Herodias (c. 14 BCE–after 40 CE)

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Herodias (c. 14 bce–after 40 ce)

Jewish princess who ruled with her husband. Born around 14 bce; died after 40 ce; daughter of Aristobulus I and Berenice (c. 35 bce–?); granddaughter of Herod the Great; married paternal half-uncle Herod Philip I (the son of Herod the Great and his wife Mariamne II), around 4 ce; married half-uncle Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great and Malthace); children: (first marriage) Salome III (c. 15 ce–?).

Herodias was born around 14 bce, the daughter of Aristobulus and Berenice , and the granddaughter of Herod the Great. She first married (around 4 ce) her paternal half-uncle, Herod Philip I (the son of Herod the Great and his wife Mariamne II ). By Herod Philip I, Herodias gave birth to the famous Salome III (of

seven veils fame). Herodias, however, quickly found this union uncongenial and abandoned her first husband. She then married another halfuncle, Herod Antipas (the son of Herod the Great and Malthace ), who had divorced his first wife, a daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabateans. (Both of Herodias' unions had been contracted in part to consolidate the political interests of the Herodian family.) Herodias' second husband was the tetrarch of Galilee from 4 bce until 40 ce, and thus was a Jewish ruler who reigned solely at the discretion of Rome. Why Herodias contracted this second marriage is unknown for certain, but it is likely that she found Herod Antipas more to her liking largely because he seems to have been malleable under her influence. Both John the Baptist and Jesus were technically Herod Antipas' subjects and largely carried out their ministries under his (and Herodias') jurisdiction. However, the former was especially censorious toward Herodias because he considered her marriage to Herod Antipas both incestuous (since she had been formally married to his half-brother) and illicit (because, in order to marry, both Herodias and Herod Antipas had to divorce their first spouses).

John the Baptist's vocal opposition to her second marriage caused Herodias to hate him, but, though she pressured Herod Antipas to punish him, the latter was long reluctant to do so, fearing John's charisma and following. Nevertheless, a birthday party for Herod Antipas (c. 25 ce) gone awry would be John's undoing. Dancing provocatively for her stepfather, a young but voluptuous Salome III was able to solicit from Herod Antipas a promise to grant any boon she requested. Influenced by her mother, Salome subsequently requested John's head on a platter—a grant Herod Antipas was loathe to give, but which the stubborn Salome continued to demand. As a result, John the Baptist was executed at Machaerus, and Herodias had her revenge upon her detractor. Herod Antipas, present in Jerusalem during the passion of Jesus, also seems to have played a marginal role in the inquisition which led to the latter's death.

Actively involved in the politics of her house and region, Herodias was a major force behind Herod Antipas' reign and rivalries, particularly the rivalry with her brother, Herod Agrippa I. Initially, Herodias urged her husband to help her brother with money and some status in his capital (the city of Tiberias), but soon brother and sister had quarreled, and Herod Agrippa fled to Rome to reacquaint himself with Gaius, better known as the Emperor Caligula. When Caligula came to the Roman throne in 37 ce, he reestablished his friend Herod Agrippa in Palestine (over the territory of Batanaa and Trachonitis, to the east of the Sea of Galilee) with the title of "king"—a title as yet denied Herod Antipas. At Herodias' urging, Herod Antipas went in state to Rome to request his elevation to "royal" status so as to be the "equal" of his brother-in-law. This embassy was a failure—not only did Herod Antipas not obtain his wish, he even experienced disaster when Herod Agrippa turned the tables on him by accusing him of disloyalty to Rome before Caligula; these charges led both to Herod Antipas' exile in Gaul and to his realm being turned over to Herod Agrippa to augment the territory already under the latter's rule (40 ce). Thus beaten at the political game by her own brother, Herodias joined her husband in exile, there to die at an unknown date.

William Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California