Herod PotsherdThe scene was set for the rise of Herod by the conquest of Judea by the Romans in 63 B. C.E. Despite the attempts of the Hasmonean prince Aristobulus and his son Antigonus to resist Roman rule, the Romans reorganized Judea under the high priest Hyrcanus who was controlled by Antipater, father of Herod. It was not long before Herod would, therefore, take control of Judea. It is generally agreed by scholars that Josephus’ narrative pertaining to the Herodian dynasty was derived almost verbatim from the work of Nicolaus of Damascus, Herod’s non-Jewish secretary of state. Nicolaus (born ca. 64 B.C.E.) was the author of a universal history, but his work did not survive.

(199) Caesar 11 … declared Hyrcanus to be the most worthy for the high priesthood and allowed Antipater to choose his own appointment, but [Antipater] left the determination of such office to him who bestowed the office upon him. So he was appointed procurator of all Judea and obtained permission moreover to rebuild those walls of his country that had been thrown down. (200) Caesar sent orders to have these honorary grants engraved in the Capitol so that they might stand there as indications of his own justice and of the virtue of Antipater.

(201) As soon as Antipater escorted Caesar out of Syria, he returned to Judea, and the first thing he did was to rebuild that wall of his own capital [Jerusalem] which Pompey had overthrown, 12 and then to traverse the country and to quiet the local tumults. He partly threatened and partly advised everyone, and told them that if they would submit to Hyrcanus, they would live happily and peaceably and enjoy what they possessed in universal peace and quiet. (202) But that, if they hearkened to those who had some vain hopes that by raising new troubles they might get themselves some gain, they should then find him to be their lord instead of their procurator, and find Hyrcanus to be a tyrant instead of a king, and both the Romans and Caesar to be their enemies instead of rulers, for [the Romans] would not allow their governor to be removed. (203) At the same time that he said this, he settled the affairs of the country by himself because he saw that Hyrcanus was inactive and unfit to manage the affairs of the kingdom. So he appointed his eldest son, Phasaelus, governor ofJerusalem and of the region around it. He also sent his next son, Herod, who was very young, with equal authority into Galilee. 13

(204) Herod was an active man and soon found proper material for his active spirit to work upon. As he found that Hezekias, the head of the robbers, 14 was overrunning the neighboring parts of Syria with a great band of men, he caught him and killed him, and many more of the robbers with him. (205) This exploit was so very much admired by the Syrians that hymns were sung in Herod’s commendation, both in the villages and in the cities, as having procured peace for them and having preserved their possessions. On this occasion he became acquainted with Sextus Caesar, a kinsman of the great Caesar, and governor of Syria. 15

(206) A just emulation of [Herod’s] glorious actions excited Phasaelus also to imitate him. Accordingly he procured the good will of the inhabitants of Jerusalem by his own management of the city affairs and did not abuse his power in any disagreeable manner. (207) As a result, the nation paid Antipater the respects that were due only to a king…. (208) However, he found it impossible to escape envy even in his prosperity, for the glory of these young men affected even Hyrcanus himself already privately, though he said nothing of it to anybody. But what principally grieved him were the great actions of Herod, and that so many messengers came one after another and informed him of the great reputation he had won in all his undertakings. There were also many people in the royal palace itself who inflamed his envy; those, I mean, who were obstructed in their designs by the prudence either of the young men or of Antipater. (209) These men said that by committing the public affairs to the management of Antipater and his sons, he [Hyrcanus] remained content with nothing but the bare name of a king without any of its authority. They asked him how long he would be so mistaken as to rear kings against his own interest, for they [Herod and Phasaelus] no longer concealed their government of affairs any longer, but were plainly lords of the nation and had thrust him out of his authority; seeing that this was the case when Herod killed so many men without his giving him any command to do it, either by word of mouth or by his letter, in contradiction to the law of the Jews. Therefore, [they said,] in case he were not a king, but a private man, [Herod] still ought to come to trial and answer for his conduct and to the laws of his country which do not permit anyone to be killed unless he has been convicted by trial. 16

