Berenice (daughter of Herod Agrippa)

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Berenice of Cilicia, also known as Julia Berenice and sometimes spelled Bernice (Greek : Βερενίκη, Bereníkē; 28 AD after 81), was a Jewish client queen of the Roman Empire during the second half of the 1st century. Berenice was a member of the Herodian Dynasty that ruled the Roman province of Judaea between 39 BC and 92 AD. She was the daughter of King Herod Agrippa I and a sister of King Herod Agrippa II.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

A client state is a state that is economically, politically, or militarily subordinate to another more powerful state in international affairs. Types of client states include: satellite state, associated state, puppet state, neo-colony, protectorate, vassal state, and tributary state.

Roman Empire Period of Imperial Rome following the Roman Republic (27 BC–476 AD)

The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of ancient Rome, consisting of large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean sea in Europe, North Africa and West Asia ruled by emperors. From the accession of Caesar Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, it was a principate with Italy as metropole of the provinces and its city of Rome as sole capital. The Roman Empire was then ruled by multiple emperors and divided into a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople. Rome remained the nominal capital of both parts until 476 AD, when it sent the imperial insignia to Constantinople following the capture of Ravenna by the barbarians of Odoacer and the subsequent deposition of Romulus Augustus. The fall of the Western Roman Empire to Germanic kings, along with the hellenization of the Eastern Roman Empire into the Byzantine Empire, is conventionally used to mark the end of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages.


What little is known about her life and background comes mostly from the early historian Flavius Josephus, who detailed a history of the Jewish people and wrote an account of the Jewish Rebellion of 67. Suetonius, Tacitus, Dio Cassius, Aurelius Victor and Juvenal, also tell about her. She is also mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (25:13, 23; 26:30). However, it is for her tumultuous love life that she is primarily known from the Renaissance. Her reputation was based on the bias of the Romans to the Eastern princesses, like Cleopatra or later Zenobia. After a number of failed marriages throughout the 40s, she spent much of the remainder of her life at the court of her brother Herod Agrippa II, amidst rumors the two were carrying on an incestuous relationship. During the First Jewish-Roman War, she began a love affair with the future emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus. However, her unpopularity among the Romans compelled Titus to dismiss her on his accession as emperor in 79. When he died two years later, she disappeared from the historical record.

Suetonius Roman historian

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius, was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire.

Tacitus Roman senator and historian

PubliusCornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. Tacitus is considered to be one of the greatest Roman historians. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin literature, and is known for the brevity and compactness of his Latin prose, as well as for his penetrating insights into the psychology of power politics.

Sextus Aurelius Victor was a historian and politician of the Roman Empire.

Early life

Berenice was born in 28 [1] to Herod Agrippa and Cypros, as granddaughter to Aristobulus IV and great-granddaughter to Herod the Great. Her elder brother was Agrippa II (b. 27), and her younger sisters were Mariamne (b. 34) and Drusilla (b. 38). [2] [3] According to Josephus, there was also a younger brother called Drusus, who died before his teens. [2] Her family constituted part of what is known as the Herodian Dynasty, who ruled the Judaea Province between 39 BCE and 92 CE.

Aristobulus IV was a prince of Judea from the Herodian dynasty, and was married to his cousin, Berenice, daughter of Costobarus and Salome I. He was the son of Herod the Great and his second wife, Mariamne I, the last of the Hasmoneans, and was thus a descendant of the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Herod the Great Roman client king of Judea.

Herod, also known as Herod the Great and Herod I, was a Roman client king of Judea, referred to as the Herodian kingdom. The history of his legacy has polarized opinion, as he is known for his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including his expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada, and Herodium. Vital details of his life are recorded in the works of the 1st century CE Roman–Jewish historian Josephus. Herod also appears in the Christian Gospel of Matthew as the ruler of Judea who orders the Massacre of the Innocents at the time of the birth of Jesus. Despite his successes, including singlehandedly forging a new aristocracy from practically nothing, he has still garnered criticism from various historians. His reign polarizes opinion amongst scholars and historians, some viewing his legacy as evidence of success, and some as a reminder of his tyrannical rule.

