Herod the Great: Part V-The Intellectual Royal Court

Herod the Great, as has been noted before, was a King who was more Roman or at least Hellenistic, than Jewish. His court reflected this.  He populated it with intellectuals, poets, philosophers, architects, and artists, and even a geographer.  Missing from this Court were Jewish theologians or thinkers.  As a young man, he was noted for his extensive art collection, which focused mostly on sculptures in gold and silver. But as he aged, he began to collect intellectuals.  This collection of intellectuals, while providing Herod with the intellectual stimulation he craved, also presented him with two problems.

Patronage of intellectuals was an ancient Greek tradition. Numerous examples abound, such Solon in the court of Kroisos in Lydia, Eurpides in the court of Archelaos, and Aristotle with Philip II of Macedonia.  During the 40’s BC, patronage of artists and scholars was widely practiced in Rome.  Herod had seen that the Egyptian Court of Cleopatra had been well appointed with intellectuals during Herod’s stay after his flight from Judea and before his first trip to Rome.  Herod, thus upon his ascension to this throne had plenty of examples of what role royal patronage played in the court life of a monarch.

Herod may have founded a library to encourage the intellectual achievement. If so, then it must have been in the context of what had happened to two greatest of the libraries of antiquity shortly before his reign.  The Library of Alexandria had been burned during the Egyptian Civil War (whether or not upon the orders of Gaius Julius Caesar) with the attendant loss of some 400,000 scrolls.  Marcus Antonius had, in an effort to rectify this loss, taken some 200,000 scrolls from the library at Pergamum, apparently the entirety of that library and had them shipped to Alexandria.  Herod may have wanted to fulfill the vision of Gaius Julius Caesar, always a role model for Herod, in the creation of this library

Nonetheless, in the 30’s BC, after the collapse of the dynasty of Cleopatra, with her death and the death of Marcus Antonius, intellectuals migrated from Egypt to Herod’s court. Among them was Nikolaos of Damaskos, the tutor of Cleopatra’s children.  Nikolaos became a close friend and adviser to Herod. Nikolaos is also very important, because he appears to be the source for much of the information which Josephus relates in his histories.

The court of Herod included Strabo, the geographer and historian; the rhetorician, Eirenaios; tutors, Gemellus and Andromachos; Diophantos, who became Herod’s secretary and who later became a great forger who was executed for that crime; Euaratos, who had been a priest of Apollo; Nikolaos’ brother, Ptolemaios; the physician, Olympos; the historian, Philostratos, author of the Indika and the Phoinikika; and the adventurer, Eurykles of Sparta.

Many of these clearly aided Herod in his grand building program. Strabo and Nikolaos, both visited Rome often, as well as Alexandria and brought home a wealth of information about the building programs going on in both of these cities.

This intellectual royal court was clearly a two-edged sword, for many of these Friends of Herod (Herod having bestowed the Hellenistic title of philos [Friend] upon many of them, which is a technical term for a member of a circle of advisors and confidants who advised the king) later became involved in plots against him. Thus, the court became a hotbed for fomenting revolution against Herod.

Some like Andromachos, the tutor, were lucky and were only dismissed from their posts; others, like Antipatros Gadia, who at one time was the King’s closest friend, were executed. Among the others, who revolted against Herod were Antiphilos, the brother of the physician, Olympos; Dositheos, another of Herod’s closest friends, who was executed along with Lysimachos and Antipatros Gadia, mentioned above;  and Philostratos, the historian.

This court also presented another problem for Herod’s reign. The Friends were, with one or two exceptions, Greek, Egyptian, Roman, or Syrian. Put differently, the court had few intellectuals, who were Jewish, thus, further, enflaming the populace which already believed that Herod was not a ‘true’ Jew, but was something altogether different.  Those, who were Jewish, may have included, Alexas, who was married to Herod’s sister, Salome, and may have been Herod’s chief of staff of the military, Antipatros Gadia, Dositheos, who was very involved with Jewish causes, such as petitioning Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus for a military exemption for Jews; and Lysimachos.

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