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Herod ( , Hordos, Greek: , Hērōdēs), also known as Herod I or Herod the Great (born 74 BC, died 4 BC in Jerichomarker, was a Roman client king of Israel. He is often confused with his son Herod Antipas, also of the Herodian dynasty, who was ruler of Galilee (4 BC - 39 AD) during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. Herod is known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and other parts of the ancient world, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalemmarker, sometimes referred to as Herod's Temple. Some details of his biography can be gleaned from the works of the 1st century AD Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius.

Described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis," Herod is reported in the Gospel of Matthew as ordering the Massacre of the Innocents. Most recent biographers do not regard this as an actual historical event.


Herod was born around 74 BC. He was the second son of Antipater the Idumaean, a high-ranked official under Ethnarch Hyrcanus II, and Cypros, a Nabatean. A loyal supporter of Hyrcanus II, Antipater appointed Herod governor of Galilee at 25, and his elder brother, Phasael, governor of Jerusalem. He enjoyed the backing of Rome but his excessive brutality was condemned by the Sanhedrin.

In 43 BC, following the chaos caused by Antipater offering financial support to Caesar's murderers, Antipater was poisoned. Herod, backed by the Roman Army, executed his father's murderer.

After the battle of Philippi towards the end of 42 BC, he convinced Mark Antony and Octavian that his father had been forced to help Caesar's murderers. After Antony marched into Asia, Herod was named tetrarch of Galilee by the Romans. However, since Herod's family had converted to Judaism, his Jewishness had come into question by some elements of Jewish society . When the Maccabean John Hyrcanus conquered the region of Idumaea (the Edom of the Hebrew Bible) in 140–130 BC, he required all Idumaeans to obey Jewish law or to leave; most Idumaeans thus converted to Judaism, which meant that they had to be circumcised. While King Herod publicly identified himself as a Jew and was considered as such by some, this religious identification was undermined by the decadent lifestyle of the Herodians, which would have earned them the antipathy of observant Jews.

Two years later Antigonus, Hyrcanus' nephew, took the throne from his uncle with the help of the Parthians. Herod fled to Rome to plead with the Romans to restore him to power. There he was elected "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate. Josephus puts this in the year of the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio (40 BC), but Appian places it in 39 BC. Herod went back to Israel to win his kingdom from Antigonus and at the same time he married the teenage niece of Antigonus, Mariamne (known as Mariamne I), in an attempt to secure a claim to the throne and gain some Jewish favor. However, Herod already had a wife, Doris, and a three-year-old son, Antipater, and chose therefore to banish Doris and her child.

Three years later, Herod and the Romans finally captured Jerusalem and executed Antigonus. Herod took the role as sole ruler of Israel and the title of basileus (Gr. Βασιλευς, king) for himself, ushering in the Herodian Dynasty and ending the Hasmonean Dynasty. Josephus reports this as being in the year of the consulship of Agrippa and Gallus (37 BC), but also says that it was exactly 27 years after Jerusalem fell to Pompey, which would indicate 36 BC. (Cassius Dio also reports that in 37 "the Romans accomplished nothing worthy of note" in the area.) According to Josephus, he ruled for 37 years, 34 years of them after capturing Jerusalem.
Model of Herod's Temple

Herod later executed several members of his own family, including his wife Mariamne.A summary of the rest of his life can be found in the Chronology section below.

Architectural achievements

Herod's most famous and ambitious project was the expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

In the eighteenth year of his reign (20–19 BC), Herod rebuilt the Temple on "a more magnificent scale". The new Temple was finished in a year and a half, although work on out-buildings and courts continued another eighty years. To comply with religious law, Herod employed 1,000 priests as masons and carpenters in the rebuilding. The finished temple, which was destroyed in 70 AD, is sometimes referred to as Herod's Temple. Today, only the four retaining walls remain standing, including the Wailing Wallmarker or Western Wall. These walls created a flat platform (the Temple Mount) upon which the Temple was then constructed.

Some of Herod's other achievements include the development of water supplies for Jerusalem, building fortresses such as Masadamarker and Herodiummarker, and founding new cities such as Caesarea Maritimamarker and the enclosures of Cave of the Patriarchsmarker and Mamremarker in Hebronmarker. He and Cleopatra owned a monopoly over the extraction of asphalt from the Dead Sea, which was used in ship building. He leased copper mines on Cyprusmarker from the Roman emperor.