(210) Now Hyrcanus was gradually inflamed with these discourses, and at length could bear it no longer, but summoned Herod to trial. Accordingly, by his father’s advice, and as soon as the affairs of Galilee would allow him, he came up [to Jerusalem] after he had first placed garrisons in Galilee. However, he came with a sufficient body of soldiers, calculated so that he might not appear to have with him an army able to overthrow Hyrcanus’s government, nor yet so few as to expose himself to the insults of those who envied him. (211) However, Sextus Caesar was in fear for the young man, lest he should be taken by his enemies and brought to punishment. So he sent express orders to Hyrcanus that he should acquit Herod of the capital charge against him. He acquitted him accordingly, being otherwise inclined also to do so, for he loved Herod.

(212) But Herod, supposing that he had escaped punishment without the consent of the king [Hyrcanus], retired to Sextus, to Damascus, and got everything ready in order not to obey him if he should summon him again….. (213) And now, since Herod was made general of Celesyria 17 and Samaria by Sextus Caesar, he was formidable not only because of the good will which the nation bore him, but by the power he himself had. As a result, Hyrcanus fell into the utmost degree of terror and expected that he (Herod) would immediately march against him with his army.

(214) Nor was he mistaken in the conjecture he made, for Herod got his army together, out of the anger he bore him for his threatening him with the accusation in a public court, and led it to Jerusalem in order to depose Hyrcanus from his kingdom. He would have soon done this except that his father and brother went out together and broke the force of his fury by exhorting him to carry his revenge no further than to threatening and frightening, but to spare the king, under whom he had been advanced to such a degree of power. Provoked as he might be at his being tried, he should not forget to be thankful that he was acquitted; nor think so long upon the bleak prospect of condemnation as to be ungrateful for his deliverance…. (215) …So Herod was prevailed upon by these arguments and supposed that what he had already done was sufficient for his future hopes, and that he had shown his power to the nation sufficiently….

(225) In the war between Cassius and Brutus on one side, against the young Caesar [Augustus] and Antony on the other, 18 Cassius and Marcus got together an army in Syria. Because Herod was likely to have a great share in providing assistance, they then made him procurator of all Syria and gave him an army of foot soldiers and cavalry. Cassius promised him also that after the war was over, he would make him king of Judea. (226) But it so happened that the power and hopes of this son became the cause of his father’s destruction. For, as Malichus 19 was afraid of this, he bribed one of the king’s cup-bearers with money to give a poisoned potion to Antipater. So he became a sacrifice to Malichus’s wickedness and died at a feast….

(242) But when Caesar and Antony had killed Cassius near Philippi, and Caesar had gone to Italy and Antony to Asia, amongst the rest of the cities which sent ambassadors to Antony to Bithynia, 20 the great men of the Jews also came and accused Phasaelus and Herod of holding power by force and of leaving to Hyrcanus no more than an honorable name. Herod appeared ready to answer this accusation; and, having made Antony his friend by the large sums of money he gave him, he caused him not to hear the others speak against him. So, for the time being, the enemies (of Herod) departed.

(243) However, after this there came a hundred of the principal men among the Jews to Daphne beside Antioch to Antony, who was already in love with Cleopatra to the degree of slavery. These Jews put foremost those men that were the most powerful, both in dignity and eloquence, and accused the brothers [Herod and Phasaelus]. But Messala 21 opposed them, and defended the brothers, and Hyrcanus stood by him on account of his relation to them. (244) When Antony had heard both sides, he asked Hyrcanus which party was the fittest to govern. He replied that Herod and his party were the fittest. Antony was glad of that answer for he had been formerly treated in a hospitable and obliging manner by [Herod’s] father Antipater when he marched into Judea with Gabinius. So he appointed the brothers tetrarchs, 22 and committed to them the government of Judea. 23

(245) But when the ambassadors were indignant at this procedure, Antony took fifteen of them and put them into custody, whom he was also going to kill immediately, and the rest he drove away with disgrace. As a result, a still greater tumult arose in Jerusalem, so they sent again a thousand ambassadors to Tyre where Antony now abode, as he was marching to Jerusalem. Against these men who made a clamor he sent out the governor of Tyre, and ordered him to punish all that he could catch of them, and to support the authority of those whom he had made tetrarchs.

