Born: 73 B.C.
Died: 4 B.C.
Best known as:
The Biblical king who ordered a mass slaughter of infants
Mostly remembered as the villain of a gruesome biblical story, Herod was king of Judea from 34 to 4 B.C. He was known in his time for public works and shrewd statesmanship as well as ruthlessness. Ruling as a regional "client" king in exchange for his cooperation with the Roman occupation, he undertook notable building projects in Jerusalem and beyond, including the creation of a Mediterranean port city, Caesarea. He jealously protected his authority, killing people he perceived as threats, including even his own family members. He was married 10 times and had 15 children. Christianity's Gospel of Matthew is the only source of the legend in which Herod -- having heard from sages of the birth of another "king" -- orders the killing of all boys 2 and under in Bethlehem. The infant Jesus escapes with his family just in time. In 2007, archaeologists announced the discovery of what they believe is Herod's burial site.
History has dubbed him "Herod the Great," but there is no evidence that he sought or used that title himself... His son, Herod Antipas, is the Herod in biblical accounts who has John the Baptist killed and questions the adult Jesus... A great-grandson, Herod Agrippa II, also appears at the end of the Book of Acts at a hearing for the Apostle Paul. Confusingly, the Bible refers to all three of them at various points simply as "Herod."
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