As the queen of Judea, Mariamne spent her entire life caught up in power plays that would make even Cleopatra quake in her sandals. But it was Mariamne’s marriage to King Herod that would earn her a place in the annals of history–for all the wrong reasons. Delve into the world of Mariamne and find out whether her life story was a sand and sandals Romeo & Juliet or a horrifying case of captor and captive.
1. Her Family Feuded
Mariamne I (pronounced: Mariam) was traipsing about Judea during a particularly turbulent time. She was born into one of the world’s greatest—albeit shortest-lived—dynasties, the Hasmoneans. When her family wasn’t busy fighting off rival groups like he Romans, they really enjoyed fighting each other. This was a family tradition that Mariamne would become all too familiar with.
2. She Was A Pawn
When Mariamne came onto the scene somewhere between 54BC and 57BC, her family was in the middle of doing what they did best. Mariamne’s grandfathers—who were also brothers—had been playing a bloody game of tug-of-war with the crown of Judea. Mariamne had no way of knowing that she was about to become a pawn in this game of thrones.
3. She Was A Stunner
Mariamne and her brother, Aristobulus III, were going to be the last of their kind. But if the Hasmoneans were going to go down, then they were going to go down in style. From a young age, it was obvious that Mariamne was going to grow up to be gorgeous. Some accounts of Mariamne’s beauty even said that she was more beautiful than the most famous seductress in history.
4. She Was Prettier Than The Queen Of The Nile
As Mariamne watched her family tear itself apart, an Egyptian seductress known as Cleopatra was busy romancing her famous lover, Mark Antony. But at this point, Mark had no idea what he was missing out on. Legend has it that Mariamne was even more beautiful than Cleopatra herself. But as we’ll see, Mariamne’s beauty would also be her curse.
5. She Took An Ancient Selfie
Word of Mariamne’s beauty eventually made its way across the Mediterranean. When things turned sour for Mariamne’s family a few years later, her mother begged the Roman Emperor Mark Antony for help. Having heard that Mariamne was an absolute smoke show, Antony requested a portrait of her (and her brother, for good measure) in exchange for his help.
You’d think Mariamne already sealed the deal. But a huge plot twist lay ahead.
6. Her Brother Was Even More Beautiful
Mariamne’s beauty rivalled Cleopatra’s but someone else had her beat: Her own brother. When Antony saw the portraits of the two Hasmonean royal children, he shunned Mariamne in favor of her handsome sibling. Ouch. So, while her brother was bewitching emperors, Mariamne’s prospects went from ‘dream romance’ to ‘complete nightmare.’
7. She Married Down
Being the beauty that she was—and a princess in her own right—Mariamne must have had her pick of the litter. Or, rather, her mother had the pick of the litter for her. Mariamne’s mother, Alexandra, arranged a marriage for her daughter. To say that Mariamne was less than excited about her mother’s choice would be an understatement.
8. She Had A Price Tag
Here’s the deal: Mariamne’s mom didn’t have her daughter’s happiness in mind when she planned her marriage. Instead, she just wanted to help her father win in that Grandpa Duel we mentioned earlier. Mommy dearest traded poor Miriamne’s hand in marriage for an army to help her father win the big family feud. And this wouldn’t be the last time Mariamne’s mom sold her up the river.
9. She Didn’t Like Her Betrothed
By all rights, Mariamne should have married a prince or, like Cleopatra, snagged herself a lovesick Roman emperor. Instead, her own mother sold her on the cheap to the lowborn governor of Galilee. History would come to know that man as Herod the Great. But, as far as Mariamne was concerned, there was nothing great about the guy. Spoiler: Mariamne was right.
10. She Disagreed With Her Husband
Herod didn’t come from a royal Judean family like Mariamne did and she looked down on him for it. And that was far from their only reason to attend couples counselling. You see, Herod had been born into a pagan family instead of a devout Jewish family with royal blood like Mariamne’s. Sure, she would say to herself, her new hubby had converted to Judaism but he didn’t seem too keen to give up his pagan ways. Oh, but I’ve saved the worst part for last.
11. There Was A Dicey Detail
Mariamne had been double-take gorgeous from the time that she could walk. But that was no excuse for her early betrothal. The Hasmonean princess was just 12 years old—give or take three years—when her mother and grandfather conspired to arrange her marriage. Herod, on the other hand, was 33. Fortunately for Mariamne, Herod had some other matters to attend to before he could marry her.
12. She Was In The Lion’s Den
Herod went yachting around the Mediterranean in search of allies and left Mariamne behind with his mother and sister. The young Hasmonean princess would quickly learn that her husband’s family was even worse than her own. If she thought that her husband was a brutish social climber, then she must have thought that her future in-laws were social mountaineers of alpine skill.
