The Rise of Herod I, "The Great"
40 - 37 BCE
Back Next
Upset that his uncle was a "puppet" ruler of Judaea under the Romans, Mattathias Antigonus allied himself with the Parthians to become the new ruler of Judaea and take power back from the Romans. He was initially successful, and ruled for three years.

But Herod had escaped to Rome, and soon returned with Roman soldiers in tow ...


With the removal of Aristobulus II and the passing of the Edomite Antipater, the rule of Judaea was now shared between Aristobulus's older brother John Hyrcanus II and Herod, son of Antipater. Mattathias Antigonus (Aristobulus's son and Hyrcanus's nephew), was angered by the fact that Hyrcanus was a weak ruler and Herod was a Roman collaborator, as his father had been. In reality, the Romans ruled Judaea, and Antigonus ached to do something about it.

Orodes II, King of Parthia, 57-38 BCE
This drachm, roughly the size and weight of a Roman denarius (or a modern U.S. dime), features the portrait of Orodes on the front and the symbolic image of "Arsakes", the legendary first king of Parthia, on the reverse.

The only force in the region strong and confident enough to defy the Romans was the Parthian kingdom to the east. Thirteen years previously, the current Parthian king, Orodes II, had inflicted a crushing defeat on a huge Roman army under Crassus. As such, Orodes seemed like the logical fellow to approach when Antigonus wanted an ally against his uncle Hyrcanus, Herod, and the Romans.

Mattathias Antigonus, 40-37 BCE
Things didn't improve at the Jerusalem mint when Antigonus took over from his uncle. The archaic Hebrew script was often "blundered" (e.g., filled with errors to the point of being pure nonsense), and coin production quality actually DROPPED through this period. This is actually well above average for the examples I've seen from this period.

With Orodes' support, Antigonus took control of Jerusalem. His uncle was mutilated in the process, which made him unfit to be High Priest. (It was required that the High Priest be without "bodily blemish"), so Antigonus easily won that office.

Marc Antony and Octavian
This denarius, roughly the size of a U.S. dime, features both Marc Antony (Julius Caesar's ally) and Octavian (Julius Caesar's nephew). It dates from the period after Caesar's assassination when they jointly ruled Rome.

But Herod escaped to Rome. There, he found himself still in favor with Marc Antony and Octavian, the joint rulers of Rome*. With their blessing and support, he returned to Judaea to battle Antigonus for supremacy. In 37 BCE, Herod finally won through and had Antigonus executed.

Herod I "Cross and Tripod"
This 2-Prutot (pru-TOHT) coin was minted under Herod I. The obverse features a cross surrounded by an open diadem, with "Herod the King" in Greek. The reverse is a tripod flanked by palm branches. (Hendin 490a)
Herod I "Anchor and Cornucopiae"
This 1 Perutah coin was minted under Herod I. The obverse features an anchor, and "Herod the King" in Greek. The reverse is two cornucopiae (horns of plenty) with caduceus between.

On this example, if you've got a good imagination, you may be able to faintly make out "HPWD" (Greek for "Herod") running bottom to top to the left of the anchor. (The "P" is immediately to the left of the left anchor prong) The rest of the legend is off the flan to the right in this example. (Hendin 500)

The Romans dated the accession of Herod I to the year 40 BCE, considering Antigonus's reign to have been merely an "occupation" of Jerusalem against its rightful (e.g., Roman-approved) leadership, but the Hasmoneans considered Antigonus to have reigned for three years, so it depends upon whom you ask as to whether the Hasmonean reign ended and the Herodian rule began in 40 or 37 BCE.


* After the infamous "Ides of March" assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, Marc Antony and Octavian were rivals to replace him as supreme ruler of Rome. They initially formed an alliance, splitting the empire between them. This was the situation when Herod showed up. Octavian would later oppose and defeat Marc Antony, to become the first full-fledged Emperor of Rome, better known by the name "Augustus", or "Respected One". But for now, they were best friends ...


<- Previous Page Next Page ->
Back To "Coins and Judaean History"