Herod Archelaus: Jewish leader, ruler of Samaria,
Judaea and Idumea between 4 BCE and 6 CE. His rule
was disastrous and he was sent into exile by the
Roman emperor Augustus.
Archelaus was born in 23 BCE as the son of king
Herod and his wife Malthace; he was full brother of
Herod Antipas and a half brother of Philip. With
these brothers, he was sent as a hostage to Rome,
where he received his education. In his father's
testament, Herod Archelaus was appointed king, but
the Roman emperor Augustus wrote him that he had to
contend himself with the title of ethnarch
('national leader') of Samaria, Judaea and Idumea.
Immediately after his accession in 4 BCE, things
went wrong. When Herod had fallen ill, two popular
teachers, Judas and Matthias, had incited their
pupils to remove the golden eagle from the entrance
of the Temple. After all, according to the Ten
Commandments, it was a sin to make idols. The
teachers and their pupils had been burned alive
(March 13, 4). The new king had to face an angry
crowd that demanded rehabilitation of these martyrs;
some three thousand Jews were killed during the
celebration of Passover. For a moment, all seemed
quiet, and Archelaus traveled to Rome, to have
himself crowned by the emperor Augustus.
Coin of Herod
In his absence, there were fresh riots. The
leaders were a robber named Judas, a royal slave
called Simon, a shepherd named Athronges and his
brothers. Perhaps, they were all messianic
claimants; in case of Athronges, this is even
probable. Archelaus' troops were unable to cope with
them, and the Roman governor of Syria, Publius
Quinctilius Varus, had to intervene. It was a major
operation, which probably involved three of the four
Syrian legions (III Gallica, VI Ferrata, X Fretensis,
and XII Fulminata). Two thousand people were
crucified, but not all leaders were caught.
Ultimately, Archelaus came to terms with one of
Athronges' brothers, something that will not have
made a good impression. Matthew implies that Jesus'
parents Joseph and Mary were afraid to go to the
territories ruled by Archelaus, and therefore
settled in Galilee (Matthew 2.22).
Herod Archelaus ruled so badly that the Jews and
Samarians unitedly appealed to Rome to request that
he should be deposed. In 6 CE, Archelaus was
banished to Vienne in Gaul (pictures) and after a
bloody revolt led by Judas the Galilean, Judaea
became a province of the Roman Empire. Archelaus
must have died before 18.
Several of his coins show a bunch of grapes. This
was the most common picture on a Jewish coins,
reminding the user of the coin of the fabulous
fertility of the country (the image is derived from
Numbers 13.23). A crested morion was shown on the
reverse; its significance is unclear to us, although
it must be pointed out that this 'boeotian helmet'
was very un-Roman. Other coins showed the bow of a
ship and a laurel wreath.
The most important ancient source for the rule of
king Herod Archelaus was written by Flavius
Josephus: the Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities.
Modern literature: Nikos Kokkinos, The Herodian
Dynasty: Origins, Role in Society and Eclipse (1998