13. She Hated Her In-Laws
Mariamne developed a particularly pointed hatred for her husband’s family. While cooped up with Herod’s mother and sister, the trio bickered constantly. We don’t know exactly what they bickered about but I imagine that it had something to do with accusations of paganism and snobbery. Oh, and maybe one other tiny little issue: Rampant polygamy.
14. She Was Second-Tier
Mariamne wasn’t just marrying beneath her rank—she, maybe, could have learned to live with that—but she was also getting someone else’s sloppy seconds. Herod was already married to someone else when Mariamne’s family promised him her hand in marriage. To make matters worse, Herod already had a son. She wasn’t going to stand for this last indignity.
15. Her Marriage Changed Her
After Mariamne walked down the aisle towards Herod—I’m picturing her mother and grandfather dragging her by the tail of her white dress as she clawed at the carpet—she took action. The princess-turned-queen decided that she wasn’t going to be anyone’s pawn anymore. Least of all, her husband’s. She had to show everyone that she was a force to be reckoned with.
16. She Got Wise
Mariamne might not have thought much of her husband but he thought the world of her—she was, after all, the only reason he could claim the throne of Judea. And she was also beautiful and way out of his league. Realizing this, Mariamne knew that she could manipulate her lovestruck husband into carrying out her will. And her will was revenge.
17. She Exiled Her Enemies
Mariamne moved into the royal palace in Judea with her new (old) husband. But she wasn’t about to share her fancy digs with her husband’s old family. So, she whispered sweet nothings into Herod’s ear and likely convinced him to take a drastic step because the next thing we know, Herod exiled his ex-wife and their son from Mariamne’s queendom. And that was just her opening salvo.
18. She Had A Brother In High Places
Mariamne hadn’t forgotten her family—the few members of it that she liked—when she ascended to the throne. While she kept a wary eye on her mother and grandfather, Mariamne loved her brother. Using her powers of persuasion over her husband, Mariamne convinced Herod to appoint her brother as High Priest. But maybe she didn’t have as much control of Herod as she thought.
19. She Thought She Saved Her Family
Mariamne’s brother was every bit as beautiful and beloved as she was, especially when he levelled up to High Priest. What Mariamne didn’t realize, however, was just how jealous her husband could be. Mariamne might have thought that, by getting Herod to appoint her brother as High Priest, she had finally secured her family’s legacy. But she had miscalculated. Fatally so.
20. Her Husband Had A Jealousy Problem
While Mariamne was basking in the glow of her cleverness, her husband was stewing in jealousy. Herod was angry that Mariamne’s brother was becoming more popular than he was. And worse yet, Mariamne probably loved her brother more than she loved him. So, Herod did what any other jealous and tyrannical king would do. Even if it meant betraying his wife.
21. Her Brother Drowned In Strange Circumstances
Now, Mariamne was no stranger to family squabbles—the bloodier, the more familiar. But what Herod did next was a step too far, even for her. Her husband conspired behind her back to have her brother, the beautiful High Priest, drowned in his own swimming pool at his palace in Jericho. Whether the pagan usurper believed in hell or not, Mariamne resolved, there would be hell to pay.
22. She Sought Her Mother’s Help
Whatever Mariamne thought of her mother—probably not much—she needed her help if she wanted to bring Herod to justice for the slaying of her brother. So, Mariamne’s mother sent a letter to the Romans seeking justice. But unfortunately for Mariamne and her mother, the plot to go over Herod’s head was about to backfire on them both.
23. She Was Left Behind
Herod left Judea for Rome to stand trial. But, despite what Mariamne might have thought of him, he was no fool. Herod must have suspected that Mariamne and her mother had set a trap for him in Rome so he set a trap of his own. When he set sail for Rome, Herod once again left Mariamne in the company of his mother and sister—because, you know, that went so well the last time. This time, the in-law drama would draw blood.
24. Her Husband Was Suspicious Of Her
When Herod set sail for Rome, he placed the care of his wife in the hands of his sister’s husband, Joseph. Herod also left his accomplice, uh I mean brother-in-law, with a very clear set of instructions for the care of his wife. Instead of things like what she liked to eat and how to massage her feet properly, Herod left behind something more akin to an insurance policy.
25. Her Husband Laid A Trap
Herod explained to Joseph that he loved his wife dearly. He loved her so dearly, in fact, that, if things didn’t go his way in Rome, he just couldn’t bear the thought of Mariamne moving on and marrying someone else. Herod explained that if he met his demise in Rome, Joseph had to do something absolutely chilling for him: Ensure that Mariam would meet hers in Judea.
