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Herodian Judea: Games, Politics, Kingship

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posted on 2016-01-05, 11:35 authored by Cody Scott Ames
This article will detail the kingship of Herod the Great in Judea and his enrollment of Greco-Roman architecture and culture during his reign in the first century BCE. Herod, it seems, made a deliberate break from his Jewish kingdom for the electrifying ways of the Greco-Roman world. Herodian Judea faced many changes over its history, but none more drastic in terms of architecture and culture than during his reign amidst the Roman domination in Judea, a period that begins with Pompey the Great in 63 BCE and ends with the Muslim invasion in the 650’s CE (Herod died in 4 BCE). Herod the Great is widely regarded as both a Roman sympathizer (OGIS 414) and a promoter of Greco-Roman culture (Roller 1998; Smallwood 1981). He is believed to have underwritten the construction of monumental buildings including harbors, temples, and arches as well as theaters and amphitheaters (Josephus AJ 15.421). These architectural endeavors, which bear strong Greco-Roman cultural significances, suggest Herod may have been influenced by Greek designs which were filtered through Roman culture (Smallwood 1981; Geiger 2005). The aims of this article are twofold: 1) to offer an explanation for Herod’s adoption of Greco-Roman architecture and Greco-Roman games; and 2) to better understand the socio-political crafting of Herod’s kingship. To this end, I will look into possible relationships between Herod, the Roman aristocracy and Jewish norms as documented by ancient accounts. I will also examine the physical remains of Herod’s building program in Caesarea Maritima. Our journey will begin with Herod’s three trips to Rome in the years 40, 17-16 and 13-12 BCE in an effort to attain the crown and bring stability back to Judea as detailed by accounts of Josephus (Josephus Ant. 15.342-3). It also will discuss select architectural remains from Herod’s building program at Caesarea Maritima (Raban, Holum 1996) and the ancient accounts of the Jewish general, Josephus. Along with select architectural remains at Caesarea Maritima, Greco-Roman architectures in other cities in the Roman East (Alexandria, Priene and Vergina to name a few) will be examined in order to link Herod’s program with other Greco-Roman cities. By connecting material remains and architectures with written accounts of Judea, archaeology can tease out what effects Herod’s building program and inclusion of Greco-Roman games had on Herod’s kingship along with the socio-political ramifications they had with Rome. I will start this process with the architecture then move to the written accounts to better understand what historians regard as Herod’s “passionate obsessions” (McRay 1991). The third and final section will consist of brief histories of Greco-Roman games in an effort to draw out the distinction between Greco-Roman indulgence and Judean rejection (Schwartz 2010). The games to be studied will include the athletic festival competitions at Olympia and the origins and eventual contribution of the gladiatorial games in Rome. Based on these uses of “pagan culture”, I argue that Herod reconstituted his Jewish province in accordance with the latest Greco-Roman trends.


Texas Tech University



Journal of Ancient History and Archaeology; Vol 2, No 2 (2015)


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Journal of Ancient History and Archaeology; Vol 2


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