Hyrcanus II

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HYRCANUS II (c. 103–30 b.c.e.), elder son of *Alexander Yannai and *Salome Alexandra. Since John Hyrcanus ii was born soon after his father's accession to the throne (103 b.c.e.), he was 72 years old at the time of his death and not, unless the traditional date of his parents' marriage is rejected, over 80 years old, as stated by Josephus (Ant., 15:178).

Hyrcanus was appointed high priest during his mother's lifetime and as such was regarded as the heir to the throne, but he played no conspicuous part in political life while she was alive. His brother, Judah *Aristobulus ii, started even during his mother's lifetime to undermine Hyrcanus' position and to consolidate his own. Hyrcanus' situation was a difficult one, particularly since the army sided with Aristobulus. On the death of Salome Alexandra in 67 b.c.e., Aristobulus seized power, which Hyrcanus was compelled to surrender after being defeated in battle. Aristobulus appointed himself king and high priest, while Hyrcanus received the honorary title, which lacked all political significance, of "the king's brother." However, the status granted to Hyrcanus was commensurate with his political talents, which were extremely limited; according to Josephus, Hyrcanus was deficient in the qualities of a man of action (Ant., 13:423; 14:13). He was however apparently filled with a lust for power, which provoked him into endeavoring to hold on to it at all costs, even to the extent of subordinating his wishes to those of his adviser *Antipater, who encouraged him in his ambition.

Antipater prevailed on Hyrcanus to flee from Jerusalem to *Aretas, the Nabatean king, who, induced by important territorial concessions, joined forces with him against Aristobulus, whom they besieged in Jerusalem (65 b.c.e.). At this juncture Pompey's armies appeared in the east. Like his brother, Hyrcanus too appealed to Scaurus, one of Pompey's officers, who had captured Damascus, to pronounce judgment in their quarrel. Scaurus decided against Hyrcanus, whose qualities and political standing were inferior to those of his brother. However, with the arrival of Pompey himself in Syria the brothers submitted their rival claims to him. This time the Roman preferred Hyrcanus, apparently because he entertained suspicions of Aristobulus by reason of the latter's arrogant behavior and considered that Hyrcanus would be a more pliant tool in the hands of the Romans. Hyrcanus was appointed but with only diminished and limited authority. After overcoming the opposition of Aristobulus and his party, Pompey seized extensive regions from the Hasmonean kingdom, and Hyrcanus was appointed high priest of a truncated state. The Jews became tributaries to Rome, Hyrcanus being apparently responsible for levying the tribute. Even after this appointment, Hyrcanus' rule was not firmly established and his antagonists – Aristobulus and his sons – attacked him several times but were repeatedly defeated by the Romans. Hyrcanus' position improved with the accession of Julius Caesar, who appointed him ethnarch and high priest in return for the help which he had given him when he was in difficulties in Egypt. Julius Caesar restored the city of Jaffa and the valley of Jezreel to Judea and also apparently to some extent the three districts of Aphairema, Lydda, and Ramathaim, previously given by Pompey to the Samaritans.

During this period Hyrcanus' position was strong. He used his influence also on behalf of the Jews in the Diaspora who constantly maintained close ties with Jerusalem. However the power enjoyed by Antipater and his sons increased steadily and eventually brought about the deposition of Hyrcanus and his house. Although sensing the danger threatening him from this quarter, Hyrcanus was yet unable to oppose the consolidation of Antipater's family. His weakness is clearly evident in *Herod's trial. Later he was apparently induced by Malichus, one of his intimate circle, to acquiesce in the removal of Antipater; but even the latter's death did not help him to reinforce his rule. Compelled to abandon Malichus to the vengeance of Antipater's sons, he had to rely on their support to sustain his rule amid the vicissitudes of the wars for the supreme leadership of the Roman Empire. In 40 b.c.e. he was deprived of power and taken prisoner by *Antigonus son of Aristobulus and his Parthian allies. Having been mutilated by having his ears cut off to disqualify him from the high priesthood, Hyrcanus was transferred by the Parthians to Babylonia, where, greatly honored by the Jews, he lived quietly and safely for several years.

Hyrcanus and his house lost all power with Herod's proclamation in Rome as king (40 b.c.e.), an appointment which destroyed his hopes of ever being reinstated as ruler in Judea, even if only by the grace of Rome. The attempts, too, to gain influence with the new ruler through Herod's marriage to *Mariamne, the daughter of Alexandra who was the daughter of Hyrcanus, were not very successful. Herod did indeed invite Hyrcanus to Jerusalem, where he lived peacefully for some time, but in 30 b.c.e., when Herod was in doubt as to his future under Octavian, he considered Hyrcanus a potential threat to his continued rule, and had him executed on a false charge (Ant., 15:164ff.). He had been a man who with all his might sought power but did not know how to sustain it. His ambitions coupled with his weakness brought disaster on his people, on his house, and on himself.


Jos., Ant., 13:408–15:182; Jos., Wars, 1:109–433; Schuerer, Hist, 91–115, 131, 135; A. Schalit, Hordos ha-Melekh (19643), 529f. (index), s.v.Horkenus; idem, Koenig Herodes (1969), 761ff. (Appendix viii), 808f. (index).

[Uriel Rappaport]