Queen Mariamne I – The executed wife of King Herod the Great




Queen Mariamne I
(public domain)

Queen Mariamne I was the second and most famous wife of King Herod the Great of Judea. She was a Hasmonean princess and was known to be a legendary beauty. King Herod loved her passionately. However, he was very jealous and possessive of her. It was due to his jealousy of Queen Mariamne that he sentenced her to be executed in 29 B.C.E.

Queen Mariamne I was born circa 54 B.C.E. Her parents were Princess Alexandra (daughter of King Hyrcanus II of Judea) and Prince Alexander (the son of King Aristobulus II). Both of her parents were the grandchildren of Queen regnant Salome Alexandra of Judea. Princess Mariamne also had a brother named Aristobulus. Both of her grandfathers brought about the downfall of the Hasmonean Dynasty by giving most of their power to Rome.[1] Princess Mariamne’s father, Prince Alexander, led a revolt against Rome in 55 B.C.E.[2] He was executed by the Romans in 49 B.C.E.[3]

The deposed King Hyrcanus II sought to ally himself with the influential Herodian family.[4] He and his daughter, Princess Alexandra, betrothed Princess Mariamne to Herod.[5] In 40 B.C.E., Princess Mariamne’s uncle, King Antigonus, allied himself with the Parthians to invade Judea.[6] Princess Mariamne and her family sought refuge in Masada, and Herod fled to Rome.[7] Herod was made King of Judea by the Romans in 37 B.C.E.[8] After he was crowned, King Herod returned to Judea. He exiled his first wife, Queen Doris and his son, Prince Antipater, to marry Princess Mariamne.[9]

Queen Mariamne was known to be very beautiful, and King Herod loved her with great passion.[10] Despite his deep love for her, King Herod was still suspicious of the Hasmonean royals, especially his mother-in-law, Princess Alexandra.[11] He did not want to make his brother-in-law, Aristobulus, the High King of Judea. Instead, he appointed Hananel the High Priest.[12] Through Princess Alexandra’s protestations and the intervention of Mark Antony and Queen Cleopatra VII, King Herod had no choice but to make Aristobulus the High Priest in 36 B.C.E.[13] Shortly after his appointment, Aristobulus drowned under mysterious circumstances in King Herod’s winter palace at Jericho.[14] Queen Mariamne believed that King Herod had murdered her brother and fostered a secret hatred for him.[15]

Queen Mariamne bore King Herod five children. She had two sons named Alexander and Aristobulus, an unnamed son who died young, and two daughters named Salampsio and Cypros.[16] Mark Antony summoned King Herod to Laodicea to explain his side of the story of Aristobulus’s murder.[17] Before he left for Laodicea, he placed Queen Mariamne under the care of his brother-in-law, Joseph.[18] However, he was extremely jealous.[19] If King Herod was sentenced to die for the murder of Aristobulus, he did not want his wife to remarry.[20] He ordered Joseph that if he did not return to Judea, he should kill Queen Mariamne.[21] 

While King Herod was away, Joseph told Queen Mariamne of her husband’s secret decree.[22] When King Herod returned after being deemed innocent, King Herod’s sister, Salome, accused Queen Mariamne of committing adultery with Joseph.[23] Initially, King Herod did not believe the accusation.[24] However, when Queen Mariamne confronted her husband about his secret decree, King Herod believed that the accusation was true.[25] He executed Joseph and decided to execute Queen Mariamne.[26] However, he found that he could not kill her because he still loved her deeply.[27] His anger towards her dissipated.[28] Instead, he threw his mother-in-law in jail for believing her to be the instigator of the false accusations.[29]

In 30 B.C.E., King Herod left Judea to visit Emperor Augustus in Rhodes.[30] He placed Queen Mariamne and Princess Alexandra under the protection of an Iturean named Sohemus.[31] Again, he ordered Sohemus that if he did not return to Judea to kill Queen Mariamne and Princess Alexandra.[32] Sohemus told Queen Mariamne of his secret decree.[33] Princess Alexandra persuaded Queen Mariamne to run away since King Herod was away.[34] However, she was caught and was forced to stay in Sohemus’s protection.[35]

When King Herod returned from Judea, he expected Queen Mariamne to welcome him with love.[36] With the murder of her brother and her husband’s secret decrees, she did not give him the love he desperately sought.[37] Instead, she avoided King Herod’s advances and looked at him with hatred.[38] The rift between King Herod and Queen Mariamne was so deep that it made it easy for him to listen to his mother’s and sister’s accusations about Queen Mariamne.[39] They told him that Queen Mariamne had committed adultery with Sohemus and that Queen Mariamne even tried to poison him.[40] King Herod questioned Queen Mariamne’s eunuch. He told him that she did not poison him, but that she was outraged at King Herod’s secret instructions he had left for Sohemus.[41] Therefore, King Herod believed that Queen Mariamne committed adultery with Sohemus.[42]

King Herod executed Sohemus and imprisoned Queen Mariamne.[43] However, Salome was not happy that Queen Mariamne was in prison.[44] She desired her execution.[45] She persuaded her brother to kill Queen Mariamne because her imprisonment might start a revolt.[46] She also claimed that the Jewish people would make attempts to free the Queen.[47]

King Herod sentenced Queen Mariamne to death in 29 B.C.E. In order to save herself, Princess Alexandra publicly abandoned her daughter.[48] During Queen Mariamne’s route to her execution, Princess Alexandra called her daughter a “proud and vile woman” [49] as well as King Herod’s enemy.[50] Yet, Queen Mariamne did not give her mother a word or a glance in her direction.[51] Instead, it only made the witnesses admire Queen Mariamne’s courage and revile Princess Alexandra’s actions.[52] Queen Mariamne went to her death bravely, serenely, and composed.[53] Queen Mariamne’s death won the admiration of those around her, including Josephus, the Jewish historian.[54] He remarked that Queen Mariamne had died with the dignity of a noble princess.[55] Her death caused public outrage among the Jewish people against King Herod.[56] Queen Mariamne was around twenty-five years old.

