The Stunning Number Of Wives King Herod Had

If you've been to a Christmas pageant, you know the story of King Herod the Great: The three magi tell him there's a new "king of the Jews" born in Bethlehem, and he's so jealous of the potential competition that he murders every child under three in Bethlehem. It's definitely a way to end the festivities with a bang, but is it true? Eh ... maybe not? Outside of the Gospel of Matthew, there's no real evidence for it — but then again, as many historians have pointed out, it's right in line with the sort of shenanigans Herod was up to late in his life (via Tony Reinke).

Once known as a master builder who filled Jerusalem and greater Judea with fortresses, aqueducts, and theaters — along with greatly expanding and enriching the Jewish temple — by the end of his life, Herod had apparently adopted the motto of "Marry every woman, have all the kids, betray, and kill them all" (or something like that). Here's the story of how Herod the Great's love for marrying and murdering led to utter chaos when he finally passed away in 4 B.C.E.

How Herod became king

Herod, despite being the nominal "king of the Jews," was not Jewish himself — not ethnically, anyway. His ancestors were Edomite converts to Judaism, and his father, Herod Anitpater, served in the court of Judean priest-king Hyrcanus II. In 63 B.C., though, Roman general Pompey invaded Jerusalem, leading to an uncomfortable situation in which Herod, his brother, his father, and Hyrcanus all sort of shared power. In 37 B.C., the Parthians invaded Palestine, leading to a civil war that forced Herod to flee to Rome; Rome's solution to the chaos was to make Herod king of all Judea, and, well, that was that.

Herod's first step toward solidifying his power in the region was to marry a princess named Mariamne, who came from the Hasmonean dynasty, the same dynasty as Hyrcanus. Unfortunately, when he did this, he already had a wife named Doris, with whom he had a son but he solved that problem by just divorcing her and banishing them both. Mariamne bore Herod five children, including two sons, but Herod's sister Salome, looking to consolidate her own power, proceeded to poison Herod's mind against her, leading to Herod executing both her and her sons (via Britannica).

Herod married no fewer than ten women

After killing Mariamne, Herod began racking up wives left and right, apparently having decided that he was okay with polygamy now. His third wife was another Hasmonean princess, Mariamne II (they were evidently short on names); he then married a Samaritan woman named Malthace and a woman of indeterminate origin who went by the more-impressive-sounding-than-she-probably-deserved name of Cleopatra of Jerusalem. Very little is known about Herod's five other wives, but we do have names for three of them: Pallas, Phaidra, and Elpis (via Jewish Women's Archive).

Regardless, surrounding yourself with wives, sons, and jealous sisters apparently takes its toll, because Herod's later life was characterized by constant conflict and a revolving door of executions as he slowly killed off every potential heir to his throne. In addition to executing both of his sons by Mariamne I, he also executed his firstborn son by Doris, Antipater, leaving an enormous power vacuum after he died.

Herod died a gruesome death — according to first-century historian Josephus, he was eaten to death by crotch-worms, AKA genital gangrene (via ABC). Knowing that his death would be mourned by very few, he prepared for it by gathering all of Judea's most eminent men in a hippodrome and ordering his sister to kill them all after he breathed his last — y'know, just to make sure someone mourned something (via Live Science). She didn't indulge this wish, releasing them instead.