Herod the Great-Part II

In mid-winter 40 BC, Herod made a perilous ocean voyage from Alexandria to Rome.  The fact that he made this voyage during the winter months, when the Mediterranean Sea was usually closed to ships, indicates both how desperate Herod was and how important his mission was.

In Judea, civil war had taken the lives of both his father and his brother.  In Rome, there was also civil strife in the wake of the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar.  Herod’s patron, Cassius Longinus had assisted Herod in avenging the assassination of Antipatros, Herod’s father.  Thereafter, he had proposed that Herod be anointed King of Judea, but Cassius Longinus had perished in the Roman Civil War at Philippi.

Due to the turmoil in Judea, Herod had fled to Egypt and had been in the court of Cleopatra, where she had apparently tried to seduce him to control his kingdom. The sea voyage to Rome had encountered a storm which took the lives of many on board and nearly cost Herod his life.  The near-ship wreck forced him to land at Rhodes.  There he, although bereft of funds, financed the reconstruction of the city war-torn by the Roman Civil War, his first architecture enterprise and first (but not last) abroad.

Why had Herod undertaken such a journey at such a time?

The lure was Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony), who was reputed to be in power in Rome.  Marcus Antonius had known Herod’s father and Marcus Antonius had confirmed Herod as tetrarch some two years previously.  Could he confirm Herod as King now?

Within a week, Herod had worked his magic.  Antonius introduced Herod to the Senate and then proposed Herod for King of Judea.  Octavian had agreed to support this proposal.  Herod, now king, had left the Senate flanked by the two Triumvirs and had dinner at Marcus Antonius’ home that evening.

This whirl-wind week demonstrated a feature of his personality that would stand him in good stead throughout his life: he was able to make and keep friends easily.  A partial list of his important Roman friends illustrates his uncanny ability to navigate the uncharted shoals, rocks, eddies, and currents of Roman cut-throat politics: Pompey, Caesar, Cassius, Antonius, Cleopatra, and Augustus.

This visit to Rome was a seminal event in the life of Herod.  For during his sojourn there he met numerous important Romans, many of whom would become life-long friends and would be invaluable to him, met many Greek intellectuals, a number of whom would populate his court, and became enamored with Roman architecture.  It is from this beginning that he fashioned a Greco-Roman (with a heavy accent on the Roman) culture within his court, which is shown by his entourage of scholars, philosophers, librarians, artists, and architects.

It is important to note that given his origins, his court should have been Hellenistic, but because of his attachment to the Roman world, it was not.  As we shall examine in a future part of his article, Herod’s architecture accomplishments spanned throughout the eastern Mediterranean.  A partial list includes Athens, Sparta, Olympia, Delos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, Pergamum, Antioch, Edessa, Masada, Jerusalem, Herodium, and Caesarea Maritima (an important city in my novel Casting Lots).

In the next installments, we shall examine more closely the intellectuals in the court of Herod, his architecture achievements, the assassination attempts upon his life, the murders of the members of his family, and the personality of this complex man as well as providing a the historical timeline of Herod.


Herod the Great: Introduction

Because Herod the Great overshadows all of Judea due to his architectural accomplishments, his establishment of the Herodian dynasty, and his numerous mentions in the New Testament, one of which reveals his brutal side as a murderer, he is a minor character mentioned in Casting Lots.  Further, his son, Herod Agrippa, is also described in Casting Lots. Simply put, no story of Judea could be told of the time of Jesus without Herod the Great.  It is for these reasons, that in the course of the next several blogs, I will write a detailed biography of Herod, incorporating new material, such the most recent discussion of the dating of his death-a story of four Lunar Eclipses.

Herod was various things: a military general, a schemer, a builder on a colossal scale, a friend of Rome who easily traded alliances with one great Roman for another, a murderer of friends, family, and foe alike, a man of many wives, and a King with a vision, who was an able administrator, a man who rebuilt the temple, but who killed rabbis.  In these articles, I will detail how Herod came to rule, his interactions with Rome, his building campaign, his ambivalent observance of the Jewish religion, his four wives, his numerous children, as well as exploring his method of ruling and examining whether he committed the crimes attributed to him.

Herod’s Parents

As is typical of many important people of this time, Herod’s birthdate is in dispute with Herod having been born in either 74 or 73 BC.  His father was Antipater (in Latin Antipatros), and his mother was Cypros.  His father was an Idumaean and his mother was a Nabetean.  This parentage played an important role in his life.

Idumea was an iron-age kingdom which was situated directly south of the Dead Sea.  The word Idumea, which is Greek, is a transliteration of the word ‘Edom’ which means ‘red’.  Some have speculated that this is derived from the red color of the Seir Mountains east of the Wadi al-Araba.  Saul fought against the Edomities which were finally vanquished by King David.  At some point in time, before the Hellenistic Age, the Edomities moved to the Negev and made Hebron their capital. Of importance is the fact that Edomities were not accepted as Jews.  Thus, Herod having an Edomite father made him less than a Jew in his people’s eyes.

