July 5, 2008

Antipas and Sejanus

I've been going thru Tacitus & Dio backwards, looking for two things. One, I feel like I get a better view of developing trends with the benefit of hindsight. So the first 'thing' I'm looking for is just that - development in the situation. Ongoing 'plotlines' so to speak. The second thing I'm looking for is anything that could have affected Herod Antipas' level of confidence or apprehension about his own position. Here are my conclusions, so far:

Generally, I'm finding there were lots of reasons for powerful people to fear Tiberius. Even knowing that Tacitus pumps up the negativity on such things, the overall train of events is fairly overwhelming. Under Augustus, most powerful people weren't stupid enough to cross him. But under Tiberius, the Emperor's entire attitude, actions and style gave every Roman person of status a serious reason to fear for their lives - though of course, at times, some had more cause to fear than did others.

Even an eastern 'client ruler' like Antipas had to take serious notice, especially when Tiberius took over Cappadocia and Commagene (17/18 AD) and continued raising Rome's influence over Armenia & Thrace (18/19 AD). Antipas knew the history of the region and could see the general trend was ongoing assimilation, usually leading to takeover. The general trend in Rome seemed to be that Tiberius could put men down for any excuse whatsoever, and the sources are in agreement that people of that day - with few exceptions - saw no consistent way to assess whose position would or would not remain secure. Away from Rome, apparently, it was the same.

This brings me to my first simple conclusion, purposely understated (for now). If everyone of status was cautious about Tiberius to some degree, then Herod Antipas was cautious about Tiberius to some degree. The only real room for debate here should be the question of whether we can tell, practically speaking, just how cautious Antipas was - or should have been. This issue will require some work, to say the least.

The next important question is this: was there a change in the 'caution level' displayed by Herod Antipas during the rise to power of Aelius Sejanus? This question, of course, is similar (perhaps related) to studies of Pontius Pilate in the past 60 years to the point - was there a change in Pilate's governing behavior over Israel after Sejanus' fall? (Scholars generally agree that there was, but differ as to the details of why.) Now, asking this same question of Antipas is similar in some ways, but free from the debate about accusations of antisemitism leveled at Pilate & Sejanus since 1948. (For more, see the wonderful Introduction to Helen Bond's work on Pilate.) Either way one judges Pilate on antisemitism, he does seem to be more cautious after Sejanus' fall. (This is based largely, but not totally, on his behavior during the trial of Jesus in 33 AD.)

So Pilate gets more cautious after October, 31 AD. In my personal opinion, so does Antipas.

Therefore, the next series of questions must review scrutiny about Antipas' alleged relationship with Sejanus. Harold Hoehner (who wrote Herod Antipas) credited the accusations by Agrippa, but Dieter Hennig (who wrote in German on Aelius Seianus) gave them extremely slight regard. Of course, Hennig gave the complex system of allegations extremely slight attention, as well. So I'm inclined to feel that much more study should be done. (I can't read German, but I can read his index and scan the page, which shows that Antipas gets barely one whole paragraph in Hennig's entire book! A friend translated that paragraph for me, and I'm hoping to get a professional rendering soon. But without knowing German, I'll have to forgo saying much more on Hennig. Any help here, from folks "out there" would be hugely appreciated.)

The issues surrounding Agrippa's accusations (against Antipas, regarding Sejanus, reported to Caligula, in 39 AD, for personal gain, all of which is told by Josephus) are indeed complicated. They may defy mastery, but they shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. The fact that Antipas couldn't deny one part of it suggests that it may not have been all false, at least. For now, my only strong suggestion on this important topic is that it absolutely deserves much more attention by serious scholars - hopefully those much more qualified than myself to make valid assessments on the matter. But I'll definitely continue trying to spark their interest with my personal ideas! ;)

Because I'm just blogging here (and because of the obvious difficulties just mentioned), I'm going to also forgo further discussion of Agrippa's accusations (for now) and just introduce my own big thought on the larger issue at hand. I'm not even going to try and make this next statement well-refined, either. This is my gut.

Herod Antipas had to have some kind of alliance or personal agreement with Sejanus at least by 27/28 AD, because otherwise he never would have made such a boneheaded move as to break his marriage alliance with Nabatea at the risk of creating an instability which could infuriate Tiberius - and all merely for a newer or a younger wife!

No way. Instead, Antipas had to believe he was safe from whatever vindictive entreaties King Aretas would surely have sent to Rome on behalf of his poor rejected daughter. Why else could Antipas possibly decide this was a good, wise or safe move unless he believed Sejanus would protect him from Tiberius and put off any complaints from Aretas?

That is my basic hypothesis. There are yet more considerations.

