HEROD (Gk. Hēr̂dēs) (FAMILY)

A family of distinguished Idumean nobility that was converted to Judaism during the Hasmonean period and rose to prominence during the reign of Alexandra Salome. They intermarried with Nabateans, Jews, and other nearby ruling families, dominating the political fortunes of Judaism and influencing events in the eastern Mediterranean from the mid-1st century b.c.e. to the end of the 1st century c.e. The family had particularly good relations with ruling Romans, especially with the Julio-Claudians.

1. Antipater. Idumean noble (ca. 100–43 b.c.e.), son of Antipas and father of Herod. He was a strong supporter of Hyrcanus II in the dynastic struggle between the two sons of Alexander Janneus and Alexandra Salome. His family was Idumean and had converted to Judaism during the aggressive expansion of Judea into Idumea under Alexander Janneus. Antipater married Cypros, of noble — perhaps royal — Nabatean lineage, raising four sons and one daughter: Phasael, Herod, Joseph, Pheroras, and Salome. Influential in Judea’s later history in having brought Herod into prominence, there seems little doubt of his commitment to Judea, and probably also to Judaism.

Antipater became a public figure during the reign of Alexandra, assisting Hyrcanus II and opposing Aristobulus II. He was influential because of his strong base in the south of the country (BJ 1.123–26; Ant. 14.8–18), and no doubt also because of his wife’s connections in Petra (Nabatea).

The dynastic quarrel in the mid-60s b.c.e. led to Rome’s direct intervention in the region under Pompey and M. Aemilius Scaurus; when Rome first supported Aristobulus, Antipater and Herod fled to Petra (then under Aretas III). Before long, Pompey’s view changed, perhaps as the result of Antipater’s representations. In the siege of Jerusalem (63) Hyrcanus and Antipater acted with the Romans (cf. Pss. Sol. 2, 8, 17); later, Antipater acted with Gabinius on a risky expedition to Egypt. Through his links with Rome, Antipater influenced the settlement Gabinius imposed on Judea in 55 (BJ 1.178; Ant. 14.103). During this period Antipater dominated political life in Judea by managing the country’s — and Hyrcanus’ — relations with Rome.

Antipater probably combined military and financial responsibilities under Hyrcanus II, ethnarch in the Roman reorganization of Judea (a monogram on Hyrcanus’ coins may refer to Antipater). Antipater gave his two eldest sons important appointments, Phasael as governor of Jerusalem and environs, and Herod as governor of Galilee (47). In the chaotic conditions during Rome’s civil wars in the 40s, Antipater had to alter his allegiances: he first sided with Pompey, then Caesar (who rewarded him with Roman citizenship and freedom from taxation), then Cassius. In the equally volatile conditions in Judea, Antipater was poisoned by Malchus, a fellow Jew and rival supporter of Hyrcanus II (43).

2. Herod the Great. King of Judea (73–4 b.c.e.), founder of a dynasty that was influential in Judean politics and surrounding areas into the early 2nd century c.e. Herod was the son and grandson of Idumean nobles converted to Judaism during the time of Alexander Janneus. His mother Cypros was Nabatean. The family served Hyrcanus II in the struggle for the crown with Aristobulus. Both Antipater and Herod were trusted by the Romans during the period of Rome’s increasing influence.

Sources on Herod include Josephus, other ancient historians, a few rabbinic references, inscriptions, coins, and archaeological remains of his buildings. The usual harshly negative evaluation of Herod, deriving from one NT reference (Matt. 2:16–18) and one side of Josephus’ complex picture, does no justice to the person. While Herod was cruel and vindictive, perhaps even paranoid, in his dealings with his family, he played a crucial role in improving the lot of Jews during his long reign (40–4 b.c.e.).

Little is known of his early life and nothing of his education. He emerged publicly as a young man in command of Galilee, where he dealt severely with “brigands,” as Josephus calls them — probably dispossessed peasants. In the turmoil of the Roman civil wars he was noticed by several Roman leaders (Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cassius, Octavian). Herod fled to Rome to seek help when Hyrcanus II was captured by Mattathiah Antigonus, who had been appointed king of Judea by Parthia, Rome’s most dangerous enemy. When the Senate instead appointed Herod king of Judea (late 40), Herod and Antigonus became in effect rival kings, with both empires having a considerable stake in the outcome.

