Before we get to Mariamne herself there are still two people we need to know for context: One: Herod, the man who, now, for better or worse is tied directly to the young Princess…somewhere around 12 years old, the normal age of betrothals. And two: Salome sister of Herod. (In the next post)
As an overview derived from Josephus recounting of tales about him, like the examples in the last post, I came to see Herod was a fierce, arrogant, ambitious, intelligent, handsome, warrior…perhaps a touch bipolar…and with a thirst for power and the audacity and skill to pull it off. He was generous with the well-placed gift. He had a knack for negotiating the tricky Roman waters. He had fought side by side with Marc Antony. His whole young life had revolved around Rome. He had already been awarded the title of Procurator of Galilee for his valor in battle while an audacious young man…twenty-five according to Josephus.
But Herod was a private man, “a man of no family” and Josephus who had royal blood called him a “vulgar” man and was not shy about reminding his readers of that at every turn. Herod’s father Antipater I and his mother Cypros were of the nobility class in Petra and Idumean/Nabatean/Arabian by birth though the family had been forcefully converted to Judaism generations before, perhaps by John Hyrcanus. Being betrothed to a Judean Princess was a huge boon for Herod, politically. His betrothal to the princess made him the protector of her side of the family…for better or worse.
And then…Mariamne’s Cousin Declares War
Rome’s fear that young princes of defeated nations will rebel to get their kingdom back, now happens. This younger son of King Aristobulus, Antigonus, had been left alive but exiled. He now declares war on Hyrcanus and Herod after going to Caesar to throw himself at his feet to plead that the nation was rightfully his.
Caius Julius Caesar imperator and high priest, and dictator the second time…decree…that Hyrcanus and his children bear rule over the nation of the Jews…and be high priests of the nation. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.X1-6
The pronouncement only sent Antigonus scrambling for backers. His sister, Alexandra III, was his main ally, funding his war. (see sidebar below)
Herod upheld his side of his marriage alliance pact as protector…and as Roman’s resident warrior:
When (Herod)…was gone to meet Antigonus, he joined battle with him, and beat him, and drove him out of Judea…but when he was come to Jerusalem, Hyrcanus and the people put garlands upon his head; for he had already contracted an affinity with the family of Hyrcanus by having espoused a descendant of his, and for that reason Herod took the greater care of him, as being to marry the daughter of Alexander, the son of Aristobulus, and the grand-daughter of Hyrcanus. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XII.1.
Antigonus fled from Herod at first, only to come back with stronger allies, the Parthians, who he promised…
…a thousand talents, and five hundred women, upon condition they would take the government away from Hyrcanus and bestow it upon him, and withal kill Herod. Antiquities of the Jews XIV. XIII. 5
The women Antigonus promised to the Parthians were the Jewish royal and noble women and their handmaids…all the Hasmonean women who were now in limbo having lost the war and under the weak government of Hyrcanus…which, I think, at least in part, was why Antigonus declared war…so Mariamne daughter of his brother and granddaughter of his side of the family, would not be given in an alliance to Herod…who, as seen in the last post, that side of the family hated…and most likely had poisoned Antipater, Herod’s father.
The Parthians captured Hyrcanus and caused Herod to flee in the night with the women, including his own mother and sister and his betrothed and her mother. They fought their way to Masada, a barren desert fortress, and he deposited them there with “sufficient corn and water” and left his brother Joseph to guard them.
A Mark of Providence
Antigonus laid siege to Masada to get the women back. The women were besieged in the desert nearly THREE years and at one point had run out of water. Joseph was about to flee but…
God, by sending rain in the night-time prevented his going away, for their cisterns were thereby filled, and he was under no necessity of running away on that account: but they were now of good courage, and the more so, because the sending that plenty of water which they had been in want of, seemed a mark of divine providence…Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XIV.6.
The rain may have been seen as divine intervention for Princess Mariamne. Perhaps the rain was a sign that God favored her marriage to Herod. This portion of Josephus gives many examples of Herod receiving “signs.” A favorable “sign” would have been helpful right then in condoning the betrothal of a Jewish royal virgin to the Roman friend and “Edomite” Herod.
Herod escaped to Idumaea, his family’s home, and raised enough money to build a ship and sail to Rome. He went immediately to Julius Caesar and Marc Antony to beg their assistance against Antigonus.
And this was the principal instance of Antony’s affection for Herod, that he not only procured him a kingdom which he did not expect, (for he did not come with an intention to ask the kingdom for himself, which he did not suppose the Romans would grant him, who used to bestow it on some of the royal family, but intended to desire it for his [betrothed cmf] wife’s brother, who as grandson by his father to Aristobulus and to Hyrcanus by his mother,) but that he procured it for him so suddenly, that he obtained what he did not expect, and departed out of Italy in so few days as seven in all. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XIV.5
The mystical seven days…Josephus was careful not to say that it was his betrothal to Mariamne that allowed him to be made King of the Jews and not a Roman Procurator, but Herod would always see the kingdom as Providence smiling on him like rain in the dry season because by rights it wasn’t his and he knew it. He also knew how fickle Fortune could be and would forever be caught between distrust of his Hasmonean enemy and his need of his “affinity” with Mariamne and her mother. One of his first acts upon returning was to rescue his womenfolk and take them to Samaria.
