Two Alexandra’s daughters of the Hasmonean Civil War

Hyrcanus II son of Salome Alexandra

Queen Salome Alexandra died knowing that her younger son was hell-bent on destroying what peace she had managed to hold together. As Josephus tells it, Hyrcanus, the eldest son, the High Priest and Regent when their mother died, was a wimp…and a Pharisee.  Aristobulus was a dashing warrior-type Sadducee, the high priestly party. Aristobulus basically told Hyrcanus to move out and leave the government to him and he wouldn’t kill him. Hyrcanus took the deal. Aristobulus moved into the palace and Hyrcanus left and became a “private man.”

Aristobulus son of Salome Alexandra

No country operates in a vacuum and there was more going on than simple rivalry between brothers or Pharisees and Sadducees. Years before, “King Alexander and his wife” had appointed a man named Antipater to be the governor of Idumaea, an area conquered by John Hyrcanus and forcibly converted to the Jewish religion. Antipater became Rome’s adviser to Hyrcanus II. He insisted that Hyrcanus stand up and fight his brother for the kingdom…because their neighbors preferred the peaceful Hyrcanus on their borders to the warrior Aristobulus…and Rome preferred a civil war in the tiny nation that would make it easier for them to come in and take over. (Antiquities of the Jews XIV. II. 3)

Rome begins Pulling the Strings

At first Aristobulus and his warrior priests were winning. He had made a very strategic marriage alliance with an unnamed daughter of Absalom, Commander of the Army. (I found a reference to him being the commander but can’t find it now. Absalom is a name connected through the ages to being Generals or leaders in the Jewish army. The events that happen under Aristobulus back it up, but I can’t at this moment prove it.) Hyrcanus had to flee to Aretas, “the king of Arabia” for protection and an army to fight his war with his brother under the direction of Antipater. The multitudes were on one side and then the other—hoping that Hyrcanus and his alliance with the Romans might preserve their nation—and then fighting with Aristobulus against the Romans knowing that if they allowed them a foothold their nation’s freedom was lost. King and High Priest Aristobulus and the priests were besieged in the Temple and eventually were defeated by Pompey who came in with the inevitable Roman legions in 63 B.C.E.

He (Pompey) also carried bound along with him (to Rome) Aristobulus and his children; for he had two daughters, and as many sons; the one of whom ran away; but the younger, Antigonus, was carried to Rome, together with his sisters.

Hyrcanus was re-installed as the High Priest and Ethnarch…not King…under the tutelage of Antipater now the Roman Procurator for Judea. But…there is always a “but”—Alexander III son of Aristobulus II escaped—the son who ran away above—and continued the war. Alexander was eventually captured and beheaded by Rome. His father escaped from Rome and came back to fight again, was captured yet again, and was finally poisoned…and Judea/Israel became Palestine, the Roman name for the Roman “province.” Antiquities of the Jews XIV.VI-VIII

The Wife and Daughters of the King

King Aristobulus, as noted earlier, had married the unnamed daughter of Absalom who I think was Commander of the Army. As his queen widow, she had her work cut out for her to save their children. Somehow, she got to Gabinius the Roman Commander who had captured her husband and held her remaining son and daughters as hostages:

However, the (Roman) senate let his children go, upon Gabinius’ writing to them that he had promised their mother so much when she delivered up the fortresses to him; and accordingly, they then returned to Jerusalem.  Antiquities of the Jews XIV.VI.1

Alexandra daughter of Aristobulus

She delivered up the fortresses that her husband Aristobulus had captured from her place of exile in Askelon. As the daughter of the Commander of the Army as well as Queen, she had the clout to do it. Her two daughters and a son were returned to her but not for long. The oldest daughter was married off by Rome to a foreign king and her younger brother Antigonus and younger unnamed sister were sent into exile along with her. Rome always honored royal blood when it could…even royal blood that rebelled…and was well aware of the fact that leaving a son in country would lead to another rebellion. A political marriage alliance was arranged for Alexandra…love had nothing to do with it…

But Ptolemy, the son of Menneus, who was the ruler of Chalcis…sent his son Philippion to Askelon to Aristobulus’ wife, and desired her to send back with him her son Antigonus and her daughters: the one of whom, whose name was Alexandra, Philippion fell in love with, and married her; though afterwards his father Ptolemy slew him, and married Alexandra, and continued to take care of her brethren. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.VII.4

Alexandra Daughter of Hyrcanus

At this point, with the warrior wing having been badly defeated, the old iron wheels began moving toward deeper occupation. Israel, try as they might, will never truly get out from under Rome again. At first it wasn’t too bad. Hyrcanus II was kept on as Ethnarch and High Priest under Antipater’s watchful eye.

Unfortunately, Hyrcanus II had no son for an heir, and he was getting old. He did have, however, a strong-willed daughter with more the temperament to the Aristobulus side of the family. Both sides of the family divide had named their first daughters Alexandra. While the daughter of warrior-King Aristobulus was exiled but made a queen, Alexandra the daughter of Ethnarch Hyrcanus had been betrothed at a very young age to her first cousin Alexander son of Aristobulus. They were Prince and Princess of opposing sides in the family civil war. They had two daughters and one son before he had escaped Roman capture, returned to fight, was captured again and beheaded.

The eldest child of Princess Alexandra and Prince Alexander was a daughter, Mariamne I. She was perhaps nine years old when Josephus first mentions her. She was born and raised in war…civil war and war with Rome…a full generation of war. And it is not over yet. She enters the story after the beheading of her father in 39 B.C. and under the thumb of her Queen Mother, but she is the namesake for all the Mary/Mariamne’s in Josephus and the New Testament.

8 thoughts on “Two Alexandra’s daughters of the Hasmonean Civil War

  1. Hi, I read your article, looking for information on Alexander Ben Aristobulus. #1 it’s Alexander the 2nd not 3rd. His father being Alexander the 1st. #2 Hyrcanus the 2nd did have a son. Julius Caesar is my witness as in the edict that is preserved in antiquities of the Jews, one is 14:10.2 and although this don’t mention his son (the other edict that mentions his son will be in the same place) it mentions that Hyrcanus had children, and not just a child.


  2. I just read it, and it does actually mention that Hyrcanus had a son and to quote caesar “that he (Hyrcanus) and his son be our confederates” and you’ll find that in the verse already mentioned. This son’s name is not mentioned, but I would say Hyrcanus the 2nd had 3 or 4 sons.


  3. Aristoboulos II married his first cousin, the daughter of his paternal uncle Absalom (the sole surviving brother among five). What is your source for referring to him repeatedly as “Commander of the Army”?


  4. Good catch, Brandon. I spent the day going through all my previous versions going back to 2001 and all renditions said “Absalom Commander of the Army” with no citation…whew. A blind spot. I don’t have anyone to edit but me. I tried to keep to Josephus, though, or footnoted, and can’t find my source. I will go through page by page later. I didn’t usually make things up. And rereading the material from that time, it would made so much sense if this Absalom was with the army…a general or something at least…because of what followed. Aristobulus was a prince and would have needed a good marriage alliance. And immediately upon breaking with his brother, he raised an army and when he attacked Hyrcanus, the army official deserved him and came to Aristobulus. Also, Absalom was with him when they were captured…Also, his unnamed wife bartered with the Roman general to keep her children safe by releasing “some fortresses.” Also, his unnamed daughter held a fortress for many years after Herod had won that war with soldiers camped around it. If I can’t find my source in Josephus by this weekend, I will go back and change it somehow…any thoughts?


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