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.