6. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-Salome sister of Herod

Jigsaw Puzzle of Herod consults with Cypros and Salome
King Herod the Great discusses with his mother Cypros and sister Salome the alleged infidelity of his wife Mariamne Date: 0 B.C

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Herod Consults Cypros and Salome and Cypros

Mariamne, now Queen of the Jews at perhaps 15-17 years old…finally…found herself wedded to her family’s enemy and now ally Herod. Herod may have been now in his early 30s, having previously been made Governor of Galilee for is valor in fighting her family alongside Marc Antony and the Romans…and now for fighting her cousin for the kingdom…but he keenly knew that he did not have royal blood and therefore did not deserve to be King of the Jews. He was also now face to face with his own Hasmonean, Mariamne.

We have seen Mariamne’s family tree. But now Josephus begins to tell us about Herod’s large extended family that had just risen to power with him.

Josephus lists Herod’s family. His father Antipater was…

in great repute in Idumaea…out of which nation he married a wife, who was the daughter of one of their eminent men, and her name was Cypros, by whom he had four sons, Phasael and Herod, who was afterwards made king, and Joseph, and Pheroras; and a daughter named Salome. Antiquities of the Jews XIV. VII3

Thought to be a young King Herod

Herod’s family will play a large role in his personal life as king as well as in his administration of the kingdom. His older brother Phasael will also be Governor of Roman provinces and one brother will commit suicide when captured in the war with Antigonus. His uncles will be a great help to him and were given positions and power in the new government and Hasmonean women as trophy wives.

To understand what Mariamne and her mother Alexandra walked into, it will help to understand the role of two Herodian women in particular…another mother/daughter pair: Salome, sister of Herod and their mother Cypros. Josephus gives us tremendous detail so we can trace the inevitability of what happened…


One of many great maps on Google or Bing

Herod and his family came from Idumea, the country directly south of Judea. When Herod has to flee from Antigonus and the Parthians, he fought his way to Idumea where he had support and where he sheltered his women-folk in the desert fortress of Masada. Idumea or Edom had been subjugated by John Hyrcanus in ca 110 B.C. He later built the lavish palace complex there to commemorate his victory.

Hyrcanus also initiated a military campaign against the Idumeans (Edomites). During this campaign Hyrcanus conquered Adora, Maresha and other Idumean towns (Ant.13.257). Hyrcanus then instituted forced conversions on the Idumeans to Judaism…This was an unprecedented move for a Judean ruler. John Hyrcanus – Wikipedia


To do that, we need to go back to that moment (in the last post) when Antigonus son of King Aristobulus attacked Herod in a surprise assault, causing him to flee Jerusalem. He was betrothed to Mariamne but not yet wed and not yet king.  

(Herod) therefore …set his wives(?) upon the beasts, as also his mother and sister, and her whom he was about to marry…with her mother…with tears in their eyes, and sad lamentation…left their own country…

Fighting his way there, he “deposited the women and several hundred of his closest followers” in the rough desert fortress of Masada with “sufficient quantity of corn and water.” Those three years before Herod could rescue them will leave scars on the women that will not heal. Herod will be named king by the Roman Senate and sent back with Roman Legions and eventually won his kingdom and his Jewish queen…but…

…fortune was avenged on Herod in his external great successes, by raising him up domestic troubles; and he began to have wild disorders in his family on account of his wife…Wars of the Jews I.XXII.1


It will be a few more years before Salome is mentioned again and one can readily see the enmity that grew out of that time on Masada between Salome and Mariamne.

…but as for Mariamne his wife, because of the misunderstanding between her and his sister, and his sister’s mother, which made it impossible for them (the women) to live together…(more later) Antiquities of the Jews XV.VI.4,5

(Salome)…for a long time bare (Mariamne) ill-will; for when they had differences with one another, Mariamne took great freedoms, and reproached the rest for the meanness of their birth. Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.9

(later on)..so much the greater were the distresses that came upon him in his own family, and chiefly in the affair of his wife, wherein he formerly appeared to have been most of all fortunate; for the affection he had for Mariamne was no way inferior to the affections of such as are on that account celebrated in history, and this very justly. As for her, she was in other respects a chaste woman, and faithful to him; yet had she somewhat of a woman rough by nature, and treated her husband imperiously enough, because she saw he was so fond of her as to be enslaved to her. She did not also consider seasonably with herself that she lived under a monarchy, and that she was at another’s disposal, and accordingly would behave herself after a saucy manner to him, which yet he usually put off in a jesting way and bore with moderation and good temper. She would also expose his mother and his sister openly, on account of the meanness of their birth, and would speak unkindly of them, insomuch that there was before this a disagreement and unpardonable hatred among the women…Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.4

The new young king…not one born and bred to rule and a young queen who had been born and bred into a 100-year royal lineage, and though young, knew how to be a queen. Even in defeat, her House and nation would look to her to play to win. Beguile the king, give them heirs, and like Esther, know how to approach the king with petitions to help her people.  

Alexandra had her role to play at court as mother of the Queen and advisor to the King, but also as the only remaining royal in a position to aid her House return to any semblance of power and she had the warrior gene, as we will see. Mariamne will keep the king agreeable to their presence at court and presented him with heirs…five children in eight years…that were also heirs to her lost kingdom.  

Herod knew he needed the good will of Mariamne (and Alexandra) to remain king…and often, that is what is meant by “love” among the ruling class. But Jerusalem is not Camelot. Josephus’ reports stress the conflict between Mariamne and Salome, but the strife will also include both their mothers. Strife that began at Masada. Newly royal Cypros was now mother of the king, a role valued by Mid-Eastern courts and the Jews in particular, as we have seen, as advisor to her son, a role Alexandra challenged her for. Cypros and Salome were learning their roles in the face of apparent harassment from Mariamne. Alexandra would be given her own castle in Jericho to get her out of the Jerusalem palace harem.

While Mariamne may have played her royalty card to the maximum…and even enjoyed some of it…she could not escape the new regime in her old family home in Jerusalem and all that was lost.

Not an easy way to try to pick up the pieces of their new kingdom depleted of men and treasures and a whole generation, and under the watchful eye of Rome.

The stage has been set for one of history’s tragedies…the war of the women inside those walls…

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