Herod the Great

In 63 BC, the Romans included Judah (what is now Israel) into their empire as Judea and placed the Jewish lands under kings. Appointed to these kingships was the Herod dynasty, a family of Jews who gained favor with the Romans. The Herodian family ruled over the the land of Israel from 40 BC until around AD 100. For 40 years, Herod the Great dominated Jewish history. He was born in about 73 BC, the son of the Idumean Antipater, and became a Roman citizen in 47. His father appointed him military governor of Galilee, with the task of clearing the region of terrorists. Rome needed a shrewd and capable agent in Palestine, and in Herod the Great they felt they had found such a man. In 41, Antony made Herod and his brother tetrarchs, but Herod was not secure and in 40 fled to Rome. There Antony bestowed on him the kingship of Judea, which he secured with a Roman army in 37. Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the naval battle of Actium in 3I, but kept Herod in power. Herod worked devotedly for Rome and kept Augustus's favor. His court was Hellenized and cultured. He founded the Greek cities of Sebaste (Samaria) and Caesarea, with its fine port. He built fortresses and palaces, including Masada, and a magnificent new temple. He also presided at the Olympic games. Herod rebuilt many fortresses in the land and temples in Gentile territories. He rebuilt Stato's Tower, renamed Caesarea, and in 24 BC he built for himself a royal palace in Jerusalem. But his most notable achievement was the building a temple in Jerusalem, which was begun in 20/19 BC and finished in 63 AD, long after his death in 4 BC. This was known as the Third Temple. Herod’s family life turned out to be very unhappy. He ruled as an autocrat, supported by police, and, despite his rebuilding of the Temple, to the Jews he remained a detested foreigner and a usurper. Most Jews openly hoped for his death. He died in 4 BC at the age of 69. Herod kept an uneasy peace by dealing ruthlessly with suspected rivals and troublemakers. He systematically killed off all living claimants to the Hasmonean kingship, including his young brother-in-law, the high priest Aristobulus. He even ordered the execution of his favorite wife, Mariamne, and her mother because he believed they were plotting against him. Shortly before his death, he had three of his own sons killed because of rumors that they had designs on his throne. It is easy to imagine such a man ordering the massacre of all male infants in Bethlehem for no better reason than a vague rumor that one had been born "King of the Jews."