10. Herod Agrippa I
Dominion of the Herod Agrippa I (38 - 44 CE)
Showcase 10: Dominion of the Herod Agrippa I (38 - 44 CE)

Herod Agrippa I (38 – 44 CE) was the first to reign over a Jewish empire following Herod the Great. The grandson of Herod had spent most of his youth in Rome, where he was sent following the death of his father Aristobulus. There he became friends with Drusus, the son of the emperor Tiberius, as well as with the later emperor Gaius, called Caligula (Fig. A.). Suspected of conspiring against Tiberius to the advantage of Caligula, he was placed under house arrest in Rome. After Tiberius’ death, the new emperor Caligula transferred him the sovereign regions of Gaulanitis, Batanaea, Auranitis, Trachonitis, and Abila. He was also granted royal dignity. As a consequence of an argument with his brother-in-law Herod Antipas, whom Caligula exiled as a result, the new emperor also transferred him the domains of Galilee and Perea.

Following the murder of Caligula, Agrippa’s political instincts helped him to immediately form good relations with the new emperor, Claudius (Fig. B.), which he effected in cooperation with his brother, Herod of Chalcis (Map). Claudius thanked him for his council during his first days of office, publicly even, with the placement of a column in the Forum Romanum, and additionally transferred him the sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. The empire of Herod Agrippa nearly reached the expanse of the earlier empire of Herod the Great.

Agrippa died suddenly during the imperial games in Caesarea Maritima in 44 CE – allegedly because he had allowed himself to be venerated during the games as a god. This negative depiction in apostolic history stands in opposition to the positive characterization of Agrippa by Flavius Josephus. The latter describes Agrippa’s personal intervention against the installation of a statue of Caligula in the Temple of Jerusalem by the Syrian provincial governor Publius Petronius, which had met intense resistance by the Jewish populace: Agrippa thus rendered a great service to the Temple. Herod only escaped the threat of imperial retribution through the death of Caligula soon thereafter. Accounts of this episode differ in the written record, and a precise reconstruction of events is difficult.