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Hyrcanus II

Hyrcanus II
King and High Priest of Judea
Hyrcanus II from Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum
Reign c. 67 BC
Predecessor Salome Alexandra
Successor Aristobulus II, then Antigonus II after Hyrcanus's second reign.
Father Alexander Jannaeus
Hasmonean Kingdom to 63 BC

Hyrcanus II, a member of the Hasmonean dynasty, was the Jewish High Priest and King of Judea in the 1st century BC.


  • Accession 1
  • Deposition 2
  • Alliance with the Nabataeans 3
  • Roman intervention 4
  • Restoration 5
  • Exile 6
  • Return to Jerusalem and death 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes and references 9
  • Bibliography 10
    • Sources 10.1
    • Literature 10.2


Hyrcanus was the eldest son of Alexander Jannaeus, King and High Priest, and Alexandra Salome. After the death of Alexander in 76 BC, his widow succeeded to the rule of Judea and installed her elder son Hyrcanus as High Priest. When Salome died in 67 BC, she named Hyrcanus as successor to the Kingship as well.[1]

Hyrcanus shared his mother's religious views and was sympathetic to the Pharisees, in contrast to his father, Alexander Jannaeus, who had supported the Sadducees.


Hyrcanus had scarcely reigned three months when his younger brother Aristobulus II, who agreed with his father's Sadducean stance, rose in rebellion. Hyrcanus advanced against him at the head of his mercenaries and his followers. The brothers met in battle near Jericho and many of Hyrcanus' soldiers went over to Aristobulus II, and thereby gave the latter the victory.[1]

Hyrcanus took refuge in the citadel of Jerusalem; but the capture of the Temple by Aristobulus II compelled Hyrcanus to surrender. A peace was then concluded, according to the terms of which Hyrcanus was to renounce the throne and the office of high priest, but was to enjoy the revenues of the latter office.[2]

Alliance with the Nabataeans

This agreement however did not last, as Hyrcanus feared that Aristobulus was planning his death. Such fears were furthered by Hyrcanus' adviser Antipater the Idumean. According to Josephus, Antipater aimed at controlling Judea by putting the weak Hyrcanus back onto the throne.[1] Hyrcanus took refuge with Aretas III, King of the Nabataeans, who had been bribed by Antipater into espousing the cause of Hyrcanus by the promise of returning Arabian towns taken by the Hasmoneans.

The Nabataeans advanced toward Jerusalem with an army of 50,000, took the city and besieged the Temple where Aristobulus had taken refuge for several months. During the siege, the adherents of Hyrcanus stoned the pious Onias (Honi ha-Magel, also Khoni or Choni ha-Magel), who had refused to pray for the demise of their opponents, and further angered the priests who were fighting along with Aristobulus by selling them cattle for the paschal sacrifice for the enormous price of one thousand drachmae and then refused to deliver the promised animals for the sacrifice.(Antiquities of the Jews Book 14, 2:2)[3]

Roman intervention

Roman Judea under Hyrcanus II

During this civil war, the Roman general Pompey defeated the Kingdoms of Pontus and the Seleucids. He sent his deputy Marcus Aemilius Scaurus to take possession of Seleucid Syria.

As the Hasmoneans were allies of the Romans, both brothers appealed to Scaurus, each endeavoring by gifts and promises to win him over to his side. Scaurus, moved by a gift of 400 talents, decided in favor of Aristobulus and ordered Aretas to withdraw his army. During his retreat, the Nabateans suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Aristobulus. Scaurus returned to Damascus.[4]

When Pompey arrived in Syria in 63 BC, both brothers and a third party that desired the removal of the entire dynasty, sent their delegates to Pompey, who however delayed the decision. He favoured Hyrcanus over Aristobulus, deeming the elder, weaker brother a more reliable ally of the Roman Empire.

Aristobulus, suspicious of Pompey, entrenched himself in the fortress of Alexandrium, but when the Romans summoned their army, he surrendered and undertook to deliver Jerusalem over to them. However, since many of his followers were unwilling to open the gates, the Romans besieged and captured the city by force, badly damaging city and temple. Aristobulus was taken to Rome a prisoner and Hyrcanus restored.[5]


Hyrcanus was restored to his position as High Priest but not to the Kingship. Political authority rested with the Romans whose interests were represented by Antipater, who primarily promoted the interests of his own house. In 47 BC, Julius Caesar restored some political authority to Hyrcanus by appointing him ethnarch. This however had little practical effect, since Hyrcanus yielded to Antipater in everything.[4]


In 40 BC, Aristobulus' son Antigonus Mattathias allied himself with the Parthians and was proclaimed King and High Priest.[4] Hyrcanus was seized and mutilated at his ears (according to Josephus, Antigonus bit his uncle's ears off) to make him permanently ineligible for the priesthood.

Then Hyrcanus was taken to Babylonia, where for four years he lived amid the Babylonian Jews, who paid him every mark of respect.

Return to Jerusalem and death

In 36 BC, Herod I, who had vanquished Antigonus with Roman help and feared that Hyrcanus might induce the Parthians to help him regain the throne, invited the former High Priest to return to Jerusalem. Hyrcanus accepted and Herod received him with every mark of respect, assigning to him the first place at his table and the presidency of the state council.

However, in 30 BC Herod charged Hyrcanus with plotting with the Nabateans and put him to death.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c Jewish Encyclopeda""Hyrcanus II",
  2. ^ Schürer, "Gesch." i. 291, note 2
  3. ^ Josephus Flavius. "The Antiquities of the Jews". Retrieved 5 April 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c , Geoffrey W. Bromiley (ed.), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, (1995)International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-JHoehner, H.W., "Hasmoneans",
  5. ^ , Osprey Publishing, (2008)The Forts of Judaea 168 BC-AD 73: From the Maccabees to the Fall of MasadaRocca, Samuel.




  • Heinrich Ewald, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, volume IV, p. 524ff.
  • Heinrich Graetz, History of the Jews, volume III, p. 167ff.
  • Hitzig, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, volume II, p. 500ff.
  • Emil Schürer, Geschichte des judischen Volks im Zeitalter Jesu Christi, volume I, p. 338 et seq.
Hyrcanus II
Died: 30 BC
Preceded by
Alexander Jannaeus
High Priest of Jerusalem
76 BC – 66 BC
Succeeded by
Aristobulus II
Preceded by
Salome Alexandra
King of Judea
67 BC – 66 BC
Preceded by
Aristobulus II
King of Judea
63 BC – 40 BC
Succeeded by
Antigonus II
High Priest of Judea
63 BC – 40 BC
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