History : Nov-Dec 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 47 the violent behavior of his later years did much to sully his legacy. The Mad King Throughout his reign, King Herod’s domestic life was a source of growing scandal in Jerusalem. In addition to consorting with a large number of concubines, Herod is thought to have had a total of nine wives, and was sometimes married to more than one at the same time. Palace intrigues and dynastic plots fueled a growing sense of paranoia in Herod. Some may have been genuine, but others were the fruit of Herod’s vivid imagination. The continual sus- picion of a conspiracy launched by remnants of the Hasmonaean dynasty prompted a wave of bloodletting. Herod had many members of his own family killed during his frequent purges. Among his victims were his brother-in-law Aristobulus the Younger, whom he had previ- ously named as high priest, as well as the former Hasmonaean king Hyrcanus II, who had ruled before him. His wife Mariamne also perished on his orders, and—most brutally of all—her two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. He disinher- ited his oldest son, Antipater, borne to him by his first wife, Doris, only to execute him later. Many civilians also ended their lives in the dungeons of the palace, victims of Herod’s sys- tematic plan to eliminate anyone who showed allegiance to the previous Hasmonaean regime. Tortured by insecurity, Herod’s desire for revenge became increasingly lurid. Josephus writes how, having entered his agonizing last illness, Herod ordered that after his death the key noblemen in the country should be corralled into the amphitheater in Jericho and slain with arrows. On his death in 4 b.c., the order was never carried out. There is no direct proof that the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem oc- curred either, although the story is not incredible given Herod’s mental state. His actions created an intriguing historical paradox: a ruler who could, on the one hand, create a stable, wealthy kingdom, yet still stir up feelings of distrust and disrespect among his subjects. THE FORTRESS ON THE HILL “Rounded in the shape of a breast,” in the words of Josephus, Herod’s hilltop fortress of Herodium lies near Bethlehem. His tomb was finally found in the complex in 2007. GONZALOAZUMENDIGONZALOAZUMENDI BORCHI MASSIMO/FOTOTECA 9X12 ANTONIO PIÑERO IS PROFESSOR OF GREEK PHILOLOGY AT THE COMPLUTENSE UNIVERSITY OF MADRID, SPAIN.