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Herod I the Great
King of the Jews, Ruler of Galilee and Batanea
Fictional, undated portrayal of Herod the Great.
Reign 37 (or 36 BCE[1]) - 4 BCE (or 1 BCE[1][2])
Born 74 BCE (or 71 BCE[1])
Died 4 BC (or 1 BC[1]) (aged 70)
Place of death Jericho, Samaria
Buried Herodium, Judea
Predecessor Antigonus II Mattathias
Successor Herod Archelaus
Wives Doris
Mariamne I
Mariamne II
Cleopatra of Jerusalem
Dynasty Herodian Dynasty
Father Antipater the Idumaean
Mother Cypros

Herod (Hebrew: הוֹרְדוֹס‎, Hordos, Greek: Ἡρῴδης, Hērōdēs), also known as Herod I or Herod the Great (born 74 BCE, died 4 BCE in Jericho, according to other data, 1 BCE[1][2]), was a Jewish Roman client king of Israel.[3] He was described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis."[4] He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and other parts of the ancient world, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as Herod's Temple. Some details of his biography can be gleaned from the works of the 1st century CE Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius.

His son Herod Antipas, who continued the Herodian dynasty, was ruler of Galilee (4 BCE - 39 CE) during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.


Copper coin of Herod, bearing the legend "ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΗΡΩΔΟΥ" ("Basileōs Hērōdou") on the obverse

Herod was born around 74 BCE.[5] He was the second son of Antipater the Idumaean, a high-ranked official under Ethnarch Hyrcanus II, and Cypros, a Nabatean.[6] A loyal supporter of Hyrcanus II, Antipater appointed Herod governor of Galilee at 25, and his elder brother, Phasae], governor of Jerusalem. He enjoyed the backing of Rome but his excessive brutality was condemned by the Sanhedrin.

In 43 BCE, following the chaos caused by Antipater offering financial support to Julius Caesar's murderers, Antipater was poisoned. Herod, backed by the Roman Army, executed his father's murderer.

After the battle of Philipp] towards the end of 42 BCE, he convinced Mark Antony and Octavian that his father had been forced to help Caesar's murderers. After Antony marched into Asia, Herod was named tetrarch of Galilee by the Romans. However, since Herod's family had converted to Judaism, his Jewishness had come into question by some elements of Jewish society. When the Maccabean John Hyrcanus conquered the region of Idumaea (the Edom of the Hebrew Bible) in 140–130 BCE, he required all Idumaeans to obey Jewish law or to leave; most Idumaeans thus converted to Judaism, which meant that they had to be circumcised.[7] While King Herod publicly identified himself as a Jew and was considered as such by some,[8] this religious identification was undermined by the decadent lifestyle of the Herodians, which would have earned them the antipathy of observant Jews.[9]

Two years later Antigonus, Hyrcanus' nephew, took the throne from his uncle with the help of the Parthians Herod fled to Rome to plead with the Romans to restore him to power. There he was elected "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate.[10] Josephus puts this in the year of the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio (40 BCE), but Appian places it in 39 BCE.[5] Herod went back to Israel to win his kingdom from Antigonus and at the same time he married the teenage niece of Antigonus, Mariamne (known as Mariamne I), in an attempt to secure a claim to the throne and gain some Jewish favor. However, Herod already had a wife, Doris, and a three-year-old son, Antipater, and chose therefore to banish Doris and her child.

Three years later, Herod and the Romans finally captured Jerusalem and executed Antigonus. Herod took the role as sole ruler of Israel and the title of basileus (Gr. Βασιλευς, king) for himself, ushering in the Herodian Dynasty and ending the Hasmonean Dynasty. Josephus reports this as being in the year of the consulship of Agrippa and Gallus (37 BC), but also says that it was exactly 27 years after Jerusalem fell to Pompey, which would indicate 36 BCE. (Cassius Dio also reports that in 37 "the Romans accomplished nothing worthy of note" in the area.[11]) According to Josephus, he ruled for 37 years, 34 years of them after capturing Jerusalem.

Model of Herod's Temple

Herod later executed several members of his own family, including his wife Mariamne. A summary of the rest of his life can be found in the Chronology section below.

