The Holy Land under Rome and the Herodian Dynasty


In 66 BCE Pompey, an ambitious and outstanding military leader, set out for the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. The unending feuds between the later Seleucid princes had allowed for anarchy to reign in many of their lands. The Hasmoneans had made incursions upon the Seleucid empire until their frontier reached the former borders of the kingdoms of David and Solomon. The Nabateans, whose capital was at Petra, had extended their control as far north as Damascus. They controlled the lucrative spice and perfume trade between Arabia and the Mediterranean ports.

In 64 BCE, at the height of the civil war between John~Hyrcanus II and Judas~Aristobulus II both appealed to Pompey who decided in favor or Hyrcanus II. Aristobulus II then withdrew his claim but the leaders of Jerusalem refused to submit to the Romans. In response, Pompey detoured from his Nabatean campaign to conquer the capital. This ended Pompey’s conquests in the East.

Pompey then occupied himself with the political settlement of the Near East. He ended Seleucid reign in Syria. In Judea Pompey, with the help of Gabinius (proconsul of Syria 57-55 BCE) redivided the land along demographic rather than geographic lines by freeing and rebuilding the Hellenistic cities conquered by the Hasmoneans. The lands now controlled by Hyrcanus II were limited to the Galilee and Judea/Idumea, lands whose populations were mostly Jewish.

In the civil war between Pompey and, Julius Caesar, Caesar emerged the victor. Caesar named Hyrcanus II Ethnarch of Judea and Antipater, father of Herod the Great, was the administrator of the state.


In 47 BCE, Antipater named Phasael, his eldest son, governor of Judea, and Herod, his second son, governor of Galilee. Four years later, Caesar made Herod Governor of Coele-Syria and Samaria, and two years later, Antony made the brothers Tetrarchs, essentially reuniting the Land under a single government.

In 40 BCE the Parthians invaded Syria and were joined by members of the Hasmonean family and their supporters. Jerusalem rebelled against Phasael and opened her gates to the Parthian forces. Herod fled south, with his family, to Tekoa (where he later built Herodion), and from there to Massada. Leaving his family at Massada, Herod continued southeast to the Arab king in Transjordan; thence to Alexandria in Egypt, and on to Rome. The Parthians, meanwhile, returned to their own land.

In Rome, Herod was received with honors. Mark Antony used his influence in the Senate, and the Senate appointed Herod King of the Jews, and added the lands of western Idumea and of Samaria to his kingdom.

Herod then returned to Judea, to take control of his kingdom. This campaign took three years and culminated in the conquest of Jerusalem in the summer of 37 BCE. On the political front, leaving preparations for the siege of the capital, Herod traveled to Samaria and married Mariamme, the Hasmonean princess.


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