Josephus First-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer

Titus Flavius Josephus, born Yosef ben Matityahu, was a first-century Romano-Jewish historian who was born in Jerusalem—then part of Roman Judea—to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry.

Berenice depicted with her brother Agrippa II during the trial of St. Paul. From a stained glass window in St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne. Festus window.JPG
Berenice depicted with her brother Agrippa II during the trial of St. Paul. From a stained glass window in St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne.

Josephus records three short-lived marriages in Berenice's life, the first which took place sometime between 41 and 43, to Marcus Julius Alexander, brother of Tiberius Julius Alexander and son of Alexander the Alabarch of Alexandria. [4] [5] On his early death in 44, she was married to her father's brother, Herod of Chalcis, [3] with whom she had two sons, Berenicianus and Hyrcanus. [6] After her husband died in 48, she lived with her brother Agrippa for several years and then married Polemon II of Pontus, king of Cilicia, whom she subsequently deserted. [7] According to Josephus, Berenice requested this marriage to dispel rumors that she and her brother were carrying on an incestuous relationship, with Polemon being persuaded to this union mostly on account of her wealth. [7] However the marriage did not last and she soon returned to the court of her brother. Josephus was not the only ancient writer to suggest incestuous relations between Berenice and Agrippa. Juvenal, in his sixth satire, outright claims that they were lovers. [8] Whether this was based on truth remains unknown. [9] Berenice indeed spent much of her life at the court of Agrippa, and by all accounts shared almost equal power. Popular rumors may also have been fueled by the fact that Agrippa himself never married during his lifetime. [9]

Marcus Julius Alexander, the son of Alexander the Alabarch and brother of Tiberius Julius Alexander, was a distinguished and wealthy Alexandrian Jewish merchant.

Tiberius Julius Alexander was an equestrian governor and general in the Roman Empire. Born into a wealthy Jewish family of Alexandria but abandoning or neglecting the Jewish religion, he rose to become procurator of Judea under Claudius. While Prefect of Egypt (66–69), he employed his legions against the Alexandrian Jews in a brutal response to ethnic violence, and was instrumental in the Emperor Vespasian's rise to power. In 70, he participated in the Siege of Jerusalem as Titus' second-in-command.

Alexander the Alabarch was an Alexandrian Jewish aristocrat. His brother was the exegete and philosopher Philo of Alexandria.

Like her brother, Berenice was a client ruler of the parts of the Roman Empire that lie in the present-day Israel. The Acts of the Apostles records that during this time, Paul the Apostle appeared before their court at Caesarea. [10]

Acts of the Apostles Book of the New Testament

The Acts of the Apostles, often referred to simply as Acts, or formally the Book of Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; it tells of the founding of the Christian church and the spread of its message to the Roman Empire.

Paul the Apostle Early Christian apostle and missionary

Paul the Apostle, commonly known as Saint Paul and also known by his Jewish name Saul of Tarsus, was an apostle who taught the gospel of Christ to the first-century world. Paul is generally considered one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age and in the mid-30s to the mid-50s AD he founded several churches in Asia Minor and Europe. He took advantage of his status as both a Jew and a Roman citizen to minister to both Jewish and Roman audiences.

Caesarea Maritima Village in Haifa, Mandatory Palestine

Caesarea Maritima, also known as Caesarea Palestinae, was an ancient city in the Sharon Plain on the coast of the Mediterranean, now in ruins and included in an Israeli national park.

Jewish-Roman wars

Great Jewish revolt

Map of 1st century Judaea. First century Iudaea province.gif
Map of 1st century Judaea.