King Herod immediately regretted his decision of executing Queen Mariamne.[57] He began to grow insane and deeply mourned her loss.[58] Josephus claimed that King Herod tried to hunt and host banquets to forget about his wife.[59] However, he was so heartbroken that he fell ill in Samaria.[60] King Herod built a tower in Jerusalem and named it Mariamne in honour of her.[61] It was even said that King Herod embalmed her body in honey for seven years so that he could still gaze upon her beauty.[62] Queen Mariamne’s sons would be executed by King Herod for treason in 7 B.C.E.[63] Before their deaths, Prince Alexander married Glaphyra, a Cappadocian princess.[64] Prince Aristobulus married Princess Berenice (the daughter of Herod the Great’s sister, Salome).[65] Queen Mariamne’s grandsons, King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, King Herod V of Chalcis, and King Tigranes V of Armenia, would together reign over more territory than any Herodian or Hasmonean had ever ruled.[66]

Queen Mariamne I had a turbulent marriage with King Herod the Great of Judea. King Herod deeply loved her, but she hated him for the murder of her brother and his secret decrees of murdering her if he ever died away from Judea. When she started to shun him, King Herod’s mother and sister took the opportunity to frame her for adultery. King Herod executed her, but he instantly regretted murdering her. He mourned her for years and may have embalmed her body. Thus, Queen Marianne was King Herod’s greatest passion, and it was this passion that led to her downfall. However, the dignity and grace of how she composed herself during her execution won the admiration of the Jewish people. It was because of Queen Mariamne’s death that King Herod was greatly disliked by the Jews.[67]

Sources:

Gottheil, R. & Krauss, S. (1906). “Mariamne”. The Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved on December 20, 2022 from https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10415-mariamne.

Ilan, T. (31 December 1999). “Hasmonean Women.” Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. Jewish Women’s Archive. Retrieved on December 19, 2022 from. https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/hasmonean-women.

Ilan, Tal. (31 December 1999). “Mariamme I The Hasmonean.” Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. Jewish Women’s Archive. Retrieved on December 20, 2022 from https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/mariamme-i-hasmonean.

Kasher, A., Witztum, E. (2008). King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor: A Case Study in Psychohistory and Psychobiography. Germany: Netlibrary.

Macurdy, G. H. (1937). Vassal-queens and Some contemporary Women in the Roman Empire. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press.

Milwitzky, W. (1906). “Alexandra”. The Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved on December 19, 2022 from https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1165-alexandra.

Smith, M. H. ( n.d.). “Mariamne I (ca. 57-29 BCE; executed)”. Virtual Religion Network. Retrieved on December 20 from https://virtualreligion.net/iho/mariamne.html.


[1] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Mariamne I The Hasmonean”

[2] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Mariamne I The Hasmonean”

[3] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Hasmonean Women”

[4] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Mariamne I The Hasmonean”

[5] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Mariamne I The Hasmonean”

[6] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Mariamne I The Hasmonean”

[7] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Mariamne I The Hasmonean”

[8] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Mariamne I The Hasmonean”

[9] Macurdy, 1937

[10] Macurdy, 1937

[11] Macurdy, 1937

[12] Macurdy, 1937

[13] Macurdy, 1937

[14] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Hasmonean Women”

[15] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[16] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[17] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[18] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[19] Macurdy, 1937

[20] Macurdy, 1937

[21] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[22] Macurdy, 1937

[23] Macurdy, 1937

[24] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[25] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[26] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[27] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[28] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[29] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[30] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[31] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[32] Macurdy, 1937

[33] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[34] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Hasmonean Women”

[35] Ilan, 31 December 1999, “Hasmonean Women”

[36] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[37] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[38] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[39] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[40] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[41] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[42] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[43] Macurdy, 1937

[44] Macurdy, 1937

[45] Macurdy, 1937

[46] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[47] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[48] Milwitzky, 1906, “Alexandra”

[49] Milwitzky, 1906, “Alexandra”, para. 2

[50] Milwitzky, 1906, “Alexandra”

[51] Macurdy, 1937

[52] Macurdy, 1937

[53] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[54] Macurdy, 1937

[55] Macurdy, 1937

[56] Kasher and Witztum, 2008

[57] Milwitzky, 1906, “Alexandra”

[58] Milwitzky, 1906, “Alexandra”

[59] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[60] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[61] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[62] Gottheil and Krauss, 1906, “Mariamne”

[63] Smith, n.d., “Mariamne I (ca. 57-29 BCE; executed)”

[64] Macurdy, 1937

[65] Macurdy, 1937

[66] Smith, n.d., “Mariamne I (ca. 57-29 BCE; executed)”

[67] Kasher and Witztum, 2008






About Lauralee Jacks 189 Articles
I am a former elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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