Herod's Family Tree: Lies, Power, and Incest

Did you know that the biblical Herod and Herodias were close relatives? I didn't. (You'd think their names would have tipped me off!)

It's only in the last hundred years or so that marrying your cousin has become a societal taboo and a genetic concern. In the Bible you could have a marriage between first cousins, but not between aunts and nephews or uncles and nieces. (Leviticus 18:10)


Though few people today choose marriage within the family, back in the day there were some royal perks to marrying within the bloodline. The family of Herod the Great, like many family dynasties, married to consolidate power and wealth, and they weren't shy in choosing unions between blood relatives—even marriages that were against the laws of the people they were ruling.


Add to this crazy menagerie of marriages a dash of murder, a sprinkling of deceit, and a whole lot of jealousy, and you truly have the makings of a first-century soap opera.


Read on to learn about 25 members of the Herodian Family and their insatiable thirst for power!


The Confusion Around Herod's Family Tree


Trying to explain the intertwining of the Herodian marriages without a chart is nearly impossible, so please refer to the included family tree throughout this post, or print off a PDF. (Click the link below the graphic to download a PDF file!)


I filled this family tree in as well as I could, but I acknowledge there are a few gaps. Marriages between family members are signified with different colored hearts. I was shocked when I began to run out of colors!



Herodian Family Tree with Marriages

Herodian Family Tree with Marriages.pdf
Download PDF • 36KB


Admittedly, there are some difficulties in recreating Herod's family tree


  • You can find a lengthy record of this family in the writings of Josephus, but historians sometimes debate his accuracy when comparing him to other ancient historians.

  • There are a lot of repeat names in this family! That alone is confusing for both historians and casual inquirers.

  • Sometimes names are absent, or only part of name is used, or people on one list are left off another.


I'm including highlights from 25 members of Herod's family tree to pique your interest and help you get a zoomed out view on their lives. I hope you find this helpful in understanding New Testament background history!


Antipater and his five children


Looking at the included chart, we see that Antipater the Idumean had four sons and a daughter through his wife Cypros, a Nabatean. Through political strategies and generally making himself useful to the current Roman ruler, he became the governor of Judea. He appointed his son Phasaelus the governor of Jerusalem and his son Herod the ruler of Galilee.


Antipater and several of his sons came to rather tragic ends


Antipater had a knack for choosing the right side, and for giving help at just the right time. He was friends with Julius Caesar. He was poisoned by a man named Malichus who bribed the cupbearer because he found Antipater's quest for power threatening to his own ambitions. (1)


Phasaelus was captured in battle and imprisoned. Disarmed, he killed himself by smashing his head against a rock rather than be handed over for torture and execution by the Parthians. (2)


Joseph was killed along with an entire Roman cohort when he tried to seize grain in Jericho, defying his brother Herod's orders that he not make trouble. (3)


Pherora lived for many years as the right-hand man of his brother Herod the King, but he was involved in several conspiracies that resulted in family deaths. He displeased his brother the king by not putting aside his wife, a former maidservant, to marry a political ally. He may have been poisoned by Herod, but Josephus dismisses that as a rumor. (4)


Salome, along with her brother Pherora, meddled in the family to bring about the deaths of her husband, her sister-in-law, and two of her nephews. She later desired to marry a Syrian, but Herod refused to let her. She outlived all her siblings. (5)


Herod (known as Herod the Great) became the first king to rule all the promised land since Solomon. (2 Chronicles 10:16-19) He married 10 women yet had no more than 15 children by them. (6) He was known to be bloodthirsty and cruel, but he also oversaw several impressive builds, creating cities, harbors, aqueducts, theatres, and even rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple. He was the ruler who was visited by the Magi and massacred the babies in Bethlehem. (Matthew 2) He died a painful death from a lingering disease and knew that his people would not mourn him, so he planned a mass execution to follow his imminent demise—which his family canceled after his death. (7)


Herod the Great's wives and children


There is so much intermarriage between the next two generations, please see the family tree to see who married who! Here are some fascinating facts to help you know more about the lies, quests for power, murders, and marriages.


First, let's look at Herod the Great's wives!