In 64 emperor Nero appointed Gessius Florus as procurator of the Judaea Province. During his administration, the Jews were systematically discriminated against in favour of the Greek population of the region. [11] Tensions quickly rose to civil unrest when Florus plundered the treasury of the Temple of Jerusalem under the guise of imperial taxes. [11] Following riots, the instigators were arrested and crucified by the Romans. Appalled at the treatment of her countrymen, Berenice travelled to Jerusalem in 66 to personally petition Florus to spare the Jews, but not only did he refuse to comply with her requests, Berenice herself was nearly killed during skirmishes in the city. [12] Likewise a plea for assistance to the legate of Syria, Cestius Gallus, met with no response. [13]

Nero Fifth Emperor of Ancient Rome

Nero was the last Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius and became Claudius' heir and successor. Like Claudius, Nero became emperor with the consent of the Praetorian Guard. Nero's mother, Agrippina the Younger, was likely implicated in Claudius' death and Nero's nomination as emperor. She dominated Nero's early life and decisions until he cast her off. Five years into his reign, he had her murdered.

Gessius Florus was the Roman procurator of Judea from 64 until 66. Born in Clazomenae, Florus was appointed to replace Lucceius Albinus as procurator by the Emperor Nero due to his wife Cleopatra's friendship with Nero's wife Poppaea. He was noted for his tensions against the Judean and Jewish population, and is credited by Josephus as being the primary cause of the Great Jewish Revolt.

Second Temple Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BC and 70 AD

The Second Temple was the Jewish holy temple which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced Solomon's Temple, which was destroyed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE, when Jerusalem was conquered and part of the population of the Kingdom of Judah was taken into exile to Babylon.

To prevent Jewish violence from further escalating, Agrippa assembled the populace and delivered a tearful speech to the crowd in the company of his sister, [13] but the Jews alienated their sympathies when the insurgents burned down their palaces. [14] They fled the city to Galilee where they later gave themselves up to the Romans. Meanwhile, Cestius Gallus moved into the region with the twelfth legion, but was unable to restore order and suffered defeat at the battle of Beth-Horon, forcing the Romans to retreat from Jerusalem. [15]

Emperor Nero then appointed Vespasian to put down the rebellion, who landed in Judaea with fifth and tenth legions in 67. [16] He was later joined by his son Titus at Ptolemais, who brought with him the fifteenth legion. [17] With a strength of 60,000 professional soldiers, the Romans quickly swept across Galilee and by 69 marched on Jerusalem. [17]

Affair with Titus

It was during this time that Berenice met and fell in love with Titus, who was eleven years her junior. [18] The Herodians sided with the Flavians during the conflict, and later in 69, the Year of the Four Emperors when the Roman Empire saw the quick succession of the emperors Galba, Otho and Vitellius Berenice reportedly used all her wealth and influence to support Vespasian on his campaign to become emperor. [19] When Vespasian was declared emperor on 21 December 69, Titus was left in Judaea to finish putting down the rebellion. The war ended in 70 with the destruction of the Second Temple and the sack of Jerusalem, with approximately 1 million dead, and 97,000 taken captive by the Romans. [20] Triumphant, Titus returned to Rome to assist his father in the government, while Berenice stayed behind in Judaea.

It took four years until they reunited, when she and Agrippa came to Rome in 75. The reasons for this long absence are unclear, but have been linked to possible opposition to her presence by Gaius Licinius Mucianus, a political ally of emperor Vespasian who died sometime between 72 and 78. [21] Agrippa was given the rank of praetor, while Berenice resumed her relationship with Titus, living with him at the palace and reportedly acting in every respect as his wife. [22] The ancient historian Cassius Dio writes that Berenice was at the height of her power during this time, [22] and if it can be any indication as to how influential she was, Quintilian records an anecdote in his Institutio Oratoria where, to his astonishment, he found himself pleading a case on Berenice's behalf where she herself presided as the judge. [23] The Roman populace however perceived the Eastern Queen as an intrusive outsider, and when the pair was publicly denounced by Cynics in the theatre, Titus caved in to the pressure and sent her away. [22]

Upon the accession of Titus as emperor in 79, she returned to Rome, but was quickly dismissed amidst a number of popular measures of Titus to restore his reputation with the populace. [24] It is possible that he intended to send for her at a more convenient time. [21] However, after reigning barely two years as emperor, he suddenly died on 13 September 81. [25]

It is not known what happened to Berenice after her final dismissal from Rome. [21] Her brother Agrippa died around 92, and with him the Herodian Dynasty came to an end.

