Hordos (Hebrew: הוֹרְדוֹס, hoɾðos; Greek: ἡρῴdης, eˈroˑdes; trad. English: Herod), also known as Herod I or Herod the Great, was a Roman client-king of Judaea (c. 74 BC - c. 4 BC in Jerusalem). The details of his biography can best be gleaned from the works of the 1st century AD Jewish historiographer Josephus. To the majority of non-specialist Christians, Herod is best known from the Gospel according to Matthew. In chapter 2 of the gospel, an account is given of the events of and leading up to what has subsequently become known to Christians as the Massacre of the Innocents.


Herod coin1

Copper coin of Herod, bearing the legend "Basileus Herodon" on the obverse and a Macedonian sun-symbol on the reverse.

Herod the Great arose from a wealthy, influential Idumaean family. The Idumaeans, successors to the Edomites of the Hebrew Bible, settled in Idumea, formerly known as Edom, in southern Judea. When the Maccabean John Hyrcanus conquered Idumea in 130-140 BC, he required all Idumaeans to obey Jewish law or to leave; most Idumaeans thus converted to Judaism.

According to some, archaeological evidence suggests that king Herod identified himself as Jewish, although according to the Mosaic Law he was not. For he was the second son of Antipater the Idumaean, founder of the Herodian dynasty, and his wife Cypros, a princess from Petra in Nabatea (now part of Jordan). The family rubbed shoulders with the great in Rome, such as Pompey, Cassius, and in 47 BC his father was appointed Procurator over Judea, who then appointed his son governor of Galilee at the age of 25.

After his father was poisoned in 43 BC, allegedly by a tax-collector, Herod had the murderer executed. After returning from a campaign, he was offered the betrothal to the teenage princess Mariamne (sometimes spelled Mariamme) from the former Hasmonean dynasty who were the titular rulers of Judaea. Although he was legally permitted to have more than one wife, he banished his first wife Doris and her 3 year old son, also named Antipater, and married Mariamne.

In 40 BC Antigonos and the Parthians invaded Judea, and Herod fled Jerusalem to Rome for the first time. There he was elected "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate[1]. However Herod did not fully conquer Judea until 37 BC. He ruled for 34 years.

Josephus (Ant. 17.167) reports Herod died after a lunar eclipse. There is disagreement about whether Herod counted his years of rule from when he was titled king or from when he actually sat on the throne. If the former, he may have died after one of the total lunar eclipses that was visible from Jerusalem in 5 BC.[2] However, counting off 34 regnal years from year 40 BC (with partial years not included) leads most scholars to argue he died in 4 BC, despite there being only a partial lunar eclipse in that year, on March 13.[3] However, if Herod counted his regnal years from when he ruled Judea, he may have died in 1 BC., perhaps after the total lunar eclipse that was visible from Jerusalem on 9 January, 1 BC.[4]

30s BCEdit

Prise de Jérusalem par Hérode le Grand

The taking of Jerusalem by Herod the Great, 36 BC, by Jean Fouquet

39 BC-37 BC War against Antigonos. After the winning of Jerusalem and victory over Antigonos, Marc Antony executes Antigonos.

36 BC Herod makes his 17 year old brother-in-law Aristobulus III of Judea high priest, fearing that the Jews would appoint Aristobulus "king of the Jews" in his place.

35 BC Aristobulus drowns at a party. Historians claim there is insufficient evidence against Herod for his death.

32 BC Start of the war against Nabatea, with victory one year later.

31 BC strong earthquake in Judea. Octavian defeats Mark Antony, so Herod switches allegiance to Octavian, later Augustus.

30 BC Herod was then shown great favour by Octavian who at Rhodes confirms him as King of Judaea.

20s BCEdit

29 BC Josephus writes that Herod had great passion and also great jealousy concerning his wife Mariamne. She learns of Herod's plans to murder her, and stops sleeping with him. Herod puts her on trial on a trumped-up charge of adultery. His sister Salome (not Herodias's daughter Salomé) was chief witness against her.

Mariamne's mother 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. Writings state that Mariamne was calm and serene at her execution at the age of 25 years, having given birth to 5 children in 7 years.

Alexandra, Mariamne's mother, then made a bid for power, declaring herself Queen and stating that Herod was mentally unfit to serve any longer. Josephus wrote that this was Alexandra's strategic mistake and Herod executed her without trial.

28 BC Herod executed his brother-in-law Kostobar (husband of Salome, father to Berenice) for conspiracy. Large festival in Jerusalem, as Herod had built a Theatre and an Amphitheatre.

