Herod Antipas is known mostly as the Herod for whom Salome danced and who ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded.
Herod Antipas ruled Galilee in Jesus’ time. He succeeded his father, Herod the Great, and served as tetrarch (appointed by the emperor Augustus to rule over one quarter of his father’s kingdom) from 4 B.C. until 39 A.D., almost exactly the lifetime of Jesus. Yet, there is relatively little about Antipas in the Bible, and according to Biblical scholar Morten Hørning Jensen, in the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Herod Antipas’s relationship to Jesus is somewhat vague and indecisive.
So what can archaeology tell us about this not-so-great Herod?
Unlike his father, Antipas was not much of a builder. Although he founded cities and may have built theaters at Sepphoris and Tiberias, they were relatively small compared to the later Roman-period structures that can be seen there today.
Even the coins that Herod Antipas minted were relatively few and simple—especially compared with those of his co-tetrarch brother Herod Philip. Unlike his brother, he took care not to offend the religious sensibilities of his Jewish subjects with graven images and pagan temples.
And even while poverty was a fact of life for some in first-century Galilee, archaeological surveys and excavations show that the region in general was thriving economically under Antipas, even in the rural areas. As Jensen explains, this does not match earlier proposals of a devastating urban elite’s exploitation of a uniformly poor peasant population. Despite his enigmatic and sometimes inimical depiction in the New Testament, Antipas seems to have been a fairly passive but successful ruler of Galilee.
For more about what we know of Herod Antipas in the Bible and archaeological finds indicating how he ruled Galilee in Jesus’ time, see Morten Hørning Jensen, “Antipas—The Herod Jesus Knew,” in the September/October 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
The Galilee is one of the most evocative locales in the New Testament—the area where Jesus was raised and where many of the Apostles came from. Our free eBook, The Galilee Jesus Knew, focuses on several aspects of Galilee: how Jewish the area was in Jesus’ time, the ports and the fishing industry that were so central to the region, and several sites where Jesus likely stayed and preached.
Salome danced for Herod Antipas at Machaerus. Click here to read more about the Herodian palatial fortress where John the Baptist was beheaded.