King Herod

Herod returned to Galilee in the spring of 39; a two-and-a-half year struggle for dominance in Judea ensued, won finally by Herod in the summer of 37 after a successful siege of Jerusalem with Roman help. During the 30s Herod consolidated and extended his territory, with the assistance of Mark Antony, his patron and closest ally in Rome. When Antony and Octavian fell out, Herod remained loyal to Antony; he would have fought at Actium (31) had Antony not required him to keep the Nabateans in check. Following Antony and Cleopatra’s decisive defeat, Herod went to Rhodes to offer his loyalty to Octavian, becoming one of Octavian’s (“Augustus” from 27 on) most trusted dependent kings. Augustus, his son-in-law Marcus Agrippa, and Herod were considered close friends.

Even in this early period Herod’s personal life showed signs of strain. Herod divorced his first wife Doris and — aiming at legitimacy — became engaged to Mariamme, granddaughter of Herod’s patron, Hyrcanus II (whom he later executed), and one of the last of the Hasmoneans (42). He married Mariamme in 37, when she had attained marriageable age (perhaps 16), while Jerusalem was under siege. Mariamme did not reciprocate Herod’s infatuation with her during their tempestuous marriage; his suspicions resulted in charges of adultery and eventually her execution (28/27). Mariamme’s mother, Alexandra (daughter of Hyrcanus II), who was implicated in Mariamme’s death though she continued to live in the palace, contributed to Herod’s downward slide until her execution. Herod’s 10 wives and at least 15 children created very difficult family arrangements.

Middle Years

During the 20s, Herod triumphantly engaged in an orgy of building activity that reshaped his domains. Augustus’ confidence in Herod was shown in a series of extensions to the kingdom and in the right to appoint his own successor from among his sons, most of whom were brought up in Rome. Herod’s troops accompanied Aelius Gallus on a military expedition to Arabia Felix (25/24). At home, his family life became increasingly complicated by his increasing number of potential heirs, and especially by the machinations of Mariamme I’s two children as they became influential youths.

Though Herod could be generous in famine relief, on the whole society probably became harsher and more exclusive. His relations with various social and religious groups are not clear; according to the NT, weakly supported by Josephus, a group developed known as Herodians. Of all the religious developments of his reign, the most significant was the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, which for the first time included a court of Gentiles and a court of women. It was one of the great religious structures of the period, and continues to excite the religious imagination to this day.

Herod traveled extensively, partly, it seems, to assist in improving Diaspora Jews’ security and — to a limited degree — independence; his friendship with Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’ eastern lieutenant, made this readily possible. His contacts extended especially through Syria and Asia Minor, the Greek islands, and the Greek mainland (e.g., he gave benefactions to Rhodes, Chios, Cos, Pergamum, Athens, Olympia, among others); he did not build for the Jewish community itself, but offered his largesse to the city as a whole. Diaspora Jews remained attached to the homeland through the half-shekel tax; they had immunity from prosecution on the sabbath and exemption from military service.

Herod’s Buildings

Herod’s extensive building program included whole cities (e.g., Caesarea Maritima, Sebaste), temples (e.g., Jerusalem, three to Roma and Augustus, Baal Shamim at Si˓a), palaces (e.g., Masada, Herodium, Cypros, Jericho), memorials (e.g., the patriarchs and matriarchs at Hebron, Abraham at Mamre), various pleasure buildings, infrastructure projects, unspecified donations and benefactions. It is unlikely that, as some complained after his death, he spent more on buildings outside the Holy Land than within it. His projects inside his own regions were designed partly to stimulate trade and commerce. The buildings were built with flair and technical competence, beautifully designed, often very imaginative: the northern palace at Masada, winter palace at Jericho, promontory palace at Caesarea, Herodium, and his temples — especially the awe-inspiring temple in Jerusalem. None of his palaces give evidence of pagan decorative motifs or embellishments that flout Torah. To some extent Herod was an observant Jew; some of his palaces include pools that have been interpreted as mikvaot, or in some cases as a cold pool that can do double duty as a mikveh (e.g., Masada and Cypros).