27 BC An assassination attempt on Herod is discovered in time. To honour Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Augustus) Herod rebuilds Samaria and renames it Sebaste.

25 BC After a great drought there is hunger and epidemics. Herod imports grain from Egypt and starts an exemplary aid programme. He also waives a third of the taxes.

23 BC Herod builds a palace in Jerusalem and the fortress Herodian in Judaea. Herod marries his third wife, also named Mariamne, the daughter of high priest Simon.

22 BC Building starts on Caesarea Maritima and its harbour. From the Romans he obtains the regions Trachonitis, Batanaea and Auranitis under his rule.

Circa 20 BC Expansion starts on the Second Temple. (See Herod's Temple)

10s BCEdit

Circa 18 BC Herod travels for the second time to Rome.

14 BC Herod supports the Jews in Anatolia and Cyrene. Owing to the prosperity in Judaea he waives a quarter of the taxes. He argues with his sons.

13 BC Herod makes his firstborn son Antipater (his son with Doris) first heir in his will.

12 BC Because Herod suspects both his sons (from his marriage to the first Mariamne) Alexandros and Aristobulos of threatening his life, he takes them to Aquileia to be tried; but Augustus is able to reconcile the three. Herod supports the financially strapped Olympic Games and ensures their future. Herod amends his will so that Alexander and Aristobulos rise in the royal succession, but Antipater would be higher in the succession.

Circa 10 BC The newly expanded temple in Jerusalem is inaugurated. War against the Nabateans.

0s BCEdit

9 BC The inauguration of Caesarea Maritima is a marvellous spectacle with a festival. Owing to the course of the war against the Nabateans Herod falls into disgrace with Augustus. Herod again suspects Alexander intends to kill him.

8 BC Herod accuses his sons from the first Mariamne of high treason. Herod is reconciled with Augustus, which also gives him the permission to proceed legally against his sons.

7 BC The court hearing takes place in Berytos (Beirut) before a Roman court. Mariamne's sons are found guilty and executed. Now the succession is changed so that Antipater is the exclusive successor to the throne. In second place the succession incorporates Herod Philip, the son from the second Mariamne.

6 BC Herod proceeds harshly against the Pharisees, who had announced that the birth of the Messiah would mean the end of his rule.

5 BC Antipater is brought before the court charged with intended murder of Herod. The sentence must first be approved only by the Roman emperor. Herod makes his son Herod Antipas from his 4th marriage with Malthace as his successor. Herod is seriously ill.

4 BC Young Torah-students smash the golden eagle over the main entrance of the Temple of Jerusalem after the Pharisee teachers claim it is a Roman symbol. Herod arrests them, brings them to court, sentences and punishes them. The emperor Augustus approves of the death penalty for Antipater. Herod executes his son.

As he has just executed his sole heir, Herod again changes his will: Archelaus (from the marriage with Malthace) will rule as King over the Herod's entire kingdom, while Antipas (from Malthace) and Philip (from the fifth marriage with Cleopatra of Jerusalem) as Tetrarchs over Galilee and Peraea, also over Gaulanitis (Golan), Trachonitis (Hebrew: Argob), Batanaea (now Ard-el-Bathanyeh) and Panias. As Augustus does not confirm his will, no one gets the title of King. However, the three sons do get the stated territories.

4 BC - 1 BC Based in Josephus' Antiquities it has been traditionally infered that Herod died at the end of March, or early April of 4 BC. However, modern scholarship has deepened our understanding of Josephus' manuscripts [5] and present evidences corroborating the date of Herod's death as 1 BC. The primary one is that a printer typesetting of the manuscript Antiquities messed up in the year 1544. According to scholars, every single Josephus manuscript in these libraries dating from before 1544 supports the inference that Herod passed in 1 BC [6].

Marriages and ChildrenEdit

1. married Doris

  • Son Antipater, executed 4 BC

2. married Mariamme (I.), daughter of Hasmonean Alexandros

  • Son Alexandros, executed 7 BC
  • Son Aristobulos, executed 7 BC
  • Daughter Salampsio
  • Daughter Cypros

3. married Mariamme (II.), daughter of High-Priest Simon

  • Son Herod

4. married Malthace

  • Son Herodes Archelaos - Ethnarch
  • Son Herodes Antipas - Tetrarch
  • Daughter Olympias

5. married Cleopatra of Jerusalem

6. married Pallas

  • Son Phasael

7. married Phaidra

  • Daughter Roxane

8. married Elpis

9. married a cousin (name unknown)

  • no known children

10. married 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 women among Romans at that time were not counted as important.