(246) But before this, Herod and Hyrcanus went out to the seashore, and earnestly requested of these ambassadors that they should neither bring ruin upon themselves nor war upon their native country by their rash contentions. But when they grew still more outrageous, Antony sent out armed men and killed a great many and wounded more of them. Those who were slain were buried by Hyrcanus, as were the wounded put under the care of physicians by him. (247) Yet those who escaped would not be silenced but put the affairs of the city into such disorder, and so provoked Antony, that he killed those whom he had taken prisoner also.

(248) Now two years afterward, 24 Barzapharnes, a satrap among the Parthians, and Pacorus, the king’s son, occupied Syria. Lysanias, who had already succeeded to the government [of Chalcis] upon the death of his father Ptolemy, son of Menneus, convinced the satrap by a promise of a thousand talents and five hundred women, to bring back Antigonus 25 to his kingdom and to depose Hyrcanus. (249) Pacorus was by these means induced to advance through the interior….

(250) …Many of the Jews flocked to Antigonus and showed themselves ready to make an incursion into the country, so he sent them forward into that place called Drymus [the woodland] to seize the place. There a battle was fought, and they drove the enemy away and pursued them, ran after them as far as Jerusalem, and as their numbers increased, proceeded as far as the king’s palace. (251) But as Hyrcanus and Phasaelus received them with a strong body of men, a battle took place in the marketplace, in which Herod’s party beat the enemy, shut them up in the Temple, and set sixty men in the houses adjoining as a guard over them. (252) But the people that were in league against the brothers came in and burned those men. As a result, Herod, in his rage for killing them, attacked and killed many of the people. Every day one party sallied out against the other by turns, and the slaughter was continuous among them.

(253) Now, when that festival which we call Pentecost (Shavuot) was at hand, all the places around the Temple and the entire city were full of country-folk, most of whom were armed also, at which time Phasaelus guarded the wall, and Herod with a small force guarded the royal palace. Then he made an assault upon his enemies, as they were out of their ranks in the north quarter of the city, and he killed a very great number of them and put them all to flight. Some of them he shut up within the city and others within the outward rampart. (254) In the meantime, Antigonus desired that Pacorus might be admitted as a reconciler between them, and Phasaelus was prevailed upon to admit the Parthian into the city with five hundred horsemen and to treat him in a hospitable manner. He pretended that he came to quell the tumult, but in reality he came to assist Antigonus. (255) However, Pacorus laid a plot for Phasaelus and persuaded him to go as an ambassador to Barzapharnes in order to put an end to the war. Herod, however, was very earnest with him to the contrary, and exhorted him to kill the plotter but not expose himself to the snares he had laid for him because the barbarians are naturally perfidious. However, Pacorus left and took Hyrcanus with him. So that he might be the less suspected, he also left some of the horsemen, called the Freemen by the parthians, 26 with Herod, and escorted Phasaelus with the rest.

(256) But now, when they arrived at Galilee, they found that the people of that region had revolted and were up in arms. The satrap [Barzapharnes], with whom they had an audience, sought to conceal his treacherous intentions by obliging behavior toward them. Accordingly, he at first gave them presents, and afterward, as they left, laid ambushes for them. (257) So when they came to one of the maritime cities called Ecdippon, 27 they perceived that a plot was laid for them…. (259) …Phasaelus went up to the Parthian governor and reproached him to his face for laying this treacherous plot against them, chiefly because he had done it for money, and he promised him that he would give him more money for their preservation than Antigonus had promised to give for the kingdom. (260) But the sly Parthian endeavored to remove all his suspicion by apologies and by oaths, and then went to [the prince] Pacorus. Immediately afterwards those Parthians who had been left behind, and had orders to do so, seized Phasaelus and Hyrcanus who could do no more than curse their perfidiousness and their perjury.