Doris was sent into temporary exile with her son Antipater when Herod wanted to marry Mariamne, a Hasmonean princess. Antipater was imprisoned when his father became convinced Antipater sought to usurp him, and the son was executed five days before his father died from a painful disease. (8)


Mariamne of Jerusalem had a son named Herod or Herod Philip. He lived in Rome. He married his relative, Herodias, who later divorced him to marry Herod Antipas. (9)


Malthace the Samaritan had two sons who went on to rule. Archelaus ruled Judea briefly, and not well. He married his deceased brother's wife, Glypha, though she had three children already. (Not acceptable in Jewish law.) In his tenth year, his cruelty had him banished by Rome a few years later. (10) (Matthew 2:22) Antipas, meanwhile, was named tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. His divorce from the unnamed Nabatean princess to marry his living brother's wife, Herodias, is recorded in the gospels. He is the ruler who beheaded John and participated in the trials of Jesus. (Matthew 14:3-11 and Luke 23:8-11)His love-life led him to battle with the insulted Nabatean king, which he lost. (11) He was eventually exiled by the Emperor when he caved to Herodias' desire and tried to wrest ruling power away from Agrippa II. Herodias, to her credit, went into exile with him. (12)


Cleopatra of Jerusalem's son, Philip, became the tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis while his brother, Antipas, was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. (13) He eventually married Herodias' daughter, Salome. By all accounts, he ruled well. When he died (peacefully), Salome went on to marry her cousin Aristobulus, king of Chalchis. (14)


Mariamne the Hasmonean princess had a difficult life after her marriage. Both her grandfather and her brother were killed by her husband, Herod the Great. Her sister-in-law, Salome, stirred up a controversy that Mariamne was unfaithful, even when that threw Salome's husband Joseph under the executioner's blade. Herod had both Mariamne and Joseph executed, but he quickly regretted killing Mariamne, his favorite wife. (15) Her two sons, Aristobulus and Alexander were sent away to Rome to be educated at a young age. The half-Hasmonean princes were very popular with the Jewish people on their return home. Because of their ill-timed insults and proud ways, the family (led by their aunt Salome and their uncle Pheroras) schemed against them for years, pitting them against their father. When Herod appealed to Rome for advice, they were eventually sentenced to die. Their father had them strangled. (16)


Herod the Great's grandchildren and great-grandchildren


Aristobulus' son, Agrippa, became king after Herod Antipas was banished. He was the last Herodian with any real ruling power. Agrippa's sister, Herodias, is the one who married Herod Antipas. Long before he was king, he became broke, and Herodias appealed to her husband to give Agrippa money and make him magistrate of the city Tiberias. It was not enough for Agrippa, and he borrowed heavily from friends and family. He ended up on the wrong side of the emperor Tiberius and was arrested and kept in chains. When Tiberius died, Caius gave Agrippa a tetrarchy, which worried Herodias, who didn't think it was right that her formerly poor brother should challenge her husband for dignity. (17) She made Herod Antipas go against Agrippa in Rome, which was their downfall and resulted in ruin for herself and her husband. When the emperor heard that she was Agrippa's sister, he offered to let Herodias remain with her brother, but she chose exile with her husband. Agrippa is the king who killed James the apostle. (Acts 12:2) He was struck with pains as he gave a speech during the opening of games dedicated to Claudius, and he died five days later. (Acts 12:21-23)


Agrippa's son, Aristobulus did well for himself as the King of Chalchis, with Salome, daughter of Herodias, at his side.


Agrippa's other son, Agrippa II, had just the pretense of power, which dwindled during his rule until it was nearly nothing. He was only seventeen when his father died, so the emperor sent a procurator to rule Judea in his stead. (18) He was later given lands outside of Judea. He is seen in the trial of Paul, along with his sister, Berenice (Acts 25:13-26:32). Paul also has several audiences with Agrippa II's brother-in-law, the governor of Judea, Felix, and his wife, Agrippa's II's sister, Druscilla. (Acts 24:1-27). Agrippa II was overthrown by the Jewish people in 66 AD, and he sided with Rome during the siege of Jerusalem.


The family did not last


The Herodian family seems to have died out over a span of around 100 years. Between a lack of children, incest, and jealous rivalries—and perhaps divine punishment for their cruelty and treatment of the Baptist and the Christ—they didn't last long. Though I find their convoluted family drama fascinating, I can't say I'm sorry that they died out!



You might also enjoy these posts!


What Does the Bible Say About the Twelve Apostles?

Short Story: The Child in the Manger

A Who's Who of Herods


Sources:


  1. Josephus, The Jewish War, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 1.11.4

  2. Josephus, The Jewish War, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 1.13.10

  3. Josephus, The Jewish War, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 1.17.1

  4. Josephus, The Jewish War, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 1.24.5

  5. Josephus, The Jewish War, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 1.22.4-5

  6. Josephus, The Jewish War, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 1.28.4-5

  7. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 17. 6.5, 8.2

  8. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 1.33.7

  9. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 18.5.4

  10. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 17.13.1-5

  11. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 18.5.1

  12. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 18.7.1-2

  13. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 18.4.6

  14. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 18.5.4

  15. Josephus, The Jewish War, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 1.22.4-5

  16. Josephus, The Jewish War, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 1.27

  17. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 18.6.2, 11

  18. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, (Translated by William Whiston) Book 19.1-2


About the Author

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I'm Katrina, and I'm a wife, mom, and a Christian Historical Fiction Author. 

I love words. I love digging into hard questions. I'm passionate about writing stories of faith.

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