Architectural achievements

Herod's most famous and ambitious project was the expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

In the eighteenth year of his reign (20–19 BCE), Herod rebuilt the Temple on "a more magnificent scale".[12] The new Temple was finished in a year and a half, although work on out-buildings and courts continued another eighty years.[12] To comply with religious law, Herod employed 1,000 priests as masons and carpenters in the rebuilding.[12] The finished temple, which was destroyed in 70 CE, is sometimes referred to as Herod's Temple. Today, only the four retaining walls remain standing, including the Wailing Wall or Western Wall. These walls created a flat platform (the Temple Mount) upon which the Temple was then constructed.

Some of Herod's other achievements include the development of water supplies for Jerusalem, building fortresses such as Masada and Herodium, and founding new cities such as Caesarea Maritima and the enclosures of Cave of the Patriarchs and Mamre in Hebron. He and Cleopatra owned a monopoly over the extraction of asphalt from the Dead Sea, which was used in ship building. He leased copper mines on Cyprus from the Roman emperor.

Discovery of quarry

On September 25, 2007, Yuval Baruch, archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced their discovery of a quarry compound which provided King Herod with the stones to renovate the Second Temple. Coins, pottery and iron stakes found proved the date of the quarrying to be about 19 BC. Archaeologist Ehud Netzer confirmed that the large outlines of the stone cuts is evidence that it was a massive public project worked on by hundreds of slaves.[13]

New Testament references

Herod the Great appears in ancient Christian scriptures, in the Gospel according to Matthew (Ch. 2), which describes an event known as the Massacre of the Innocents.

According to Matthew, shortly after the birth of Jesus, Magi from the East visited Herod to inquire the whereabouts of "the one having been born king of the Jews", because they had seen his star in the east and therefore wanted to pay him homage. Herod, who was himself King of the Jews, was alarmed at the prospect of the newborn king usurping his rule.

In the story, Herod assembled the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the "Anointed One" (the Messiah, Greek: ho christos) was to be born. They answered, in Bethlehem, citing Micah 5:2. Herod therefore sent the Magi to Bethlehem, instructing them to search for the child and, after they had found him, to "report to me, so that I too may go and worship him". However, after they had found Jesus, the Magi were warned in a dream not to report back to Herod. Similarly, Joseph was warned in a dream that Herod intended to kill Jesus, so he and his family fled to Egypt. When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he gave orders to kill all boys of the age of two and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Joseph and his family stayed in Egypt until Herod's death, then moved to Nazareth in Galilee in order to avoid living under Herod's son Archelaus.

Regarding the Massacre of the Innocents, although Herod was certainly guilty of many brutal acts, including the killing of his wife and two of his sons, no other known source from the period makes any reference to such a massacre.[14] Since Bethlehem was a small village, the number of male children under the age of 2, would probably not exceed 20. This may be the reason for the lack of other sources for this history,[15] although Herod's order in Matthew 2-16 includes those children in Bethlehem's vicinity making the massacre larger numerically and geographically.


Coin of Herod the Great, bearing a temple and Star of David

Since the work of Emil Schürer in 1896[16] scholars have generally concluded that Herod died at the end of March or early April in 4 BCE.[5][17]

Further evidence is provided by the fact that his sons, between whom his kingdom was divided, dated their rule from 4 BC.[18], and Archilaus apparently also exercised royal authority during Herod's lifetime.[19] Josephus states that Philip the Tetrarch's death took place after a 37-year reign, in the 20th year of Tiberius (34 CE).[20]

Josephus tells us that Herod died after a lunar eclipse.[21] He gives an account of events between this eclipse and his death, and between his death and Passover. A partial eclipse[22] took place on March 13, 4 BCE, about 29 days before Passover, and this eclipse is usually taken to be the one referred to by Josephus.[23] There were however three other, total, eclipses around this time, and there are proponents of both 5 BCE[24]– with two total eclipses[25][26], and 1 BCE[5].

Bronze coin of Herod the Great, minted at Samaria.

Josephus wrote that Herod's final illness – sometimes named as "Herod's Evil"[27] – was excruciating.[28] From Josephus' descriptions, some medical experts propose that Herod had chronic kidney disease complicated by Fournier's gangrene.[29] Modern scholars agree he suffered throughout his lifetime from depression and paranoia.[30] More recently, others report that the visible worms and putrefaction described in his final days are likely to have been scabies. This can explain his death, but can also account for his psychiatric symptoms.[31] Similar symptoms attended the death of his grandson Herod Agrippa in 44 CE.

Josephus also stated that Herod was so concerned that no one would mourn his death, that he commanded a large group of distinguished men to come to Jericho, and he gave order that they should be killed at the time of his death so that the displays of grief that he craved would take place. Fortunately for them, Herod's son Archilaus and sister Salome did not carry out this wish.

