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Analysis of Herod the Great's 40 B.C. voyage to Rome and return

The following is an analysis of the time frames and routes available to Herod the Great when he fled Jerusalem and sailed to Rome where he was appointed King of Judea by Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) and Octavian (Gaius Octavian or Caesar Octavian, later CaesarAugustus). It has been incorrectly argued that Josephus recorded Herod's voyage from Alexandria to Brundisium as occurring in the winter of 41/40 B.C. or later in 39 B.C. However, the historical record and analysis below demonstrate that Herod's voyage was during the summer of 40 B.C. and his appointment as King of Judea occurred at Rome in early October of 40 B.C.

Discussed are:

The problem

In describing Herod the Great's voyage to Rome (where he was appointed King of Judea by Mark Antony, Octavian, and the Roman Senate), the Jewish historian Josephus (writing in Greek) described Herod's voyage as encountering χειμῶνός and χειμῶνι (which some translate as "wintery" weather and a "winter" storm), and Josephus also records Herod's kingship as having been appointed during the 184th Olympiad. Because the 184th Olympiad spans the four years from summer of 44 B.C. through the summer of 40 B.C., this would imply that Herod's voyage took place during the last winter of that Olympiad, i.e. the winter of 41/40 B.C. But sailing the Mediterranean in winter was very risky and unlikely, and Josephus also records that just prior to sailing to Rome, Herod met with Cleopatra in Alexandria and yet missed Mark Antony whom Appian records as having been with Cleopatra at Alexandria until spring of 40 B.C.

So the inconsistency is: how could Herod the Great have met Cleopatra at Alexandria in the winter of 41/40 B.C. when Mark Antony was with Cleopatra during the same winter of 41/40 B.C. and the two men not have met, and thus Herod (in pursuit of Antony) sailed the Mediterranean in winter to Rome?

This inconsistency has caused many scholars to dismiss Josephus' account entirely, consequently misdating Herod's reign and death, and consequently misdating the birth of Jesus Christ prior to Herod's death.

Emil Schürer, Geza Vermes recently, and others have noted that Josephus' dating of Herod's appointment to the 184th Olympiad cannot be correct as it conflicts with Appian's account of the movements of Antony and Octavian, who were not together in Rome during the latter half of the 184th Olympiad and thus could not co-sponsor Herod's appointment that early:

After the battle of Philippi, Octavian went to Italy, while Antonius made first for Greece and then for Asia (Plut. Ant. 23-4). On his way through Asia in 41 b.c., he met Cleopatra for the first time in Tarsus. She so captivated him by her charm that he followed her to Egypt, where he spent the winter 41/40 B.C. in idleness and revelry (according to Plut. Ant. 25-8). Before leaving for Egypt, he set in order the affairs of Syria, exacted on all sides an enormous tribute (App. B.C. v 7/29-31), and appointed L. Decidius Saxa legatus, probably with imperium; Dio xlviii 24, 3; Liv. Epit. 127; see MRR II, p. 376.

In the spring of 40 B.C., Antonius left Egypt and came in the summer of that year to Italy with the intention of fighting against Octavian; but after some insignificant skirmishing he concluded an agreement with him at Brundisium according to which the provinces were divided between Octavian and Antonius in such a way that the West fell to the former and the East to the latter (App. B.C. v 52/216- 65/275; Dio xlviii 27-8. Scodra (now Scutari) in Illyria formed the boundary, App. B.C. v 65/274). Antonius remained for a year or so in Italy, during which time he nominated several vassal kings, among them Herod,5 and then went to Athens in the autumn of 39 B.B. (App. B.C. v 75/318-76/324; Dio xlviii 39, 1-2). There he stayed, though not continuously, until the spring of 36 B.C.
[pp. 250-251]

3. Ant. xiv 14, 4-5 (381-93); B.J. i 14, 4 (282-5). Cf. Appian, B.C. v 75/319 (see p. 251 above). The nomination took place in 40 B.C., in the consulship of Cn. Domitius Calvinus and C. Asinius Pollio, Ant. xiv 14, 5 (389), but in any case fairly near the end of the year, for it was already late autumn when Herod took ship at Alexandria, Ant. xiv 14, 2 (376); B.J. i 14, 2 (279). The statement of Josephus that the nomination occurred in the 184th Olympiad, Ant. xiv 14, 5 (389), is strictly incorrect, for it had ended in the summer of 40 B.C. Other evidence on the movement of the Triumvirs shows that it will have been towards the end of 40 B.C. (the last time, as Josephus’s narrative requires, that Antonius and Octavian were in Rome together towards the end of a year); see MRR II, pp. 379-40 and cf. 386-7. The argument of W. E. Filmer, 'The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great’, JThSt 17 (1966), pp. 283-98, on p. 285 that the formal appointment dates to 39 B.C., has no weight whatever, relying as it does solely on a resumptive reference to client kings appointed by Antonius, in App. B.C. v 75/319.

