Herod “the Great” reigned as a Roman client “King of the Jews” during the years 37 – 4 BCE. He is probably best known for his appearance in the Gospel of St. Matthew 2:1-16 which records his order for the massacre of the Holy Innocents. History also records that he murdered his wife, Mariamme, and two of his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. While reading Eusebius’ History of the Church, I came across this passage, which he quotes from the writings of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (Jewish Wars, Book I, chapter 33), describing the end of Herod’s life:
After this, the distemper seized upon his whole body, and greatly disordered all its parts with various symptoms; for there was a gentle fever upon him, and an intolerable itching over all the surface of his body, and continual pains in his colon, and dropsical turnouts about his feet, and an inflammation of the abdomen, and a putrefaction of his privy member, that produced worms. Besides which he had a difficulty of breathing upon him, and could not breathe but when he sat upright, and had a convulsion of all his members, insomuch that the diviners said those diseases were a punishment upon him for what he had done to the Rabbins. Yet did he struggle with his numerous disorders, and still had a desire to live, and hoped for recovery, and considered of several methods of cure. Accordingly, he went over Jordan, and made use of those hot baths at Callirrhoe, which ran into the lake Asphaltitis, but are themselves sweet enough to be drunk. And here the physicians thought proper to bathe his whole body in warm oil, by letting it down into a large vessel full of oil; whereupon his eyes failed him, and he came and went as if he was dying; and as a tumult was then made by his servants, at their voice he revived again. Yet did he after this despair of recovery, and gave orders that each soldier should have fifty drachmae a-piece, and that his commanders and friends should have great sums of money given them.
He then returned back and came to Jericho, in such a melancholy state of body as almost threatened him with present death, when he proceeded to attempt a horrid wickedness; for he got together the most illustrious men of the whole Jewish nation, out of every village, into a place called the Hippodrome, and there shut them in. He then called for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, and made this speech to them: “I know well enough that the Jews will keep a festival upon my death however, it is in my power to be mourned for on other accounts, and to have a splendid funeral, if you will but be subservient to my commands. Do you but take care to send soldiers to encompass these men that are now in custody, and slay them immediately upon my death, and then all Judea, and every family of them, will weep at it, whether they will or no.”
. . . Later, he was disordered by want of food, and by a convulsive cough, and endeavored to prevent a natural death; so he took an apple, and asked for a knife for he used to pare apples and eat them; he then looked round about to see that there was nobody to hinder him, and lift up his right hand in order to stab himself.