Herod the Great: Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant
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Herod the Great, king of ancient Judea, was a brutal, ruthless, vindictive and dangerously high-strung tyrant. He had many of his subjects killed on suspicion of plotting against him and was accused of slaughtering children in Bethlehem when informed that a new king of the Jews had been born there. Among the victims of the murderous paranoia that ultimately drove him to the brink of insanity were his three oldest sons and the wife he loved most. But there was a crucial aspect to Herod’s character that has been largely ignored over the centuries. Norman Gelb explores how Herod transformed his formerly strive-ridden kingdom into a modernizing, economically thriving, orderly state of international significance and repute within the sprawling Roman Empire. This reassessment of Herod as ruler of Judaea introduces a striking contrast between a ruler’s infamy and his extraordinary laudable achievements. As this account shows, despite his horrific failings and ultimate mental unbalance, Herod was a fascinatingly complex, dynamic, and largely constructive statesman, a figure of great public accomplishment and one of the most underrated personalities of ancient times. History buffs and those interested in popular ancient history can are introduced to this ruthless tyrant and his victims.
region and its locally garrisoned legions before Octavian and Mark Antony could take command of them. All of this had been monitored by Antipater in Jerusalem as best he could. Julius Caesar had treated him with extraordinary generosity, but he recognized that submission to whatever Roman was dominant in the region was of overriding importance to Judaea and crucial to his own 24 Chapter 1 survival. That locally dominant Roman was now Caesar-assassin Cassius. Antipater responded quickly to the
sacrificed in the temple sanctuary and where visitors from foreign parts could change money to pay for that sort of devotional activity. That accounted for the presence there of the “money changers” Jesus was said to have driven from the temple. Elegant porches lined long stretches of the temple walls enclosing the Court of Gentiles. Colonnades of tall marble Corinthian pillars supported the flat porch roofs. The porches became popular meeting places, presumably monitored by Herod’s spies. Most
Aristobulus was building a sinister power base. Now seventy-three years old and weary, and the nation secure and in good order, she refused to believe the problem was urgent. But when she died, Aristobulus activated the support he had nurtured in Sadducee strongholds and recruited an army of mercenaries to help him win the crown from his newly enthroned older brother. Hyrcanus fought back against his power grab with the forces that fell under his command when their mother died. But he was not an
of his father’s changeable moods, Antipater sought to cement his acquired privileged standing by encouraging Herod to widen his net of mistrust to include anyone he considered a possible threat to his own improved standing. But he continued to consider Alexander his particular nemesis. The prince was also the target of those who hoped to deflect suspicion from themselves. He was certainly likely to have thought it unforgivable that his father had killed his mother and may well have detested him
force into the region. Consisting of ten thousand men, it was meant to initiate the process of bringing the Arabian Peninsula into the Roman orbit. Rome’s proconsul of Egypt, Aelius Gallus, led the operation. Augustus advised him to employ Nabataeans as his guides because they would know the territory well. Syllaeus, already chief minister at the Nabataean court at the time, offered himself for that role and promised full cooperation. His actual purpose was to prevent the Roman expedition from