When the rigors of winter were over Herod…came to Jerusalem and pitched his camp… Now this was the third year since he had been made king at Rome…So he …encompassed the place with three bulwarks, and erected towers, and…cut down the trees that were round about the city…(and)…even while the army lay before the city, he himself went to Samaria, to complete his marriage, and to take to wife the daughter of Alexander, the son of Aristobulus; for he had betrothed her already.
After the wedding was over (Herod gathered his armies) for they were about thirty thousand; and they all met together at the walls of Jerusalem…being an army of eleven legions…to take the government from Antigonus…and so that he himself could be king, according to the decree by the senate.
Now the Jews that were enclosed within the walls of the city fought against Herod with great alacrity and zeal, (for the whole nation had gathered together) they also gave out many prophecies about the temple…as if God would deliver them out of the danger they were in…they persisted in this way until the very last.
Once the walls were breached the city…
…was taken by storm; and now all parts of the city were full of those that were slain, by the rage of the Romans at the long duration of the siege, and by the zeal of the Jews that were on Herod’s side…so they were murdered continually in the narrow streets and in the houses by crowds, and as they were flying to the temple for shelter, and there was no pity taken of either infants or the aged…yet nobody restrained their hands from slaughter, and then…
Antigonus, without regard to either is past or present circumstances, came down from the citadel, and fell down at the feet of Sosius, who took no pity of him…but insulted him beyond measure and called him Antigone, [i.e., a woman, and not a man] yet did he not treat him as a woman, by letting him go at liberty, but put him into bonds, and kept him in close custody.
Herod…worried that the Romans would empty the city both of money and men and leave him king of a desert…but he did what he could to spare total destruction by paying the soldiers from his own money not to pillage….and to the commanders…till they all went away full of money. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XV and XVI
Herod knew how important “completing his marriage” was by doing it before he entered Jerusalem, but he had to go to war to defeat the King Aristobulus-side of the country first. He did…at great cost in lives and treasure…but he needed the marriage alliance with Mariamne to make it official with the multitudes that he was king in the time-honored fashion, also…by marrying the daughter of the last official king…before he rode through the gates…before he appeared on a throne in Jerusalem.
Marc Antony wanted to take Antigonus to Rome for his triumph, but Herod feared that if Antony took Antigonus to Rome…
He might get his cause to be heard by the senate, and might demonstrate, as he was himself of the royal blood, and Herod but a private man, that therefore it belonged to his sons…to have the kingdom, on account of the family they were of…Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XVI.4
Antony ordered Antigonus the Jew to be brought to Antioch, and there to be beheaded…as supposing he could no way bend the minds of the Jews so as to receive Herod…or be forced to call him king…Antiquities of the Jews XV.I.2
And thus did the government of the Asamoneans cease, a hundred and twenty-six years after it was first set up. This family was a splendid and an illustrious one, both on account of the nobility of their stock, and of the dignity of the high priesthood, as also for the glorious actions their ancestors had performed for our nation: but these men lost the government by their dissensions one with another, and it came to Herod, the son of Antipater. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XVI.4
Josephus was right in the male sense of wars…but the women knew that the ball was now in their court…
I think it worth the time and space of a “side bar” to look at the life of a daughter of King Aristobulus’ unnamed wife, the sister of Antigonus who helped him finance his war for the kingdom.
Alexandra III and her Queen Mother
There is a third role for daughters of kings; being sent to marry a foreign king to make a pact of mutual protection with an ally and “friend.” Alexandra III was the daughter of King Aristobulus. She and her younger brother Antigonus and an unnamed sister were sent to Rome when their father was captured, as we saw above. Their mother, the unnamed wife and queen of King Aristobulus who was the daughter of Absalom Commander of the Army played an active role in procuring the safety of her children…even negotiating with one of the Roman Commanders after her husband was captured and killed.
However…the senate let his children go, upon Gabinius’s 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
“She delivered up the fortresses…” She was the daughter of the Commander of the Army. But seeing that her son Antigonus was too young to inherit, Alexandra III was married off in an alliance with a another Mediterranean king. It was her blood right as a royal princess to receive a royal partner—even a princess whose father and oldest brother were just killed by Rome for sedition. In effect, this marriage got the children of King Aristobulus out of town, leaving the field open for the grandchildren of Hyrcanus to inherit the kingdom and keep the peace.
Josephus tells the story of this Alexandra’s marriage…another young princess sent off to do her duty:
But Ptolemy, the son of Menneus, who was the ruler of Chalcis…took his brethren to him, and 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
Being a daughter…or a son…of a king was not for the faint of heart! This Alexandra, too, made the most of the hand she was dealt…Chalcis will play a role in New Testament times, and it was this Alexandra who got Chalcis to back her brother when he returned to fight Herod and Hyrcanus.