Final Years

Herod’s final years were marked by public recognition (e.g., his role alongside Marcus Agrippa in the Black Sea expedition and his being named president of the Olympic games), by troubles with neighboring Nabatea, and by increased family discord. The last of these gave rise to Augustus’ witticism that he would rather be Herod’s pig than his son. During these last years Herod executed his two sons with Hasmonean blood (7) and his oldest son, Antipater (son of Doris; 4), all of whom had been squabbling with each other and intriguing for the succession, perhaps trying to oust him. The “massacre of the innocents” (Matt. 2:16–18) is set at this time, leading some to speculate that there has been confusion between his killing of his sons and his murder of the small children in Bethlehem. Herod died after a lingering disease in the spring of 4 b.c.e. in Jericho. He was buried in Herodium, designed as a fortified palace and mausoleum.


Herod was a key player in the Roman design for the eastern Mediterranean, providing a secure point in Rome’s strategic extension of its kingdom. He improved Judea’s economy and its place in the region’s trade and commerce. Close Roman links led many of Herod’s citizens to question his motives and his ties to Judaism, yet Herod appears to have been a practicing Jew. He derived great satisfaction from his rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, his chief monument.

3. Mariamme I. Herod the Great’s second wife, great-granddaughter of Alexander Janneus and Alexandra Salome on both her mother’s and father’s sides (ca. 54–29 b.c.e.). Her father, Alexander, continued to oppose Hyrcanus II and his chief minister Antipater (Herod’s father), as well as Rome after its involvement in the East (64/63), as his father Aristobulus II had done.

Mariamme was betrothed by Hyrcanus to Herod in the late 40s, when she was still a young girl. Herod then divorced his first wife Doris, though Mariamme and he were not wed until she reached marriageable age in 37; they married in Samaria during a lull in the preparations for the siege of Jerusalem, whose conclusion meant the end of Herod’s two-and-a-half year struggle to enter fully into the kingship he had been given in 40. Herod thus became a relative of Hyrcanus II, whom he had replaced as king, giving himself additional legitimacy through this close Hasmonean connection. Among Herod’s 10 marriages, this was the one to which he was himself most attached, which raised his stature highest, but which troubled him most.

Mariamme was reunited with the remaining Hasmoneans in Herod’s household: her grandfather Hyrcanus II (who had returned from his Parthian imprisonment), her mother Alexandra, and her brother Aristobulus III (who was briefly high priest, prior to being drowned in the pool at Jericho; Josephus Ant. 15.31–56). Mariamme was deeply influenced by her mother (not surprisingly, given her age), a dangerous influence given her mother’s close friendship with Cleopatra VII of Egypt.

Herod was inordinately jealous of his relationship with Mariamme and suspicious of her fidelity. After Actium, he met Octavian at Rhodes (early 30), leaving Mariamme in care of Joseph and Soëmus, who apparently had orders to execute her if Herod did not return. After more misunderstanding and tension, Mariamme was found guilty of adultery and put to death (ca. 29; Ant. 15.185–239; BJ 1:441–43; Ant. 15.65–87); she was only about 25 years old. Alexandra continued to plot against Herod and was herself executed soon after.

According to Josephus, Mariamme was beautiful, “unexcelled in continence,” but quarrelsome and fond of speaking her mind. Herod’s grief and remorse over her execution led to serious neglect of the kingdom (Ant. 15.240–46). Mariamme was survived by several children, of whom the Hasmoneans Alexander and Aristobulus were the most important; initially they were Herod’s main hope for the succession, but their hostility to him because of their resentment over Herod’s murder of their mother led eventually to their own execution in 7 b.c.e.

4. Mariamme II. Herod’s (seventh?) wife, married ca. 24/23 b.c.e.; daughter of Simon, son of Boethos, a priest from Alexandria whom Herod elevated to the high priesthood to improve Mariamme’s status. He later divorced her; she bore him one son, Herod (Philip?), not the tetrarch of the same name, whose wife Herodias was later married to Herod Antipas (Mark 6:17–29 par.).

