Antipater and Herod Friends and Allies of Rome

Antipater, the chameleonic governor of Idumea, and his son Herod were able to mitigate the impact upon Judea of the tumultuous years of late Republican Rome. They had the uncanny ability to ally themselves with each new leader who emerged from the crumbling Roman Republic, changing loyalties as often as Rome changed governments. Their careers spanned those of the commanders who engineered the birth of the Roman Empire—Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus (Caesar's assassins), Mark Antony and Octavian (Caesar's avengers), Cleopatra, and, finally, Octavian, who emerged as the sole ruler and the first Roman emperor.

After the conquest of Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E., Antipater understood quickly that Judea's statehood would not be restored and that only cooperation with Pompey, its new Roman ruler, would ensure his personal financial security and power. Nonetheless, when Pompey was defeated and assassinated by Julius Caesar in 48 B.C.E., Antipater readily changed allegiances and promoted Caesar's interests. Caesar and Antipater together reconfirmed Hyrcanus II as high priest and ethnarch, and together they restored Judea to the status of a client kingdom rather than a Roman province. For his part in these affairs, Josephus tells us that Antipater received the privileges of Roman citizenship with exemption from taxes as well as other honors and marks of friendship. Hyrcanus II held titular power as high priest and king. Antipater, however, seems to have held the real power—financial, popular, and military—and was emboldened to appoint his son Herod as governor of Galilee.

Herod shared his father's genius for chameleonic politics. Twice he overcame the stigma of a previous alliance with their enemies to win the confidence of new rulers. In the first instance, he allied himself with Julius Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius, who promised to establish him as king of the Jews after their war with Mark Antony and Octavian. But in 42 B.C.E. that outcome was reversed: Mark Antony and Octavian defeated Caesar's assassins at the Battle of Philippi. Despite the fact that he had cooperated with his enemies, Mark Antony appointed Herod King of the Jews, the chief administrator of the whole of Judea. The Roman Senate acted quickly to confirm Herod's appointment with the expectation that he would reclaim Palestine from the Parthians, who had invaded Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine in 40 B.C.E. But Herod was King of the Jews only in Rome. After seven short days of festivities, including a banquet given by his former enemy Mark Antony, Herod returned to Judea where it took him three years to subdue the anti-Roman factions (see Primary Document 2.2).

In the second instance, Herod was again allied with defeated Roman generals and was forced to win the confidence of his victorious former enemy. When the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra challenged Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.E., Herod was working for Mark Antony on a campaign against his belligerent neighbors to the east, the Nabateans. Despite this alliance with Mark Antony, Herod won the support of the victorious Octavian. Just after the Battle of Actium, on the island of Rhodes in 30 B.C.E., Herod put aside his royal diadem as an act of submission and asked Octavian not to consider the fact that he had been loyal to Mark Antony, but rather how loyal he had been; and he promised to be just as loyal to Octavian. Octavian acted quickly to reaffirm Herod's title as King of the Jews and soon thereafter vastly expanded his territory.

From 20-14 B.C.E., Herod's kingdom echoed the peace and flourishing prosperity of the renowned pax Romana under Augustus that Eusebius later claimed was achieved by God's divine plan to prepare the world to receive Jesus as Christ the Messiah (see Primary Document 2.3). Herod's political star was on the rise. This period in his long reign was marked by lavish entertainments, luxurious building projects, and the construction of vast and splendid cities: Greco-Roman theatres, amphitheatres, fortresses, palaces, colonnades, and temples decorated his territories. His own palace was filled with sculptures and embellished with silver, gold, and other precious materials; a new city, Caesarea, took twelve years to build and was an architectural marvel. The Temple in Jerusalem, however, was the most magnificent of all his building projects. Herod began the project in 20 B.C.E., and it was not completed until 64 C.E., just a few years before the Romans destroyed it. Its massive size and unspeakable riches are proverbial, and the fact that portions of it still remain standing despite the Romans' best effort to raze it illustrates the drama of its scale.

On the one hand, Herod's reign was characterized by the grand entertainments, reduced taxes, general peace, and brilliant cultural achievements of a ruler who enjoyed Augustus' imperial favor; on the other hand, however, his reign was characterized by a personal life rent by intrigue, murder, and anguish. Beginning in 29 B.C.E., when he had his wife Mariamme murdered on a trumped up charge of disloyalty, until his death, just about the time of Jesus' birth, Herod's reign steadily devolved into despotism.

In the years just before his death, Herod's sons from his multiple wives— Antipater, Alexander, Aristobulus, Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip—were embroiled in succession rivalries. Antipater, Herod's son by his first wife, sought to undermine his half-brothers Alexander and Aristobulus, Herod's sons by the Hasmonean Mariamme, his second wife. Their intrigues reached such an intolerable level that Herod had Mariamme's sons killed in 7 B.C.E., and, soon thereafter, Antipater was charged with conspiring to kill his father. In 4 B.C.E., in the final days of his life, Herod had Antipater killed, too. His will named his three other sons—the brothers Archelaus and Antipas, and their half-brother, Philip—as his successors.

Although Augustus allowed Herod's three sons to divide his kingdom at his death in 4 B.C.E., he deposed the eldest, Archelaus, in 6 C.E., and sent him to exile in Vienne. At his brother's deposition, Antipas received the dynastic title Herod; he ruled over a predominantly Jewish Aramaic speaking population in Galilee and Perea, the areas north and east of Judea, until 39 C.E. It was in his territory that Jesus had been born while his father still ruled; it was under his rule that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist; and it was in his territory that Jesus preached and taught that a new God, a loving Father, was accessible by prayer to a new community of the faithful. Jesus' teaching was unique and he was called the prophet promised by all the prophets, come to lift the Jews from the oppression of Rome and the defilement of Hellenization.


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