Such was the situation when Herod landed at Ptolemais in 39 B.C. He quickly assembled an army, and since, on the orders of Antonius, Ventidius and Silo now supported him, he soon made progress. First, Joppa fell into his hands, and then Masada, where his family had been besieged. With his success the number of his followers also increased, and he could set about besieging Jerusalem. But he did nothing about it for the time being because Silo’s Roman troops, which should have supported him, adopted a troublesome attitude and had to be dismissed to winter quarters.
[p. 282]

Emil Schürer, History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ vol 1
revised English edition, ed. G. Vermes, F. Millar and M. Black, (1973)

Also, note above, Schürer (and Vermes) assert that following his appointment, Herod landed in Ptolemais in 39 B.C., but it will be demonstrated below that Herod's return was late 40 B.C., likely three weeks after his appointment in Rome.

The relevant events, analyzed below, are:

  1. Antony had spent the winter of 41/40 B.C. in Alexandria with Cleopatra and he departed Alexandria in spring of 40 B.C., before Herod arrived.
  2. The Parthian invasion of Syria had reached Jerusalem at Pentecost (early May) which caused Herod to flee and seek military assistance from Antony, pursuing him around the Mediterranean.
  3. Herod arrived in Alexandria after Antony had left.
  4. Herod arrived in Brundisium just after Antony and Octavian had returned to Rome, having agreed on a treaty.
  5. After being appointed King of Judea in Rome, Herod sailed to Ptolemais before winter conditions closed the Mediterranean to sailing, and in time to begin a winter campaign against Antigonus in Galilee.

Herod's voyage to Rome must therefore begin at Jerusalem just after Pentecost and end at Brundisium just after the treaty was signed.

By acknowledging and ignoring Josephus' erroneous dating to the 184th Olympiad of Herod's appointment, the remainder of Josephus' account can be fully reconciled, as is shown below.


Historical account of Appian

The Greek historian, Appian, records Antony's movements which place him with Cleopatra at Alexandria during the winter of 41/40 B.C.:

The Perusine war, in which Octavian besieged and defeated Lucius Antony's (Mark Antony's brother) forces at Perusia, extended from the winter of 41/40 B.C. to January of 40 B.C. Here are relevant excerpts from Appian "The Civil Wars", Book 5 which establish the time frame (grey highlighted texts are commentary):

5.1.10 It seems that this course on Antony's part caused the outbreak of the Parthian war not long afterward, as many of the rulers expelled from Syria had taken refuge with the Parthians. Syria, until the reign of Antiochus Pius and his son, Antiochus, had been ruled by the descendants of Seleucus Nicator, as I have related in my Syrian history. Pompey added it to the Roman sway, and Scaurus was appointed praetor over it. After Scaurus the Senate sent others, including Gabinius, who made war against the Alexandrians, and after Gabinius, Crassus, who lost his life in the Parthian war, and after Crassus, Bibulus. At the time of Caesar's death and the intestine strife which followed, tyrants had possession of the cities one by one, and they were assisted by the Parthians, who made an irruption into Syria after the disaster to Crassus and co-operated with the tyrants. Antony drove out the latter, who took refuge in Parthia. He then imposed very heavy tribute on the masses and committed the outrage already mentioned against the Palmyreans, and did not wait for the disturbed country to become quiet, but distributed his army in winter quarters in the provinces, and himself went to Egypt to join Cleopatra.

Note, the Parthian Invasion of Syria was in late 41 B.C. This is the initial invasion which later drove Herod from Jerusalem around the time of Pentecost.

5.1.11 She [Cleopatra] gave him [Antony] a magnificent reception, and he spent the winter there

5.2.14 Observing this, Lucius Antonius, the brother of Antony, who was then consul, .....

The year is 41 B.C. = 713 A.U.C when L. Antonius M.f. P. Servilius P.f. Vatia Isauricus II were consuls (see E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World, p. 151)

5.3.24 ... The army of Lucius consisted of six legions of infantry, which he commanded by virtue of his consulship,

At this point in Appian's narrative, the year is still 41 B.C. when Lucius Antonius was consul.

5.4.32 ... Lucius entered within the walls of Perusia so that he might winter in a strong place, if necessary, until Ventidius and Asinius should arrive.

This would be the winter of 41/40 B.C.

5.4.34 When the work of Octavian was finished famine fastened upon Lucius, and the evil grew more pressing, since neither he nor the city had made preparations beforehand. Knowing this fact Octavian kept the most vigilant watch. On the day preceding the Calends of January, Lucius thought to avail himself of the holiday, under the belief that the enemy would be off their guard, to make a sally by night against their gates, hoping to break through them and bring in his other forces, of which he had abundance in many places.

This would be the "Calends of January", in winter of early 40 B.C.

5.4.33- 5.4.49 is Appian's narrative of The Perusine War, late 41 B.C. thru winter into early 40 B.C. (per the "Calends of January"), wherein Octavian besieged Lucius in Perusia, the ensuing famine, and Lucius' surrender to Octavian.  

5.4.49 ...  Such was the conclusion of the siege of Lucius in Perusia, and thus came to an end a war which had promised to be long-continued and most grievous to Italy.

5.6.52 As it was still winter, Antony retained the deputies of the colonized veterans, who had been sent to him, and still concealed his intentions. In the spring he set out from Alexandria and proceeded by land to Tyre, and thence by sea, touching at Cyprus and Rhodes, to the province of Asia. ....

This would be the winter of 41/40 B.C. into spring of 40 B.C.

Appian, "The Civil Wars", Book 5,
Horace White, ed. & trans., Harvard University Press (1912-1913)

So, consistent with Appian's account in The Civil Wars book 5 1.10-6.52, Antony spent the winter of 41/40 B.C. in Alexandria with Cleopatra and then marched in the spring of 40 B.C. to Tyre and then sailed to Asia. Herod arrived in Alexandria after Antony had left. This is a key point because if Herod had arrived at Alexandria earlier in winter, he would have met Antony there and would not have sailed to Rome. But Herod missed Antony (who had departed in the spring) and then Herod sailed on to Rome during the summer of 40 B.C. (as demonstrated further below).


Dating the Treaty of Brundisium

The Pact or Treaty of Brundisium or Brundusium is variously dated late September to 12 October of 40 B.C., based on Appian's narrative (The Civil Wars 5.7.63-66) and refined by:

with most scholars not citing either a source or derivation of the date:

When Herod departed, there was disorder in Italy (B.J. 1.279; A.J. 14.376), which turmoil was already resolved at the time of the Pact of Brundisium (in early October 40 BC).12

12 Pais, Guerre, 369-373, dates the treaty to late September or to early October on the basis of CIL X no. 5159 (at Casinum, modem Cassino, in Italy, dated to 12 October 40 BC). The inscription records the setting-up of a signum Concordiae, which would have occurred shortly after the Pact of Brundisium: M{arcus) Papius M(arci) f(ilius) L(ucius) Matrius Liucii) f(ilius) duoviri i(ure) di(cundo) signum Concordiae ex c(uriae) c(onsulto) restituendum coeraverunt eidemq(ue) dedicarunt et basim, gradum, aram sua pecunia faciunda coer(averunt) eidemq(ue) probaver(unt) a(nte) d(iem) quartum eid(us) oct(obres) Cn(aeo) Domitio C(aio) Asinio co(n)s(ulibus) (reconstruction by Pais, Guerre, 370). Carcopino, Virgile, 120-123, argues that the date can be narrowed to 5 or 6 October 40 BC. Bowman, Champlin, and Lintott, History, 10:18, propose September 40 BC.
[p. 50]

Bowman, Champlin, and Lintott, History Bowman, Alan Keir, Edward Champlin, and Andrew Lintott. The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. 10: The Augustan Empire, 43 B.C -A.D. 69. 2d ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
[p. 574]
Carcopino, Virgile Carcopino, Jérôme. Virgile et le mystère de la IVe églogue. Paris: L’Artisan du Livre, 1930.
[p. 576]
Pais, Guerre Pais, Ettore. Dalle guerre puniche a Cesare Augusto. Rome: Nardecchia, 1918.
[p. 598]

Bieke Mahieu, Between Rome and Jerusalem,
Peeters (2012)

Note a.d. [= "ante diem" meaning "days before"] IIII eid(us) Oct(obres) => 4 days before the Ides [Ides = Full Moon] of October => 4 days before Oct 15 = Oct 11.

The pact of Brundisium, which can be dated securely to the first days of October 40 b.c., was greeted with an outburst of jubilation by soldiers and civilians alike which reveals how deep had been the dread of civil war; the cloud had rolled away, peace was secured.

William Woodthorpe Tarn, Martin Percival Charlesworth, Octavian, Antony and Cleopatra,
Cambridge University Press (1965) p. 56

Ormond Edwards cites a connection with Vergil's Bucholic IV and dates the Treaty of Brundisium to 2 October, but provides no explanation of how that date was determined:

A Parthian invasion soon thereafter deposed Hyrcanus and installed his nephew Antigonus as High Priest and King in Jerusalem, forcing Herod to flee to his protectors in Rome. Only days earlier, Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) and Antony had ceased their hostilities and renewed their alliance with the Treaty of Brundisium on October 2, 40 bc. Herod’s arrival was timely and at Octavian and Antony’s instigation the Senate appointed Herod as King of Judea at the end of 40 bc.
[p. 35]

It is unlikely to have escaped the Herodians that Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue was composed at the time of Herod’s coronation in Rome. The occasion which prompted the poet was the temporary reconciliation between Octavian (Augustus) and Antony following the Treaty of Brundisium on October 2, 40 bc. In his celebration of the event Virgil mentions the anticipated birth of a special child:
[p. 55]

Ormond Edwards, When was Anno Domini? Dating the Millennium
Floris Books (1999)

Edward Coleiro discusses the connection between the Treaty of Brundisium and Virgil's Bucolic IV:

The Fourth Eclogue was written with the peace of Brundisium in 40 B.C. between Octavian and Antony as a background, and Vergil meant it to be an expression of the universal desire for peace after the long period of civil wars, from 49 B.C. ...  It is this feeling of relief and joy that inspires the poet who sees the peace of Brundisium as the beginning of a new era of universal peace of which a Child just born or to be soon born is the embodiment.
[p. 219]

But considering the date of the Eclogue (i.e. the last months of Pollio's consulship in 40 B.C.); the enthusiasm of the poet for peace as the result of the Brundisium negotiations; the fact that the only period of peace which the Roman world knew before the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. was this brief respite between October 40 B.C. and 32 B.C. after which the crisis between the two war-lords came to a head again, but which many thought would continue for their lifetime (which, indeed, might have happened had it not been for the Cleopatra trap into which Antony fell again later); the fact that the poem is dedicated to Pollio, one of the main artificers, as already stated, of that peace; the connection between the Eclogue and the peace of Brundisium should be plain and obvious.
[p. 221]

... J. Carcopino2 thinks that the subject of the Fourth Eclogue is the return of the Golden Age which is understood in terms of the astrology of the Roman neo-pythagoreans as propounded by Posidonius, Nigidius, Polyhistor and Cicero, and which begins on the 6th October (40 B.C.) with the appearance of the Constellation of Astraea (v. 6). ...

Carcopino, J., 2 Virgile et le Mystère de la IVe Églogue, Paris, 1930
[p. 373]

[p. 230]

Edward Coleiro, Introduction to Virgil's Bucolics,
Grüner Publishing (1979)

The historical record establishes that Mark Antony was in Alexandria, Egypt with Cleopatra over the winter of 41/40 B.C. but in spring of 40 B.C. he left for Tyre, and later agreed to a treaty with Octavian at Brundisium, Italy in late September or early October of 40 B.C.


Historical account of Josephus

Into Appian's time frame are placed the detailed events of Herod's journey as reported by Josephus in parallel accounts. The identified segments of Herod's journey are then mapped and analyzed below:

Blue highlighted texts are specific events in Herod's journey
Orange highlighted texts are events of the storm Herod encountered and the ship he acquired

Following are excerpts from Josephus' Antiquities Book 14:

14.13.1. WHEN after this Antony came into Syria, Cleopatra met him in Cilicia, and brought him to fall in love with her. [Note, this would be year 41 BC] ...
14.13.3. Now, in the second year [i.e. 40 B.C., relative to when Antony began his war against Parthian invasion of Syria (Ant. 14.13.1)] , Pacorus, the king of Parthia's son, and Barzapharnes, a commander of the Parthians, possessed themselves of Syria. ... Now Antigonus had promised to give the Parthians a thousand talents, and five hundred women, upon condition they would take the government away from Hyrcanus, and bestow it upon him, and withal kill Herod. And although he did not give them what he had promised, yet did the Parthians make an expedition into Judea on that account, and carried Antigonus with them. ...
14.13.4. But while there were daily skirmishes, the enemy waited for the coming of the multitude out of the country to Pentecost, a feast of ours so called; and when that day was come, many ten thousands of the people were gathered together about the temple, some in armor, and some without.
14.13.7. Now while the Parthians were in consultation what was fit to be done; ... Herod was under great disturbance of mind, and rather inclining to believe the reports he heard about his brother and the Parthians, than to give heed to what was said on the other side, he determined, that when the evening came on, he would make use of it for his flight, and not make any longer delay, ... He therefore removed with the armed men whom he had with him; and set his wives upon the beasts, as also his mother, and sister, and her whom he was about to marry, [Mariamne,] the daughter of Alexander, the son of Aristobulus, with her mother, the daughter of Hyrcanus, and his youngest brother, and all their servants, and the rest of the multitude that was with him, and without the enemy's privity pursued his way to Idumea. ...
14.13.8. But for Herod himself, ... So he encouraged his mother, and took all the care of her the time would allow, and proceeded on the way he proposed to go with the utmost haste, and that was to the fortress of Masada. And as he had many skirmishes with such of the Parthians as attacked him and pursued him, he was conqueror in them all.
14.13.9. Nor indeed was he free from the Jews all along as he was in his flight; for by that time he was gotten sixty furlongs out of the city, and was upon the road, they fell upon him, and fought hand to hand with him, whom he also put to flight, and overcame, ... And in this very place where he overcame the Jews it was that he some time afterward build a most excellent palace, and a city round about it, and called it Herodium. And when he was come to Idumea, at a place called Thressa, his brother Joseph met him, and he then held a council to take advice about all his affairs, and what was fit to be done in his circumstances, since he had a great multitude that followed him, besides his mercenary soldiers, and the place Masada, whither he proposed to fly, was too small to contain so great a multitude; so he sent away the greater part of his company, being above nine thousand, and bid them go, some one way, and some another, and so save themselves in Idumea, ... But he took with him those that were the least encumbered, and were most intimate with him, and came to the fortress, and placed there his wives and his followers, being eight hundred in number, there being in the place a sufficient quantity of corn and water, and other necessaries, and went directly for Petra, in Arabia. ...

