6. The Rise of Herod the Great
Dominion of Herod about 37 BCE
Showcase 6: Dominion of Herod about 37 BCE

In the course of the civil war that erupted in the Roman Empire in 49 BCE, power relations in the Jewish world also changed. After the victory of Julius Caesar († 44 BCE) over Pompey and the latter’s murder in Egypt († 48 BCE), Antipater and Hyrcanus II defected to the camp of the victors (Fig. A.).

Antipater came to Julius Caesar’s aid when surrounded by Ptolemy XIII, the brother of Cleopatra VII. As a reward, Antipater became a “friend” of Caesar. This connection provided the basis for a close relationship between Antipater’s heirs and the rulers of Rome. Additionally, Antipater was conferred Roman citizenship and the associated privilege of freedom from taxation. As a further reward, Antipater’s sons Herod and his brother Phasael were named governors of Galilee and Judea. This was the foundation for Herod’s later position of power.After Caesar’s murder in 44 BCE, Antipater and Herod joined the side of the Caesareans, Marcus Antonius († 30 BCE) and Caesar’s grandnephew Octavian. The increasing power of Antipater and his sons awakened mistrust among the Jewish upper classes, as Antipater’s close relationship with the Roman leaders conferred him an importance which they had nothing to counter, and which rendered him virtually untouchable. This eventually led to the murder of Antipater in 43 BCE.

In 40 BCE, the Hasmonean Antigonus II Mattathias (40 – 37 BCE), who had fled to the Parthians, saw his chance and seized power (see also Chapter 5). For the promise of a payment of 1000 (likely silver) talents and 500 women, he succeeded, with Parthian assistance, in bringing Jerusalem under his sovereignty (Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae 14,331). Herod was forced to flee Jerusalem with his family and sought refuge in the desert fortress of Masada.