Mariamne I’s two eldest sons were sent to Rome to be raised by Augustus as heirs to the Jewish throne. They also had two daughters but it is the sons that will now dominate the royal record.
By 17 B.C. when Alexander and Aristobulus were sixteen to eighteen years old, Herod could put it off no longer and brought them back home. He was in a dilemma…he had to treat them as his heirs or the people will rebel…and…he still greatly feared that if they developed backers, he was in danger of being deposed in their favor. He now feared his own son’s Hasmonean blood.
The first thing Herod did was “marry them to wives.” He married Alexander, the eldest boy, to Glaphyra, a descendent of Darius the Great, daughter of Aristobulus king of Cappadocia…yet a strange woman. Herod married the second son, Aristobulus, to his sister Salome’s daughter, Bernice, who was a more or less converted Jew/Idumaean/Nabatean on her mother’s side and daughter of an Arabian priest on her father’s side. But even with these “flaws,” the sons of Mariamne I were the people’s hope for the restoration of anything close to a Hasmonean or even truly Jewish kingdom.
“Their Mother in their Mouths”
Herod gave the teenagers palaces and royal attire but did not officially name them as his heirs. For the next 10 years, intrigues for and against the sons of Mariamne will consume the nation, the city, the Temple, the court, and the harem. Unfortunately, the boys had grown up away from Herod’s court and the deviousness of Salome and didn’t realize the danger they were in when they openly lamented their mother’s death.
…for they were observed to shed tears often, on account of the injury that was offered them, and had their mother in their mouths; and among their friends they ventured to reproach their father, as not acting justly by them…Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.3
Enter Wife Number One
Herod then did something unexpected. Before he made his political marriage alliance with Mariamne I, he had been married to another woman, Doris, of Idumaean/Nabatean nobility like his mother Cypros, from Petra (Jordan), their home city. He and Doris had a son named Antipater. He sent them both into exile in Galilee when he married Mariamne I, as it was Hasmonean custom to have only one wife/queen at a time.
Herod brought Antipater back to court to counter the claims of the sons of Mariamne. It will change everything.
Once freed from his exile, Antipater went straight after the throne and against the sons of Mariamne. He and his aunt Salome set out to poison Herod’s mind against them. To make a long, long story short, Herod eventually hauled the boys before Augustus to complain against them as being ungrateful and trying to kill him with poison. The boys were shocked and in “disarray” but finally Alexander the eldest son made an oration to those present:
O’ father, the benevolence thou has shewed to us is evident…Now it is easy to say of young men, that they desired to reign: and to say further, that this evil proceeds from the case of our unhappy mother…but consider well whether such an accusation does not suit all such young men…(and) the father may have a suspicion upon all his sons, as intending some treachery to him…for a royal family that is at variance with itself is a terrible thing…Antiquities of the Jews XVI.IV.3
Everyone was in tears by the time Alexander finished and Herod and his sons hugged and made up…for a while. When they all returned to Jerusalem, Herod addressed the multitudes saying that he now had three heirs, Antipater, Alexander, and Aristobulus…but that…
…he desired that at present they should all have regard to himself, and esteem him king and lord of all, since he was not yet hindered by old age…Antiquities of the Jews XVI.IV.6
Herod had no intention of dying any time soon. He dyed his hair black but the intrigue and lies did not stop. The tales of plots and poison and torturing and treachery boggles the mind. Herod petitions Augustus again for permission to kill his sons. This is where Augustus heaves a sigh and says that he would rather be Herod’s pig than his son[i]…but allowed Herod to kill the young men.
Alexander and Aristobulus were brought to Sebaste, by their father’s command, and there strangled; but their dead bodies were in the night time carried to Alexandrium, where their uncles, by the mother’s side, and the greatest part of their ancestors had been deposited. Antiquities of the Jews XVI.XI.7
(A question for archaeologist and historical researchers…where were Queen Mariamne and her mother buried?)
It was a blow that the multitude never recovered from. Even as Josephus says that Herod saw the ghost of Mariamne I everywhere, the people will continue to have sightings of the boys, especially Alexander, the one who should have been king, as we will see. Herod then made a new will ratified by Rome that Antipater was his heir and that Herod II, his son by Mariamne the High Priest’s daughter, was successor after Antipater…who was heard to say that Herod his father…
“…betrayed his total senility of mind if he thought that this section of his will would be carried out; for he, Antipater, would take care to leave none of that family alive.” Wars I.XXX.3
[i] www.biblehistory.net Ambrose Macrobius, a Roman writer ca 430 A.D. wrote in his book Saturnalia Volume II, Chapter 4:11, “While listening the male children’s bones, who in Syria, Herod the King of the Jews ordered killed, those fewer than two years old, his son likewise he slaughtered.” He (Augustus Caesar) says: “It is better to live as Herod’s pig than to be his son.” This is clearly a later Christian adaptation of Augustus’ saying meant for Herod’s two sons killed by him with the story of the male children killed in Bethlehem from Matthew 2:16, perhaps itself an adaption of this story of the deaths of the sons of a Mariamne I.