HEROD the Great was the one who put to death the infants at Bethlehem, in the vain attempt to destroy Christ. His previous life had been such as to fit him for such deeds of cruelty. Julius Csesar was assassinated in the senate at Rome, B. C. 44, after which the empire was divided among the new triumvirs, Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus. In this new division, Syria and the East fell to Antony, who was generally favorable to Herod, and aided him in his ambitious projects.  Phasael, Herod's elder brother, committed suicide. Herod, about this time, allied himself to one branch of the Maccabee family by marrying Mariamne, granddaughter of Hyreanus. 

Mariamne was remarkably beautiful, and it is said that Herod was very fond of her; yet nothing could save her from becoming the victim of his suspicious temper, as we shall see.

The other branch of the Asmonsean family, however, made Herod much trouble. Antigonus, a son of Aristobulus, having gained some successes, caused the ears of Hyreanus to be cut off, that, being mutilated, he might no longer be eligible to the office of high priest. He then compelled Herod to retreat to a fortress on the Dead Sea, called Massada, Herod then went to Rome, and having persuaded Antony and the senate that he was the only one who could restore order in Palestine, secured for himself the power and title of king. Returning to Judea, he put Antigonus to death, and the rule of the Asmonsean princes came to an end.  A quarrel having broken out between Antony and Octavius, Antony was defeated in battle, and about a year afterward, both he and hisbeautiful, yet unprincipled, paramour, Cleopatra, committed suicide in Egypt. Cleopatra was the last sovereign of Egypt, and the ancient kingdom of the Pharaohs and the Ptolemies now sunk into a Roman province. Octavius soon became emperor of Rome, and was called Caesar Augustus. This is the same Caesar Augustus from whom it is said in Luke 2:1 that there went out a decree that all the world should be taxed, thus showing the unlimited extent of his dominion.

Herod made Aristobulus, his wife's brother, high priest; but the young man was so pleasing in his manners that he became a great favorite among the people. This aroused the jealousy of Herod, who was in constant fear lest some member of the Asmonsean family should aspire to the throne. Accordingly, he invited Aristobulus to visit him at Jericho, where it was arranged that, while the young man was bathing in a fish-pond, some of the king's officers, under pretense of sport, should hold his head under water till he was drowned.

Having thus rid himself of one whom he feared might become his rival, he next arraigned Hyreanus, who was now eighty years old; and, under false pretext, had him put to death. Mariamne, appalled and alienated by these barbarous murders of her near relatives, was accused of plotting against her husband, and put to death by his orders. But the monster was not content with the murder of his wife. His two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, who were promising young men, and seemed to inherit through their mother something of the noble spirit of the Maccabees, fell under suspicion, and were strangled by order of their father. Great numbers of innocent persons were thus put to death; and these revolting acts of cruelty were continued till the time of our Saviour.