Herod the Great ruled from 37 to 4 BCE.
Like Lord Byron, he was mad, bad, and dangerous to know. He may or may not have been a psychopath – he killed his way to the top, murdering his relatives, and also, his wife Mariamne, whom loved truly, madly, deeply – but he suspected her of plotting to depose him, so she had to go too. He regretted it instantly and embalmed her in honey so he could spend quality time with her by her open catafalque.
Herod did a lot of questionable things, but he has gone down in Christian demonology for an atrocity he did NOT commit – he didn’t massacre the Innocents to ensure that baby Jesus would not live to supplant himself as King of the Jews! The slaughter of the babies was an invention of later Christian propagandists. Also, he was not the Herod who’s daughter Salome invented lap dancing and in payment, demanded the head of John the Baptist. Nor was he the Herod who told the imprisoned Jesus “I’m the King of the Jews!” That was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s camp caricature. Herod was a common name amongst the later (and last) Hasmoneans.
To his Jewish subjects, he was not a Kosher King, being only half Jewish, and then, only through this dad (even today, opinions about him are mixed for the same reason). Accordingly, he felt that he had to prove himself, like similarly half-Jewish, and much wiser King Solomon. So he built things. And man! Could he build! His stuff was not large – it was Monumental. At Caesarea, he build a port, a seaside palace and a city. In Jericho, another magnificent palace. At Herodium, he built a fortress-palace-mausoleum, but first, he built a hill high enough that he could see Jerusalem from the summit. He also built a fortress and summer palace on the Masada massif, the site of one of history’s most famous “last stands”. He obviously liked palaces. When he died – and he died horribly as befits a bad boy – he was laid to rest in a bespoke tomb in his Herodium eyrie.
But his crowning glory was his breathtaking refurbishment of the Second Temple, rendering it a wonder of the contemporary world. Too bad that a “wabble of woudy webels”, to quote Bickus Dickus in “The Life of Brian”, had to rise up against Rome in 66CE, precipitating the destruction of Jerusalem, the death of thousands, and the razing of temple to the ground. All that impressive Herodian brickage was sent crashing to the ground, and all that remains is the Kotel, the hallowed Western or Wailing Wall.
(The featured image shows signature Herodian ashlar blocks in the Kotel, the Western or “Wailing” Wall)
That’s my telling of the life and times of King Herod. Here are the facts: