Mariamne the Hasmonean Mariamne l’Hasmonéenne Mariamne I was a Hasmonean Princess, known for her extraordinary beauty just like her brother, Aristobulus III of Judea. She was the second wife of Herod the Great, a marriage arranged by her mother Alexandra in 41 b.C. They were married in Samaria in 37 b.C. and had four children: […]
Mariamne the Hasmonean
Mariamne I was a Hasmonean Princess, known for her extraordinary beauty just like her brother, Aristobulus III of Judea.
She was the second wife of Herod the Great, a marriage arranged by her mother Alexandra in 41 b.C. They were married in Samaria in 37 b.C. and had four children: two sons and two daughters.
Her brother Aristobulus was very young and it is said that he was made high priest by Herod only upon Mariamne’s several requests, only to regret his decision and have him drowned the year later, aged eighteen.
After this questionable show of love and respect, Mariamne’s mother Alexandra wrote to her friend Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, begging for her assistance to avenge her son’s death, and Cleopatra turned to Mark Anthony.
The general summoned Herod so that he could defend himself from this accusation, and Herod left Mariamne in the care of his uncle Joseph, with very specific instructions: should the Romans find him guilty, Joseph was to kill Mariamne because she was too beautiful to stay a widower and his love for her was so great that he could not bear the thought of her remarrying. Or some other bullshit.
The uncle, however, eventually fell in love with the queen’s beauty and he spilt the bean on his nephew’s plan in hope that she would recount him. When rumours started circulating that Herod had indeed been proved guilty and killed by Anthony, Alexandra was able to convince Joseph not to kill her and to take both women to the Romans for protection. However, Herod had in fact been released and was informed of the plot by his sister Salomè, who also tried to convince him that Mariamne had slept with his uncle.
Herod dismissed these accusations but was ultimately convinced when he discovered that his wife knew about his order to kill her because it’s easier to turn the table on your wife, and claim she’s being unfaithful, than to own up to the fact that you were prepared to have her murdered.
He executed Joseph and locked up Alexandra, but still stayed with his wife. A beautiful friendship, as you might expect, had bloomed between the wife and the sister, Mariamne and Salomé, who hated each other’s guts by now.
When Herod visited Augustus in Rhodes, in 31 b.C., he left Salomé and his sons in Masada and transferred his wife and mother-in-law to Alexandrium, so that they would not meet, and again he gave instructions that they had to be killed should anything happened to him.
Again the women were able to earn their captor’s trust, a man named Sohemus, because apparently, no one could keep their mouth shut in ancient times as well. Second time’s a charm, and Mariamne finally realizes that maybe, just maybe, Herod doesn’t love her. When the king comes back, she refuses him her bed, and this is bound to create some dissatisfaction in the king.
Heeding Salome’s advice, Herod has Mariamne’s favourite eunuch tortured in order to understand whether it’s true that his wife tried to have him poisoned as Salomè claims. The eunuch knows nothing of this, nothing but the fact that the queen is angry with the king because he’s constantly trying to have her killed.
Mariamne stands trial for treason, after eight years of marriage in which her husband has openly tried to kill her twice. Her own mother turns against her, to save her own skin, and testifies implying that Mariamne was even plotting to cut off the king’s most precious possessions. Yeah, you got that right.
This scares the crap out of Herod, as you might expect, and Mariamne is convicted and executed in 29 b.C.
The bullshit doesn’t stop here.
It is said that Herod grieved her deeply, enough to find time to execute both her sons in 7 b.C.
After her death, Herod keeps her body preserved in honey for seven years, in the Jerusalem Tower named after her: the Talmud dubs necrophily “the deed of Herod” in honour of what came out of this practice. She couldn’t even get a break after death.
Mariamne is remembered in De Mulieribus Claris by Giovanni Boccaccio (1361-62) and she’s at the centre of many dramas, like The Tragedy of Mariam, the Faire Queene of Jewry, wrote in 1613 by the English poet and historian Elizabeth Cary, Viscountess Falkland. Later notable works include a drama by Voltaire, written in 1723.
De Scudery has her writing to Herod himself.
Tomorrow I’ll show you one of my favourite paintings of her.