14.14.1. AS for Herod, ... for he went to Malchus, king of Arabia, whom he had formerly been very kind to, in order to receive somewhat by way of requital, now he was in more than ordinary want of it, and desired he would let him have some money, either by way of loan, or as his free gift,  ... But there came messengers from Malchus to meet him, by whom he was desired to be gone, for that the Parthians had laid a charge upon him not to entertain Herod. ...
14.14.2. Hereupon he resolved to go away, and did go very prudently the road to Egypt; and then it was that he lodged in a certain temple; for he had left a great many of his followers there. On the next day he came to Rhinocolura, ...  Though Malchus soon repented of what he had done, and came running after Herod; but with no manner of success, for he was gotten a very great way off, and made haste into the road to Pelusium; and when the stationary ships that lay there hindered him from sailing to Alexandria, he went to their captains, by whose assistance, and that out of much reverence of and great regard to him, he was conducted into the city [Alexandria], and was retained there by Cleopatra; yet was she not able to prevail with him to stay there, because he was making haste to Rome, even though the weather was stormy, and he was informed that the affairs of Italy were very tumultuous, and in great disorder.
14.14.3. So he set sail from thence to Pamphylia, and falling into a violent storm, he had much ado to escape to Rhodes, ... He also built there a three-decked ship, and set sail thence, with his friends, for Italy, and came to the port of Brundusium; and when he was come from thence to Rome, he first related to Antony what had befallen him in Judea, ...
14.14.4. This account made Antony commiserate the change that had happened in Herod's condition; ... he was very ready to give him the assistance he desired, ... Caesar was also the forwarder to raise Herod's dignity, and to give him his assistance in what he desired, ... So a senate was convocated; and Messala first, and then Atratinus, introduced Herod into it, ... At the same time, they accused Antigonus, and declared him an enemy, not only because of his former opposition to them, but that he had now overlooked the Romans, and taken the government from the Parthians. Upon this the senate was irritated; and Antony informed them further, that it was for their advantage in the Parthian war that Herod should be king. This seemed good to all the senators; and so they made a decree accordingly.
14.14.5. ... and departed out of Italy in so few days as seven in all. ... Antony also feasted Herod the first day of his reign. And thus did this man receive the kingdom, having obtained it on the hundred and eighty-fourth olympiad, when Caius Domitius Calvinus was consul the second time, and Caius Asinius Pollio [the first time].
14.14.6. All this while Antigonus besieged those that were in Masada, who had plenty of all other necessaries, but were only in want of water (27) insomuch that on this occasion Joseph, Herod's brother, was contriving to run away from it, with two hundred of his dependents, to the Arabians; ...

(27) This grievous want of water at Masada, till the place had like to have been taken by the Parthians, (mentioned both here, and Of the War, B. I. ch. 15. sect. 1,) is an indication that it was now summer time.

14.15.1. BY this time Herod had sailed out of Italy to Ptolemais, and had gotten together no small army, both of strangers and of his own countrymen, and marched through Galilee against Antigonus. ... However, as Herod went along his army increased every day, and all Galilee, with some small exception, joined him; but as he was to those that were in Masada, (for he was obliged to endeavor to save those that were in that fortress now they were besieged, because they were his relations,)...

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 14, Chapter 13-15,
William Whiston, trans. (1736)

Above, Josephus' dating of "in the second year" (Ant. 14.13.3) = 40 B.C. is relative to Antony's war against the Parthian invasion of Syria in late 41 B.C.