26. She Knew Something Was Up
Mariamne was no slouch when it came to Machiavellian politics—she was, after all, from the feuding dynasty to end all feuding dynasty. So, when Mariamne began hearing rumors that the Romans had executed Herod for the unlawful slaying of her brother, she knew something wasn’t right. But suspicions weren’t enough. If there was a plot afoot, she had to get to the bottom of it.
27. She Uncovered A Plot
Mariamne confronted Joseph—her would-be executioner—with her suspicions. The simple man just couldn’t bear the burden anymore. Joseph threw himself on the mercy of Mariamne and told the queen everything. Mariamne was beside herself with rage but she had to wait for Herod to return to get her revenge. And she would have had it, if it hadn’t been for her pesky in-laws!
28. Her In-Laws Plotted Against Her
Herod sailed back to Judea and to a world of fallout from Joseph’s nuclear revelation. Salome—Joseph’s wife and Herod’s sister—had been pining for a new husband for a while. And, in this shocking turn of events, she saw the latest drama as a golden opportunity. Salome told her brother, King Herod, that Joseph had a reason for ratting out his plan to Mariamne. And her revelation was utterly chilling.
29. A Dark Rumor Swirled
Salome accused her husband (and her brother’s number one accomplice) Joseph of a scandalous act. According to Salome, Joseph spilled the beans because he was having a romantic affair with our girl Miramne. When he heard this accusation, Herod reacted about as viciously as you’d expect. Buckle up, friends, because things are about to go nuts.
30. She Manipulated Her Husband
Mariamne managed to convince her husband that Salome was lying. All she had to do was bat her pretty eyelashes and whisper sweet-nothing into his ear. But Joseph, poor fella, wasn’t about to get off that easily. Despite absolving his wife of any wrongdoing, Herod had Joseph executed. Mariamne escaped her in-laws schemes unscathed. This time.
31. Her Life Was Looking Good Until…
After their little spat, everything was going swimmingly for Judea’s royal family. Mariamne and Herod seemed to be happy, despite their in-laws’ constant schemes and Herod’s explosive episodes of jealousy. And then a new emperor came into power in Rome and Herod had to take another trip across the Mediterranean, leaving his wife alone and very vulnerable.
Can you see where this is going? Hint: Nowhere good.
32. She Had An Evil Babysitter
Instead of leaving Mariamne with his mother and sister—because they would probably have clawed each other to ribbons by the time he got back—Herod decided to separate them. Herod left Mariamne and her mother in the care of a man named Sohemus. But once again, Herod had left Mariamne’s babysitter with a very clear set of instructions. They took Herod’s last creepy goodbye note and upped the ante to a terrifying degree.
33. Her Husband Loved Her Dearly
Perhaps fearful that Mariamne still resented him what he had done to her brother, Herod repeated the mistakes of his past. Once again citing his undying love for his wife, Herod told Sohemus that if anything were to happen to him, then Mariamne would have to suffer the same fate. But this time, he also said that Mariamne’s mother would also have to pay the price.
This turned out to be the fatal decision that cost Mariamne everything.
34. She Had A Bad Grampa
Mariamne’s grandfather—the same one who had sold her off for an army—had been laying low for a while. But when he poked his head out, he made a move that would endanger Mariamne’s life. The old ruler—clearly off his game by now—tried to overthrow Herod while he was away. Not that this guy ever cared, but his actions put Mariamne in real danger.
35. Her Husband Was A Lumberjack
Herod brushed Mariamne’s grandfather off like sand from his toga. And if he thought that being the queen’s grandfather was going to save him, he was sorely mistaken. Herod had Mariamne’s grandfather executed. Mariamne certainly didn’t care for her grandfather—he had pawned her off—but she couldn’t stand idly by as her husband lopped off entire branches from her family tree.
36. She Had Suffered Enough
Mariamne was now onto her husband’s games. She inveigled her way into Sohemus’ good graces and pumped him for information. Once again, Mariamne managed to convince her keeper to tell her everything. Sohemus confessed Herod’s orders in a bid to convince her that her husband truly did love her—albeit in a delusional way. This was the last straw. Herod had slain her brother, executed her grandfather and played games with her life. She was furious.
37. She Made Her Husband Sleep On The Couch
Herod returned from kissing the feet of the Romans in Rhodes. When his ships came ashore, he arrived to a particularly angry wife. Mariamne shunned her husband and hit him where it hurt—the bedroom. She refused to sleep with the man and made absolutely no effort to conceal the depths of her hatred for him. If she had ever loved him, she certainly didn’t now.