This sin was compounded by his mother’s lineage. The Nabeteans come from the area between Israel and Syria. Nabeteans were originally allies with the Hasmoneans dynasty (the dynasty which Herod ousted) against the Seleucids.  Later, they switched sides and became rivals of the Hasmoneans. Ultimately, they were forcibly converted to Judaism. Thus, Nabeteans were also viewed as being less than Jews.

After the death of Queen Salome Alexandra, the mother of Hyrcanus and his younger brother, Aristobulos, Hycranus II ruled as  ethnarch (in Greek ethnarches: meaning political leader over an ethnic group or homogeneous kingdom) and possibly asking over Israel.  Antipater was a high official and advisor under Hycranus II. Eventually the two brothers warred over who would succeed Queen Salome Alexandra.  After a series of battles between Hyrcanus II and his brother, Aristobulos, Hyrcanus II ceded the crown to his brother and accepted appointment as high priest.  Nonetheless, Antipater fed Hyrcanus’ fears that Aristobulos would assassinate Hyrcanus and got him to seek asylum among the Nabeteans. This uncertainty surrounding the Kingdom of Israel and the fact that the Nabeteans revolted caused Pompey to intervene in Judea, but Rome was relatively unsuccessful in controlling the Nabeteans.

In 49 BC, during the distribution of provinces, Pompey’s father-in-law, Metellus Scipio, was allocated the province of Syria. Pompey wanted him to equip a fleet which could be used against Caesar in the Civil War.  Metellus Scipio did his job well.  He levied many new taxes and even seized the publicani and forced them to advance the next year’s taxes.  Syria justifiably was afraid of Caesar’s wrath when he won the battle of Pharsalus on June 6, 48 BC.  Numerous Syrian dynasts and kings flocked to Caesar’s banner, including Hycranus II and the Idumaean Antipater.  Caesar appointed  Hycranus II as high priest. Caesar then appointed Antipater to rule the region, who in turn appointed his two sons, Phasael as governor of Jerusalem and Herod in Galilee.  Thus the stage is set for the career of Herod.

This article will be continued in next week’s blog.

Roman Taverns

Pompeii tavern with muralRoman Sales Counter Pompeii

Inside a Tavern at Pompeii   Note the wall mural.         A Roman Therompolium-“Fast Food Place”

In my book Casting Lots, Centurion Cornelius owned a tavern which he lost gambling.  Upon a wall of the tavern is a mural which shows a ‘bull’ of Centurion Cornelius engaged in a drunken ‘bar’ fight.  How typical is the tavern describe in Casting Lots?  The answer is very typical.

On a typical street, one would find small restaurants, what were barely recesses in wall, where one could find food.  These in our day would be called fast food joints, but were called therompolia in Latin.  These contained a walk-up counter in which there were openings to large bowls or jugs beneath which contained food.  Behind the counter there might be tables, at which patrons could sit and eat, or often there were no tables and the patron would buy the food and continue strolling down the street eating the food purchased.

This is not what is described in Casting Lots. The tavern which Centurion Cornelius once owned is a classic tavern-in Latin, taberna and taberna diversoria, or simply diversorium or deversorium.  It would have had a bar and would have served both food and wine.  The bar portions would have been inside the building, but also fronting the street. with often a bar fronting the street.  There would have been tables and chairs and even stools around the bar.  The bar would have had, like the therompolia, large round holes in the bar, called dolia (in Latin), from which to access food to be sold to patrons. There would have been a kitchen to prepare food.   In order to provide an experience which would not only be cater to the patrons with its convenience, but also provide additional revenue sources to the owner, there might be an area to stable one’s horse, a latrine, a courtyard,  and maybe bedrooms, often there would have been a second story with additional bedrooms.  Thus the tavern could also function as an inn and house overnight guests.

Often taverns functioned as brothels. Seneca wrote: “Virtue is something elevated, exalted and regal, unconquered and unwary. Pleasure is something lowly, servile, weak and unsteady, whose haunt and dwelling-place are the brothel and the bar.” The clientele of a tavern sat on stools or in chairs-not like the wealthy who reclined in their homes to eat.

Also, the clientele of the taverns were described by Juvenal as being extremely seedy, as well as coming from diverse walks of life:

“… search for him in some big bar. There he will be, lying next a cut-throat, in the company of sailors, thieves and runaway slaves, beside hangmen and coffin-makers, or beside a passed out priest: This is liberty hall, One cup serves for all, No one has a bed to himself, Nor a table apart from the rest.”

This seedy, diverse clientele led some Emperors to worry that taverns might be a site from which rebellion might spring, because the well-bred saw taverns as a place which drew the lower classes together. To counter this threat, some Emperors tried to regulate the food which could be served in the tavern, hoping that a curtailed menu without meats and other delicacies would lessen the draw of the taverns. For example, according to Suetonius, Tiberius forbad all cooked provisions to be sold in these shops.  Many tavern owners simply ignored the laws and continued to serve their usual menus.

There is some evidence that the taverns were a place of political discourse.  In Pompeii, at an inn called Asellina’s Caupona (caupona being Latin for inn) there is a mural (which by the way answers the questions of whether a tavern might paint a mural upon its walls), which also has political commentary.  Asellina’s Caupona or tavern is found in the ninth region of Pompeii. It is situated in the second insula, on the left hand side of the Road of Abundance, not far from the triangular forum.