5. Roman Entry into Palestine
Palestine under Pompey (63 BCE)
Showcase 5: Palestine under Pompey (63 BCE)

After the death of Alexander Jannaeus, his widow Salome Alexandra (76 – 67 BCE) assumed sovereignty of the Hasmonean dynasty. Her son John Hyrcanus II became high priest – an office that she as a woman was prevented from holding – while her youngest son Aristobulus II was initially prohibited from assuming a political role. Under his leadership, the so-called desert fortifications were expanded, which would subsequently assume considerable military significance.

When Salome Alexandra also died, in 67 BCE, power struggles soon erupted between John Hyrcanus II (63 – 40 BCE) and his brother Aristobulus II (67 – 63 BCE). Aristobulus was discontent that Hyrcanus also wielded political authority. He thus waged battle against his brother, defeating him near Jericho. At the same time, Judea found itself between the fronts of the two major powers of that time, the expanding Roman Empire in the west and that of the Parthians in the east. The two empires’ struggle for expansion ultimately also effected the Hasmonean kingdom.

Antipater († 43 BCE), the father of the later king Herod, had brought the south of the empire under his control as Hyrcanus’ governor of Edom. He advised Hyrcanus II to approach the king of the Nabataeans, and with his help to win back sovereignty. At the same time, however, Rome began to subdue the Levant, and in 63 BCE the Roman general Pompey (Fig. B.) carried out a reordering of Palestine; he organized the administrative unit of the Decapolis (a league of 10 cities). Both brothers, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, now brought their case before the Roman general. Pompey ruled in favour of Hyrcanus II and reinstalled him as high priest. Aristobulus II refused to accept this decision, but within a short time was placed in Roman prison with his sons Aristobulus and Antigonus Mattathias. There, in 49 BCE, he was killed during the power struggle between Pompey and Caesar, who had planned to install him again as ruler.

  • Depiction of Menorah and Showbread table incised on wall

A. Depiction of Menorah and Showbread table incised on wall (©: Israel Museum)

  • Bust of Pompey

B. Bust of Pompey (©: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen; Photograph: Ole Haupt)

  • Ossuary from Giv'at hamivtar, Jerusalem

C. Ossuary from Giv'at hamivtar, Jerusalem (©: Israel Museum)