Herod's family treesEdit

+ = married
|  = descended from
.../——— = sibling
dt.  = daughter
b.   = born
d. = died
m. = was married to
?  = not included here or unknown
Alexandros + Alexandra
           |                   |
Aristobulus III of Judea ... Mariamne, dt.
(d. 35 BC)                   m. Herod the Great
- last Hasmonean scion
- appointed high priest
- drowned
Antipater the Idumaean + Cypros, Arab princess from Petra, Jordan in Nabatea.
                Herod the Great
                 (74 BC-4 BC)

Herod the Great + total 10 wives, 14 children:

Herod the Great + Cleopatra of Jerusalem
       Philip the Tetrarch
             d. AD 34
Herod the Great + Doris
             d. 4 BC?
Herod the Great + Malthace (a Samaritan)
   |                                   |            |
 Herod Antipas                     Archelaus    Olympias
   b. 20 BC?   + Phasaelis,
                    dt. of Aretas IV, king of Arabia
      "divorced" to marry:
              + Herodias,
                    dt. of Aristobulus (son of Herod the Great)
Herod the Great + Mariamne d. 29 BC?, dt. of Alexandros.
   |             |          |                      |
 Aristobulus   Alexander   Salimpsio + Phaesal   Cypros
  d 7 BC?     d 7 BC?                |              m.
   m. Berenice                      Cypros         Antipater(2)
  Herodias, dt.
     m. Herod Antipas
Herod the Great + Mariamne, dt. of Simon the High-Priest.
           Herod Philip
  • Antipater(2) was son of Joseph and Salome
  • Note: dates with ? need verifying against modern findings


Herod has entered posterity as a ruthless ruler and on account of his cruelty, not least to close members of his own family; but he was also an able and far-sighted administrator who helped in building the economic might of Judaea, founding cities and developing agricultural projects, his most famous and ambitious project having been the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem to the most beautiful in its time in order to ingratiate himself with the many of his subjects who were Jews by descent.

Some of Herod's other achievements include: the rebuilding the water supplies for Jerusalem, rebuilding the Palace in Jerusalem, refurbishing the boundary fortresses such as Masada, and creating new cities such as Caesarea Maritima and Herodion. He also had a fortress built called the Herodium. From the extraction of asphalt from the Dead Sea, he shared with Cleopatra the monopoly on its important use in ship building. He leased copper mines on Cyprus from the Roman emperor. He had a dominant position in the production of bronze, using British tin.

Herod in the New TestamentEdit

See main article Massacre of the Innocents

Herod the Great plays a minor role in The Gospel according to Matthew (ch. 2), which describes an event known as the Massacre of the Innocents.

Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Magi from the East visit 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 is himself King of Judea, is alarmed at the prospect of the new-born king usurping his rule.

Herod is advised by the assembled chief priests and scribes of the people that the Prophet had written that the "Anointed One" (Grk. ho christos) is to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. Herod therefore sends the Magi to Bethlehem, instructing them to search for the child, and that, when they find him, they should "report to me, so that I too may go and worship him". However, after they find Jesus, the Magi are warned in a dream not to report back to Herod. Similarly, Joseph is warned in a dream that Herod intends to kill Jesus, so Joseph and his family flee to Egypt in order to escape Herod. When Herod realizes he has been outwitted by the Magi, he gives orders to kill all boys of the age of two years and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity.

The historical accuracy of this event is in question, since the author of the Gospel of Matthew may have had a religious motivation for presenting such events, and neither the other canonical gospel accounts nor any other document from the period makes any reference to such a massacre.

Herod the Great's son, Herod Antipas (who is also called Herod) is even more prominently featured in the New Testament for his role in Jesus's arrest and execution.

After Herod's deathEdit

After Herod's death, his kingdom was divided between three of his sons, namely Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Herod Philip, who however ruled only as tetrarchs rather than kings.


  1. 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."
  2. NASA lunar eclipse catalog Two lunar eclipses were visible in 5 BCE: March 23 and September 15
  3. NASA catalog, only 37 % of the moon was in shadow
  4. NASA catalog, January 9's total lunar eclipse started about 22:30 local time
  5. David W. Beyer, Josephus Re-Examined: Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius, in Chronos, Kairos, Christos II, edited by E. Jerry Vardaman (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998) ISBN 0-86554-582-0
  6. Ernest L. Martin, The Star That Astonished the World (Second Edition; Portland, Oregon: ASK Publications, 1996) ISBN 0-94-5657-87-0

External linksEdit

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