Salome (c. 65 BCE–10 CE)

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Salome (c. 65 bce–10 ce)

Influential sister of Herod the Great. Born around 65 bce; died around 10 ce; daughter of Antipater, a wealthy Idumaean, and Cyprus (c. 90 bce–?); sister of Herod the Great; married Joseph (executed in 28 bce); married Costobar (divorced); married Alexas; children: (second marriage) Alexander; Herod; Antipater; Berenice (c. 35 bce–?); and another unnamed daughter.

Antipater and Cyprus (an Arabian) had four sons—Phasael, Herod the Great, Joseph, and Pheroras—and a daughter, Salome. A wealthy Idumaean, Antipater backed Hyrcanus over Aristobulus in the 60s bce, as the Hasmonian house of Judea engaged in internecine rivalries (See Berenice [c. 35 bce–?]). In the process, Antipater came to know well many Romans who, at the time, were expanding their imperium throughout the region, including the military-minded Pompey the Great. Somewhat later (in 48), Antipater advanced the interests of his family by sending troops to the aid of Julius Caesar when the latter was militarily beleaguered in Alexandria. As rewards, Caesar appointed Antipater to the position of procurator and granted him Roman citizenship. Antipater was poisoned in 43 by an Arabic rival named Malichus, but he nevertheless paved the way for the later success of his most famous offspring, Herod the Great.

Herod and his brothers continued the political rise begun by their father, and they also did so in collusion with the extension of Roman power throughout the East. The late 40s and 30s, however, were a period of great turmoil, with Rome experiencing a civil war fought between the Caesarians and the assassins of Julius Caesar, the rise of the Second Triumvirate, and the great showdown between Octavian (later Augustus) and Marc Antony. Nonetheless, in 42 Herod held a Roman governorship in Palestine and in 40 (the same year his older brother, Phasael, died) was appointed Judea's king by the Roman Senate. When the rift between Octavian and Antony grew, Herod backed the latter, both because of his military reputation and because Antony's power base lay in the eastern Mediterranean. In 31, however, Antony fell to the forces of Octavian. Herod was quick to make amends to the new master: in 30 when Octavian was on the island of Rhodes, Herod approached him, offering loyalty and support. As a result of this pilgrimage, Octavian reconfirmed Herod's authority in Judea.

It should be noted that Herod was, in essence, a foreign appointee, a fact which did not endear him to many of his subjects, although the popular Hasmonian dynasty (which had ruled Judea for over a century) was clearly in serious decline. Herod's status within his realm was initially insecure (in fact, he remained politically paranoid throughout his entire life), but he overcame the reservations of many by divorcing his first wife Doris (by no means of humble birth, but not of royal status) in 42 in order to marry Mariamne the Hasmonian (in 37, although they were betrothed in 42). Mariamne was a stunning beauty from the Hasmonian house. Before his divorce and remarriage, Herod and Doris had a son, also named Antipater, from whom Herod initially distanced himself after his marriage to Mariamne so as to give political precedence to the sons he would have with her. This treatment of Antipater was not only necessary, because Mariamne provided Herod with a valuable link to the deposed dynasty, it was also Herod's wish, for he was besotted by his new wife. Although Herod doted on Mariamne, she did not return his affection in its intensity. There appears to have been two main reasons for her coolness: first, in order to secure his newly won throne, Herod had executed Mariamne's brother Jonathon and grandfather Hyrcanus lest either ignite a movement to restore the Hasmonian house to power; and second, because his family was nowhere near as exalted as hers (notwithstanding the obvious edge in political acumen Herod had over any of the contemporary Hasmonians). Nevertheless, Mariamne and Herod had five children: three sons, one unnamed, who died young, Alexander and Aristobulus I; and two daughters, Salampsio and Cypros .

