HEROD THE GREAT

ca. 73-4 B.C.

King of Judaea

Herod the Great ruled the kingdom of Judaea, from 37 to 4 B.C., with the support of Rome. Although Herod was an excellent administrator who governed pagans*, Jews, and other peoples, his cruelty eventually lost him the support of the Roman emperor.

Because of the influence of his father, Antipater, Herod was named governor of the territory of Galilee in 47 B.C. During the conquest of Judaea by the kingdom of Parthia, Herod fled to Rome. The Roman Senate named him king of Judaea, and Herod strengthened his claim to the throne by marrying Mariamne, a princess in an important Jewish family. Herod returned to Judaea with Roman troops and captured Jerusalem in 37 B.C. The Roman emperor Caesar Octavianus Augustus later added additional territories and cities to Herod’s kingdom.

Herod built numerous structures during his long reign, including an elaborate artificial harbor, which he named Caesarea in honor of the emperor. In Jerusalem, he constructed an amphitheater* for sports events and a theater for plays, but most importantly he was responsible for rebuilding the ancient Jewish temple. A lover of Greek culture, Herod gave lavish gifts to the city of Athens and helped sponsor the Olympic Games.

Intensely suspicious of his in-laws, believing they desired his throne, Herod eventually executed Queen Mariamne as well as her mother, brother, and grandfather. Toward the end of his reign, a feud developed between Herod and his two sons by Mariamne, Aristobulus and Alexander. Although they were his designated heirs, Herod had them both executed in 7 B.C. Herod also killed his oldest son Antipater shortly before his own death. Herod’s kingdom was divided among three of his surviving younger sons—Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Philip. (See also Judaism; Temples.)

* pagan referring to a belief in more than one god; non-Christian

* amphitheater oval or round structure with rows of seats rising gradually from a stage or central open space

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