Discovery of quarry

On September 25, 2007, Yuval Baruch, archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced their discovery of a quarry compound which provided King Herod with the stones to renovate the second Temple. It houses the Temple Mountmarker. Coins, pottery and iron stakes found proved the date of the quarrying to be about 19 BC. Archaeologist Ehud Netzer confirmed that the large outlines of the stone cuts is evidence that it was a massive public project worked on by hundreds of slaves.

New Testament references

Herod the Great appears in ancient Christian scriptures, in the Gospel according to Matthew (Ch. 2), which describes an event known as the Massacre of the Innocents. No historical extra-biblical source exists supporting this claim of such a decree by Herod.

According to Matthew, shortly after the birth of Jesus, Magi from the East visited Herod to inquire the whereabouts of "the one having been born king of the Jews", because they had seen his star in the east and therefore wanted to pay him homage. Herod, who was himself King of the Jews, was alarmed at the prospect of the newborn king usurping his rule.

In the story, Herod assembled the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the "Anointed One" (the Messiah, Greek: ho christos) was to be born. They answered, in Bethlehemmarker, citing Micah 5:2. Herod therefore sent the Magi to Bethlehem, instructing them to search for the child and, after they had found him, to "report to me, so that I too may go and worship him". However, after they had found Jesus, the Magi were warned in a dream not to report back to Herod. Similarly, Joseph was warned in a dream that Herod intended to kill Jesus, so he and his family fled to Egypt. When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he gave orders to kill all boys of the age of two and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Joseph and his family stayed in Egypt until Herod's death, then moved to Nazarethmarker in Galilee in order to avoid living under Herod's son Archelaus.

The historical accuracy of this event has been questioned, since although Herod was certainly guilty of many brutal acts, including the killing of his wife and two of his sons, no other source from the period makes any reference to such a massacre. (Luke gives the impression that the Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned directly to Nazareth shortly after the birth.) Rather, the New Testament account of Herod killing these children may be meant to reflect the story of Moses as a type for Jesus. . Since Bethlehem was a small village, the number of male children under the age of 2, would probably not exceed 20. This may be the reason for the lack of other sources for this history. Although, Herod's order in Matthew 2-16 includes those children in Bethleham's vicinity, making the massacre larger numerically and geographically.


Since the work of Emil Schürer in 1896 scholars have generally concluded that Herod died at the end of March or early April in 4 BC.

Josephus wrote that Herod died 37 years after being named as King by the Romans, and 34 years after the death of Antigonus. This would imply that he died in 4 BC.

Further evidence is provided by the fact that his sons, between whom his kingdom was divided, dated their rule from 4 BC., and Archilaus apparently also exercised royal authority during Herod's lifetime. Josephus states that Philip the Tetrarch's death took place after a 37-year reign, in the 20th year of Tiberius (34 AD).

Josephus tells us that Herod died after a lunar eclipse. He gives an account of events between this eclipse and his death, and between his death and Passover. A partial eclipse took place on March 13, 4 BC, about 29 days before Passover, and this eclipse is usually taken to be the one referred to by Josephus. There were however three other, total, eclipses around this time, and there are proponents of both 5 BC– with two total eclipses, and 1 BC.

Josephus wrote that Herod's final illness – sometimes named as "Herod's Evil" – was excruciating ( Ant. 17.6.5). From Josephus' descriptions, some medical experts propose that Herod had chronic kidney disease complicated by Fournier's gangrene. Modern scholars agree he suffered throughout his lifetime from depression and paranoia. More recently, others report that the visible worms and putrefaction described in his final days are likely to have been scabies. This can explain his death, but can also account for his psychiatric symptoms. Similar symptoms attended the death of his grandson Herod Agrippa in AD 44.

Josephus also stated that Herod was so concerned that no one would mourn his death, that he commanded a large group of distinguished men to come to Jericho, and he gave order that they should be killed at the time of his death so that the displays of grief that he craved would take place. Fortunately for them, Herod's son Archilaus and sister Salome did not carry out this wish.

After Herod's death, his kingdom was divided among three of his sons. Archilaus became king of Judaea, Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and Philip became tetrarch of territories east of the Jordan.

Tomb discovery

The location of Herod's tomb is documented by Roman historian Flavius Josephus, who writes, "And the body was carried two hundred furlongs, to Herodium, where he had given order to be buried."

