Salome – The Princess’s infamous dance of death

(public domain)

Salome was one of the Bible’s most notorious femmes fatale and has often been depicted as luring men to their deaths.[1] Her infamous seductive dance for her stepfather, Herod Antipas, led to the death of John the Baptist. Yet, did Salome deserve her vile reputation? The Salome in historical accounts is very different from the Salome depicted in the Bible.[2] Unlike the notorious seductress she has been described, she emerges as a successful and competent Queen who ruled her subjects justly.[3] Salome is also the first Jewish Queen to have her name on a coin.[4] 

Salome was the daughter of Herodias and Herod Phillip I.[5] In 27 C.E., her mother divorced her father and married Herod Antipas, the brother of Herod Phillip I and the ruler of Galilee and Perea.[6] Herodias and Herod Antipas faced much opposition against their marriage because Jewish law forbade a man from marrying his brother’s divorced wife.[7] The most outspoken critic was John the Baptist. Herod Antipas had him imprisoned for his criticism.[8]

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It is at this point in which the Bible has immortalized Salome forever. She has been seen globally as the notorious seducer of Herod Antipas.[9] Her legend has become so notorious that scholars and historians find it difficult to distinguish between history and legend.[10] According to the Bible, Herodias had wanted John the Baptist’s execution for his criticisms of her marriage, but Herod Antipas was unwilling to carry out his execution.[11] There was nothing Herodias could do to persuade her husband to execute John the Baptist. Her opportunity soon arose on Herod Antipas’s birthday.[12] During the birthday banquet, Salome danced for her stepfather. Salome’s dancing pleased Herod Antipas greatly. As a reward for her services, Herod Antipas told Salome, “Ask me anything, and I will give it to you.” [13] Then, he swore, “I will give you anything you ask, even half the kingdom.” [14] Salome went to her mother to ask what she should ask for, and her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” [15] Then, Salome went to her stepfather and told him that she wanted John the Baptist’s head. Herod Antipas was reluctant to kill him but could not break his promise. He executed John the Baptist, put his head on a silver platter, and gave it to Salome. Salome gave the platter to her mother.[16]

This story has been passed down to us for centuries. Since then, she has been regarded as a femme fatale that lured men to their destruction.[17] Yet, scholars and historians are currently in debate on whether the infamous dance ever took place.[18] Some historians believe that Salome may have been too young to dance for Herod.[19] They believe that women of dishonourable reputation would be the only dancers at Herod Antipas’s banquet.[20] If Salome danced for her stepfather, it would have damaged her reputation in the marriage market.[21] Therefore, some scholars and historians do not believe this dance took place.[22] Other scholars and historians that do believe that the dance had taken place are more sympathetic to Salome.[23] Instead of the notorious femme fatale that has been passed down in legend, she is seen as an innocent pawn to her mother’s ruthless ambitions.[24] They believe that her mother forced her to dance for Herod Antipas and made her ask for John the Baptist’s head.[25] Therefore, Salome is a victim rather than a perpetrator.[26] Regardless of whether Salome danced for her stepfather or not, Herod Antipas executed John the Baptist.

Salome eventually married her uncle, Herod Phillip II, the ruler of Trachonitis.[27] Herod Phillip II was said to be a “good and honourable prince” [28] and administered justice throughout his realm.[29] However, their marriage was childless.[30] Herod Phillip II died in 34 C.E. Salome then married her cousin, Aristobulus, the King of Armenia Minor.[31] Queen Salome was said to have ruled intelligently and capably beside her husband.[32] She bore three sons to King Aristobulus named Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus.[33] As a vassal king to the Roman Empire, King Aristobulus represented images of himself and his wife on coinage.[34] Therefore, Queen Salome was the first Jewish Queen to have her name and image on a coin.[35] The coins show Salome as a “middle-aged queen with long, intelligent features” [36]. It is likely that Queen Salome may have died between 54-61 C.E.[37] This is because the last coin that depicts her image was in 54 C.E.[38] The next coinage that was minted in King Aristobulus’s kingdom was in the year of 61 C.E. On that coin, only King Aristobulus’s image was depicted.[39] This most likely meant that Queen Salome had already passed away.[40]

Queen Salome was an intelligent, capable, and dutiful queen. Yet the image that often comes to mind is not the intelligent Queen of history but the notorious femme fatale whose seductive dance killed John the Baptist.[41] No matter how successful her reign may have been, her reputation would always be blackened.[42] Regardless of whether Salome was involved in the death of John the Baptist, historical accounts show a competent queen. [43] Therefore, one must look past the Bible to discover the real Salome. If it were not for the infamous dance that has been described in the Bible, Queen Salome’s reputation would have been very different.[44] Salome would not have gone down in history as a femme fatale, but as a successful queen who ruled her subjects justly.[45]


Kraemer, R. S. (2006). “Implicating Herodias and Her Daughter in the Death of John the Baptizer: A (Christian) Theological Strategy?” Journal of Biblical Literature, 125(2). pp. 321-349.

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

Schalit, A. (2007). “Herodias.” Encyclopaedia Judaica (2nd Edition). (M. Berenbaum, Ed. and F. Skolnik, Ed.), 9, New York: Macmillan Reference USA. p. 39.

Streete, G. P. (2018). The Salome Project: Salome and Her Afterlives. Eugene: Cascade Books.

The New American Bible, Revised Edition (1986th Edition). (2011) Charlotte: Saint Benedict Press, 2011.

Walsh, J. P. M (2003). “Herodias.” New Catholic Encyclopedia (2nd Edition). Gale, 6. p. 804.

[1] Streete, 2018

[2] Macurdy, 1937

[3] Macurdy, 1937

[4] Macurdy, 1937

[5] Walsh, 2003

[6] Walsh, 2003

[7] Schalit, 2007

[8] Schalit, 2007

[9] Streete, 2018

[10] Macurdy, 1937

[11] Schalit, 2007

[12] Schalit, 2007

[13] Mark 6:22

[14] Mark 6:23

[15] Mark 6:24

[16] Mark 6:28

[17] Streete, 2018

[18] Kraemer, 2006

[19] Macurdy, 1937; Kraemer, 2006

[20] Kraemer, 2006

[21] Kraemer, 2006

[22] Macurdy, 1937; Kraemer, 2006

[23] Streete, 2018

[24] Streete, 2018

[25] Streete, 2018

[26] Streete, 2018

[27] Macurdy, 1937

[28] Macurdy, 1937, p. 83

[29] Macurdy, 1937

[30] Macurdy, 1937

[31] Macurdy, 1937

[32] Macurdy, 1937

[33] Macurdy, 1937

[34] Macurdy, 1937

[35] Macurdy, 1937

[36] Macurdy, 1937, p. 83

[37] Macurdy, 1937

[38] Macurdy, 1937

[39] Macurdy, 1937

[40] Macurdy, 1937

[41] Macurdy, 1937

[42] Macurdy, 1937

[43] Macurdy, 1937

[44] Macurdy, 1937

[45] Macurdy, 1937

About Lauralee Jacks 177 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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