The relative peace, fragile as it was, did not last. The trouble began in Rome, and spread to Syria, and from there, to Judea. Julius Caesar was murdered. The event is so well known, there is hardly a need to describe it here, but one of the men involved, Cassius, became extremely important to the affairs in Judea, since unfortunately he did not share Caesar’s good opinion of the country.
The disturbance in Syria was also threatening to Judea. A man named Bassus Caecilius formed a plot against Sextus Caesar, Herod’s great friend, and unfortunately, succeeded in murdering him. He took over some of the Sextus’ army and made himself the ruler of the country. Sextus generals of both infantry and cavalry marched against him, and a terrible war broke over a large part of Syria.
Antipater, Herod, and Phasael sent reinforcements immediately, not only because of a natural desire to revenge the death of a friend, but also because Antipater anticipated trouble as soon as he heard about Caesar’s assassination. But more was needed, and Cassius soon arrived there to return Syria to the hands of the Romans. He defeated Bassus, but instead of adhering to the previous policy of Rome toward the area, he started a reign of terror. To begin with, he demanded
an enormous amount of money from every city in Syria, in addition to delivery of soldiers and arms. But he did not stop at Syria. The sum he demanded from Judea was staggering.
Antipater stepped in and made a heroic effort to organize the taxes and the relationship with Cassius. He divided the country into three sections. Each of his sons was responsible for a third, and another man, Malichus, was given the responsibility for gathering money from the last part. Antipater thought of Malichus as an efficient organizer, and trusted him to do the job; he did not know that Malichus was both hostile and fearful of him.
Herod was the first to collect the money for Cassius and deliver it promptly; by doing so, and also by exercising his considerable charm, he even managed to establish a friendly relationship with Cassius. By doing so, he saved his people from the fate of those under Malichus. Clearly, Malichus was not the organizer Antipater thought him to be, and he acted idiotically by not only resisting payment, but attacking Cassius with his army. Naturally Cassius defeated Malichus, and then sold every official in Malichus’ domain to slavery. He planned to execute Malichus, but at the last minute Hyrcanus intervened – of course through Antipater’s diplomacy – and saved Malichus’ life by sending a huge sum of money of his own to Cassius.
This act of kindness turned out to be a horrible mistake. As soon as Malichus was released, he started hatching a plot to kill Antipater. It was discovered, but when Malichus declared, under oath, that he was innocent of any plot, Antipater believed him. It is doubtful that Antipater would have believed him strictly on the strength of an oath – he was too sophisticated not to know that some people did not take these oaths seriously – but he was probably persuaded by Malichus’ reasoning that he could not be so stupid as to plot against Antipater while Phasael was guarding Jerusalem and Herod having custody the arms. Not only did Antipater accept his reasoning, but he saved Malichus’ life again when the Syrian governor wanted to execute him on charge of stirring up a revolt in Judea.
This was one of the very few mistakes Antipater ever made, but by saving Malichus, he saved his own murderer. At the time, Antipater was staying at Hyrcanus’ home. Malichus bribed Hyrcanus’ butler, who was always assumed above suspicion. The butler poisoned Antipater’s food, and he died on the spot, at dinner.
Herod would eventually revenge his father’s death, but the loss of Antipater, always the voice of reason, cost Judea more than anyone would expect. Had he lived longer, he could have guided Herod for a few more years while maintaining the fragile relationships between the Jewish factions and the Romans, and history might have turned out more kindly for Judea.