38. Her In-Laws Laid A Trap
Mariamne’s ever-plotting in-laws saw the distance between her and her husband as an opening. Herod’s mother and sister began whispering tales of betrayal in Herod’s ear once again. They tried to convince Herod that Mariamne had carried on an affair with her keeper Sohemus while he had been away. And, they claimed, Mariamne’s betrayal didn’t end there.
39. She Went Too Far
The first time that her in-laws accused Mariamne of infidelity, she simply shooed away the accusations like they were nothing. No, this time, they had to go big or go…scampering away to Parthia? The sister and mother of Herod accused Mariamne of plotting to poison him. This, Herod just couldn’t ignore.
40. Her Friend Were Loyal
Herod knew better than to trust the word of his mother and sister. So, he did his own “research.” Herod had Mariamne’s favorite eunuch kidnapped and tormented for information. But even under the duress of tremendous pain, he denied that Mariamne was plotting against him. All he could say was that she was angry with him for his frighteningly obsessive behavior. Oh yeah, and for offing her grandfather and brother. That was rude.
41. She Was On Thin Ice
Despite there now being no evidence that Mariamne was plotting against him, Herod just couldn’t shake those voices in his head. You know the ones, Salome and Cypros. Mariamne, for her part, might have miscalculated just how manipulative her in-laws could be. Because what Herod did next must have taken even her by surprise.
42. She Was Taken By Surprise
Regardless of what Mariamne had or hadn’t done, Herod was furious at Sohemus. The man he had entrusted with his clandestine orders against his wife just couldn’t keep a secret. So, you know, he just had to have him executed. But somehow that just didn’t slake his anger. He decided that he would have to deal with the problem and eradicate his own bride.
43. She Stood Accused
We might never know if Herod really have a fanatical love for Mariamne or if he just kept her in the vice grip of his Machiavellian schemes. Either way, Mariamne did not anticipate her husband’s next move. Before she could even say, “Not guilty,” Herod had his wife placed on trial for sedition. If she was hoping for a sympathetic jury…she was mistaken.
44. She Had No Peers
Up until now, Mariamne had done an excellent job of manipulating her husband. And Herod wasn’t about to take the chance of the jury falling under the manipulations of his beautiful queen. He stacked the jury against his wife. Mariamne’s chances of getting out her trial alive looked slim…at best. And they were about to get worse.
45. Her Mother Sealed Her Fate
Mariamne’s trial was destined to be a sham but things got interesting when an unexpected witness took the stand. Mariamne’s mother, Alexandra, decided to continue on in the old family tradition of coups, betrayals and generational vendettas. Mariamne’s own mother, matriarch of the fading dynasty, accused her daughter of plotting to poison Herod. Her fate was sealed.
46. Her Husband Executed Her
Mariamne probably never loved Herod—he had just been a sometimes-useful pagan. But she probably couldn’t have imagined that Herod—who professed to love her so much that he had to have her even in the afterlife—could ever harm her himself. But after her guilty verdict, Herod had no choice. He had Mariamne, the great beauty of antiquity, executed.
47. She Was Sweet As Honey
In case Mariamne ever doubted her husband’s devotion to her, if she had seen what he did after her execution, she would have no doubts at all. Overcome with grief, Herod had Mariamne’s body preserved…in honey. For seven years after her execution. Believe it or not, that’s not even the strangest part of Mariamne’s post-execution story.
48. She Was Treated Like An Animal
If you’ve ever heard the term “deed of Herod” then you know what comes next. Otherwise, brace yourself. As if Mariamne hadn’t suffered enough indignities at the hands of her husband in life, his cruel and misguided treatment of her continued into the hereafter. There are reports that Herod kept Mariamne’s honey-glazed body for the express purpose of fulfilling “animalistic desires.”
49. Her Husband Offed Their Children
In her lifetime, Mariamne managed to give birth to two sons with her husband, Herod. But if she went to the executioner with the expectation that she had ensured the survival of the Hasmonean dynasty, she was wrong. After Herod executed Mariamne, he went after their two sons and executed them both. Poor Mariamne. Poor, poor blessed Mariamne.
50. Her Ex Got What Was Coming
Herod suffered from paranoid delusions, rage, and arteriosclerosis, but his death in 4 BCE came at the hands of a mysterious and agonizing illness which modern doctors are still not able to identify. At one point, the pain was so excruciating, the king attempted suicide. The illness came to be known, among the Judean people, as “Herod’s Evil.” Karma: It’s real, people.