Herodian Tetrarchy

Herodian Tetrarchy
Tetrarchy of the Roman Empire

4 BCE–41 CE
  Territory under Herod Archelaus
  Territory under Herod Antipas
  Territory under Philip the Tetrarch
  Jamnia under Salome I
  Decapolis city-states
  Roman province of Syria.
Capital Jerusalem
31°47′N 35°13′E / 31.783°N 35.217°E / 31.783; 35.217Coordinates: 31°47′N 35°13′E / 31.783°N 35.217°E / 31.783; 35.217
  4 BCE - 6 CE Herod Archelaus
Historical era Augustan Age
  death of Herod the Great 4 BCE
  Judea transformed into Roman Province 6 CE
  (accession of Herod Agrippa I as sole ruler 41 CE
Today part of  Israel

The Herodian Tetrarchy was formed following the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE, when his kingdom was divided between his sons as an inheritance. Judea, the major section of the tetrarchy, was transformed by Rome in 6 CE, abolishing the rule of Herod Archelaus, and forming the Province of Judea by joining together Judea proper, Samaria and Idumea.[1] However, other parts of the Herodian Tetrarchy continued to function under Herodians. Thus, Philip the Tetrarch ruled Batanea, with Trachonitis, as well as Auranitis until 34 CE (his domain later being incorporated into the Province of Syria), while Herod Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea until 39 CE.


At the time of his death, Herod ruled over most of the South Western Levant, as a client-state of the Roman Empire. Antipas was not Herod's first choice of heir. That honor fell to Aristobulus and Alexander, Herod's sons by the Hasmonean princess Mariamne. It was only after they were executed (c. 7 BCE), and Herod's oldest son Antipater was convicted of trying to poison his father (5 BCE), that the now elderly Herod fell back on his youngest son Antipas, revising his will to make him heir.[2] During his fatal illness in 4 BCE, Herod had yet another change of heart about the succession. According to the final version of his will, Antipas' elder brother Archelaus was now to become king of Judea, Idumea and Samaria, while Antipas would rule Galilee and Perea with the lesser title of tetrarch. Philip was to receive Gaulanitis (the Golan Heights), Batanaea (southern Syria), Trachonitis and Auranitis (Hauran).[3]

Because of Judea's status as a Roman client kingdom, Herod's plans for the succession had to be ratified by Augustus. The three heirs of Herod therefore travelled to Rome to make their claims, Antipas arguing he ought to inherit the whole kingdom and the others maintaining that Herod's final will ought to be honored. Despite qualified support for Antipas from Herodian family members in Rome, who favoured direct Roman rule of Judea but considered Antipas preferable to his brother, Augustus largely confirmed the division of territory set out by Herod in his final will. Archelaus had, however, to be content with the title of ethnarch rather than king.[4]

Eventually, after his death the kingdom was divided between three of Herod's sons:

In a turbulent period of history, the rule of the tetrarchs was relatively uneventful. The most trouble fell to Archelaus, who was faced with sedition by the Pharisees at the beginning of his reign, and crushed it with great severity. After ruling for 10 years he was removed by the emperor Augustus in 6 CE, following complaints about his cruelty and his offences against the Mosaic law. He was replaced by a Roman prefect, and his territory re-organized as the Roman province of Iudaea.

Philip ruled Ituraea and Trachonitis as a tetrarch until his death in 34 CE when his territories became briefly part of the Roman province of Syria, but in 37 CE were given to Herod Agrippa I. Agrippa arranged for Chalcis to be handed over to his brother Herod and ruled himself in Philip’s stead. After the banishment of Herod Antipas in 39 CE Herod Agrippa became ruler of Galilee also, and in 41 CE, as a mark of favour by the emperor Claudius, succeeded the Roman prefect Marullus as King of Iudaea. With this acquisition, a Herodian Kingdom of the Jews was nominally re-established until 44 CE though there is no indication that status as a province was suspended.


The word Tetrarch suggests four rulers ("ruler of a quarter"); however Josephus, in the context of describing Herod’s legacy, only mentions three. He refers to Archelaus, who had "one half of that which had been subject to Herod", and for Philip and Antipas "the other half, divided into two parts".[5] On the other hand, Luke the Evangelist refers to Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilene, in his list of rulers at the time of John the Baptist, alongside Pontius Pilate (one of a series of Roman governors who replaced Archelaus), Herod (Antipas), and Philip.[6] Josephus' reference to one half the kingdom may signify that Archelaus was ruler of two quarters. This would suggest that division into quarters was already established, and that Lysanias' quarter was part of a different tetrarchy in Syria; this is credible, as Herod III, brother of Herod Agrippa I, was king of Chalcis, which was to the north, outside Herod's kingdom. Or it may be that Josephus, in describing the inheritances of Herod's sons, omitted to mention Lysanias, or his predecessor, as they were not Herodians. The reference to "one half of the kingdom" could then be understood as a geographical, rather than a political observation; Archelaus' share of the kingdom covered about half the territory, and more than half the revenue, owned by Herod. It is the view of W. Smith, referring to Abilene, that Abilene,or part of it, was subject to Herod before his death, and held by Lysanias as a tetrarchate from him. The territory was returned later to the Herodians, the first part by Caligula to Herod Agrippa I, the remainder by Claudius to Herod Agrippa II.[7]

See also


  1. H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-674-39731-2, page 246: "When Archelaus was deposed from the ethnarchy in 6 CE, Judea proper, Samaria and Idumea were converted into a Roman province under the name Iudaea."
  2. Bruce 67; Schürer 320325.
  3. Josephus, Antiquities 17.188189, War 1.664.
  4. Josephus, Antiquities 17.224249, 299323.
  5. Josephus, Antiquities XVII, 11 : 4
  6. Luke 3 : 1
  7. Cassius Dio, Roman History, 4.692


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Easton, Matthew George (1897). "Archelaus". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons. 
 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1854–1857). "Palaestina". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: John Murray. 
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