Herod the Great
Conquers Jerusalem

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This sixth installment from The Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus discusses how Herod the Great, who did not come from royal blood, rose to achieve the title of king. Made King of the Jews by Rome in 40 B.C., he gathered an army and fought to earn the right to rule over Judea.

March to Jerusalem

After the wedding was over (between Herod the Great and Mariamne I in Samaria), came Sosius through Phoenicia, having sent out his army before him over the midland parts. He also, who was their commander, came himself, with a great number of horsemen and footmen.

Herod also came himself from Samaria, and brought with him no small army, besides that which was there before, for they were about thirty thousand. They all met together at the walls of Jerusalem, and encamped at the north wall of the city, being now an army of eleven legions, armed men on foot, and six thousand horsemen, with other auxiliaries out of Syria.

The generals were two: Sosius, sent by (Marc or Mark) Antony to assist Herod, and Herod on his own account, in order to take the government from Antigonus, who was declared all enemy at Rome, and that he might himself be king, according to the decree of the Senate.

Jerusalem Attacked

Now the Jews that were enclosed within the walls of Jerusalem fought against Herod with great alacrity and zeal (for the whole nation was gathered together). They also gave out many prophecies about the temple, and many things agreeable to the people, as if God would deliver them out of the dangers they were in.

Copper coin of Herod the Great
Copper Coin of Herod the Great
Left: Basileus Herodon
Right: Macedonian sun symbol

The Jews had also carried off what was out of the city, that they might not leave any thing to afford sustenance either for men or for beasts; and by private robberies they made the want of necessaries greater. When Herod understood this, he opposed ambushes in the fittest places against their private robberies, and he sent legions of armed men to bring its provisions, and that from remote places, so that in a little time they had great plenty of provisions.

Now the three bulwarks were easily erected, because so many hands were continually at work upon it. It was summer time, and there was nothing to hinder them in raising their works, neither from the air nor from the workmen. So they brought their engines to bear, and shook the walls of the city, and tried all manner of ways to get in. Yet did not those within discover any fear, but they also contrived not a few engines to oppose their engines withal.

They also sallied out, and burnt not only those engines that were not yet perfected, but those that were; and when they came hand to hand, their attempts were not less bold than those of the Romans, though they were behind them in skill. They also erected new works when the former were ruined, and making mines underground, they met each other, and fought there.

Making use of brutish courage rather than of prudent valor, they persisted in this war to the very last. They did this while a mighty army lay round about them, and while they were distressed by famine and the want of necessaries, for this happened to be a Sabbatic year.

The first that scaled the walls of Jerusalem were twenty chosen men. The next were Sosius's centurions, for the first wall was taken in forty days, and the second in fifteen more, when some of the cloisters that were about the temple were burnt. Herod gave out that they were burnt by Antigonus, in order to expose him to the hatred of the Jews.

The Jews Flee

And when the outer court of the temple and the lower city were taken, the Jews fled into the inner court of the temple, and into the upper city. Fearing lest the Romans should hinder them from offering their daily sacrifices to God, they sent an ambassador, and desired that they would only permit them to bring in beasts for sacrifices, which Herod granted, hoping they were going to yield.

But when Herod saw that they did nothing of what he supposed, but bitterly opposed him, in order to preserve the kingdom to Antigonus, he made an assault upon the city, and took it by storm.

Defenders Slaughtered

Now all parts were full of those that were slain, by the rage of the Romans at the long duration of the siege, and by the zeal of the Jews that were on Herod's side. They were not willing to leave one of their adversaries alive, so they were murdered continually in the narrow streets and in the houses by crowds, and as they were flying to the temple for shelter, and there was no pity taken of either infants or the aged, nor did they spare so much as the weaker sex.

Judah's King Surrenders

Although Herod sent about, and besought them to spare the people, yet nobody restrained their hand from slaughter, but, as if they were a company of madmen, they fell upon persons of all ages, without distinction.

Then Antigonus, without regard to either his past or present circumstances, came down from the citadel, and fell down at the feet of Sosius, who took no pity of him or in the change of his fortune. He, instead, insulted him beyond measure, and called him Antigone [i.e. a woman, and not a man] yet did he not treat him as if he were a woman, by letting him go at liberty, but put him into bonds, and kept him in close custody.

