed to gratify his love for Greek and Roman life; and yet he avoided wounding too deeply the susceptibilities of the Jews. The magnificent buildings which he raised were the most brilliant products of his reign. He rebuilt Samaria, calling it Sebaste, from the Greek name for Augustus. He converted the small town of Strato's Tower into a magnifi-cent seaport with an artificial harbour, under the name of Caesarea. These and other towns which he built were furnished with temples, theatres, aqueducts, and all the other ornamental and useful appliances of Greek and Roman life. In the city of Jerusalem even he built a theatre, and an amphitheatre outside of it. A more patriotic work was the rebuilding of the temple (begun 20 B.C), which had suffered greatly during the late troubles; it was on a very magnificent scale, and lasted nine years and a half, even then being unfinished. Equally necessary and equally significant of his relation to his subjects was the construction of strong fortresses in various parts of the country. The last years of Herod's life were darkened by the return of those family troubles which had previously overcast it. His two sons by Mariamne had been educated at Rome, and returned, 17 B.C., to Judaea. Their Asmonean descent, their youth, beauty, and accomplishments, and their too interesting history gained them the most enthu-siastic popularity among the Jews. Their father himself was proud of them. But Pheroras and Salome, brother and sister of Herod, did all they could to sow jealousy and suspicion. Herod's mind was too painfully open to dark insinuations, and he recalled his eldest son Antipater to counterbalance the influence of the Asmonean princes. After the arrival of Antipater, who was a most unscrupulous plotter, there was no more peace or security at the court of Herod ; things went from bad to worse, till after many years of the darkest intrigue and the bitterest domestic contention, the two sons of Mariamne were strangled at Sebaste. Soon after the clearest proof was discovered of a conspiracy which Antipater had formed with Pheroras against the life of Herod himself. The order for the death of Antipater was given by Herod from his death-bed. His health had long been failing; after the cruellest torments of both mind and body, he died 4 B.C. The birth of Christ took place in the same year as Herod's death, but this, as is well known, occurred four years before the date fixed as the beginning of the Christian era. The massacre of the little children at Bethlehem is not mentioned by Josephus among the horrors of Herod's last days. He was buried with great magnificence. His will, by which the greater part of his dominions was bequeathed to his sons by Malthace, a Samaritan, was confirmed by Augustus.

Herod's name is doubtless one of the most repulsive in history. He was a man of wonderful energy and sagacity. He saw clearly that Rome was the hinge on which everything turned, and that no policy could be success-ful which did not depend upon her leading men. His skill in understanding these men, in conciliating them, and making himself useful to them, was very great. Thus he made the successive masters of the world his willing friends, and out of all the crises of his fate emerged victo-rious. But his hands were red with the blood of his own household ; when his position or his interests were touched no scruple could arrest him. All that can be said in hia favour is that many of his cruel measures cost him unspeak-able agony of mind, and that he was simply more expert than his rivals at the weapons which were in common use in the political life of the time.

The great source for the life of Herod is Josephus ; but such writers as Strabo or Dion Cassius are of service in further illustra-ting it. Useful modem works are Hausrath, Neutestamentliche Zeitgesehichte ; the work of the same name by Sehiirer; Ewald, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, vol. iv.; Keim, Geschichte Jesu von Nazara, vol. i.; and Milman's History of the Jews, vol. ii. (T. K.)

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