Herods

The Herods were Jewish client kings of Rome who governed between 37 b.c.e. and 92 c.e. in the area that included significant potions of modern Israel, southern Syria, southern Lebanon, and Jordan.

Rome appointed client kings with limited military and taxation powers in the provinces in the Eastern Roman Empire. They were called either ethnarchs or tetrarchs; a tetrarch ranked below an ethnarch. The principal function of these client kings was to carry out the will of Rome.

The Senate declared Herod the Great king of the Jews in 40 b.c.e. He actually came to the throne in 37 b.c.e. after overcoming Antigonus, his opponent. Though called king, Herod was in reality an ethnarch. He is called Herod the Great because he was the first Herod from whom all the other Herods descended.

He was also a great builder. The Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the amphitheater in Caesarea were two of his most monumental projects. Remains of these magnificent structures can still be seen in Israel today.


Notwithstanding, the Jews loathed Herod because of his Idumaean origin and cruelty, especially toward the end of his life. A man given to suspicion and jealousy, he even killed his own beloved wife, Mariamne, and the two sons whom he had by her.

According to the New Testament, he massacred innocent male children who were two years old and under in Bethlehem because he feared that a future king might have been born there (Matt. 2:16). Herod died in 4 b.c.e., and his territory was divided among his three sons: Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip.

After Herod’s death, his son Archelaus became ethnarch over Judaea, Samaria, and Idumaea. A cruel man like his father, Herod Archelaus had none of his father’s graces. According to the Jewish historian Josephus in Jewish War, he began his rule by killing 3,000 men.

Rome deposed him in 6 c.e. because of great unpopularity and placed his territory under Roman procurators. Originally, procurators were finance officers chosen from the equestrian (knight) rank in Rome, but in time they came to exercise military powers as well.

Herod Antipas (4 b.c.e.–39 c.e.) was tetrarch over Galilee and Perea (in modern Jordan) for 40 years. Pilate had Antipas try Jesus (Christ) of Nazareth because Jesus was from Galilee. Antipas rebuilt Sepphoris into a major metropolis and built a new city, Tiberias, named after Emperor Tiberius (14–37 c.e.), on the southwestern shores of Galilee.

He married Herodias, his niece and the wife of Philip (Boethus), for which he was rebuked by John the Baptist. Herod Antipas had John beheaded for this offense. Antipas died as an exile in Gaul.

Herod Agrippa I (37–44 c.e.), a brother of Herodias, was a grandson of Herod the Great by Mariamne (whom Herod killed). Wilting under a mountain of debts, he came to hold the throne because of his friendship with Rome. While studying in Rome, he befriended Gaius Caligula (37–41 c.e.).

After becoming emperor, Caligula made him a king and gave him the former territories of his uncle Philip, another Herodian tetrarch, and of Lysanias, who was tetrarch of Abilene (near Damascus). Later, in 39 c.e. Caligula banished Antipas and gave his territory to Agrippa I. Then, after Caligula died, Emperor Claudius (41–54 c.e.) gave him Judaea as well, which had been under Roman procurators.

Agrippa I, a man rather liked by the Jews, ruled over a larger territory than any of the other Herods did. He killed James the son of Zebedee and put the apostle Peter in prison to please the Jews. He suddenly died in 44 c.e. of some horrible stomach disease. When Agrippa I died, Rome put Judaea back in the hands of procurators.

Herod Agrippa II (50–92 c.e.) was son of Agrippa I. Only 17 at the time of his father’s death, Agrippa II was deemed too young to be king. In 50 c.e. Claudius gave him Chalcis in southern Lebanon, his uncle’s territory.

In 53 c.e. Claudius exchanged it with the former territories of Philip the tetrarch and Lysanias. The Romans sought the advice of Agrippa II in matters pertaining to Jews and gave him authority over the Temple and the appointment of high priests. Agrippa II is the Agrippa who heard the apostle Paul.

Agrippa II finished the renovation of the Jewish Temple in 63 c.e., only to see it burned down in 70 c.e. by Titus, who later became emperor (79–81 c.e.). Agrippa’s sister Bernice was a consort of Titus. An amiable man, he was the last of later the Herods to rule.