Acutely aware of her effect on Herod, and recognizing his political need for her family connections, Mariamne lorded over her husband, his family, and his court, making it clear that she felt superior to all. Although Herod tolerated this behavior, neither his mother Cyprus nor his sister Salome were anywhere near as forgiving of the slights they received by Mariamne's actions and words, and they sought opportunities to turn Herod against his queen. Thus was Herod's court divided into factions, each seeking not only a recognition of superior status, but, even more so, the political influence which came with superior status. An opportunity to undermine Mariamne's authority presented itself before the fall of Antony. (Perhaps) doctoring the evidence, Salome accused Mariamne of having sent a portrait of herself to Antony in Egypt, where he was then established as the consort of Cleopatra VII . The reason she had done so, alleged Salome, was that Mariamne had hoped to attract Antony's amorous attention. This allegation did two things: first, it incited in Herod suspicions of infidelity; and second, it roused his fear that a jealous Cleopatra VII might avenge herself upon him, his interests, and/or Mariamne herself.

Both to protect Mariamne and to keep an eye on her, Herod placed her under the supervision of Salome's husband Joseph whom Herod regarded as trustworthy. Herod, however, made the mistake of issuing to Joseph a command he meant to keep secret from Mariamne: in the event of a successful Egyptian attempt on Herod's life, Joseph was to kill Mariamne. Joseph understood this order as a manifestation of Herod's love—that he wished to be with his beloved even in the underworld, if the worst came to pass. Whether or not this was the case, the naive Joseph broke his troth with Herod and revealed Herod's instruction to Mariamne, hoping thereby to convince her that Herod's love was true, so that she might respond in kind. Not at all pleased by the information Joseph had revealed, Mariamne is said to have responded to Herod, while he was in the process of proclaiming his devotion, by declaring that he had a funny way of expressing love, insofar as he had made provisions for her execution. Stunned by her retort, Herod proclaimed that Joseph would never have revealed the secret decree unless Joseph himself had been so enamored of Mariamne as to have attempted to seduce her. When the issue became known to Salome, who did not care overmuch for Joseph, she saw her opportunity to attack her nemesis: Salome assured her brother that what he suspected was true—Joseph had seduced Mariamne. Grief-stricken, Herod ordered the executions of Mariamne and Joseph (in 29).

This episode embittered Herod's court, for the sons of Mariamne would never forget the murder of their mother, and they never forgave the rest of Herod's family, especially Salome, for their role in Mariamne's downfall. Indeed, the strong emotions unleashed by Mariamne's death were not allowed to settle, for Herod recalled Doris and Antipater in the wake of Mariamne's disgrace and these created their own faction to promote Antipater as Herod's heir. (Herod also married several other times and maintained a polygamous household. Lesser wives and their children compounded the court's factionalization.) Antipater's main problem was this: although he was older than his stepbrothers, the status of his mother was lesser than had been Mariamne's. As a result, any hope of Antipater's becoming Herod's political heir meant that he had to do everything he could to antagonize the bitterness created by Mariamne's execution. This was not very difficult, but with time, Herod began to think seriously about an emotional reconciliation with Mariamne's children. The issue of who would become Herod's political heir became acute in 17, when Herod retrieved Alexander and Aristobulus from Rome, where they had been deposited for three reasons: to put some geographical distance between them and Herod in the hopes that the memory of Mariamne's murder would fade; to begin their formal education in the Roman manner; and to make valuable political contacts with the imperial elite.

Once Alexander and Aristobulus were back in Jerusalem, Herod began their political rehabilitation in part by planning their marriages in such a way as to be politically advantageous to Herod and his dynasty (c. 15). Herod arranged the marriage of Alexander to a princess from Cappadocia named Glaphyra . This union solidified Herod's international standing, and many interpreted it as a prelude to a reevaluation of the succession question. For Aristobulus, Herod had another kind of marriage in mind—the younger living son of Mariamne would begin, Herod hoped, to reconcile the various factions into which his family was split by being married to Salome's daughter, Berenice (by her second husband, Costobar). Sadly, harmony was not to be so simply resurrected.