Following are excerpts from Josephus' Wars Book 1:

1.12.1 WHEN Cassius was gone out of Syria, another sedition arose at Jerusalem,
1.13.1. Now two years afterward [i.e. 40 B.C., relative to when Cassius left Syria (Wars 1.12.1)], when Barzapharnes, a governor among the Parthians, and Pacorus, the king's son, had possessed themselves of Syria, ...
1.13.3. Now when that festival which we call Pentecost was at hand, all the places about the temple, and the whole city, was full of a multitude of people that were come out of the country, ...
1.13.7. Now as Pacorus and his friends were considering how they might bring their plot to bear privately, ... Herod prevented them, and went off with the persons that were the most nearly related to him by night, ... and when at every assault he had slain a great many of them, he came to the strong hold of Masada.
1.13.8. ...and this ever since he was gotten sixty furlongs from the city; these sometimes brought it to a sort of a regular battle. Now in the place where Herod beat them, and killed a great number of them, there he afterward built a citadel, ... and called it, from his own name, Herodium. Now as they were in their flight, many joined themselves to him every day; and at a place called Thressa of Idumea his brother Joseph met him, ... but he got safe to the fortress with his nearest relations, and retained with him only the stoutest of his followers; and there it was that he left eight hundred of his men as a guard for the women, and provisions sufficient for a siege; but he made haste himself to Petra of Arabia.

1.14.1. NOW Herod did the more zealously pursue his journey into Arabia, as making haste to get money of the king, ... Moreover, he was not able to find any lasting friendship among the Arabians; for their king, Malchus, sent to him immediately, and commanded him to return back out of his country,  ...
1.14.2. So when Herod had found that the Arabians were his enemies, and this for those very reasons whence he hoped they would have been the most friendly, and had given them such an answer as his passion suggested, he returned back, and went for Egypt. Now he lodged the first evening at one of the temples of that country, in order to meet with those whom he left behind; but on the next day word was brought him, as he was going to Rhinocolura, that his brother was dead, ... Herod had prevented them, and was come to Pelusium, where he could not obtain a passage from those that lay with the fleet, so he besought their captains to let him go by them; accordingly, out of the reverence they bore to the fame and dignity of the man, they conducted him to Alexandria; and when he came into the city, he was received by Cleopatra with great splendor, who hoped he might be persuaded to be commander of her forces in the expedition she was now about; but he rejected the queen's solicitations, and being neither affrighted at the height of that storm which. then happened, nor at the tumults that were now in Italy, he sailed for Rome.
1.14.3. But as he was in peril about Pamphylia, and obliged to cast out the greatest part of the ship's lading, he with difficulty got safe to Rhodes, ... he fitted up a three-decked ship of very great magnitude, wherein he and his friends sailed to Brundusium, and went thence to Rome with all speed; where he first of all went to Antony, on account of the friendship his father had with him, and laid before him the calamities of himself and his family; ...
Wars 1.14.4. Hereupon Antony was moved to compassion at the change that had been made in Herod's affairs, ... and as for Caesar, Herod found him better prepared than Antony, .... So he called the senate together, wherein Messalas, and after him Atratinus, produced Herod before them, ... At the same time they demonstrated that Antigonus was their enemy, not only because he soon quarreled with them, but because he now overlooked the Romans, and took the government by the means of the Parthians. These reasons greatly moved the senate; at which juncture Antony came in, and told them that it was for their advantage in the Parthian war that Herod should be king; so they all gave their votes for it. And when the senate was separated, Antony and Caesar went out, with Herod between them; while the consul and the rest of the magistrates went before them, in order to offer sacrifices, and to lay the decree in the Capitol. Antony also made a feast for Herod on the first day of his reign.

1.15.3. Now by this time Herod had sailed out of Italy, and was come to Ptolemais; and as soon as he had gotten together no small army of foreigners, and of his own countrymen, he marched through Galilee against Antigonus, wherein he was assisted by Ventidius and Silo, both whom Dellius, a person sent by Antony, persuaded to bring Herod [into his kingdom]. .... So he proposed to himself to set about his most necessary enterprise, and that was Masada, in order to deliver his relations from the siege they endured....
1.15.4. After this Herod took Joppa, and then made haste to Masada to free his relations. ...

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 13-15,
William Whiston, trans. (1736)

Josephus reports when the Parthians attacked Jerusalem relative to Antony's war against the Parthian invasion of Syria, and relative to when Cassius and Brutus departed Syria, double-dating the Parthian attack on Jerusalem to 40 B.C.:

Ant. 14.13.1. WHEN after this Antony came into Syria [41 B.C.], Cleopatra met him in Cilicia,
Ant. 14.13.3. Now, in the second year, [40 B.C.] Pacorus, the king of Parthia's son, and Barzapharnes, a commander of the Parthians, possessed themselves of Syria.

"in the second year" (Ant. 14.13.3) = 40 B.C. is dated relative to Antony's war against the Parthian invasion of Syria in late 41 B.C..

