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Who was Herod the Great?

Written by Dianna Wiebe on .

Who was Herod the Great?

Herod the Great is most famous for his role in the Christmas story, but what is the rest of his story? Who were Herod’s parents, wives, and children? Why was Herod called “Herod the Great”? When did he live and how did he die?

Herod’s Early Years

Herod was born in 73 BC to Antipater and Cypros. Anitpater, his father, was an Idumaean, from the descendants of Esau and his mother, Cypros or Cyprus, was from Nabatea.[ii] Together they were a powerful political couple and were parents to five children.

Herod was the second born son of Antipater and Cypros.

Herod had three brothers:

  1. Phasael
  2. Pheroras
  3. Joseph

Salome I (the first) was his only sister.

Herod grew up with a father who was politically connected to Rome which enabled his sons to launch into rolls of leadership at a young age. Although Herod was well prepared politically, he was not well established religiously to lead the Jewish people.

Was Herod a Jew?

Herod desired to be seen as a Jew among the Jewish people. However, his Jewish roots were a matter of debate. During the time of the Maccabees, Herod’s father’s family was forced to convert to Judaism by the Hasmonaeans. Many in Judea and Samaria at the time of Herod’s reign did not consider him a true Jew, Herod kept some of the biblical laws but neglected others. Knowing his subjects still rejected his Jewishness, he divorced his first wife and married his second wife, Mariamne I, a Jewish princess from the Hasmonean dynasty of Judea. Although Mariamne was Herod’s favorite wife, she was not his only wife.

Who were Herod’s Wives and Children?

Herod ultimately married ten women, and had fifteen sons, and at least five daughters. (Daughters were often excluded from the records, so he may have had more than five daughters.) History records the names of eight of Herod’s wives.

Herod’s Wives and children

  • Doris
    • Anitpater II
  • Mariamne I
    • Alexander
    • Aristobulus IV
    • Salampsio (daughter)
    • Cypros (daughter)
  • Mariamne II
    • Herod II
  • Malthace
    • Herod Archelaus
    • Herod Antipas
    • Olympias (daughter)
  • Cleopatra of Jerusalem
    • Philip
    • Herod
  • Pallas
    • Phasael
  • Phaedra
    • Roxanne (daughter)
  • Elpis
    • Salome
  • 2 additional wives whose names and children are not recorded in history
    • Unknown number of children

How many Herod’s Were There?

The first Herod was the father of many who would carry his name. In addition to sons, others within the descendants of Herod’s family would carry the name Herod.

Other Herods:

  • Herod Philip – son
  • Herod Archelaus – son
  • Herod Antipas – son
  • Herod Phillip II – son
  • Herod Agrippa I – grandson
  • Herod Agrippa II – great grandson

With all these Herods, how does one keep the first Herod distinct from the others?

Why was this Herod call “Herod the Great”

Historian Josephus was the first to originally call Herod “the Great”. Why? Because several of Herod’s children carried his name, so to identify which Herod Josephus was referring to, he added “the Great” to the father of the family.

Herod was not only “Great” because he was the first of the Herods, he was also a great at building!

King Herod’s Building Projects?

Herod is known for his role in the birth of Jesus story, but he is also famous for his building projects. He built on unique locations and was cutting edge is his grandness and scope of his projects. He wanted to be known in Rome for his great buildings.  Here are some of his most famous building projects.

  • Masada, located near the Dead Sea on the top of a plateau. On the top of the plateau, you find buildings, storage rooms and a synagogue. Along the edges, Herod built cisterns and an ingenious rain gathering system to fill the cistern with runoff water. Down the cliff face, two additional porticos are built, that appear to be coming out of the cliff itself.
  • Caesarea Maritima is the first self-cleaning seaport ever built. Herod’s men developed a method of creating concrete underwater to create a break water for this harbor.
  • The Herodium Palace was built on the top of a hill and rising out of the hill was a circular palace.
  • The Temple in Jerusalem was one of Herod’s largest projects. This was the Second Temple and the one that Jesus visited. Herod had the Temple itself rebuilt and expanded and level the area around the Temple.

In addition to these major projects, before he died, Herod built many things in Jerusalem, a theater, stadium, and other public buildings.

How did Herod the Great Die?

After 73 years of life, Herod died a painful death in the city of Jericho. His body was then taken away and buried, but those who buried him were then killed to keep his grave a secret. It wasn’t until 2008 that the location of his tomb was found. Herod the Great was buried at his Herodium Palace.

One of Herod’s last acts was an attempt to kill the new-born king named Jesus. He failed. After his death, the Lord sent a message to Joseph that it was time to bring Mary and Jesus back home. Herod is remembered not for his good deeds and big-than-life building projects but for his many murders. The baby he tried to kill, grew up to bring light to the world and His mighty works of love and kindness are remembered also today!

When we look to back at Herod’s life, we are reminded that all his schemes to stop the real King of Jews failed. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us worship the true and soon coming King!


Fast Facts on Herod the Great

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