Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Herod the Great (74/73 BCE–4 BCE)

Herod was a client king of the Romans who owed his rise mainly to his friendships with Caesar, Mark Antony and Octavius /Augustus. Born in Idumea of Edomite or Arab descent c 72 BC, in the 2nd century his ancestors had converted or been forced to convert to Judaism.

Herod’s grandfather, Antipas, had been appointed as the governor of Idumea by the Romans. He died in 78 BC, and Julius Caesar appointed Herod’s father, Antipater, procurator of Judea, who held the post from 47 to 43 BC.

Herod became a governor of Galilee around the age of 25 years old. He was, like his father, intelligent, crafty, and very wise.

Herod did so well in suppressing rebellions (probably disgruntled Jews who supported the Hasmonean Dynasty) that the Roman governor of Syria made him military prefect of Coele-Syria.

Herod, apparently possessed of considerable charisma and a favorite of the Roman elite, was made King of the Jews by the Roman Senate, c 39 BC. Returning to Palestine, he defeated Antigonus with the help of Roman troops. He ruled until 4 BCE, at around the time of Jesus’ probable birth.

He was a clever politician who survived many struggles for power and was known for secret police, curfews, and high taxes. He also gave out free grain and clothes in when crises arose.

He is known in the New Testament in Matthew 2 for his massacre of the infants of Bethlehem in response to the arrival of the Magi of the East. Magi of the East saying ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he became greatly distressed”.

Herod was an able administrator who developed a powerful army. At its peak Herod's army could field approximately 40,000 men. Comprised of both Judaean and mercenary soldiers with troops from the Germanic tribes to Parthians to Romans. As a result of this varied composition, it showed both strong Hellenistic influence in its armour and cavalry and Roman influence in its use of heavy infantry making it an intriguing topic for military history enthusiasts.
Herod the Great (74/73 BCE–4 BCE)


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