Academic journal article Antichthon

Images of Homage, Images of Power: King Herod and His Harbour, Sebastos

Academic journal article Antichthon

Images of Homage, Images of Power: King Herod and His Harbour, Sebastos

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

As the tumultuous Triumviral decades of the Republic ended and the Augustan era began, the shadow of Rome's majesty continued to envelop the shores of Judaea some 2000km to the east.1 King Herod had survived the struggle for dominance between Octavian (Augustus after 27 B.C.) and his rivals, Mark Antony and his ally and wife Cleopatra VII, in part by not being at Actium in 31 B.C. where the final battle in Rome's long series of civil wars was fought. Although his fealty had been to Antony, he had managed to be east of his kingdom's borders conducting a military operation against Malichus I of Nabataea, who had been accused of disloyalty by Cleopatra and Herod (Joseph. AJ 15.110).

His absence can be seen as either a lucky contingent event or as a calculated political 'tour de force.' Josephus suggests it was Cleopatra who guilefully had drawn the Jewish king away from directly supporting Antony at Actium for her own purposes. She wanted to create a situation where Malichus and Herod fought each other. Whoever was victorious would advantage her cause, since she saw both men as rivals (Joseph. BJ 1.364). Herod, on the other hand, may have been shrewd enough to create or simply to exploit a circumstance that favored his cause no matter what the outcome of Actium (2 September 31 B.C.). If Antony had won, the Jewish king would simply have been elsewhere, loyally doing his part for victory on another front. In the event of Octavian's victory, which is of course what did transpire, he would have been free of any taint of direct hostility against Rome's new ruler. By not being an actual combatant when the future of the Mediterranean world was decided, he had covered all his bets and improved his chances for survival. We shall never know, however, if Herod was the author, or the fortunate recipient, of his destiny.

The naval battle at Actium marked the end of the chaos and uncertainty of Rome's cycle of civil wars and the advent of a restructuring of the Mediterranean world. One of the first things Octavian did was to begin the settlement of the eastern regions by addressing the status of the client kings who had been loyal to Antony.2 Herod faced his moment of truth on Rhodes in 30 B.C. where he went to confront Rome's new master. His fate was uncertain and beyond his control. Perhaps Octavian would simply accept the king's allegiance to the new order. Then again he might prove vindictive to Antony's former vassals. According to Josephus, Herod voluntarily placed aside his diadem to indicate his submission to Rome's new master and then suggested that Octavian should view his former loyalty to Antony as a gauge of his future allegiance to him (Joseph. BJ 1.388-90; AJ 15.187-93)! This declaration was direct, if a bit convoluted, but certainly devoid of any hint of deception or obfuscation regarding his past association with Antony. It seems to have carried the day. Herod survived with his kingdom (and his head) intact. His mandate to rule was extended, and Judaea remained free of direct Roman control.

Surely, Josephus reports only a part of what transpired at that meeting or what was behind the favorable outcome for the king, it is likely that Octavian was not swayed simply by such a self-serving and strained proffer, but rather he had his own reasons for leaving Herod in place and letting subsequent events test the king's loyalty and ultimately decide his fate. Herod's wealth, combined with the king's desire to curry favor, must have been an attractive element in his decision, for Octavian was financially strapped immediately after Actium. Moreover, Judaea was not the most strategic territorial concern in the east at that time. Syria's situation was far more volatile. For the territory to its south, the current client king would do, at least for the moment.3 After all, Octavian held the trump card. Herod ruled at his pleasure, and both men were aware of that reality. …

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