What were the specific benefits or political advantages for Antipas in his decision to marry Herodias? It wasn't just so John the Baptist could have something else to yell about! It wasn't only (though I personally believe it was partly) so that God Almighty could manipulate Herod into getting John off the stage. And most of all, it can't possibly have been pure lust. That's the most ignorant idea of all. Antipas surely would not have switched marriages simply for physical passion, unless she held some special power to excite an old tetrarch, just pushing 50 in those years (which is conceivable, but unlikely). Herod wasn't that stupid, and as even the worst chauvinist would probably say, nobody's that good in bed, to throw away your whole kingdom. So the lust argument doesn't add up. Rather, since Herod Antipas' first marriage had been for political advantage, we should expect his second marriage to include the same consideration. To say the least, marriage to Herodias must have held some greater promise for the aging Antipas than a merely physical entanglement.

Far more likely, the motivation to wed Herodias must have been motivated at least partly because of Herodias' strong family connection to Antonia [through her mother, Bereniece]. Of Roman women at the time, none were more well connected at the very highest levels, and it could be argued no man either, including Sejanus, had a more secure position than Antonia's, given that Antonia was Augustus' niece, Tiberius' sister-in-law and mother of the widely beloved, departed Germanicus. Her grandsons were still greatly favored by the people of Rome, and even if their mother Agrippina ('the elder') was in jeopardy, Antonia herself remained above reproach regarding her daughter-in-law's various personal offenses.

Now, it's a bit odd to think someone in 27/28 AD could ally themselves with both Sejanus AND Antonia, especially as many already suspected that Tiberius' prefect was plotting to kill the royal matron's grandsons [Caligula's older brothers, who lasted until 30 and 33]. But despite the unlikelihood that anyone in Rome could forge both alliances, Antipas was based overseas! And the method of arranging one alliance by marriage and the other by the promise of mutual benefit was a uniquely crafty strategy, especially if the alliance with Sejanus was kept a secret (as Agrippa's revelation suggests that it was).

There is plenty of evidence to suggest Antipas was just cagey enough to pull this off.

The rest of Herod Antipas' political record is spotlessly impressive, and his 42 year rule holds no consequential mistakes. (None, that is, other than alienating his brother-in-law/nephew Agrippa in 32 AD. In fact, asking Caligula for the title of "King" is not what brought Antipas down - it was the letter from Agrippa that just happened to show up when Antipas was there with the Emperor.) Antipas' fatal error only came by underestimating a mooching, down-on-his-luck nephew, who was probably fighting depression and seeming very unimpressive - and this error took seven years to bear its bad fruit. There are no other mistakes in Antipas' entire career that came at any significant cost. To the point, Herod Antipas was very good at what he did, ruling longer even than his Great father. He would never have divorced the Nabatean without some insurance.

There is much more to say to extend Antipas' great credit as a governor. The tetrarch's major decisions and actions known to us through history show us a man who knew how to play the game of maintaining stability AND staying on the Emperor's good side. Two strong examples of cultivated stability are Antipas' constructions at Sepphoris and Tiberias, which were built as cosmopolitan enlargements to appease, keep occupied and make proud his own landed gentry - not merely for Antipas' pride or imperial flattery. Antipas knew unhappy upper class citizens were the downfall of his brother Archelaus and that happy, busy ones produced a good, steady tax flow and earned positive favor from Rome. In terms of Imperial favor, Antipas' later efforts to earn Tiberius' praise (in 36 AD) were set to pay dividends at the minor cost of losing Vitellius' good will - and that cost was only delay, until Tiberius suddenly died. [The Syrian Governor was dallying at Jerusalem just before Pentecost - not Passover - when word came of Tiberius' death, releiving Vitellius of his duty to attack Nabatea for Antipas, as ordered by Tiberius.] In perfect fact, Antipas would still have gotten his way perfectly, if slowly, if Tiberius had only lived a bit longer. So the point remains. Antipas knew how to manipulate things well enough at the highest levels to help ensure his own position.

In fact, the very beginnings of Herod Antipas' career - in the year's worth of events surrounding his father's death (5/4 BC) - required subtle and deft manipulation of tenuous and constantly changing dynamics. That Antipas in time proved to be vastly more successful than his brother Archelaus is not only foreseeable by Herod the Great's initial decision (6/5 BC) to give Antipas all Israel, but the talents and strategies Anitpas would use to effect his 42 years of success were already on display in the interplay of events between Jericho and Caesar's final audience in October of 4 BC. The fact that Antipas played his cards not only well but masterfully, and to maximum possible effect, is clearly evident if one but looks carefully.

In all these ways, Antipas proved himself again and again to be a wise, capable ruler, totally in control during all stages of his career. Barring that final surprise by the constantly unsatisfied Agrippa (whose rise to status was of such complex circumstances as to be unforseable), Antipas literally never made a single wrong move, spanning five decades of considerable change, both in Rome and the east. That no other ruler west of Parthia save Tiberius himself accomplished even nearly such a feat is incredibly impressive.

