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Roman Rule: The Herodian Dynasty

Roman Palestine
1011 Lecture 6
Original Date
June 23, 2010

After the death of Herod the Great in the spring of 4 BCE, Antipas and Archelaus contested his last two wills before the emperor in Rome. Antipas favored the fifth will because in it he was sole heir; Archelaus, of course, preferred the sixth. After some delay the emperor made Archelaus ruler over Idumea, Judea, and Samaria with the title of ethnarch, promising that he could become king if he showed good leadership. He appointed Antipas tetrarch over Galilee and Perea and Philip tetrarch over Gaulanitis, Auranitis, Trachonitis, Batanea, Paneas, and Iturea.

Archelaus (4 BCE–16 CE) – Archelaus, the son of Herod and Malthace, was made ethnarch over Idumea, Judea, and Samaria in 4 BCE. Before he left for Rome to contest his father’s will he was given control of the realm and proceeded to kill about three thousand people; after this there was a prolonged revolt at the feast of Pentecost. On his return he treated both Jews and Samaritans with brutality and tyranny; this is the background of Matthew 2.20–23. Archelaus continued the building policy of his father, but his rule became intolerable. Finally, in 6 CE, the emperor deposed him and exiled him to Gaul. His domain became an imperial province governed by prefects appointed by the emperor.

Antipas (4 BCE–39 CE) - Antipas, the son of Herod and Malthace and a full brother of Archelaus, was appointed tetrarch over Galilee and Perea in 4 BCE. After Archelaus had been deposed, Antipas was given the dynastic title Herod, which had great political significance at home and in Rome. He rebuilt what had been destroyed in the widespread revolt after his father’s death, including the largest city, Sepphoris, and moved his capital to a new city, Tiberias (named in honor of the emperor Tiberius).

Herod Antipas’s greatest notoriety is the imprisonment and beheading of John the Baptist (Matt. 14.1–12 par.). This incident occurred after he had married Herodias, who was his niece and the wife of his brother Herod (Philip). John the Baptist boldly criticized the marriage, for according to the Mosaic law it was unlawful to marry a brother’s wife (Lev. 18.16; 20.21), except for levirate marriage (Deut. 25.5). As a result, John was imprisoned, and eventually, at the instigation of Herodias with Salome’s help, Herod beheaded John at Machaerus in 31 or 32 CE.

According to the Gospels, Antipas thought that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected (Matt. 14.1–2; Mark 6.14–16; Luke 9.7–9) and desired to see him, but Jesus withdrew from his territories. Later, during Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, the Pharisees warned him to leave Galilee because Herod wanted to kill him (Luke 13.31). According to Luke, during Jesus’ trial Pilate sent Jesus to Herod when he heard that Jesus was from Galilee (Luke 23:6–12).

In 36 CE the Nabatean king Aretas IV defeated Antipas in retaliation for Antipas’s deserting his daughter to marry Herodias. Although Antipas had hoped to get help from Rome, it was not forthcoming because of the change of emperors. On his accession, Caligula (37 CE) gave his friend Agrippa I, brother of Herodias as well as nephew of Antipas, the territories of Philip the tetrarch, who had died in 34 CE, and granted Lysanius the coveted title of king. His sister Herodias became intensely jealous and urged her husband to seek the title of king for his long, faithful service. When Antipas and Herodias went to Rome in 39 CE to request the title, Agrippa brought charges against Antipas, and consequently Caligula banished him to Gaul. Agrippa I obtained his territories.

Philip the Tetrarch (4 BCE–34 CE) – Philip was the son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem. In the settlement of Herod’s will, he was appointed tetrarch over northern Transjordan, including Gaulinitis, Auranitis, Trachonitis, Bananea, Paneas, and Iturea (Map 13:Y2–3). He rebuilt two cities: Paneas, which he renamed Caesarea Philippi, the site of Peter’s confession of Christ (Matt. 16.16), and Bethsaida, where Jesus healed a blind man (Mark 8.22–26). Philip married Herodias’s daughter Salome, but they had no offspring. When he died in 34 CE, Tiberias annexed his territories to Syria and, when Caligula became emperor (37 CE), they were given to Agrippa I, Herodias’s brother.

Agrippa I (37–44 CE) – Agrippa I, the son of Aristobulus (son of Herod the Great and Mariamne) and Bernice (daughter of Herod’s sister, Salome, and Costobarus) and the brother of Herodias, was born in 10 BCE. He lived extravagantly and with creditors pursuing him. Sometime ca. 27–30 CE Antipas provided him with a home and a position as inspector of markets in Antipas’s new capital, Tiberias. Not long afterward he went to Rome and befriended Gaius Caligula. Owing to an unwise remark favoring Caligula as emperor, Tiberius put him in prison, where he remained until Tiberius’s death six months later. In 37 CE when Caligula became emperor, he released Agrippa I and gave him a gold chain equal in weight to his prison chain. He also gave him the territories of Philip the tetrarch and of Lysanius, with the coveted title king. On Caligula’s death in 41 CE, Claudius confirmed the rule of Agrippa I and added Judea and Samaria to his kingdom.

Of all the Herods, Agrippa I was the most liked by the Jews and, according to Acts 2, was a persecutor of early Christians. In 44 CE he died suddenly in Caesarea (Acts 12.22–23; Josephus Ant. 19.8.343–52). Because Agrippa’s son was only seventeen years old, his territories were reduced to a Roman province. His daughter Drusilla eventually married the Roman procurator Felix (Acts 24.24).

Agrippa II (50–100 CE) – Agrippa II, son of Agrippa I and Cypros, daughter of Phasael (Herod the Great’s nephew), was born in 27 CE. Because of his young age he was not allowed to rule immediately, but in 50 CE Claudius appointed him king of Chalcis. In 53 Claudius gave him Abilene, Trachonitis, and Arca in exchange for Chalcis. Shortly after the accession of Nero in 54 CE, he acquired the Galilean cities of Tiberias and Tarichea, with their surrounding areas, and the Perean cities of Julias (or Betharamphtha) and Abila, with their surrounding land.

The private life of Agrippa II was not exemplary, for he had an incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice. In his public life he was in charge of the vestments of the high priest and could appoint him. The Romans would seek his counsel on religious issues, and this may be why Festus asked him to hear Paul at Caesarea (Acts 25.13–26.32).

Agrippa II failed to quell the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 CE and sided with the Romans throughout the war of 66–70. He died childless ca. 100 CE; with his death, the Herodian dynasty ended.


Herodian rule brought stability to the region. With its domination of the eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea, it was important for Rome to have a peaceful Palestine, because it acted as a buffer state between Rome and the Parthians and was crucial for the trade routes north and south of Palestine. To be a ruler of the Jews was difficult primarily because of their religion. Although the Herods were enamored of Hellenism and adopted some of its elements, they were aware of Jewish religious sensitivities. After the deposition of Archelaus, direct Roman rule of Judea by prefects like Pilate brought instability, much of it due to lack of understanding of Judaism.

Although each of the Herods (except possibly Archelaus) contributed to this stability, it was the pioneering rule of Herod the Great that laid its foundation. As a vassal king, he made it possible for Judea to be somewhat independent. Rome allowed this because he brought stability to the area and because he had proved his loyalty to Rome both militarily and financially.