Herod was the name of various rulers in and around Judea, the first of which was Herod the Great. He was appointed king of the Roman province of Judea in 36 BC, ruling until 4 BC, around the time of Jesus’ birth. Herod the Great remained loyal to Rome throughout his reign, maintaining favor and peace with generous gifts. He also sought to please the Jews, claiming to be a convert to Judaism himself, and undertook various building projects across Judea, particularly the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. But despite this, Herod was a harsh, violent ruler. He presumably suffered from depression and paranoia, which prompted him to have three of his sons – and the mother of two of them – killed. During his final days, he made plans for an extravagant funeral. He died after a long bout of agonizing illness.

After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided into three regions, each ruled by one of his sons:

Archelaus was called an ethnarch (“ruler of the people”), taking over half of his father’s kingdom and ruling over the descendants of Abraham (Jews, Samaritans, Idumeans). Antipas and Philip II were called tetrarchs (“ruler of a quarter”), dividing the other half of the kingdom between them.

One of Herod the Great’s grandsons also became a ruler. After Herod had his son Aristobulus executed, his grandson – Herod Agrippa – was raised in the imperial court of Rome. By winning the favor of successive emperors, Agrippa was granted his uncles’ territories one at a time, beginning in 37 AD, eventually acquiring his grandfather’s entire kingdom.