(261) In the meantime the cup-bearer was sent [back] and laid a plot to seize Herod by deluding him and getting him out of the city, as he was commanded to do. But Herod suspected the barbarians from the beginning, and then received intelligence that a messenger, who was to bring him letters that informed him of the intended treachery, had fallen into the hands of the enemy, and so he would not go out of the city. This was despite the fact that Pacorus said very positively that he ought to go out and meet the messengers who brought the letters, for the enemy had not taken them, and that their contents were not accounts of any plots upon them but of what Phasaelus had done. (262) Yet he had heard from others that his brother had been seized, and Alexandra, the shrewdest woman in the world, Hyrcanus’s daughter, begged of him that he would not go out nor trust himself to those barbarians who now had come to make an attempt upon him openly.

(263) While Pacorus and his friends were considering how they might bring their plot to fruition privately, because it was not possible to circumvent a man of such great prudence by openly attacking him, Herod prevented them and went off by night to Idumea 28 with the persons who were most closely related to him without their enemies being apprised of it. (264) But as soon as the Parthians perceived it, they pursued them. Then he gave orders for his mother, sister, and the young woman who was betrothed to him, with her mother, and his youngest brother, to continue their journey, while he himself with his servants secured their retreat holding off the barbarians. After every assault he killed a great many of them, and then he came to the stronghold of Masada. 29

(265) Indeed, he found by experience that the Jews were more troublesome to him than the Parthians and perpetually created trouble for him. Even after he had traveled sixty furlongs 30 from the city, they fought a regular battle which lasted a considerable time. So where Herod beat them and killed a great number of them, he subsequently built a citadel in memory of the great actions he did there, adorned it with the most costly palaces, erected very strong fortifications, and called it by his own name, Herodium. 31 (266) Now, as they were in flight, many joined themselves to him every day; and at a place called Rhesa in Idumea, 32 his brother Joseph met him and advised him to send away a great number of his followers because Masada would not contain so many people—over nine thousand. (267) Herod … arrived safely at the fortress with his nearest relations and retained with him only the stoutest of his followers. There he left eight hundred of his men as a guard for the women and provisions sufficient for a siege, but he himself hastened to Petra in Arabia. 33

(268) The Parthians in Jerusalem then began to plunder and fall upon the houses of those who had fled and upon the king’s palace, and they spared nothing but Hyrcanus’s money which amounted to no more than three hundred talents. They lighted on other men’s money also, but not so much as they hoped for. For Herod, having for a long while had a suspicion of the perfidiousness of the barbarians, had taken care to have the most splendid of his treasures removed to Idumea, and every one of his men had likewise done so. (269) But the Parthians proceeded to so great a degree of injustice as to fill all the country with undeclared war and to demolish the city Marissa. 34 Not only did they set up Antigonus as king, but they delivered Phasaelus and Hyrcanus bound into his hands for torture. (270) Antigonus himself bit off Hyrcanus’s ears with his own teeth, as he fell down upon his knees to him, so that he might never be able upon any change of affairs to assume the high priesthood again, for the high priests who officiated were to be perfect and without blemish. 35

(271) However, he failed in his purpose of abusing Phasaelus, by reason of his courage, for though he had the command of neither his sword nor his hands, he prevented all abuses by dashing his head against a stone. In this way, he showed himself to be Herod’s own brother, and Hyrcanus a most degenerate relation, and he died with great bravery, in keeping with his life’s career…. (273) This was the death of Phasaelus; but the Parthians… put the government of Jerusalem into the hands of Antigonus and took away Hyrcanus, bound him, and carried him to Parthia….

(281) Herod went to Rome with all speed. There he first of all went to Antony, on account of the friendship his father had enjoyed with him, and laid before him his misfortunes and those of his family; and that he had left his nearest relations besieged in a fortress and had sailed to him through a storm to make supplication to him for assistance.

