About two thousand years ago, when the state of Judea was under the heel of Roman rule, and was divided into five provinces with Jewish control of “home affairs” only, there was a great deal of unrest and political intrigue going on in this war-torn little state.

The lovely heroine of our story, the princess Mariamne, was an innocent victim of this sad state of affairs. She was one of the last members of the royal family of the Hasmoneans, and her mother, Queen (Salome) Alexandra, and her grandfather, Hyrcanus, used her in an attempt to keep the power of the country in the hands of the Hasmoneans.

At that time, Herod, the governor of Galilee, had courted favor with the Roman emperor and was crowned by him, in Rome, as king of Judea. Herod returned to Judea at the head of a Roman army, to destroy Antigonos, the Hasmonean heir to the throne.

In three years of bitter fighting the Romans captured Judea and Jerusalem, took Antigonos prisoner, and slaughtered many thousands of Jews. When Queen Alexandra saw how dangerous the situation was, she offered her daughter, Mariamne, to Herod in marriage.

Princess Mariamne was a beautiful girl with a most noble character. But, despite her horror at the thought of becoming the wife of the cruel Herod, her feelings of respect for her mother and grandfather, and her loyalty to her people, made her put aside her own feelings and sacrifice herself for their sakes.

Herod was overjoyed at his good fortune, for not only had he fallen in love with the beautiful Mariamne, but by his marriage to her he would become a member of the royal Hasmonean house and be able to carry out his schemes of destroying them from within.

Mariamne was revolted by her husband’s heartless murder of most of the members of her family in order to satisfy his selfish ambitions, and she showed him quite clearly her disgust of him. Yet, despite this, Herod was madly in love with his wife.

Still, even his love for his wife did not stop Herod from carrying out his ugly schemes. To avoid any chance of competition, Herod appointed an unimportant person to the sacred office of high priest instead of his wife’s brother Aristobulus, who was as beautiful and noble as his sister Mariamne. Alexandra, their mother, then asked Cleopatra, the powerful queen of Egypt, and Anthony, the ruler of the Romans, to intervene with Herod on her son’s behalf. Despite all of Alexandra’s efforts, it was finally Mariamne who persuaded Herod to depose the other man and appoint Aristobulus to the position of high priest.

Herod, however, was not content to leave things this way, and so, during a festival held in Jericho, he hired some young men to keep the high priest under the water whilst he was bathing, until he drowned, and then have it appear that it was an accident. Although Herod pretended to be full of sorrow and mourning at the tragic death of his brother-in-law, everyone knew that he was the murderer. Alexandra and Mariamne showed him openly that they held him responsible. Alexandra even succeeded in having Herod called before a Roman court to answer for the crime, but through bribery and his smooth tongue, he escaped blame or punishment.

Before Herod left for Rome, he arranged with his sister’s husband, Joseph, that should he be proved guilty and not return from Rome, then Joseph was to kill Mariamne and her children, for if anything was to happen to Herod, he did not want anyone else to get his lovely wife Mariamne.

Joseph was charmed by Mariamne, and told her of his unpleasant mission. This, naturally, only increased her hatred of Herod, and she told him so when he came back from Rome.

Joseph’s admiration for Mariamne made his wife, Salome, jealous. And so, to get her revenge on both, she told her brother Herod that a friendship existed between his Mariamne and Joseph. Herod ordered his brother-in-law Joseph to be killed, without even trying to find out if his sister’s accusation was true or false, but his love for Mariamne was too strong to punish her.

The next time Herod had to go away, he again left a man to guard and watch Mariamne, and to kill her and her children should he not return. When Herod came back, his sister again tried to make trouble for Mariamne, and this time, alas, she succeeded. Salome told Herod that Mariamne was planning to poison him, and in a mad rage he had her tried by men of his tribunal, and though she was quite innocent, they had her condemned to death.

When Herod realized what this meant, he tried in vain to have the verdict changed, but Salome did not rest until the death penalty was carried out. Herod was heartbroken; nothing could comfort him for the loss of his lovely wife. For seven years he refused to have her body buried, and held it, embalmed, in his palace. Afterwards, he became so melancholy and despondent, nothing interested him or could arouse any enthusiasm in him for living. He tried hard to forget his trouble by going hunting and banqueting, but nothing helped.

Herod built new cities and erected temples and palaces. He also named a tower in honor of Mariamne. Herod’s only worthwhile achievement was his rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem, which he made into a most magnificent edifice. This he did in order to win favor in the eyes of the Jews. But otherwise, his hands were stained with the blood of his many victims, which included every member of the royal house of the Hasmoneans.

Thus, with the death of the noble and lovely Mariamne ended the glorious history of the Hasmonean high priest Mattathias and his descendants.