Little Known Fact: The Romans were Invited to Invade Judea
Updated: May 11
Romans laying siege to Jerusalem in 63 BCE under the command of General Pompey
Wait—Seriously? Did the Jews invite the Romans to invade their country? Well—yes—sort of. The Jewish nation did not. But its rulers did. And that led to General Pompey besieging Jerusalem in 63 BCE. What were they thinking?
It all started four years earlier when the Queen of Judea, Salome Alexandra, died. She was the wife of former ruler Alexander Jannaeus, who was part of the Hasmonean Dynasty that had ruled Judea since the Maccabees had expelled the Greeks. Salome and Alexander had had two sons: Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, each the namesake of a former Hasmonean ruler. Hyrcanus was the elder and inherited the throne upon his mother’s death. But Aristobulus was superior to his older brother in power and magnanimity and could not resist trying to claim the throne for himself. Thus, the country descended into civil war. Aristobulus quickly overpowered Hyrcanus and captured Jerusalem. He allowed his brother Hyrcanus to live in peace once he had renounced the kingship and high priesthood. But Hyrcanus grew suspicious that Aristobulus was going to have him killed eventually, so he took refuge with the Nabateans in their capital at Petra in present day Jordan. There Hyrcanus eventually convinced the Nabatean king to send an army of 50,000 toward Jerusalem to restore his kingship.
Meanwhile Rome had been expanding its empire. General Pompey had been making advancements east into Asia, including the assimilation of the Greek Seleucid kingdom. The Seleucids had originally ruled over a great eastern territory that had been conquered by the Alexander the Great. By this time, however, it had been diminished to the area of modern-day Syria. With Judea on the verge of civil war again, both Aristobulus and Hyrcanus sent gifts to General Pompey in Damascus, requesting he send military troops to aide them in establishing their sole kingship of Judea while expelling their brother. Rome saw the weaker of the two brothers, Hyrcanus, as a more subservient ruler under future Roman authority, and so backed him against Aristobulus. The result was Pompey besieging Jerusalem and the removal of Aristobulus, a seeming victory for Hyrcanus. But Hyrcanus was only given the high priesthood and not the kingship. Instead, the governing administration was given to a powerful Roman ally in the Jewish court, Antipater the Idumean. Antipater was a convert to Judaism from the Edomites (descendants of Esau). He was also the father of Herod the Great, who succeeded him as founder of the new Herodian dynasty. The die now had been cast. In seeking Roman intervention for their short-term ambition of making themselves the ruler of Judea, the brothers had invited in the Roman military, who had no intention of handing the ruling authority back over to the Jews. They had put their own self-interest above that of their nation.