Antipater knew these marriages imperiled his prospects. He proceeded to do everything he could to undermine Herod's growing faith in Mariamne's sons without (if he could) appearing to do so in a vindictive way, for Herod had grown somewhat maudlin about his executed wife, and appeared intent upon assuaging his guilt by promoting the interests of her sons. Fortunately for Antipater, he had allies to help him with his campaign. First among these was Salome, who feared the retribution which would certainly result if the sons of her hated rival ever held real power: this fear was hardly allayed by the marriages of Mariamne's sons. A second factor in Antipater's favor was Alexander and Aristobulus themselves, for they were easily goaded into trumpeting their general bitterness and also into exhibiting their genuine disdain for most of Herod's family, since only they and their sisters had a Hasmonian ancestry. Neither were the sons of Mariamne helped by their marriages, for Alexander's wife, Glaphyra (like Mariamne herself), flaunted her noble birth while sneering at the more humble origins of the likes of Salome. Even more undiplomatic, because of her descent, Glaphyra demanded precedence over all of the ladies of Herod's court, including Salome—a dictate which won her few friends.

This was bad enough for Salome, but the marriage of Aristobulus to Berenice was even worse. Although the relationship between Aristobulus and Berenice was often a good one, Aristobulus was never reconciled with Salome, for he (like his brother) never forgot the role that she had played in their mother's death. Thus, when marital troubles arose, Aristobulus would bemoan the fact that his brother had married royalty, while he himself had "only" merited a daughter of Salome. In addition, Aristobulus even once went so far as threaten that when Herod was no more, he and Alexander would put Salome to work weaving in the company of slaves. When talk like this got back to Salome, she reported it to Herod, who was displeased that Mariamne's sons would not let bygones be bygones, although guilt long delayed any punishment.

Anarchy began to reign at Herod's court, with rumors and allegations flying freely. Each member of Herod's family assured the aging king that he or she was his only true friend, whereas everyone else was but a snake waiting to strike. One particularly nasty altercation exploded after Herod gave some of the fabulous clothes once owned by Mariamne to some of the women of his family. When Alexander and Aristobulus learned of this "sacrilege," they are alleged to have threatened (although they later denied it to a furious Herod) that a time would come when the clothes would be recalled and the women caught wearing them attired in haircloth. Such talk, quickly brought to Herod's ears by the likes of Salome, not only belittled the status of the women in Herod's family, it also attacked Herod's royal prerogative. It was suggested that Alexander and Aristobulus, ingrates both, thought of their legitimacy and political prospects as coming from their mother and not from Herod. Could a political coup be in the making? As time passed, Herod's paranoia made him think it increasingly likely.

Compounding the complexity of the situation, however, was the fact that Herod did not always think he could trust those who attacked Mariamne's sons. Salome, so often Herod's ally and an especially good source for court gossip, herself came into conflict with her brother in 14. Her other brother, Pheroras, in order to deflect Herod's displeasure from himself, revealed that Salome had fallen in love with one Syllaeus (the son of Obadas, one of Herod's regional enemies), when that Arabian prince visited Jerusalem on a diplomatic mission. Apparently, Syllaeus experienced a similar attraction, although Salome's appeal might have been more political than physical, for she was about 50 at the time. Herod allowed the relationship to develop to the point where Salome divorced Costobar, and wedding plans began to be made. It seems that Herod exploited this affair to undermine the position of Obadas, but the marriage fell through when Syllaeus refused circumcision, one of Herod's conditions without which he would not approve the marriage. This demand was obviously imposed in order to sever Syllaeus' ties to his father and native culture. Salome was devastated by the development, but Herod held firm with the result that he strained his relationship with his sister. Somewhat after this affair (c. 9), some truce between Herod and Salome was in place, for he betrothed her (initially over her objections) to a political friend named Alexas. Salome seems to have had children only with Costobar: these being Alexander, Herod, Antipater, Berenice, and another daughter whose name is unknown.