(282) Thereupon Antony was moved to compassion at the change that had taken place in Herod’s affairs, both upon his calling to mind how hospitably he had been treated by Antipater, 36 but more especially on account of Herod’s own virtue. He then resolved to have him made king of the Jews, whom he had himself formerly made tetrarch. Also the conflict that he had with Antigonus was another inducement and of no less weight than the great regard he had for Herod, for he looked upon Antigonus as a seditious person and an enemy of the Romans. (283) As for Caesar, Herod found him more ready than Antony, remembering the wars he had gone through together with his father, the
hospitable treatment he had received from him, and the entirely good will he had shown to him, besides the enterprising character which he saw in Herod himself. (284) So he called the senate together where Messalas, and after him Atratinus, presented Herod before them, and gave a full account of the merits of his father and of his own good will to the Romans. At the same time, they demonstrated that Antigonus was their enemy, not only because he had earlier quarreled with them, but because he now overlooked the Romans and accepted the government of the Parthians. These reasons greatly moved the senate, so that when Antony came in and told them that it was to their advantage in the Parthian war that Herod should be king, they all cast their votes for it. (285) When the senate was adjourned, Antony and Caesar went out with Herod between them, while the consul and the rest of the magistrates went before them in order to offer sacrifices and to deposit the decree in the Capitol. Antony also made a feast for Herod on the first day of his reign….

(288) In the meantime Ventidius, the Roman general, was sent from Syria to restrain the incursions of the Parthians. After he had done that, he came into Judea on the pretense of assisting [Herod’s brother] Joseph and his party, but in reality to extort money from Antigonus. (289) He pitched his camp very near Jerusalem, and as soon as he had received enough money, he departed with the greatest part of his forces. Yet he still left Silo 37 with some part of them, for if he had taken them all away, his taking of bribes might have been too openly discovered. Now Antigonus hoped that the Parthians would come again to his assistance and, therefore, cultivated a good understanding with Silo in the meantime, to prevent any trouble from him before his expectations were realized.

(290) Now by this time Herod had sailed from Italy and arrived at Ptolemais. 38 As soon as he had gotten together a considerable army of foreigners and of his own countrymen, he marched through Galilee against Antigonus, wherein he was assisted by Ventidius and Silo… (291) The number of his forces increased every day as he went along, and all Galilee, with few exceptions, joined themselves to him…. (294) He easily recovered his relatives who were in Masada, as well as the fortress Rhesa, and then marched to Jerusalem where the soldiers who were with Silo joined themselves to his own, as did  many of the citizens out of dread of his power.

(295) Now, when he had pitched his camp on the west side of the city, the guards who were there shot their arrows and threw their darts at them, while others ran out in companies and attacked those in the forefront. But Herod ordered a proclamation to be made at the wall that he had come for the good of the people and the preservation of the city; without any design to take revenge on his avowed enemies, but to grant amnesty to them, though they had been the most obstinate against him. (296) Antigonus made a contrary exhortation and did not permit anybody to hear that proclamation nor to change sides. So Herod at once gave the order to his forces to beat the enemy back from the walls. Accordingly, they soon threw their darts at them and put them to flight from the towers….

(349) To stop the raiders, the king contrived that ambushes should be laid so that they might restrain their incursions. As for the lack of provisions, he provided that they should be brought to them from great distances. He was also too powerful for the Jews because of the Romans’ skill in the art of war. (350) Although they were bold to the utmost degree, they dared not engage in direct battle with the Romans which was certain death. But through their mines under the ground they would appear in the midst of them suddenly, and before they could batter down one wall, they built them another in its stead. To sum up all at once, they did not show any lack either of action or ingenuity, having resolved to hold out to the very last.

(351) Indeed, though they had so great an army besieging them, they bore a siege of five months, until some of Herod’s chosen men ventured to climb up the wall and jump down into the city, as did Sossius’ 39 centurions after them. They first seized the area around the Temple and when the army poured in, there was slaughter of vast multitudes everywhere because of the rage of the Romans due to the length of the siege and because the Jews who were with Herod were determined that none of their adversaries might remain alive. (352) So great multitudes were cut to pieces as they were crowded together in narrow streets and in houses or running away to the Temple. Nor was there any mercy shown either to infants, or to the aged, or to the weaker sex. Although the king sent a message that he desired them to spare the people, nobody could be persuaded to withhold his hand from slaughter, but like madmen they killed people of all ages. (353) Then Antigonus, without any regard to his former or to his present fortune, came down from the citadel and threw himself down at Sossius’ feet. Without pitying him at all upon the change in his condition, he laughed at him beyond measure and called him Antigonia. 40 Yet he did not treat him like a woman by letting him go free, but put him into bonds and kept him in custody.