After Herod's death, his kingdom was divided among three of his sons. Archilaus became king of Judaea, Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and Philip became tetrarch of territories east of the Jordan.

Tomb discovery

Aerial photo of Herodium from the southwest

The location of Herod's tomb is documented by Roman historian Flavius Josephus, who writes, "And the body was carried two hundred furlongs, to Herodium, where he had given order to be buried."[32]

Flavius Josephus provides more clues about Herod's tomb which he calls Herod's monuments:

So they threw down all the hedges and walls which the inhabitants had made about their gardens and groves of trees, and cut down all the fruit trees that lay between them and the wall of the city, and filled up all the hollow places and the chasms, and demolished the rocky precipices with iron instruments; and thereby made all the place level from Scopus to Herod's monuments, which adjoined to the pool called the Serpent's Pool.[33]

Professor Ehud Netzer, an archaeologist from Hebrew University, read the writings of Josephus and focused his search on the vicinity of the pool and its surroundings at the Winter Palace of Herod in the Judean desert. An article from the New York Times states,

Lower Herodium consists of the remains of a large palace, a race track, service quarters, and a monumental building whose function is still a mystery. Perhaps, says Ehud Netzer, who excavated the site, it is Herod's mausoleum. Next to it is a pool, almost twice as large as modern Olympic-size pools.[34]

It took 35 years for Netzer to identify the exact location, but on May 7, 2007, an Israeli team of archaeologists of the Hebrew University led by Netzer, announced they had discovered the tomb.[35][36][37][38][39] The site is located at the exact location given by Flavius Josephus, atop of tunnels and water pools, at a flattened desert site, halfway up the hill to Herodium, 12 kilometers (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem.[40] The tomb contained a broken sarcophagus but no remains of a body.


30s BCE

The taking of Jerusalem by Herod the Great, 36 BCE, by Jean Fouquet, late 15th century.

Judaea under Herod the Great.

  • 39–37 BCE– War against Antigonus. After the conquest of Jerusalem and victory over Antigonus, Mark Antony executes Antigonus.
  • 36 BCE– Herod makes his 17-year-old brother-in-law, Aristobulus III of Israel, high priest, fearing that the Jews would appoint Aristobulus III of Israel "King of the Jews" in his place.
  • 35 BCE– Aristobulus III is drowned at a party, on Herod's orders.
  • 32 BCE– The war against Nabatea begins, with victory one year later.
  • 31 BCE– Israel suffers a devastating earthquake. Octavian defeats Mark Antony, so Herod switches allegiance to Octavian, later known as Augustus.
  • 30 BCE– Herod is shown great favour by Octavian, who at Rhodes confirms him as King of Israel.

20s BCE

  • 29 BCE– Josephus writes that Herod had great passion and also great jealousy concerning his wife, Mariamne I. She learns of Herod's plans to murder her, and stops sleeping with him. Herod puts her on trial on a charge of adultery. His sister, Salome I, was chief witness against her. Mariamne I's mother Alexandra made an appearance and incriminated her own daughter. Historians say her mother was next on Herod's list to be executed and did this only to save her own life. Mariamne was executed, and Alexandra declared herself Queen, stating that Herod was mentally unfit to serve. Josephus wrote that this was Alexandra's strategic mistake; Herod executed her without trial.
  • 28 BCE– Herod executed his brother-in-law Kostobar[41] (husband of Salome, father to Berenice) for conspiracy. Large festival in Jerusalem, as Herod had built a theatre and an amphitheatre.
  • 27 BCE– An assassination attempt on Herod was foiled. To honor Augustus, Herod rebuilt Samaria and renamed it Sebaste.
  • 25 BCE– Herod imported grain from Egypt and started an aid program to combat the widespread hunger and disease that followed a massive drought. He also waives a third of the taxes.
  • 23 BCE– Herod built a palace in Jerusalem and the fortress Herodion (Herodium) in Judea. He married his third wife, Mariamne II, the daughter of high priest Simon.[42]
  • 22 BCE– Herod began construction on Caesarea Maritima and its harbor. The Roman emperor Augustus grants him the regions Trachonitis, Batanaea and Auranitis to the north-east.
  • Circa 20 BCE– Expansion started on the Temple Mount; Herod completely rebuilt the Second Temple of Jerusalem (see Herod's Temple).