5. Salome. Sister of Herod, daughter of Antipater and Cypros (ca. 65 b.c.e.–10 c.e.). She first married Joseph (a friend of Herod’s), then after his execution married Costobar, governor of Idumea (later divorced by Salome, then executed by Herod). She was betrothed to Syllaeus, the Nabatean second-in-command, but Herod refused them permission to marry (15 b.c.e.) when Syllaeus refused to be (re-?)circumcised. She was then married by Herod to Alexas, against her will, though at the Empress Livia’s urging (Josephus Ant. 17.9–10).

Salome remained unfailingly loyal to Herod throughout his turbulent career, though she frequently exacerbated his problems, especially within the household. In Augustus’ disposition of Herod’s final will, Salome was given control of Phaselis, Yavneh (Jamnia), and Ashdod (Azotus). These toparchies she willed to Livia, wife of Augustus, at her death (Ant. 18.31; BJ 2.167). She had five children, all by Costobar: Alexander, Herod, Berenice, Antipater, and a second daughter.

6. Antipater. Eldest son of Herod and his first wife Doris (ca. 45–4 b.c.e.). When Herod divorced Doris to marry Mariamme, Antipater was banished from the royal court with his mother and was not reinstated until 14 b.c.e., at which point he arranged for his mother’s remarriage to Herod. Shortly thereafter Antipater went to Rome to be presented to Augustus as one of Herod’s putative heirs. The household became a battleground for the next decade as Antipater adroitly undercut the position of Alexander and Aristobulus, his two half-brothers, at court (Ant. 16.82–84; BJ 1.450). For a period Antipater may have shared rule with Herod. When Alexander and Aristobulus were executed (7 b.c.e.), Antipater was left in a strong position, with support from the military and elite. His continued machinations against his father resulted in his execution, five days before Herod’s own death (4 b.c.e.), which Augustus declined to prevent.

7. Alexander and Aristobulus. Sons of Herod and Mariamme I (ca. 36 and 35, respectively–7 b.c.e.), who, because of their mother’s Hasmonean credentials, represented the possibility of joining Herod’s realistic politics and Hasmonean nationalist ideals. Josephus treats the brothers as a pair, though Alexander seems the more aggressive in his hatred of his father, following Herod’s execution of their mother. As royal heirs of a client king, they went to Rome for their education (22–17), living for a time with Augustus himself. Herod traveled to Rome to bring them home, at the same time negotiating with Augustus their betrothals, Alexander to Glaphyra, daughter of King Archelaus of Cappadocia, and Aristobulus to his cousin Berenice, Salome’s daughter. In Judea, their personal popularity and ambition made them one pole of family tensions, with Herod’s sister Salome and his brother Pheroras the other pole. When Herod wished to counter the position of Alexander and Aristobulus, he recalled to court his eldest son Antipater (14), who became their chief antagonist. Herod took Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater to Rome to seek Augustus’ help in resolving the tensions (12). The seeming reconciliation did not last, and family relationships continued to degenerate. Alexander and Aristobulus were formally charged, tried, and found guilty in Beirut, executed at Sebaste, and buried at Alexandreion. Augustus declined to intervene.

8. Mariamme. Granddaughter of Herod and Mariamme I; she married her uncle Antipater (3) who was executed by Herod in 4 b.c.e. Her father, Aristobulus, had been killed three years earlier.

9. Archelaus. Son of Herod the Great and Malthace (ca. 23 b.c.e.–?). Archelaus inherited Judea, Samaria, and Idumea as ethnarch on the death of Herod in 4 b.c.e.; he was deposed by Augustus in 6 c.e. According to Josephus Archelaus was a questionable appointment from the beginning because of his inept handling of disturbances following Herod’s death. In the hearings in Rome concerning Herod’s will, Archelaus was opposed by several family members. Both Judea and Samaria (his mother Malthace was a Samaritan) sent delegations to Rome asking for his removal from office. He was exiled to Vienne in France, after which the province was governed by prefects who were subordinate to the governor of Syria; during the rule of Cumanus, the first procurator, the census under Quirinius was taken (Luke 2:1–3; cf. Acts 5:37), an impossible action under either Herod or Archelaus. Little is known about Archelaus’ reign; the parable in Luke 19:11–27 may allude to him.