In 7, an even greater crisis exploded primarily because of Herod's need to maintain close contacts with Rome. Herod traveled to Rome more than once on diplomatic business, but matters at home prevented him from doing so as frequently as he would have liked in order to preserve the intimacy he so wished to maintain with the imperial family. In his stead he therefore often made use of Alexander (who had remained popular in Rome since his school days) and Salome (who was a close friend of Augustus' wife Livia ) as political and personal emissaries. However, in Alexander's case, success in Rome (and Judea) was counter-productive, for, as his diplomatic star rose, Herod, encouraged by Salome and Antipater, increasingly feared that Alexander was not entirely trustworthy. Nor did Alexander's behavior allay Herod's anxiety, for the more important he became, the more ostentatious he acted at court, never noticing the negative impact this had on Herod. Finally, Herod's patience broke, and he formally accused Alexander of treachery on the slimmest of evidence. Herod's fury was made all the more intense when Alexander—trying desperately to shake Herod's renewed faith in the allegations Salome had made against him—accused her of having once forced him to have sex with her. Tried before a Roman judge, Alexander was convicted and executed, as was Aristobulus whom detractors (certainly including Salome) implicated in his brother's "crimes." Aristobulus, too, had tried to ruin Salome before his fall by alleging that she had not severed contact with Syllaeus, and that she was acting as his spy against Herod. If there were any truth in this charge, Herod did not believe it.

For three years thereafter, Antipater reigned as Herod's heir-presumptive. Herod, however, never able to free himself from Mariamne's memory, eventually rued the executions of her sons. As he had once before, Herod attempted to atone for past errors by making restitution to the offspring of those who had suffered as a result of those mistakes. When he openly acknowledged the children of Alexander and Aristobulus at court and began to make plans for their future, Antipater came to realize that his own was by no means secure. Indeed, in 4, just 5 days before disease took Herod, Antipater was executed at his father's command for attempting to appropriate too much authority to himself before the old man was gone. Salome played a role in Antipater's ruin, for she more than any other made sure that Herod knew all about Antipater's behind-the-back politicking.

Perhaps Salome's most positive contribution came in the immediate aftermath of Herod's death at Jericho. Just prior to that passing, Herod had issued a vicious command to Salome, Alexas and the local military garrison. Herod doubted that his subjects would mourn his death; rather, he suspected that the sounds of laughter would sully the dignity of his passing. So he ordered the murder of a large number of Jewish leaders whom he had already rounded up and incarcerated in Jericho's hippodrome. After their slaughter had been effected, Herod reasoned, there would be no rejoicing to stain his demise—for his memory might be hated, but the pain brought on by a massacre would douse all joy. Thinking this excessive, Salome and Alexas disobeyed, telling the guard that Herod had changed his mind. They then saw to it that the hostages were released before the soldiers had second thoughts about executing Herod's order.

Herod had made several wills during his lifetime, but his last split up most of his realm among Archelaus, named king of Judea proper, Antipas, designated tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip, appointed tetrarch of Trachonitis. All of these heirs were Herod's sons by lesser wives. This will was contested, however, primarily by Antipas (with the support of most of his family), who had been named as Herod's sole heir in an earlier will. Thus, when all concerned traveled to Rome to have Herod's bequests ratified by Augustus, a large family contingent, including Salome and her son, Antipater, went along to voice their opinions about the arrangements. Supposedly, Salome was open in her support for the priority of Archelaus, but when depositions were presented she and her son spoke on behalf of Antipas. Augustus carefully considered all of the evidence as well as the general situation in the East and decided to ratify most of Herod's last provisions, with the most important deviation being that Archelaus was named ethnarch, not king, of Judea.

Herod remembered Salome in his will with a generosity which suggests that whatever disagreements the two had ever had, he considered her a loyal supporter at the time of his death. In addition to a substantial amount of cash, Salome also received the revenues, amounting to about 60 talents of silver annually, from three important cities: Jamnia, Azotus and Phasaelis (although the cities fell under the political authority of Archelaus). The latter provision broke with Jewish tradition and suggests just how much Herod's family had accommodated themselves to the more widespread hellenistic culture. In addition to these bequests, Augustus gave Salome a large palace at Ascalon, perhaps as a sop when he decided in favor of Archelaus over Antipas. Salome lived until 10 ce. When she died, Livia inherited all of her property, a fact which demonstrates both the intimacy of their relationship and the distance which separated Salome from her surviving kin.

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