Salome Alexandra of Judea
Salome Alexandra of Judea
Salome's story is a tale of diplomacy, of managing the constant of royal leadership, and of resisting attacks from outside armies as well as from members of hero wn family. She is remembered as the last independent ruler of her country, Judea, during the period just before the countries of the mediterrenean were conquered by Rome.
Salome alexandra was born in 140 BC. Not musch is known of her girlhood. Her judean name was Shelamzion, which is translated as Salome. Her Greek name was Alexandra, after Alexander the Great, who bruoght his Greek armies to the region nearly 200 years earlier. Like many people of her time, Salome lived amid her family and clan and spoke their language, Aramaic. She was also versed in the Hellenistic culture and Greek language that united the many lands around the Mediterrenean Sea, including the nearby empires of Egypt and Syria.
From what historians can piece together, it seems Salome Alexandra first married in her late twenties. Her choice of husband- Aristobulus, the eldest son of the native ruler of Judea-led her both to royal life and to the beginning of her family problems. Aristobulus was intensely ambitious. When his father the king died in 104 BC, he willed the country to Aristobulus' mother. But his eldest son would have none of it. He imprisoned his mothers, starved her to death, and jailed three of his brothers.
In this brutal way, Judea became his, and Salome became reigning queen. Just a year later, though, Aristobulus died of a mysterious disease. As Salome performed the proper funeral rites over him, she learned that he had bequeathed the kingdom to her.
Salome was faced with another complicated decision: should she rule by herself or share the throne? She released the three royal brothers from jail and chose the eldest of them to be king and high priest. His name was Alexander Janneus. She married him and continued her life as queen.
Her second husband, Alexander, was a tough man to live with. He was mean-tempered and he drank too much. He was fond of raiding and pillaging nearby citie, and he was cruel to his own people. He reigned for twenty-seven years. The historian Josephus tells us that as much as people hated Alexander, they adored Salome, and considered her wise, kind, strong and reliable, decent, fair, and a person of good judgement. It's possible that during Alexander's long rule, the people didn't rise to overthrow him because they loved Salome so much.
In 76 BC, Alexander was on his deathbed. He called Salome close and bequethed the kingdom to her, returning the favor she had granted him twenty-seven years before.
Alexander presented Salome with a plan: "Conceal my death until, under your command, the soldiers will have won this battle we are now fighting. March back to the capitol Jerusalem and hold a Victory. I have oppressed many people, and they now hate me. Make peace with them. Tell them you will include their leaders as advisors in your government. Finally, when you return to Jerusalem, send for the leading men. Show them my dead body and give it over to them. Let them defile it, if they wish, or honor me with a proper burial. The choice will be theirs, And then, they will support you." Quite a beginning for the new reigning queen.
Salome: The New Reigning Queen
As queen, ruling from her palace in Jerusalem, Salome faced immediate challenges from her family once more, this time from her two grown sons. Salome anointed her oldest son, Hyrcanus, a quieter and more private sort of man, to be high priest. Hebrew religious law forbade woman from overseeing the Temple and performind the animal sacrifices, so although she was queen, she couldn't be high priest, as her husband had been. Her younger son, named Aristobulus after Salome's first ruthless husband, was a much bigger problem. Like his father, he was very ambitious. He wanted Salome's throne from the start. Soon he would rise against her.
True to her promises and King Alexander's plan, Salome delegated the domestic affairs and a good deal of the power over the nation's religious life to the elders of Judea. This helped to end the civil war that had simmered under her husband's rule, during which he had killed a great many of the elder's group. Still, the remaining elders wanted revenge. Before salome could stop them, they slit the throat of one of Alexander's ringleaders, Diogenes, and set out to find more.
The ambitious son Aristobulus used the growing violence to threaten his mother's reign. After the revenge killings, Aristobulus led a delegation of men to Salome's throne. They demanded she put a stop to the killings. If she could do so, they promised they would not avenge the recent murders. They would keep the country from decesnding into a spiral of violence. In return for keeping the peace, aristobulus demanded his mother give him several of the family frotresses strung throughout the dessert from Jerusalem to the Jordan River.
Salome negotiated a deal. She kept the majority of the fortresses for herself, including those that housed her royal treasure, but she gave a few to aristobulus. Seeking to push him far from her capitol, she dispatched him on a small military mission to Damascus.
Salome's Challenge with Tigranes
As Salome dealt with the situation at home, another problem was brewing outside of Judea. The country's northern neighbo, Syria, was very weak. The Seleucid dynasty that has once controlled the entire region was in its last days. Taking advantage of this weakness, King Tigranes of Armenia decescended on Syria with a massive army of a half million soldiers, quickly taking over Syria's cities. Tigranes trapped the Syrian queen, Cleopatra Selene, in the city of Ptolemias, on the Mediterrenean coast.
Ptolemias was not far from Salome's city of Jerusalem. Terrible news of the siege reached Salome quickly, as did the rumor that Tigranes planned to march on Judea next. Salome knew that despite her large army of merceneries and native soldiers, she could not beat Tigranes.
Rather than ready her troops for war, Queen Salome took a different stance. She sent her ambassadors to meet with King Tigranes, and sent along with them many camels loaded with extraordinary treasure. Tigranes agreed not to attack. Luck was on salome's side, because another army had begun to attack Armenia. Instead of marching south toward Jerusalem, Tigranes had to turn north to defend his own people back home.
The Leaving of Aristobulus
That episode, and the years of strife leading up to it, wore Salome down. She was over seventy, and her health was beginning to fail. she had outlived two husbands, she faced attacks from outsiders, and her youngest son continued to undermine her authority from within.
Sensing her final frailty. Aristobulus planned a coup. He had been angry that Salome negotiated a peace with King Tigranes. Had it been up to him, he would have led their soldiers to battle. He knew she was near death and he suspected that she would bequeath the throne to his older brother, who was already the high priest.
Secretly, Aristobulus left the family palace in Jerusalem. He rode his horse through the countryside, and at each city and village he asked the people to forswear their allegiance to Queen Salome and pledge their loyalty to him.
Salome gathered her last ounce of strength and decided to take harsh action against her son. She imprisoned his wife and children- much as her first husband had done to his relatives. She stashed them in a fortress next to the Temple where Hyrcanus the keys to the treasury and directed him to take command of her army.
Queen Salome's Later life and Death
Salome Alexandra died soon thereafter in 67 BC, before Aristobulus could strike against her. She was seventy-three, had reigned for nine years as her people's only independent queen, and she died a natural death. Salome took part in great in no great battles. She commanded no stunning ships on the sea. She merely did her best to keep peace at home and to keep stronger armies at bay.
Queen Salome was so admiredthat for many generations, hers was one of the two most popular names that Judean people would give to their baby daughters (including one infamous Salome who appears in the New Testament). She couldn't have known that she would be the only Judean queen, and that this era of independent states was about to end.
In the year Salome died, across the sea in Italy an empire was growing. The Roman general Pompey was fighting the pirates who controlled the Mediterrenean. He cleared them out and made it safe once again to cross the vast waters by boat. By 64 BC, Pompey forged his soldiers into battalions and started his eastward trek. He took control of Syria later that year, and of Judea the year after. Soon, all of western Asia was under Rome's hand, and the era of Queen Salome the diplomat was a distant memory.