10. Mariamme. Wife of Archelaus the ethnarch, then divorced by him; she may have been a Hasmonean.

11. Antipas. Son of Herod the Great and Malthace (ca. 21 b.c.e.–?). Herod regarded Antipas favorably, for he had named him sole heir in his penultimate will; on Herod’s death in 4 b.c.e. Antipas had strong family support. Augustus appointed him tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, a position he held until he was deposed by Caligula in 38 c.e. after petitioning to be made king; he was sent into exile in France. Antipas’ links with Rome were strong, being involved in mediating the dispute between Rome and Parthia in 36. He was especially close to Tiberius, in whose honor he founded his new capital, Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee (ca. 18–20). Betharamphtha in Perea was renamed Julias after Augustus’ widow; Antipas also restored Sepphoris as “the ornament of all Galilee.” Despite these links, Josephus reports the allegation that Antipas was in league with Artabanus of Parthia and had stockpiled weapons for 70 thousand soldiers. His marriage to the daughter of the Nabatean king Aretas IV ended when he fell in love with his niece, Herodias, previously wife of his brother Herod Philip (probably not Philip, ruler of Gaulanitis, but a similarly-named brother). When Antipas’ first wife fled home to Petra, Aretas inflicted a major defeat on him.

Antipas’ territory comprised two parts, Galilee (home to Jesus) and Perea (home to John the Baptist). John was probably executed in Machaerus, on the border between Perea and Nabatea, a fact mentioned both by Josephus and — less explicitly — in the NT; Josephus attributes Antipas’ military defeat to God’s retribution on Antipas for executing John the Baptist. According to Luke 23:6–16 Antipas was involved in the trial of Jesus; while this cannot be demonstrated, it is not implausible. Antipas seems to have had some interest in Jesus; the wife of one of his trusted lieutenants was a follower and supporter (Luke 8:1–3). Some of Jesus’ parables suggest some social dislocation and unrest during the reign of Antipas. To judge from the fact that Jesus alternated between Galilee and Gaulanitis, Philip’s region, he may have felt threatened by the political situation in Galilee.

12. Salome. Daughter of Herod (Philip[?] not the Tetrarch) and Herodias, granddaughter of Herod and Mariamme II. Salome’s mother, Herodias, had married Herod Antipas after divorcing his half brother. Salome is referred to — not by name — in Mark 6:17–29 par., where she danced at Antipas’ birthday party. When Antipas offered her a gift, according to the Gospels she asked for John the Baptist’s head, at the prompting of her mother.

Josephus gives a different interpretation. Antipas’ first wife had been a daughter of Aretas IV of Nabatea; she had fled from the marriage when she learned of Antipas’ intention to marry Herodias. Antipas’ ensuing military defeat at the hands of Aretas was retribution for his execution of John the Baptist, carried out at Machaerus (Ant. 18.116–19). Salome, the daughter of one Herod (Philip[?]) first married her uncle Herod Philip, tetrarch of Gaulanitis and the adjacent regions. She later married Aristobulus, son of Herod of Chalcis (grandson of Herod and Mariamme I) and Mariamme (granddaughter of Herod and Malthace).

13. Philip the Tetrarch. Son of Herod and Cleopatra of Jerusalem (ca. 20 b.c.e.–34 c.e.); ruler of Gaulanitis, Batanea, Trachonitis, Autanitis, with portions of Iturea (cf. Luke 3:1) and Hulitis, for the most part regions with a largely non-Jewish population. Philip was educated in Rome during the period of intense family troubles in Jerusalem (Josephus BJ 1.601–3; Ant. 17.20, 79–81); he was less ambitious but more able than other sibling rivals. Josephus remembered him as cooperative, reasonable, and equitable.

He embellished Panias (where Herod had built a temple of Roma and Augustus) and renamed it Caesarea Philippi in honor of the emperor and himself. His work in Bethsaida may have been significant, perhaps including another temple for imperial cult purposes. His coins, which always refer to him as “Philip, Tetrarch,” were iconic (showing likenesses of Augustus, Livia and Tiberius; one showing Livia and Augustus may be associated with Philip’s renaming Bethsaida Livia/Julias after Augustus’ widow), with facades of a temple, probably in Caesarea Philippi.

