Hyrcanus II
Hyrcanus II, a member of the Hasmonean
The Hasmonean dynasty , was the ruling dynasty of Judea and surrounding regions during classical antiquity. Between c. 140 and c. 116 BCE, the dynasty ruled semi-autonomously from the Seleucids in the region of Judea...

 dynasty, was the Jewish High Priest
Kohen Gadol
The High Priest was the chief religious official of Israelite religion and of classical Judaism from the rise of the Israelite nation until the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem...

 and King of Judea in the 1st century BC.


Hyrcanus was the eldest son of Alexander Jannaeus
Alexander Jannaeus
Alexander Jannaeus was king of Judea from 103 BC to 76 BC. The son of John Hyrcanus, he inherited the throne from his brother Aristobulus I, and appears to have married his brother's widow, Shlomtzion or "Shelomit", also known as Salome Alexandra, according to the Biblical law of Yibbum...

, 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. Hyrcanus was already High Priest but also shared his mother's religious views, sympathetic to the Pharisees
The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought among Jews during the Second Temple period beginning under the Hasmonean dynasty in the wake of...

. In contrast to this, Alexander Jannaeus had supported the Saducees.


Hyrcanus had scarcely reigned three months when his younger brother Aristobulus II
Aristobulus II
Aristobulus II was the Jewish High Priest and King of Judea, 66 BC to 63 BC, from the Hasmonean Dynasty.-Family:Aristobulus was the younger 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...

, 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
Jericho ; is a city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. It is the capital of the Jericho Governorate and has a population of more than 20,000. Situated well below sea level on an east-west route north of the Dead Sea, Jericho is the lowest permanently...

 and many of Hyrcanus' soldiers went over to Aristobulus II, and thereby gave the latter the victory.

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.

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.

Hyrcanus took refuge with Aretas III
Aretas III
Aretas III was king of the Nabataean kingdom from 87 to 62 BCE. Aretas ascended to the throne upon the death of his brother, Obodas I, in 87 BCE. During his reign, he extended his kingdom to cover what now forms the northern area of Jordan, the south of Syria, and part of Saudi Arabia...

, King of the Nabataeans
Thamudi3.jpgThe Nabataeans, also Nabateans , were ancient peoples of southern Canaan and the northern part of Arabia, whose oasis settlements in the time of Josephus , gave the name of Nabatene to the borderland between Syria and Arabia, from the Euphrates to the Red Sea...

, 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 and besieged the city 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 many Jews by selling a lamb of the paschal sacrifice to the besieged for the enormous price of one thousand drachmae and then instead delivered a pig, an animal deemed unclean among the Jews and therefore unfit as a sacrifice.

Roman intervention

During this civil war, the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus defeated the Kingdoms of Pontus
Pontus or Pontos is a historical Greek designation for a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, located in modern-day northeastern Turkey. The name was applied to the coastal region in antiquity by the Greeks who colonized the area, and derived from the Greek name of the Black Sea: Πόντος...

 and the Seleucids
Seleucid Empire
The Seleucid Empire was a Greek-Macedonian state that was created out of the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great. At the height of its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan.The Seleucid Empire was a major centre...

. He sent his deputy Marcus Aemilius Scaurus
Marcus Aemilius Scaurus (praetor 56 BC)
Marcus Aemilius Scaurus was a Roman politician of the 1st century BC and son of Marcus Aemilius Scaurus and Caecilia Metella Dalmatica.Scaurus lost his father when he was very young, but his education was insured by several other family friends...

 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.

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 Aristobulos, deeming the elder, weaker brother a more reliable ally of the Roman Empire.

Aristobulus, suspicious of Pompey, entrenched himself in the fortress of Alexandrium
Alexandrion or Alexandrium, sometimes referred to as Sartaba, was a fort constructed by the Hasmoneans on a mountain between Scythopolis and Jerusalem, near the Jordan Valley...

, 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
Siege of Jerusalem (63 BC)
-Bibliography:** Josephus, Flavius. William Whiston, A.M., translator . . Auburn and Buffalo, New York: John E. Beardsley. Retrieved 15 July 2010.*****...

 the city by force, badly damaging city and temple. Aristobulus was taken to Rome a prisoner and Hyrcanus restored.


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
Antipater the Idumaean
Antipater I the Idumaean was the founder of the Herodian Dynasty and father of Herod the Great. According to Josephus, he was the son of Antipas...

, who primarily promoted the interests of his own house. In 47 BC, Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 restored some political authority to Hyrcanus by appointing him ethnarch
Ethnarch, pronounced , the anglicized form of ethnarches refers generally to political leadership over a common ethnic group or homogeneous kingdom. The word is derived from the Greek words and ....

. This however had little practical effect, since Hyrcanus yielded to Antipater in everything.


In 40 BC, Aristobulus' son Antigonus
Antigonus the Hasmonean
Antigonus II Mattathias was the last Hasmonean king of Judea. He was the son of King Aristobulus II of Judea...

 allied himself with the Parthians and was proclaimed King and High Priest. 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 then 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.


  • Flavius Josephus
    Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

    , Antiquities of the Jews
    Antiquities of the Jews
    Antiquities of the Jews is a twenty volume historiographical work composed by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in the thirteenth year of the reign of Roman emperor Flavius Domitian which was around 93 or 94 AD. Antiquities of the Jews contains an account of history of the Jewish people,...

    , book XIV, 5-13.
  • Flavius Josephus
    Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

    , The Jewish War
    The Wars of the Jews
    The Jewish War , in full Flavius Josephus's Books of the History of the Jewish War against the Romans , also referred to in English as The Wars of the Jews and The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, is a book written by the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus.It is a description of Jewish...

    , book I, 8-13.


  • Heinrich Ewald
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    Georg Heinrich August Ewald was a German orientalist and theologian.-Life:Ewald was born at Göttingen where his father was a linen weaver. In 1815 he was sent to the gymnasium, and in 1820 he entered the University of Göttingen, where he studied with J.G. Eichhorn and T. C. Tychsen, specialising...

    , Geschichte des Volkes Israel, volume IV, p. 524ff.
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    Heinrich Graetz
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    , History of the Jews, volume III, p. 167ff.
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    , Geschichte des Volkes Israel, volume II, p. 500ff.
  • Emil Schürer
    Emil Schürer
    Emil Schürer was a German Protestant theologian.-Biography:Schürer was born at Augsburg.After studying at Erlangen, Berlin and Heidelberg from 1862 to 1866, he became in 1873 professor extraordinarius at Leipzig and eventually professor ordinarius at Göttingen...

    , Geschichte des judischen Volks im Zeitalter Jesu Christi, volume I, p. 338 et seq.
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