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We can easily conclude from the writing of Josephus that during this period Herod's biggest problems were domestic. Herod had married ten wives. His first wife was Doris by whom he had one son, Antipater. Herod renounced Doris and Antipater when he married Mariamne but they were allowed to visit Jerusalem only during the festivals.
In 37 B.C. Herod married Mariamne, the granddaughter of Hyrcanus, who bore him five children. The two daughters were Salampsio and Cypros. The youngest son died during the course of his education in Rome. The older sons were Alexander and Aristobulus, who played an important part during this period of Herod's life. Herod married his third wife Mariamne II in late 24 B.C. by whom he had Herod (Philip). His fourth wife was a Samaritan, Malthace, by whom he had Archelaus and Antipas. His fifth wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem, was the mother of Philip. Of the other five wives only Pallas, Phaedra, and Elpsis are known by name, and none of these are of significance.
Herod's favorite sons were the sons of Mariamne I, Alexander and Aristobulus. After they had returned from Rome and had married Glaphyra and Berenice, troubles domestically began to come to the forefront. Salome, Herod's sister and mother of Berenice, hated these two sons and tried desperately to establish her own son. It may well be that to a certain degree the arrogance of the two sons of Mariamne I was because of being a part of the Hasmonean dynasty. Salome aggravated them by speaking ill of their mother whom Herod had killed, which caused them to defend her. Salome and Pheroras (brother of Herod and Salome) reported to Herod that his life was in danger because the two sons were not going to leave the murder of their mother unavenged and that Archelaus, king of Cappadocia (father of Glaphyra), would help them to reach the emperor and bring charges against their father.
In order to somehow correct things and to show them that there might be another who could be heir to the throne, he recalled his exiled son Antipater. In the spring of 13 B.C. Herod sent Antipater to Rome in the company of Agrippa (friend of Augustus), who left the east to go to Rome, so that he might present Antipater to the emperor.
But instead of helping correct things, Antipater used every conceivable means to acquire the throne. He used slander against his two half brothers. The problems between Herod and Mariamne's two sons became so great that Herod decided to accuse his two sons before the emperor. In 12 B.C. the two sons went with Herod and they were tried before Augustus in Aquileia.
After the case was heard Augustus was able to reconcile Herod and his sons, and having restored domestic peace, the father, the two sons, and Antipater returned home. When they arrived home Herod named Antipater as his first successor and next after him were to be Alexander and Aristobulus.
Not long after they had arrived home Antipater, being helped by Herod's sister Salome and Herod's brother Pheroras, began to slander the two sons of Mariamne. Alexander and Aristobulus became more hostile in their attitude. Herod became suspicious and became more and more fearful about the situation. Antipater played on Herod's fears. He even caused the friends of Alexander to be tortured so that they might confess any attempt to take Herod's life and one friend made the admission that Alexander, with the help of Aristobulus, had planned to kill him and then flee to Rome to lay claim on his kingdom. For this Alexander was committed to prison.
When the Cappadocian king Archelaus, Alexander's father-in-law, heard of this state of affairs, he began to fear for his daughter and son-in-law and thus made a journey to Jerusalem to see if there could be reconciliation. He appeared before Herod very angry over his good-for-nothing son-in-law and threatened to take his daughter back with him. This was actually a very sly maneuver on the part of Archelaus because, in doing this, Herod defended his son against Archelaus and Archelaus accomplished the reconciliation he desired and then returned to his home. This probably happened in 10 B.C. Thus there was peace once again in Herod's household.
During this same period Herod had troubles with some foreign enemies and with the emperor. Syllaeus, who ruled in the place of the Arabian king Obodas and who was very hostile to Herod, gave shelter to forty rebels of Trachonitis and tried to relieve his country from paying a debt contracted with Herod. Herod demanded that he hand over the rebels and pay the debt.
With the consent of the governor of Syria, Saturninus, Herod invaded Arabia and enforced his rights (around 9 B.C.). This was only to be a disciplinary measure with no intentions of territorial gain, but Syllaeus had meanwhile gone to Rome and distorted the picture with the result that Augustus became suspicious and indicated to Herod that their friendship was at an end and that he would no longer treat him as a friend but as a subject. In order to justify himself Herod sent an embassy to Rome and when this failed he sent a second under the leadership of Nicolas of Damascus (Jos. Antiq. xvi. 9. 1-4 ; 271-299).
Meanwhile the domestic conflicts again came to the forefront. A certain Eurycles from Lacedemon, a man of bad character, inflamed the father against the sons and the sons against the father. As other mischief-makers became involved, Herod's patience was exhausted and he put Alexander and Aristobulus into prison, and laid a complaint against them before the emperor of their being involved in treasonable plots.
