What happens when you want power so badly that you will literally do anything to get it? Meet Aristobulus II.

Aristobulus II was the youngest son of Alexander Yannai and Salome Alexandra and was very ambitious. He planned to wrest power from his mother, but she died before his plans went into action. Then, when his older brother Hyrcanus II was named king, Aristobulus goes to battle against him. Less than a year into Hyrcanus’ reign, Aristobulus’ army routed him in Jericho. In 66 BCE, Aristobulus II becomes king and high priest. He is painted in the source as powerful and strong (as opposed to his older brother who is portrayed as weak). After Aristobulus became king, the fighting between the brothers did not cease.

Hyrcanus allied himself with the Nabateans and they continued to launch forays against Aristobulus. Always looking for bigger backers, the two brothers independently appealed to Rome, sending gifts to one of Pompey’s generals, Scaurus, who was in charge of the (former) Seleucid region. The Romans, however, turned out to be a fickle partner for Aristobulus and would prove to be not only his undoing, but the undoing of the entire Hasmonean project of the Jewish state. Scaurus was initially swayed by Aristobulus’ gift of 400 talents and backed Aristobulus, propping up his rule.

When Pompey himself arrived shortly thereafter, events took a turn against the Jewish king. Aristobulus thought he would further ingratiate himself to the Romans by sending an even larger gift to Pompey – a golden vine worth 500 talents. Pompey was not impressed and refused to give any decision on which of the brothers should rule. Aristobulus was incensed and stormed out of the meeting, holing up in his fortress, Sartaba. Pompey gauged that this hothead would never give up his ambition and sent troops to siege the fortress and force the surrender of Aristobulus. When the Jewish king saw that there was no hope to hold out, he raised the white flag, and came to the general’s camp. He promised the Romans everything – gold, and even Jerusalem, if they would stop their intervention. But the genie was out of the bottle. Rome turned on Jerusalem, capturing the city and the Temple Mount, ending the rule of Aristobulus in 63 BCE, and dismantling the independence of the Jewish state.

Dome of the Rock – Temple Mount

The Hasmoneans continued to have power, but they would never return to the glory of the earlier rulers. Hyrcanus, considered weak and therefore more likely to be loyal to the Romans, was reinstated as the high priest; the reins of government, though, would be in the hands of the Romans.

And as for Aristobulus, he was carted off to Rome to be paraded as a captive in a triumphal march celebrating Pompey in 61 BCE. Even that, though, would not stop his ambition. In 56 BCE, he escaped from Roman prison and started on a journey back to Judea, but was recaptured and returned to Roman prison. Julius Ceasar released him in 49 BCE, noting his capacity for leadership, and sent him at the head of 2 Roman legions against his nemesis, Pompey. Aristobulus was once again heading to the Levant. Alas, on his way to the battle, he was poisoned by his Roman friends and died.

Aristobulus was so power-hungry he was willing to sell every sacred cow to further his own ends. Miracles of Hanukkah were erased during his short reign as he relied more on the Romans than on his co-patriots. In the end, that policy resulted in not only the destruction of the Jewish kingdom, but also the destruction of Aristobulus himself.

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