Son of Herod the Great by Malthake, a Samaritan. Brought up at Rome with his brother Antipas. Originally Herod excluded him from any share in his dominions, because of his elder brother Antipater's accusations. But at Herod's death the kingdom, by a change in the will, was divided between his three sons, Antipus, Archelaus, and Philip. Archelaus received Idumea, Judaea, Samaria, and the cities Caesarea, Sebaste, Joppa, and Jerusalem, which yielded 600 talents income. Augustus refused him the title "king," and only allowed him the title "ethuarch"; but he had the reality of kingship (Matthew 2:22), "did reign." For the short time only between his father's death and his going to Rome, to seek confirmation of the kingship from Augustus, had he the title. Josephus (Ant. 17:9, sec. 2) at this period calls him "king." How seemingly near to error, yet how accurately Matthew expresses himself.
In the tenth year of his reign (A.D. 6) his brothers and his subjects complained of his tyranny. So he was dethroned, and exiled to Vienne in Gaul, where he died; but Jerome says his sepulchre was near Bethlehem. When Joseph, at Herod's death, was about to return with the child Jesus from Egypt to the Holy Land, "he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea;" and "he was afraid to go thither" (Matthew 2:22). Archelaus must therefore have given at the outset of his reign some notorious specimen of his cruelty. Josephus undesignedly supplies this confirmation of Scripture. One of Herod's last deeds was the putting Judas and Matthias to death for instigating young men to pull down a golden eagle set up contrary to Moses' law over the temple gate by Herod; at the Passover which succeeded Herod's death, before Archelaus had as yet the emperor's ratification of his accession, Archelaus, finding several commiserating the martyrs, caused his cavalry to inclose at the temple and slay 3,000 men.
The rest fled to the mountains; and all by Archelaus's command "left the feast, fearing lest something worse should ensue." A deputation of Jews in consequence went to Rome to beg Augustus not to ratify his appointment; but the emperor confirmed Herod's will (Ant. 17:9, sec. 3). That this cruel act was what made Joseph afraid of him is the more likely, as before his accession he had no public post whereby men might have known his character. Joseph turned to Galilee, where the less cruel brother Antipas reigned. The kingdom was originally designed for Antipas; its unexpected transference to Archelaus made Joseph change his direction. The fact of Joseph's fear is stated, the cause is not; but Archelaus's character otherwise known accounts for it. He wedded illegally his brother Alexander's former wife, Glaphyra, who had children by Alexander, thereby giving much offense to the Jews.