To even consider that such a man made one huge mistake by thinking with his groin - this not only defies all reasonable expectations, it may also betray a lack of focus on the situation. True, many writers assume Antipas and Sejanus were allied, but serious scholarly justification has yet to be produced, since Hoehner. And given Hennig's near dismissal of the relationship, further treatment seems to be very necessary. As far as I can tell, it has not been done. But if any reader has access to articles or other works I've somehow overlooked, please let me know.

It should also be noted that the argument attempted here, which advances beyond the conclusions of Hoehner's essential volume, is based primarily on the assumption that Antipas' first marriage was in fact an alliance with Nabatea, but this should be undeniable. How often does the ruler of a country marry the neighboring king's daughter and NOT forge a treaty from such an alliance, unless the action sparks a war instead?

My whole contention, then, is that there is no other reasonable way to explain Antipas' divorce of his longtime Arabian bride UNLESS the tetrarch has assurances from Sejanus that King Aretas would have no success in prosecuting the divorce and breach of treaty in Rome. Whether or not Aretas DID make such attempts [which of course, we have no record of] or MIGHT have made such attempts is not actually within the question. The only pertinent fact is that Aretas COULD have made such attempts, and so Antipas would have known to be prepared for that eventuality - especially during the political turmoil of those years, when Tiberius absolutely COULD have been expected to use any complaint as a pretext for claiming all of Galilee. We've already seen that the times were extremely dangerous for Roman nobles and foreign client rulers, equally. Without a deal before his divorce, Herod Antipas would have risked everything against the very large probability that Tiberius - sooner or later - WOULD take it from him.

Simply put, Herod Antipas was not such a man to take such a risk. Therefore, he must have felt there was no risk. Naturally, the only reliable barrier to any complaints from Aretas would have been Sejanus.

That is why Antipas simply must have made a deal with Sejanus.

The question of what Sejanus expected to get out of that deal is another issue for further study, but it may have something to do with (1) the military situation in the East [Tiberius was already keeping Lamia from the Syrian Legions and would not have allowed Sejanus anywhere near the Egyptian ones], (2) the proximity of Galilee to Rome's breadbasket (Egypt) and (3) the enormous cache of armor and weaponry Agrippa cited. So this armor - which Antipas did not deny the existence of, which Agrippa had the greatest opportunity to observe during his 'mooching' years from 29 to 32 AD, and which no one of Antipas' meager resources could have assembled (secretly) in any short period of time - may be precisely what Sejanus expected to receive from Antipas.

Of course, this final question must rest until a fuller treatment may be given. In fact, it may not be possible to conclude what, if anything, Sejanus would have expected from Antipas. It's even possible Sejanus would make such an alliance merely for unspecified favors to be named at some future time. But the armor creation as one step toward a military contingency plan is not entirely implausible, showing at least one reason why that the whole alliance is far from implausible from Sejanus' perspective.

Again, we may never know entirely all the reasons WHY Sejanus or Antipas made their alliance, but for all the reasons discussed here above, they simply must have done so.

Now, hopefully, someone more qualified than Bill Heroman will eventually level their scholarly efforts towards examining these claims and considerations with more academic rigor. But this is my contribution.

In the meantime, I will of course continue striving to improve my own efforts...

1 comment:

Bill said...

I actually meant to say at some point also that the advantages for Antipas of forging a connection with Antonia were still not enough, by themselves, to outweigh breaking the treaty with Aretas. Nor (as I said) would be simply 'falling in love'.

But today I'm looking again at the text in Josephus (18.111-ish) and I've had a new thought about the word 'brazen' (in the Loeb text). When Josephus says Antipas brazenly proposed, we assume that's because he was staying at her husband's (his half-brother's) house! And it was.

But what if 'brazen' is also a clue to the prepared business Anitpas had to accomplish in Rome? What if Sejanus had sent for Antipas, and sent the communication in such a way that Antipas could tell Sejanus wanted to form closer bonds for their mutual benefit - and what if Antipas was already beginning to consider what he could provide and what he might ask for in return?

It's possible he didn't know, before going to Rome, that Sejanus would make such an offer. But it's possible he did. If ignorant, Antipas' proposal was brazen in only one way; she added the condition of divorcing Phaeselis, and he said okay even though he wasn't sure yet that he would. But on returning from Rome, Antipas would have secured the alliance with Sejanus and thus protection from Aretas' revenge. But if, in Caesarea, Antipas already suspected Sejanus would offer a deal, then "brazen" could possibly refer in some secondary measure to the political invulnerability Antipas was already borrowing from his anticipated future.


At any rate, I still feel there must have been more to the marriage than personal attraction. Maybe Herod did "fall in love" with Herodias as Josephus said, but his proposal assumed the first wife would not be sent away. The high price of meeting Herodias' stipulation (to divorce the Nabatean) would surely have required Herod Antipas to look for more out of the deal than just a fun, new partner.

I've scoured Hoehner's book again and again, but I can't find any mention of these thoughts.

So at least, I guess, I'll keep thinking.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget