Antigonus II

40-37BC (3)

By : Louis Ginzberg

Defies Rome.

The last Hasmonean king of Judea; died 37 B.C. He was the second son of Aristobulus II., and together with his father was carried prisoner to Rome by Pompey in 63 B.C. Both escaped in 57, and returned to Palestine. After Aristobulus' unsuccessful attempt to oppose the Roman forces there, the senate considered the king so little to be feared that it decreed his liberty. Antigonus, however, was not so ready to surrender ancestral rights. While his older brother Alexander was planning to secure them he remained quiet, but on Alexander's death Antigonus considered himself exclusive heir of the Hasmonean dynasty, and rightly judging his uncle Hyrcanus to be but a puppet in the hands of the Idumean Antipater, he set to work zealously to assert himself. He first attempted to attain his ends with the help and consent of the Romans; in pursuance of this plan he visited Julius Cæsar, who was in Syria in 47, and complained of the presumptuous usurpation of Antipater and Hyrcanus. He urged his own superior rights as the only remaining son of Aristobulus. But in spite of the fact that both his father and brother had suffered death in the cause of Cæsar, the latter rejected Antigonus' claims, possibly suspecting the sincerity of his professed friendliness toward Rome. Refused by the Romans, he turned to their opponents. His first attempt, in 42, to seize the government of Palestine by force with the assistance of his brother-in-law, Ptolemy Mennei (see Alexandra [Salome]), was defeated by Herod, but in the course of two years he succeeded in attaining his object.

Crowned King.

The state of affairs in Judea, as well as general conditions prevailing throughout the Roman empire, was most propitious. The excessive taxation wrung from the people to pay for the extravagances of Antony and Cleopatra had awakened so deep-seated a hatred against Rome that Antigonus had only to show himself to the people to win their allegiance away from Herod and other creatures of the Roman power. He gained the adherence also of the aristocratic class in Jerusalem, such as the "Bene Baba," and probably also assured himself of the hearty cooperation of the leaders of the Pharisees. Moreover, the Parthians invaded Syria in the year 40, and they much preferred to see an anti-Roman ruler on the throne of Palestine. Antigonus, who was genius enough to make use of such an excellent opportunity, promised them largesums of gold, and, according to common report, five hundred female slaves besides, so that they immediately put a troop of five hundred warriors at his disposal. The appearance of these Parthians at the gates of Jerusalem, where daily riots took place between the partizans of Antigonus, who held possession of the Temple fortress, and those of Hyrcanus, or more correctly of Antipater, caused the balance to turn in favor of the former. Hyrcanus and Phasael in vain endeavored to win over the Parthians. The former was sent a captive to Babylon, after suffering the mutilation of his ears, which rendered him henceforth unfit for the office of high priest. Phasael beat out his brains against a stone wall. Herod, too weak for open resistance, fled from Jerusalem, and in the year 40 Antigonus was officially proclaimed king and high priest by the Parthians. His three years' reign, however, was one continuous struggle. His antagonist, Herod, succeeded in having himself declared king of Judea by Rome. The first year passed quietly enough; for Ventidius, Antony's legate, and his lieutenant Silo, were kept neutral by bribes and abstained from doing their duty in enforcing the rights of Herod. But on the latter's return in 39 from Rome he opened a brisk campaign against Antigonus, conquered Joppa, and occupied Masada, where his family were. He then laid siege to Jerusalem, but had to relinquish it toward winter, for Silo refused further cooperation, and dismissed his troops to their winter quarters; for which timely act Antigonus no doubt amply compensated him. In the spring of 38 Herod wrested the province of Galilee from Antigonus' possession, a victory of only temporary advantage, for when Herod shortly after went to Samosata to pay his respects to Antony, the Galileans rose against Herod's brother and representative Joseph, slew him, and drove away his army. Herod, who heard of this only upon his return to Palestine, was eager to avenge his brother. He dared not attack Antigonus'army near Jericho, for he had not yet the necessary strength, but when Antigonus foolishly divided his forces, Herod fell upon Pappus, Antigonus' general, and completely routed him, so that all Palestine as far as Jerusalem fell into his hands.

Besieged in Jerusalem.

The approach of winter compelled Herod to postpone until the next spring a siege of Jerusalem, whither Antigonus and the remnant of his army had fled. When the siege began it was marked by extraordinary bravery and fanaticism on the side of Antigonus' followers; full of hatred against Rome and Romanizers, they considered the struggle a religious one, in which the prophecies concerning the inviolability of the Temple and the nation would be triumphantly vindicated. In vain the Pharisees advised surrender to so powerful a foe, just as the Prophets of old had inveighed against the conviction of their contemporaries that God would protect His city against any besieging enemy, no matter how numerous. A stout defense, lasting three, possibly five, months, was made against the attacks of the enemy and the pangs of famine, which latter, owing to the year being one of release (see Shemittah), was more than ordinarily severe. Antigonus behaved most manfully during the siege, but after the final assault, when no hope was left, he fell entreating at the feet of the Roman general Sosius, who brutally mocked his grief by dubbing him "Antigone," after Sophocles' tearful heroine. At the suggestion of Herod, who was afraid to allow Antigonus to be taken to Rome in the triumphal train of Mark Antony, lest he should there successfully plead for his rights, this last king of the Hasmonean house was taken to Antioch, and there fell beneath the executioner's ax. It was the first time that the Romans had ever thus put a king to death. The last king of pure Jewish blood fell before the intrigues of the first king of Judea not entirely of Jewish birth.


  • Josephus, Ant. xiv. 14 (see also index);
  • idem, B. J. i. 14;
  • Ewald, History of Israel, v. 402-411;
  • Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, ii. 160;
  • Hitzig, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, ii. 523;
  • Schürer, Gesch. i. 288 and index;
  • Stade, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, ii. 467;
  • Mommsen, The Provinces of the Roman Empire, ii. 175-178;
  • Madden, Coins of the Jews, p. 99.
  • For other literature, see Schürer, Gesch. p. 288.L. G.

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