10s BCE

  • Circa 18 BCE– Herod traveled for the second time to Rome.
  • 14 BCE– Herod supported the Jews in Anatolia and Cyrene. Owing to the prosperity in Judaea he waived a quarter of the taxes.
  • 13 BCE– Herod made his first-born son Antipater (his son by Doris) first heir in his will)].
  • 12 BCE– Herod suspected both his sons (from his marriage to Mariamne I) Alexander and Aristobulus of threatening his life. He took them to Aquileia to be tried. Augustus reconciled the three. Herod supported the financially strapped Olympic Games and ensured their future. Herod amended his will so that Alexander and Aristobulus rose in the royal succession, but Antipater would be higher in the succession.
  • Circa 10 BCE– The newly expanded temple in Jerusalem was inaugurated. War against the Nabateans began.

0s BCE

  • 9 BCE–Caesarea Maritima was inaugurated. Owing to the course of the war against the Nabateans, Herod fell into disgrace with Augustus. Herod again suspected Alexander of plotting to kill him.
  • 8 BCE– Herod accused his sons by Mariamne I of high treason. Herod reconciled with Augustus, who also gave him the permission to proceed legally against his sons.
  • 7 BCe– The court hearing took place in Berytos (Beirut) before a Roman court. Mariamne I's sons were found guilty and executed. The succession changed so that Antipater was the exclusive successor to the throne. In second place the succession incorporated (Herod) Philip, his son by Mariamne II.
  • 6 BCE– Herod proceeded against the Pharisees.
  • 5 BCE– Antipater was brought before the court charged with the intended murder of Herod. Herod, by now seriously ill, named his son (Herod) Antipas (from his fourth marriage with Malthace) as his successor.
  • 4 BCE– Young disciples smashed the golden eagle over the main entrance of the Temple of Jerusalem after the Pharisee teachers claimed it was an idolatrous Roman symbol. Herod arrested them, brought them to court, and sentenced them. Augustus approved the death penalty for Antipater. Herod then executed his son, and again changed his will: Archelaus (from the marriage with Malthace) would rule as king over Herod's entire kingdom, while Antipas (by Malthace) and Philip (from the fifth marriage with Cleopatra of Jerusalem) would rule as Tetrarchs over Galilee and Peraea (Transjordan), also over Gaulanitis (Golan), Trachonitis (Hebrew: Argob), Batanaea (now Ard-el-Bathanyeh) and Panias. As Augustus did not confirm his will, no one got the title of King; however, the three sons did get the stated territories.

Marriages and children

Herod's marriages and children
Wife Children
  • Son Antipater III, executed 4 BCE
Mariamne I, daughter of Hasmonean Alexandros
  • Son Alexander, executed 7 BCE
  • Son Aristobulus IV, executed 7 BCE
  • Daughter Salampsio
  • Daughter Cypros
Mariamne II, daughter of High-Priest Simon
  • Son Herod II Boethus
Cleopatra of Jerusalem
  • Son Herod Philip II - Tetrarch
  • Son Herod
  • Son Phasael
  • Daughter Roxanne
  • Daughter Salome bat Herod I
A cousin (name unknown)
  • no known children
A niece (name unknown)
  • no known children