(354) But Herod’s concern at present, now that he had his enemies under his power, was to restrain the zeal of his foreign auxiliaries, for the multitude of the foreigners were very eager to see the Temple and what was sacred in the holy house itself. But the king endeavored to restrain them, partly by his exhortations, partly by threats, indeed, partly by force, thinking that the victory would be worse than a defeat for him, if anything that ought not to be seen were seen by them. 41 (355) He also forbade, at the same time, the despoiling of the city, asking Sossius in the most earnest manner whether the Romans, by thus emptying the city of money and men, had a mind to leave him king of a desert. He told him that he judged the dominion of the habitable earth too small a compensation for the slaughter of so many citizens. (356) And when Sossius said that it was just to allow the soldiers this plunder as a reward for what they had suffered during the siege, Herod answered that he would give every one of the soldiers a reward out of his own money. So he purchased the deliverance of his country and kept his promises to them, and made presents in a magnificent manner to each soldier and proportionately to their commanders with a most royal bounty to Sossius himself, so that nobody went away unprovided. (357) Then Sossius dedicated a crown of gold to God and then withdrew from Jerusalem, leading Antigonus away in chains to Antony. Then the ax brought to his end one who still had a fond desire of life and some vain hopes of it to the last, but who, by his cowardly behavior, well deserved to die by it.

(358) Thereupon king Herod made a distinction among the population in the city. For those who were on his side, he made them still more his friends by the honors he conferred on them. But for those of Antigonus’ party, he killed them. As his money now ran low, he turned all the ornaments he had into money and sent it to Antony and to his

11. Sextus Julius Caesar, governor of the Roman province of Syria from 47-44 B.C.E., was not the famous Julius Caesar but a relative.

12. Pompey had conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E.

13. These appointments took place ca. 47 B.C.E.

14. The Greek word for “robbers” here also denotes revolutionaries. This Hezekias was part of a family that consistently opposed Roman rule over the Jews.

15. Sextus Caesar, as a relative of Caesar’s and a political appointee, had great power and influence which he later brought to bear to save Herod from being convicted for murder.

16. A more detailed account of Herod’s trial is found in Antiquities(text 10.1.2).

17. Syria and Palestine.

18. 44 B.C.E.

19. The Nabatean Arab king.

20. A region in northwest Asia Minor.

21. Marcus Valerius Mesalla Corvinus (ca. 70-3 B.C.E.), author, orator, and patron of literature, was a friend of Antony’s.

22. This title designated a secondary ruler, immediately under the high priest.

23. The appointment dates to 42-41 B.C.E.

24. 40 B.C.E.

25. The Hasmonean prince, Son of Aristobulus.

26. Most of the Parthian soldiers were slaves, but these were apparently free men.

27. Achziv, halfway between Tyre and present-day Haifa.

28. The present-day region of the Negev.

29. A fortress in the Judean Desert, south of Jerusalem on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

30. 7.5 miles.

31. A Judean fortress located about 7 miles south of Jerusalem

32. Some texts have Thressa.

33. Hebrew, Sela,the rock-cut city of the Nabateans located 140 miles south of Amman and 60 miles north of Eilat.

34. Maresha, ca. 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Recent excavations have shown that this was a major city in the Greco-Roman period.

35. Cf. Lev. 21-17-21.

36. Herod’s father.

37. Ventidius’ second-in-command.

38. Present-day Akko on the Mediterranean, south of Haifa.

39. Socius was governor of Syria, 38-37 B.C.E.

40. The feminine equivalent of his name.

41. Because this would be seen as so great an offense against the Jews that revolt might begin anew.