King Herod the Great was brilliant & ruthless. He was trusted by the Romans but hated by his Jewish subjects
Mark Antony, Roman ruler of the eastern half of the Mediterranean was a friend to Herod the Great
Mariamme, Herod’s beautiful royal wife, was loved by the people. Herod both feared and loved her. Eventually he engineered her brother’s death by drowning, and then arranged Mariamme’s judicial murder by strangulation. He then murdered her mother and two of the sons Mariamme had borne him.
King Herod in the Gospels
The New Testament says Herod the Great was a ruthless tyrant who, on hearing from the Wise Men that a new king had been born in Bethlehem, killed all the male children under two years in that town.
There is no other historical record of this incident, but given Herod’s paranoia, it is quite possible that this event really happened. See Slaughter of the Innocents
King Herod questioned by the Three Wise Men, James Tissot
Who was King Herod the Great?
Herod was born in Palestine at a time of political turmoil. His father Antipater, an ambitious and clever soldier, rose rapidly in the service of the king. Eventually he ousted the king from his throne and took it for himself.
Antipater appointed his son Herod as governor of Galilee, and six years later Mark Antony made him tetrarch.
Six years after this the Senate in Rome named him king of Judea and gave him an army to make good his claim.
By the age of 36, Herod was unchallenged ruler of Judea.
To strengthen his hold on power he divorced his first wife Doris and married the beautiful Mariamme, a princess of the Hasmonean royal family.
Mark Antony, Herod’s patron
Bust of a Roman, said to be Mark Antony
Herod may or may not have been deeply in love with Mariamme, though the Jewish historian Josephus says he was. But Josephus was dependent on Herod’s favor and always gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Herod supported his patron Mark Antony until he lost the Battle of Actium, when he adroitly switched sides and became an ally and friend of the victor of this battle, Octavian, who became the Emperor Augustus.
Herod the Builder
As well as being a clever politician, Herod the Great was one of the most prolific builders of the ancient world. Among other things, he built
the port of Caesarea on the coast between Joppa and Haifa, and
Sebaste on the site of ancient Samaria.
His most grandiose achievement was the Temple in Jerusalem, which he completely rebuilt. The platform for this construction is the Temple Mount.
And here’s something you probably don’t know: Herod was the president of the Olympic Games during his reign!
Reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, begun by Herod the Great and completed after his death
A model of one of King Herod’s palaces, this one at Jericho
Much of what he did was an attempt to make up for his birth – he was of Arab origin on both sides, a fact his Jewish subjects never forgave.
He resented and envied the love his subjects had for the former royal family, the Hasmoneans, and ended up murdering most of the members of that family, including
his wife Mariamme,
their two sons,
his young brother-in-law,
his mother-in-law, and
Mariamme’s aged grandfather.
Herod sentences Mariamne to death, Waterhouse
When Herod had his two sons strangled, Augustus commented that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son, since Jews do not eat pork…
Herod goes mad
During his last years – the years in which the Massacre of the Innocents took place – Herod descended into madness and paranoia.
He was in great physical and mental pain, and soon after a failed suicide attempt this complex, demented, brilliant man died.
Herod the Great
You need to know there were four different men called Herod in the New Testament. It is a dynastic/family name. All were descendents of the founder of the dynasty, Herod Antipater.
Herod the Great, son of the founder of the dynasty, made procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47BC
Herod Antipas, ruled Galilee at the time of Jesus’ ministry. Married Herodias and executed John the Baptist
Herod Agrippa I, friend of the emperors Caligula and Claudius, killed James and imprisoned Peter
Herod Agrippa II, heard St Paul’s case and advised he be acquitted
Famous Quotes about the four Herods
‘When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16, King Herod the Great)
The Killing of the Innocents, Leon Coginet
‘His head (John the Baptist’s) was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother..’ (Matthew 14:10, Herod Antipas)
‘At about that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, brother of John, killed with the sword. He proceeded to arrest Peter also.’ (Acts 12:1-3, Herod Agrippa I)
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ (Acts 26:14, Paul reporting to Agrippa II)