Meanwhile Nicolas of Damascus had accomplished his mission and had again won over the emperor to Herod. When the messengers who were bringing the accusations of Herod reached Rome, they found Augustus in a favorable mood and he gave Herod absolute power to proceed in the matter of his sons as he wished but advised him that the trial should take place outside of Herod's territory at Berytus (Beirut), before a court of which Roman officials would form part and to have the charges against his sons investigated.
Herod accepted the advice of the emperor. Although the governor of Syria, Saturninus, and his three sons thought that the sons were guilty but should not be put to death, the court almost unanimously pronounced the death sentence upon the sons. Tiro, an old soldier, publicly proclaimed that the trial had been unjust and the truth suppressed. But he and 300 others were not considered to be friends of Alexander and Aristobulus and thus they were executed. Therefore, at Sebaste (Samaria), where Herod had married Mariamne thirty years before, her two sons were executed by strangling, prob. in 7 B.C.
Antipater, now remaining the sole heir and enjoying the full confidence of his father, was still not satisfied, for he wished to have the government wholly in his own hands. He held secret conferences with Herod's brother Pheroras, tetrarch of Perea, which Salome reported to her brother Herod, stating that they were contriving to kill him. Thus the relationship of Antipater and his father became tense. Antipater knew this and wrote to his friends in Rome to ask if Augustus would instruct Herod to send Antipater to Rome. Herod sent him to Rome and designated in his will that Antipater was his successor to the throne and in the event that Antipater's death might occur before his own, Herod (Philip), son of Mariamne II, the high priest's daughter, was named as his successor.
While Antipater was in Rome, Pheroras died which proved to be the seal of Antipater's fate. Freedmen of Pheroras went to Herod to relate to him that Pheroras had been poisoned and that Herod should investigate the matter more closely. It was found out that the poison was sent by Antipater with the intention not to kill Pheroras but rather that Pheroras might give it to Herod. Herod also learned from the female slaves of Pheroras' household of the complaints that Antipater had made at those secret meetings regarding the king's long life and about the uncertainties of his prospects. Herod immediately recalled Antipater, disguising his real intentions, and Antipater returned with no suspicion. When he arrived he was committed to prison in the king's palace and was tried the very next day before Varus, the governor of Syria. With all of the accusations and proofs against him, Antipater could make no defense. Herod put him in chains and made a report of the matter to the emperor. This occurred in 5 B.C.
Another plot of Antipater against Herod was unveiled and Herod desired to kill him. Herod became very ill with a disease from which he would not recover. Therefore, he drew up a new will in which he by-passed his eldest sons, Archelaus and Philip, because Antipater had poisoned his mind against them. Instead he chose the youngest son, Antipas, as his sole successor.
Shortly before his death the Magi had come to Judea to worship the newborn king of the Jews. Herod summoned these Magi, asking them to report to him the location of the Christ child when they found Him in Bethlehem. Being warned in a dream, the Magi did not return to Herod but departed to the east by another route. The Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to flee to Egypt because of Herod's intention to kill Jesus. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt and Herod killed all the male children of Bethlehem who were two years and under.
Herod was now nearly seventy years old and his sickness grew worse. As news spread that he had an incurable disease, two rabbis, Judas, son of Sepphoraeus, and Matthias, son of Margalus, stirred up the people to tear down the Roman eagle from the Temple gate that had been such an offence to the Jews. These rabbis stated that this action would be pleasing to God. Herod, having heard this, seized the offenders and passed sentences of death upon them and had all the chief leaders publicly burned alive.
As Herod's disease grew worse the baths at Callirrhoe no longer benefited him. When he returned to Jericho he commanded all notable Jews from all parts of the nation to come to him and when they arrived he shut them up in the hippodrome, summoned his sister Salome and her husband Alexas, and ordered that all these leaders should be executed at the moment he died so that there would be a national mourning rather than a festival when he died.
At the time he was giving these instructions, he received a letter from Rome in which the emperor gave him permission to execute his son, Antipater, and thus he did so immediately. Herod again changed his mind and nominated Archelaus, the older son of Malthace, as king and his brothers Antipas as tetrarch of Galilee and Perea and Philip as tetrarch of Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanea, and Paneas.
Finally, five days after the execution of Antipater, Herod died at Jericho in the spring of 4 B.C. Salome and Alexas released the Jewish nobles who were imprisoned to the hippodrome.
Ptolemy, who had been entrusted with the king's seal, read Herod's last will in public and the crowd acclaimed Archelaus as their king. A pompous funeral procession accompanied the body from Jericho, a distance of one mile in the direction of the Herodian, where it was finally laid.
Herod's reign lasted around thirty-three years. It was for the most part one of violence. The middle of his reign was by far the most peaceful. It is important to realize that though his reign was characterized by violence, the rulers of that day were not much different than he was. Throughout his reign he was never liked by the Jews because of his lifestyle and his unconcern for their law. Although he was the king of the Jews, many of his subjects would never treat him as truly a Jewish king.