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Magi paying homage to Jesus.

Political Landscape of the Nativity of Jesus


To paint the canvas around the time of the birth of Jesus, one needs to examine the unfolding political landscape of Judea a generation before Jesus’ birth. By 40 BC, Judea was under Parthian rule and Antigonus II Mattathias (of Hasmonean descent) was the designated king of Judea. He was pro-Parthian and anti-Roman. Antigonus had to ‘convince’ the Parthians that he was the right man for the job by paying them large sums of gold and 500 female slaves. In exchange he attained the kingdom of Judea and 500 Parthian soldiers on loan to defend his kingdom. Herod, the Roman appointed military governor of Galilee at that time, had fled to Rome from his stronghold at Masada, when the Parthians conquered Jerusalem, but by 40 BC, Rome nominated Herod as king of Judea and dispatched him back.  The problem was, there was already a king on the throne in Judea – Antigonus II – the Parthian favorite.

Antigonus II Mattathias was the son of King Aristobulus II of Judea. (Public Domain)

Antigonus II Mattathias was the son of King Aristobulus II of Judea. (Public Domain)

Ventidius Roman Conqueror

To solve this predicament, Roman general Publius Ventidius Bassus was dispatched to Judea to rid the province of any remaining Parthians as well as the anti-Roman King Antigonus and restore Herod to the throne. However, Ventidius had other plans. Instead, he bypassed Herod’s family who were besieged by the troops of Antigonus at Masada and proceeded straight to Jerusalem, where he camped outside the walls. Ventidius was conducting a psychological warfare by leading Antigonus to believe that he was going to take Jerusalem. Ventidius applied fear and trickery, promising not to attack Jerusalem in exchange for vast amounts of wealth from the king. Jerusalem was being ransomed and Antigonus capitulated to the demands of Ventidius. When Ventidius’ coffers were filled, he took the bulk of his forces and headed back to Syria to fight the Parthians.  He beat them at the Battle of the Cilician Gates and the Amanus Pass in 39 BC.

Model of the northern palace of Masada (Berthold Werner / Public Domain)

Model of the northern palace of Masada (Berthold Werner / Public Domain)

Ventidius had left commander Poppaedius Silo in charge of Judea to deal with the Jewish problem and to await the arrival of Herod.  However, Antigonus attempted to bribe Silo multiple times in an attempt to buy time and in the hope that the Parthians would come to his assistance, while he kept the Romans at bay.


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Cam Rea is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including:  The Wars of Israel: A Military History of Ancient Israel from the End of Judges to Solomon

Top Image: Magi paying homage to Jesus. (CC0)

By   Cam Rea

Cam Rea's picture

Cam Rea

Cam Rea is a Military Historian and currently the Associate Editor/Writer at Strategy & Tactics Press. Mr. Rea has published several books and written numerous articles for Strategy & Tactics Press and Classical Wisdom Weekly. His most current publication is... Read More

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