It is very probable that Herod had more children, especially with the last wives, and also that he had more daughters, as female births at that time were often not recorded.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Filmer, W. E. (1966). "THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE REIGN OF HEROD THE GREAT". The Journal of Theological Studie XVII: 283–298. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Josephus on Herod's Death
  3. Aryeh Kasher, Eliezer Witztum, Karen Gold (transl.), King Herod: a persecuted persecutor : a case study in psychohistory and psychobiography, Walter de Gruyter, 2007
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Steinmann, Andrew, "When Did Herod the Great Reign?", Novum Testamentum, Volume 51, Number 1, 2009 , pp. 1-29(29); Ormond Edwards, “Herodian Chronology,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 114 (1982) 29-42; W.E. Filmer, “Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 17 (1966) 283-298; Paul Keresztes, Imperial Rome and the Christians: From Herod the Great to About 200 A.D. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989) 1-43;“The Nativity and Herod’s Death,” in Chronos, Kairos, Christos: Nativity and Chronological Studies Presented to Jack Finegan, ed. Jerry Vardaman and Edwin M. Yamauchi (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1989) 85-92. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Steinmann" defined multiple times with different content
  6. "Herod I". Encyclopaedia Judaica. (CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0). Ed. Cecil Roth. Keter Publishing House. ISBN 965-07-0665-8
  7. Jewish Encyclopedia: Circumcision: Circumcision Necessary or Not?: "The rigorous Shammaite view, voiced in the Book of Jubilees (l.c.), prevailed in the time of King John Hyrcanus, who forced the Abrahamic rite upon the Idumeans, and in that of King Aristobulus, who made the Itureans undergo circumcision (Josephus, "Ant." xiii. 9, § 1; 11, § 3)."
  8. Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, Book 2, Chapter 13, "There was also another disturbance at Caesarea, - those Jews who were mixed with the Syrians that lived there rising a tumult against them. The Jews pretended that the city was theirs, and said that he who built it was a Jew, meaning King Herod. The Syrians confessed also that its builder was a Jew; but they still said, however, that the city was a Grecian city; for that he who set up statues and temples in it could not design it for Jews."
  9. Jewish Encyclopedia: Herod I: Opposition of the Pious: "All the worldly pomp and splendor which made Herod popular among the pagans, however, rendered him abhorrent to the Jews, who could not forgive him for insulting their religious feelings by forcing upon them heathen games and combats with wild animals …"
  10. Jewish War 1.14.4: Mark Antony " …then resolved to get him made king of the Jews… told them that it was for their advantage in the Parthian war that Herod should be king; so they all gave their votes for it. And when the senate was separated, Antony and Caesar went out, with Herod between them; while the consul and the rest of the magistrates went before them, in order to offer sacrifices [to the Roman gods], and to lay the decree in the Capitol. Antony also made a feast for Herod on the first day of his reign;"
  11. Dio, Roman History 49.23.1-2.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Temple of Herod, Jewish Encyclopedia
  13., Report: Herod's Temple quarry found
  14. E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pp. 87-88.
  15. World Biblical Commentary: Matthew 1-13 page 35, Word INC, 1993
  16. Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 5 vols. New York, Scribner’s, 1896.
  17. Timothy David Barnes, “The Date of Herod’s Death,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 19 (1968), 204-19; P. M. Bernegger, “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 34 (1983), 526-31.
  18. Josephus, War, 1.631-632.
  19. Josephus, War, 2.26.
  20. Harold W. Hoehner, Herod Antipas, (Zondervan, 1980) page 251.
  21. (Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 17.167)
  22. NASA catalog, only 37 % of the moon was in shadow
  23. P. M. Bernegger, “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 34 (1983), 526-31.
  24. Timothy David Barnes, “The Date of Herod’s Death,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 19 (1968), 204-19
  25. NASA lunar eclipse catalog Lunar Eclipses: -0099 to 0000 (100 BCE to 1 BCE)
  26. W. E. Filmer, “Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 17 (1966), 283-98
  27. What loathsome disease did King Herod die of?, The Straight Dope, November 23, 1979
  28. Ant. 17.6.5
  29. CNN Archives, 2002
  31. Ashrafian H. Herod the Great and his worms. J Infect. 2005 Jul;51(1):82-3.
  32. Flavius Josephus. The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. Book V. Chapter 33.1
  33. Flavius Josephus. The War of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. Book V. Chapter 3.2
  34. Nitza Rosovsky. Discovering Herod's Israel. The New York Times. April 24, 1983
  35. Hebrew University: Herod's tomb and grave found at Herodium
  36. "Israeli Archaeologist Finds Tomb of King Herod", FOX News, 7 May 2007
  37. "King Herod's tomb unearthed, Israeli university claims", CNN, 7 May 2007
  38. Herod's Tomb Discovered IsraCast, May 8, 2007.
  39. "Herod's tomb reportedly found inside his desert palace" The Boston Globe, May 8, 2007.
  40. Associated Press. Archaeologists Find Tomb of King Herod. The New York Times, May 9, 2007,
  41. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XV, Chapter 7.8
  42. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XV, Chapter 9.3

Further reading

  • Zeitlin, Solomon (1967). The Rise and Fall of the Judean State. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society. Library of Congress Catalog Number 61-11708. 
  • Duane W. Roller, The Building Program of Herod the Great(Berkeley, 1998).
  • Robert Gree, Herod the Great
  • Michael Grant, Herod the Great
  • Adam Kolman Marshak, "The Dated Coins of Herod the Great: Towards a New Chronology." Journal for the Study of Judaism 37.2 (2006) 212-240.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Herod the Great. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.