In modern history, her aspirations as a potential empress of Rome have led to her being described as a 'miniature Cleopatra'. [26]

Berenice in books

Berenice appears in the Roman Mysteries book series. She shows up in The Enemies of Jupiter, is mentioned in The Assassins of Rome and plays a fairly prominent role in Lion Feuchtwanger's historical novel, Josephus (The Jewish War). The book Agrippa's Daughter, by Howard Fast, is about Berenice. She is also in The Last Disciple Series.

Berenice in the arts

From the 17th century to contemporary times, there has been a long tradition of works of art (novels, dramas, operas, etc.) devoted to Berenice and her affair with the Roman Emperor Titus. [27] The list includes:

The love story between Berenice and Titus is also the premise of La clemenza di Tito (1734), an Italian opera with music by Antonio Caldara and a libretto by Pietro Metastasio that was later set to music by more than 40 other composers, including Johann Adolph Hasse (1735), Giuseppe Arena (1738), Francesco Corradini (1747), Christoph Willibald Gluck (1752), Andrea Adolfati (1753), Niccolò Jommelli (1753), Ignaz Holzbauer (1757), Vincenzo Legrezio Ciampi (1757), Gioacchino Cocchi (1760), Marcello Bernardini (1768), Andrea Bernasconi (1768), Pasquale Anfossi (1769), and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ( La clemenza di Tito , 1791). More recently it was used as the backdrop for the Caroline Lawrence novels the Assassins of Rome and the Enemies of Jupiter. Lindsey Davis mentions it, though without making it the central plot line in novels such as Saturnalia . It is also the stimulus for the new ballet piece by Kim Brandstrup, 'Invitus Invitam' which premiered in the Royal Opera House in October 2010.[ citation needed ]

See also


  1. Josephus writes that Berenice was sixteen at the time of her father's death, which fixes her birthdate on the year 28. See Josephus, Ant. XIX.9.1
  2. 1 2 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.5.4
  3. 1 2 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XIX.9.1
  4. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XIX.5.1
  5. Ilan, Tal (1992). "Julia Crispina, Daughter of Berenicianus, a Herodian Princess in the Babatha Archive: A Case Study in Historical Identification". The Jewish Quarterly Review: New Series. University of Pennsylvania Press. 82 (3/4): 361–381. doi:10.2307/1454863. JSTOR   1454863.
  6. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX.5.2
  7. 1 2 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX.7.3
  8. Juvenal, Satires VI
  9. 1 2 Macurdy, Grace H. (1935). "Julia Berenice". The American Journal of Philology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 56 (3): 246–253. doi:10.2307/289676. JSTOR   289676.
  10. King James Bible, Acts 25, 26
  11. 1 2 Josephus, The War of the Jews II.14
  12. Josephus, The War of the Jews II.15.1
  13. 1 2 Josephus, The War of the Jews II.16.1
  14. Josephus, The War of the Jews II.17.6
  15. Josephus, The War of the Jews II.19.9
  16. Josephus, The War of the Jews III.1.2
  17. 1 2 Josephus, The War of the Jews III.4.2
  18. Tacitus, Histories II.2
  19. Tacitus, Histories II.81
  20. Josephus, The War of the Jews VI.6.1, VI.9.3
  21. 1 2 3 Crook, John A. (1951). "Titus and Berenice". The American Journal of Philology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 72 (2): 162–175. doi:10.2307/292544. JSTOR   292544.
  22. 1 2 3 Cassius Dio, Roman History LXV.15
  23. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria IV.1
  24. Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Titus 7
  25. Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Titus 10, 11
  26. Mommsen, Theodor (1885). The History of Rome, Book V. The Establishment of the Military Monarchy. ISBN   1-153-70614-8 . Retrieved 2007-07-30.
  27. Gabriele Boccaccini, Portraits of Middle Judaism in Scholarship and Arts (Turin: Zamorani, 1992); S. Akermann, Le mythe de Bérénice (Paris, 1978); Ruth Yordan, Berenice (London, 1974)

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Primary sources