Flavius Josephus provides more clues about Herod's tomb which he calls Herod's monuments:
So they threw down all the hedges and walls which the inhabitants had made about their gardens and groves of trees, and cut down all the fruit trees that lay between them and the wall of the city, and filled up all the hollow places and the chasms, and demolished the rocky precipices with iron instruments; and thereby made all the place level from Scopus to Herod's monuments, which adjoined to the pool called the Serpent's Pool.

Professor Ehud Netzer, an archaeologist from Hebrew Universitymarker, read the writings of Josephus and focused his search on the vicinity of the pool and its surroundings at the Winter Palace of Herod in the Judean desert. An article of the New York Times states,
Lower Herodiummarker consists of the remains of a large palace, a race track, service quarters, and a monumental building whose function is still a mystery.
Perhaps, says Ehud Netzer, who excavated the site, it is Herod's mausoleum.
Next to it is a pool, almost twice as large as modern Olympic-size pools.

It took 35 years for Netzer to identify the exact location, but on May 7, 2007, an Israelimarker team of archaeologists of the Hebrew Universitymarker led by Netzer, announced they had discovered the tomb. The site is located at the exact location given by Flavius Josephus, atop of tunnels and water pools, at a flattened desert site, halfway up the hill to Herodiummarker, 12 kilometers (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem. The tomb contained a broken sarcophagus but no remains of a body.


30s BC

Judaea under Herod the Great.
  • 39–37 BC– War against Antigonus. After the conquest of Jerusalemmarker and victory over Antigonus, Mark Antony executes Antigonus.
  • 36 BC– Herod makes his 17-year-old brother-in-law, Aristobulus III of Israel, high priest, fearing that the Jews would appoint Aristobulus III of Israel "King of the Jews" in his place.
  • 35 BC– Aristobulus III is drowned at a party, on Herod's orders.
  • 32 BC– The war against Nabatea begins, with victory one year later.
  • 31 BC– Israel suffers a devastating earthquake. Octavian defeats Mark Antony, so Herod switches allegiance to Octavian, later known as Augustus.
  • 30 BC– Herod is shown great favour by Octavian, who at Rhodesmarker confirms him as King of Israel.

20s BC

  • 29 BC– Josephus writes that Herod had great passion and also great jealousy concerning his wife, Mariamne I. She learns of Herod's plans to murder her, and stops sleeping with him. Herod puts her on trial on a charge of adultery. His sister, Salome I, was chief witness against her. Mariamne I's mother Alexandra 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. Mariamne was executed, and Alexandra declared herself Queen, stating that Herod was mentally unfit to serve. Josephus wrote that this was Alexandra's strategic mistake; Herod executed her without trial.
  • 28 BC– Herod executed 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 was foiled. To honor Augustus, Herod rebuilt Samariamarker and renamed it Sebaste.
  • 25 BC– Herod imported grain from Egyptmarker and started an aid program to combat the widespread hunger and disease that followed a massive drought. He also waives a third of the taxes.
  • 23 BC– Herod built a palace in Jerusalem and the fortress Herodion (Herodium) in Judea. He married his third wife, Mariamne II, the daughter of high priest Simon.
  • 22 BC– Herod began construction on Caesarea Maritimamarker and its harbor. The Roman emperor Augustus grants him the regions Trachonitis, Batanaea and Auranitis to the north-east.
  • Circa 20 BC– Expansion started on the Second Temple. (See Herod's Temple)

10s BC

  • Circa 18 BC– Herod traveled for the second time to Rome.
  • 14 BC– Herod supported the Jews in Anatoliamarker and Cyrenemarker. Owing to the prosperity in Judaea he waived a quarter of the taxes.
  • 13 BC– Herod made his first-born son Antipater (his son by Doris) first heir in his will.
  • 12 BC– Herod suspected both his sons (from his marriage to Mariamne I) Alexander and Aristobulus of threatening his life. He took them to Aquileiamarker to be tried. Augustus reconciled the three. Herod supported the financially strapped Olympic Games and ensured their future. Herod amended his will so that Alexander and Aristobulus rose in the royal succession, but Antipater would be higher in the succession.
  • Circa 10 BC– The newly expanded temple in Jerusalem was inaugurated. War against the Nabateans began.