Wars 1.12.1. WHEN Cassius was gone out of Syria, [42 B.C. just prior to Battle of Philippi 3 and 23 October 42 BC]
Wars 1.13.1. Now two years afterward, [40 B.C.] when Barzapharnes, a governor among the Parthians, and Pacorus, the king's son, had possessed themselves of Syria,

"two years afterward" (Wars 1.13.1) = 40 B.C. is dated relative to Cassius and Brutus' departure from Syria in 42 B.C. (just prior to Battle of Philippi) and defeat at Philippi, following which Herod was faced with several uprisings.

Herod the Great's flight from Jerusalem and subsequent Mediterranean voyage from Alexandria, Egypt to Brundisium (Brundusium or Brindisi), Italy began in Jerusalem just after Pentecost (early May 40 B.C.) and ended at Brundisium in early October 40 B.C. Herod's outbound route to Rome from Jerusalem proceeded through Herodium, Oresa (Thressa), Masada, Petra, Rhinocolura, Pelusium, Alexandria, Rhodes, Brundisium, and then a homebound voyage from Rome to Ptolemais (Acco).


Mediterranean sailing conditions and "three-decked ships" available on Rhodes

Summarizing to this point:

Mark Antony spent the winter of 41/40 B.C. in Alexandria withe Cleopatra, and in the spring of 40 B.C., Antony left Alexandria and marched to Tyre and then sailed to Asia.

Herod escaped Antigonus and the Parthian invasion, and fled Jerusalem just after Pentecost in early May of 40 BC, and after securing his relatives and friends at Masada, Herod then sought aid at Petra from Malchus, King of Arabia, but Malchus refused.

Herod then went to Alexandria, but as Antony had already departed earlier in the spring of 40 B.C., Herod then sailed to Rome but was detoured to Rhodes by a Mediterranean summer storm. While on Rhodes, Herod acquired a "three-decked ship" and then sailed for Brundisium (Brindisi), Italy.

Two remaining difficulties now require reconciliation:

  1. Josephus' accounts of violent "wintery" storms on Herod's voyage to Rhodes implies the winter season, but it would have been late spring and early summer after Herod fled Jerusalem in May.
  2. Since May, Herod would only have had a few months to reach Rhodes and build a "three-decked ship" and sail it to Brundisium and then Rome by October.

Examining these now in order:

  1. Josephus reports the weather for Herod's voyage from Alexandria to Rhodes as encountering a "wintery storm", not that the season or time of year was actually "winter". Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon defines:

Ant. 14.14.2 (376) χειμῶνός [wintry weather, a winter-storm, and generally a storm] τε ὄντος [was]
Ant. 14.14.3 (377) χειμῶνι [wintry weather, a winter-storm, and generally a storm] σφοδρῷ [vehement, violent, excessive]
Wars 1.14.2 (279) χειμῶνος [wintry weather, a winter-storm, and generally a storm]

Daniel Schwartz confirms in a note referencing Ant. 14.14.3:

... But it seems that cheimōn here should rather be rendered “storm,” as is often the case.46 ...

46 See, for some nearby examples, Ant. 14.377, 380, which both Schalit and Marcus render “storm,” just as Thackeray (LCL) renders it as “storm” in BJ 1.339 and “tempest” in § 343, also Matthew 16:3: every morning one can see not whether it will be winter (for that one needs only a calendar), but whether it will be stormy. The old Latin translation of Josephus (Basel 1524) renders cheimōn by hiems in BJ 1.339, 343 and Ant. 14.377, 380, 465; hiems can mean “winter” or “storm.” At Ant. 14.461, however, it has tempestas.

[p. 178]

Daniel R. Schwartz, Studies in the Jewish Background of Christianity,
Mohr (1992)

Josephus' source was describing the strength of stormy weather and a particular storm, but not the season, though "winter" might be inferred absent other information.  The mistaken presumption has been that Herod's encounter with a "violent storm" or a "wintery storm" could only have been in winter (erroneously assumed due to Josephus' erroneous dating of Herod's journey to the last winter of the 184th Olympiad). 

However, violent winter-like storms, powerful enough to sink Roman warships in June, can occur during summer on the Mediterranean, in both open sea and along coastal waters:

The waters of the eastern half of the Aegean experience a similar trend in which strong winds and gales reach their greatest extent in the wintertime, although this region of the Sea also records a sudden rise in the frequency of such winds during the month of July, the result of the powerful etesian winds which attain their greatest strength during mid-summer. [p. 68]

Indeed, it was as a result of strong summer winds whipping-up large seas around Sicily that the Romans suffered the most crippling losses of their naval history with storms striking two of their fleets during the First Punic War. Polybius therefore records that 284 warships were sunk during a storm which swept across this region of water in June of 255 bc, while the Greek writer also notes that two years later a further 150 Roman vessels were lost off the Tunisian coast when caught in heavy weather during the summertime.54

54 1.37.1; 1.39.1.

