Herod and Rome

Rome’s influence over the Levant began in 63 BCE when the general Pompey intervened in a feud between two factions of Hasmonean kingdom. Pompey took Jerusalem, installed one of the leaders, Hyrcanus as ethnarch and appointed one of his allies, Antipater of Idumea, as epitropos or “regent” to oversee affairs. Antipater saw the region through the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar; but he died in 43 BCE, only a year after Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome. Herod, Antipater’s eldest son, assumed his father’s role.

With Antipater gone, Hyrcanus’ nephew Aristobulus put together a coalition with the Parthians, seized Jerusalem, mutilated Hyrcanus and put Herod to flight. Securing his family in the fortress Masada, Herod escaped to Rome where Marc Antony and Octavius convinced the Senate to declare him “King of the Jews.” By 37 BCE, his enemies were defeated and Herod solidified his right to rule by marriage to Hyrcanus’ only daughter, Mariamne.

Antony and Octavius went to war with each other in 31 BCE, and Herod managed to align himself with Octavius right before Antony’s final defeat. He was the first of Rome’s clients to celebrate Octavius’ ascension to supreme power. “[Herod] more and more demonstrated to Caesar the firmness of his friendship, and his readiness to assist him: and what was of the greatest advantage to him was this, that his liberality came at a seasonable time also.”

A friend to Caesar and client of Rome, Herod ruled over a kingdom that became a magnet for the wealth of the eastern Mediterranean. While client kings were generally nuisances to the Romans, Herod seems to have truly integrated himself into the Roman sphere. Octavius did not forget Herod, and when the Senate declared him to be Augustus in 26 BCE, he honored Herod with grants of land and enormously lucrative trade rights.

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