© 2017 D. Catherine

Hopley, Edward William John, 1816-1869; Mariamne, Wife of King Herod, and Her Children going to Their Execution
Mariamne, Wife of King Herod, and Her Children going to Their Execution. Artwork by Edward William John Hopley (1816–1869). Photo credit: Towneley Hall Art Gallery & Museum. Image source: artuk.org

We know the primary reason why King Herod (73 – 4 BCE) married the Hasmonean Jewish princess Mariamne I —i.e. to legitimize his Kingship of Judea (37 – 4 BCE) —but what on earth possessed Mariamne to marry Herod?

At best, the Hasmoneans only vaguely tolerated the Idumean governorship; mostly they—and this includes Mariamne’s mother Alexandra Maccabeus—seemingly despised the Idumeans in general. Herod was clearly smitten with Mariamne, but what prompted Alexandra to give away (or offer?) her daughter in marriage to Herod? Was it a case where both Alexandra and Mariamne foresaw a future where Mariamne (like her great grandmother Salome Alexandra who ruled as Queen of Judea, 76 – 67 BCE) could one day rule Judea in the event of Herod’s death, or perhaps eventually grant kingship to her Hasmonean brother and High Priest, Aristobulus (who was subsequently drowned on the orders of Herod in 36 BCE)? Was there some substance to Herod’s (and his sister, Salome I ’s) paranoia that Mariamne and Alexandra were plotting to oust Herod (by poisoning or otherwise)?

Herod was paranoid in general (later, quite insane) and he really was a brutal tyrant throughout most of his reign. He even had Mariamne executed in 29 BCE and ordered the killing of his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus IV in 7 BCE. But more to the point, I’m trying to understand Mariamne’s mindset in her marriage to Herod. It’s not explicitly stated in the works of the first century Jewish historian Josephus. Was it simply a marriage under duress, or did she likewise pursue Herod? Was it strategic on the part of Alexandra from the very beginning?

I’m going by the assumption that the Hasmoneans would have been quite particular about the “purity” of their royal lineage—if not by blood, then at least by culture and religious doctrine; so the Hasmonean Mariamne’s marriage to the Idumean Herod would surely have been considered a compromise at the most fundamental level—in addition to Herod’s unsavoury character.

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