Palestine Under Roman Rule

Judea becomes a Roman tributary.

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Only the intervention of his father, Antipa­ter, prevented him from taking revenge for their having called him to account. Herod's difficulties with his brethren had no impact on his relations with the Romans, who appointed him strategos (governor and general) of Coele‑Syria, a Greek desig­nation for the area of Palestine and southwest Syria.

In 43 B.C.E. Antipater was poisoned, leaving the fate of Palestine open. Herod and Phasael managed to retain power, even after the accession of Antony as ruler over the entirety of Asia in 42 B.C.E. Despite the complaints of their countrymen, who dispatched embassies to Antony, Herod and Phasael each acquired the title of tetrarch.           

The Parthian Invasion

Their fate, and that of Palestineas well, changed markedly with the Parthian invasion in 40 B.C.E. The Parthians allied themselves with Antigonus II (Mattathias) the Hasmonean, the youngest son of Aristobulus II (and nephew of Ilyrcanus II), who as the last of the Hasmonean princes had long been seeking to reassert Hasmonean rule over Judea. Unable to stem the invasion, Phasael and Hyrcanus II were lured into a Parthian trap. Hyrcanus was maimed in the ear in order to disqualify him from serving as high priest and Phasael took his own life. Only the wily Herod had foreseen the trap and escaped.                      

Now once again Judea had a Hasmonean king. Herod determined that in order to regain power he had no option but to seek Roman support. He set sail for Rome, where he persuaded the Senate to declare him king of Judea despite his 1ack of an army and of any real claim to the throne. He knew that the Roman desire to see the Parthians expelled from the province would lead the Senate to support his claims.

Herod Returns

In 39 B.C.E., he landed in Ptolemais (present day Akko) and quickly gathered some northerners around his banner, alongside the Roman troops ordered by the Senate to assist him. His first attack on Jerusalem was unsuccessful, with Antigonus still holding his own in the city. But the tide was turning against the Parthians, who had been expelled form most of Syria and were on the run in Palestine as well.

By 37 B.C.E. Herod had subdued virtually all of the country. By order of Antony, Sossius, the Roman governor of Syria, gave Herod aid which ultimately enabled him to take Jerusalem. Antigonus was captured buy the Romans and was beheaded at the wish of Herod. Thus Hasmonean rule over an independent nation in the land of Israel was finally brought to an end.     

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Lawrence H. Schiffman

Lawrence H. Schiffman is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Yeshiva University.