7. Herod the Great as King
Dominion of Herod about 30 BCE
Showcase 7: Dominion of Herod about 30 BCE

The capture of Jerusalem in 37 BCE began the nearly 33-year autocracy of Herod the Great, who is distinguished by his exceptional political and diplomatic capabilities. This was accompanied by an extensive building program, which especially in the later years of his reign extended far beyond the borders of his own kingdom. In contrast, his estimation in antique literary sources, from the texts of the New Testament to those of Flavius Josephus as well as numerous other Jewish and Roman commentators, focuses on his ruthless and brutal treatment of his political enemies and indeed many members of his own family (Fig.A.).

Herod’s official position was that of a rex socius et amicus populi Romani, that is, an “allied king and friend of the Roman people.” His most significant internal opponents were the Hasmonean family and the traditional power structures associated with the Hasmoneans, particularly the Temple priests headed by the high priest and the aristocracy.

Aristobulus III, the last male survivor of the Hasmonean dynasty and brother of Herod’s wife Mariamne, was named high priest simultaneous with Herod’s assumption of absolute rule. Half-Jewish, Herod could not occupy the office himself. The appointment of Aristobulus was primarily effected by the Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra and by Alexandra, Herod’s stepmother. The young Aristobulus, however, represented an excessive threat for Herod. Following the first Feast of Tabernacles that Aristobulus celebrated as high priest, Herod had the 17-year-old drowned in the pool of his palace in Jericho (Fig. B.).