0s BC

  • 9 BC– Caesarea Maritima was inaugurated. Owing to the course of the war against the Nabateans, Herod fell into disgrace with Augustus. Herod again suspected Alexander of plotting to kill him.
  • 8 BC– Herod accused his sons by Mariamne I of high treason. Herod reconciled with Augustus, who also gave him the permission to proceed legally against his sons.
  • 7 BC– The court hearing took place in Berytos (Beirutmarker) before a Roman court. Mariamne I's sons were found guilty and executed. The succession changed so that Antipater was the exclusive successor to the throne. In second place the succession incorporated (Herod) Philip, his son by Mariamne II.
  • 6 BC– Herod proceeded against the Pharisees.
  • 5 BC– Antipater was brought before the court charged with the intended murder of Herod. Herod, by now seriously ill, named his son (Herod) Antipas (from his fourth marriage with Malthace) as his successor.
  • 4 BC– Young disciples smashed the golden eagle over the main entrance of the Temple of Jerusalem after the Pharisee teachers claimed it was an idolatrous Roman symbol. Herod arrested them, brought them to court, and sentenced them. Augustus approved the death penalty for Antipater. Herod then executed his son, and again changed his will: Archelaus (from the marriage with Malthace) would rule as king over Herod's entire kingdom, while Antipas (by Malthace) and Philip (from the fifth marriage with Cleopatra of Jerusalem) would rule as Tetrarchs over Galilee and Peraea (Transjordan), also over Gaulanitis (Golan), Trachonitis (Hebrew: Argob), Batanaea (now Ard-el-Bathanyeh) and Paniasmarker. As Augustus did not confirm his will, no one got the title of King; however, the three sons did get the stated territories.

Marriages and children

Herod's marriages and children
Wife Children
Mariamne I, daughter of Hasmonean Alexandros
Mariamne II, daughter of High-Priest Simon
Cleopatra of Jerusalem
  • Son Phasael
  • Daughter Roxane
A cousin (name unknown)
  • no known children
A niece (name unknown)
  • no known children
It is very probable that Herod had more children, especially with the last wives, and also that he had more daughters, as female births at that time were often not recorded.

Family trees

Marriages and descendants

See also Herod's Family Tree
Herod the Great + Doris
             d. 4 BC?

Herod the Great + Mariamne I, d. 29 BC?, dt. of Alexandros.
      |          |          |                       |
 Aristobulus   Alexander   Salampsio + Phasael     Cypros
  d. 7 BC?  d. 7 BC? |             m. Antipater(2)
 m. Berenice                       Cypros
    |                |              |                |               |
Mariamne III      Herod III      Herodias     Herod Agrippa    Aristobulus V
m. her uncle   King of Chalcismarker      +         King of Israel
   Archelaus ?  m. 1. Herod II Boethus
                                her uncle
                                2. Herod Antipas
                                her uncle

Herod the Great + Mariamne II, dt. of Simon the High-Priest.
           Herod II

Herod the Great + Malthace (a Samaritan)
   |                                   |            |
 Herod Antipas                     Archelaus    Olympias
   b. 20 BC?
   + Phasaelismarker,
   dt. of Aretas IV, king of Arabia
 "divorced" to marry:
   + Herodias,
   dt. of Aristobulus (son of Herod the Great)

Herod the Great + Cleopatra of Jerusalem
       Philip the Tetrarch
             d. 34 AD

  • Antipater(2) was the son of Joseph and Salome
  • Dates with ? need verifying against modern findings


Antipater the Idumaean + Cypros, Princess from Petra, Jordanmarker in Nabatea.
   |              |            |        |        |
Phasael    Herod the Great  Joseph  Pheroras  Salome I
          (74-4 BC)

Sign & Meaning
+ = married
| = descended from
../——— = sibling
dt. = daughter
b. = born
d. = died
m. = was married to
? = not included here or unknown
Alexandros + Alexandra
     |                                   |
Aristobulus III of Israel            Mariamne, dt.
(d. 35 BC)                              m. 'Herod the Great
(last Hasmonean scion;
appointed high priest; drowned)

Herod in later culture


Further reading

  • Duane W. Roller, The Building Program of Herod the Great(Berkeley, 1998).
  • Robert Gree, Herod the Great
  • Michael Grant, Herod the Great
  • Adam Kolman Marshak, "The Dated Coins of Herod the Great: Towards a New Chronology." Journal for the Study of Judaism 37.2 (2006) 212-240.

External links

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