And now Herod having overcome his enemies, his care was to govern those foreigners who had been his assistants. For a crowd of strangers rushed to see the temple, and the sacred things in the temple. Herod, however, thinking a victory to be a more severe affliction than a defeat, if any of those things which it was not lawful to see should be seen by them, used entreaties and threatenings, and even sometimes force itself, to restrain them.

Saving the City

Herod also prohibited the ravage that was made in the city, and many times asked Sosius whether the Romans would empty the city both of money and men, and leave him King of a desert. He also told Sosius that he esteemed the dominion over the whole habitable earth as by no means an equivalent satisfaction for such a murder of his citizens.

When Sosius said that this plunder was justly to be permitted the soldiers for the siege they had undergone, Herod replied that he would give every one their reward out of his own money. By this means be redeemed what remained of Jerusalem from destruction and he performed what he had promised him. Herod gave a noble present to every soldier, and a proportionable present to their commanders, but a most royal present to Sosius himself, till they all went away full of money.

This destruction befell the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls of Rome on the hundred eighty and fifth olympiad, on the third month, on the solemnity of the fast, as if a periodical revolution of calamities had returned since that which befell the Jews under Pompey. For the Jews were taken by him on the same day, and this was after twenty-seven years' time.

Securing Power

So when Sosius had dedicated a crown of gold to God, he marched away from Jerusalem, and carried Antigonus with him in bonds to Antony. Herod, however, was afraid lest Antigonus should be kept in prison [only] by Antony, and that when he was carried to Rome by him, he might get his cause to be heard by the senate.

If this were done he might demonstrate, as he was himself of the royal blood, and Herod but a private man, that therefore it belonged to his sons however to have the kingdom, on account of the family they were of, in case he had himself offended the Romans by what he had done.

Out of Herod's fears he gave Antony a great deal of money, endeavoring to persuade him to have Antigonus slain, which if it were once done, he should be free from that fear. And thus did the government of the Asamoneans (Hasmoneans) cease, a hundred twenty and six years after it was first set up.

This family was a splendid and an illustrious one, both on account of the nobility of their stock, and of the dignity of the high priesthood, as also for the glorious actions their ancestors had performed for our nation.

But these men, however, lost the government by their dissensions one with another, and it came to Herod, the son of Antipater, who was of no more than a vulgar family, and of no eminent extraction, but one that was subject to other kings. And this is what history tells us was the end of the Asamonean family.

Our Notes

Who was Mark Antony? How did Herod the Great, who did not come from royal blood, rise to achieve the title of king over the Jews?

c. 72 B.C.
Herod is born to Antipater I the Idumaean (Idumaean means 'from the land of Edom'). Antipater was an Edomite.

47 B.C.
Julius Caesar appoints Antipater I to be procurator of Judea. Antipater, in turn, makes his son governor of Galilee.

44 B.C.
Mark Antony, after the assassination of Caesar, forms with two other men (Octavian and Marcus Lepidus) Rome's Second Triumvirate. This triumvirate allows these powerful leaders to share the burden of governing the huge Roman Republic. Mark Antony takes on the responsibility of governing the eastern provinces that includes Egypt, where Cleopatra has ruled since 51 B.C., as well as Judea.

43 B.C.
Antipater I is murdered by poison.

41 B.C.
Mark (Marc) Antony elevates Herod to the rank of tetrarch of Jerusalem and Galilee.

40 B.C.
Herod is appointed, while in Rome, as King of Judea ("King of the Jews") by the Roman Senate. Leaving the capital, He quickly begins to gather an army to overcome Antigonus, the Hasmonean puppet king of Judea set up by the Parthians (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 14, Chapter 15, Section 1).

37 B.C.
Herod, eager to add legitimacy to his rule, marries the Hasmonean princess Mariamne I (mentioned above). He then conquers Judea and Jerusalem. The death of Antigonus makes him the unchallenged ruler of Judea.

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Biblical History by Josephus
with Background Notes!
The Tower of Babel
Saul Is Made Israel's King
Solomon Builds Jerusalem's Temple
Babylon Destroys Jerusalem and Temple
Alexander the Great Visits Jerusalem!
Herod the Great Conquers Jerusalem
Herod Rebuilds the Temple

Excerpts taken from
Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus
Book 14, Chapter 16
Edited, expanded and © Biblestudy.org