According to John 1:43–44 (cf. v. 46; 12:20–22) several of the Twelve came from his areas, and it appears from the references to “the other side” that Jesus spent time there, perhaps as a refuge from increased tension in Galilee over his ministry.

Philip married his niece Salome, daughter of Herodias. Since she could not have been born much before 14 c.e., the marriage could not have taken place much before 30, some time after the execution of John the Baptist, in whose death they were implicated. They were childless, and there is no record of an earlier wife (cf. BJ 2.1–117).

14. Herod (Philip[?]). Son of Herod and Mariamme II. There may be a second Philip among Herod’s children. This son figured in Herod’s fourth will (ca. 7 b.c.e.) as the successor to Antipater (Ant. 17.53; BJ 1.573); it may be he who is referred to in Mark 6:17 (cf. Ant. 18.109) as Philip. This Herod Philip was married first to Herodias (she later married Antipas), and their daughter Salome married her uncle, Herod Philip the Tetrarch.

15. Mariamme. A granddaughter of Herod and Malthace. She married Herod IV of Chalcis, her cousin.

16. Agrippa I. Marcus Julius Herod Agrippa I (ca. 10 b.c.e.–44 c.e.); son of Aristobulus I and Berenice, and thus of the Hasmonean line through his grandmother, Mariamme I. Like other Herodians, Agrippa was brought up in the imperial court in Rome as a friend of Drusus, Claudius, and Gaius (Caligula). In his early life he was regarded as a wastrel. He first inherited Philip’s and Lyania’s territories (37); following Claudius’s accession (41), Agrippa ruled almost all his grandfather Herod’s territories, but the expectations that this engendered collapsed on Agrippa’s dramatic death in Caesarea, which both Josephus and Luke (Acts 12:20–23) record. Agrippa was warmly remembered in the rabbinic literature, though it is unclear why, for he engaged in building practices similar to his grandfather, and he minted iconic coins.

Agrippa was a complex character: a romanophile (inscriptions attest to him as “friend of the emperor and friend of the Romans,” yet his gathering of client kings was disbanded and he was prevented from rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls), megalomaniac (he referred to himself as “great”), complaining (he was ungrateful for his uncle Antipas’ kindness in making him market supervisor of Tiberias), yet he seems to have been loved by his people (they approved him when he expressed doubts about his Jewish legitimacy). He left his biggest mark in the historical literature when riots broke out in Alexandria, as he passed through the city on his way to take up his rule in Gaulanitis and Galilee (38); Philo wrote about the troubles (De Legatione ad Gaium; Contra Flaccum) and was a part of the delegation to Gaius.

17. Mariamme. Daughter of Agrippa I and great-granddaughter of Herod, married to Julius Archelaus, son of Helcias.

18. Agrippa II. Marcus Julius Agrippa II (27 c.e.–93 c.e.); son of Agrippa I and Cypros, great-grandson of Herod. He first inherited the kingdom of Chalcis (49/50), which was later exchanged for Philip’s territory (53); when Nero added parts of Galilee and Perea he renamed Caesarea Philippi as Neronias. Agrippa was close to the Flavians (he had been a youthful friend of Titus), mostly for his support of Rome during the Jewish Revolt, when he tried to overcome dreams of Judean independence. Despite his support, he was not rewarded with the title and lands of his father and great-grandfather. Josephus was friendly with Agrippa and claims that Agrippa verified the accuracy of his historical accounts. Agrippa appears in Acts 25:13–26:32 in Paul’s hearing at Caesarea Maritima.

See Phasael.

Bibliography. D. Braund, Rome and the Friendly King (London, 1984); M. Grant, Herod the Great (New York, 1971); H. Hoehner, Herod Antipas (1972, repr. Grand Rapids, 1980); A. H. M. Jones, The Herods of Judea (1938, repr. Oxford, 1967); P. Richardson, Herod, King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans (Columbia, S.C., 1996); D. R. Schwartz, Agrippa I: The Last King of Judea (Tübingen, 1990).

Peter Richardson