[p. 72]

The sailors of the ancient Mediterranean also had to be alert to the possibility of powerful winds associated with thunderstorms; conditions that a modern sailing handbook has noted, 'are the most likely occasions for the cruising yachtsman, who normally confines his sailing to fine summer weather, to experience really strong winds, albeit of short duration' 57 Created independently of depression systems by an upwelling of warm, moist air, thunderstorms can create extremely violent winds that will also often change direction with great rapidity.58

57 Haeften 1997: 25. While Mediterranean thunderstorms can be encountered in any month, they are generally more likely to be experienced near to coasts during the summertime and over open sea during winter (Mediterranean Pilot Vol. 11978:19; Vol. 31988:35; Vol. 4 2000:33; Vol. 51999:32).
58 Haeften 1997:25. However, because thunderstorms are generally short-lived and highly localised in nature, large waves do not usually have an opportunity to develop. See, for example, Seidman 2001:170.

[p. 72]

James Bereford, The Ancient Sailing Season
Brill (2013)

Recall also that Herod had just escaped the Parthian invasion at Jerusalem near the time of Pentecost (Ant. 14.13.4 - 14.2), which is 6th of Sivan or 9th of May in 40 B.C. He had arrived in Alexandria and was escorted to Cleopatra, but missed Antony who had wintered with Cleopatra and left earlier in the spring to march to Tyre (Appian, Civil Wars 5.6.52). Had it actually been winter, Herod would not have missed Antony at Alexandria.

Even when climate is seasonally predictable, sailing weather can be unsettled and inconsistent, and Herod simply encountered unseasonable storms that summer, for which the Mediterranean is known. Rhodes, where Herod ended up, lies in the path of the etesian winds, as would a route from Alexandria to Pamphylia.  Note Josephus doesn't say Herod was near Pamphylia when a "violent storm" struck, Josephus only says Herod "escaped" the storm by detouring to Rhodes instead of continuing to Pamphylia.

  1. Herod's acquisition of a "three-decked ship" on Rhodes:

    Josephus reports in parallel passages in Wars book 1:

    (Wars 1.14.3)[280] Κινδυνεύσας δὲ περὶ Παμφυλίαν καὶ τοῦ φόρτου τὸ πλεῖον ἐκβαλὼν μόλις εἰς Ῥόδον διασώζεται σφόδρα τῷ πρὸς Κάσσιον πολέμῳ τετρυχωμένην, δεχθεὶς ὑπὸ Πτολεμαίου καὶ Σαπφινίου τῶν φίλων. καίπερ δὲ ὢν ἐν ἀπορίᾳ χρημάτων ναυπηγεῖται τριήρη μεγίστην,

    Josephus Flavius, De bello Judaico Liber I chapter 14
    B. Niese (ed.) Flavii Iosephi opera, vol. 6, Weidmann (1895)

    "he fitted up a three-decked ship of very great magnitude, wherein he and his friends sailed to Brundusium, (21) and went thence to Rome with all speed;" (Wars. 1.14.3)

    Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 1, chapter 14,
    William Whiston, trans. (1736)

    In Wars. 1.14.3 (280) the Greek phrase ναυπηγεῖται τριήρη is translated by Whiston as "fitted up a three-decked ship", however,  the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek Lexicon shows ναυπηγεῖται is only translated as "built" (see also https://en.glosbe.com/el/en/ναυπηγείται).

    and Antiquities book 14:

    (Ant. 14.14.3) [378] εὑρὼν δὲ τὴν πόλιν ὑπὸ τοῦ πρὸς Κάσσιον πολέμου κεκακωμένην οὐδ' ἐν ἀπόροις ὢν εὖ ποιεῖν αὐτὴν ὤκνησεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ παρὰ δύναμιν αὐτὴν ἀνεκτᾶτο. τριήρη τε κατασκευάσας, καὶ ἀναχθεὶς ἐκεῖθεν σὺν τοῖς φίλοις ἐπ' Ἰταλίας εἰς Βρεντέσιον κατάγεται.

    Josephus Flavius, Antiquitates Judaicae Liber XIV chapter 14
    B. Niese (ed.) Flavii Iosephi opera, vols. 1-4, Weidmann, (1885–1890)

    "He also built there a three-decked ship, and set sail thence, with his friends, for Italy, and came to the port of Brundusium; and when he was come from thence to Rome, " (Ant. 14.14.3

    Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 14, chapter 14,
    William Whiston, trans. (1736)

    In Ant. 14.14.3 (377) the Greek phrase τριήρη τε κατασκευάσας is translated by Whiston as "built there a three-decked ship", however instead of "constructed (or built)", the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek Lexicon shows κατασκευάσας could also be translated as "equipped".

    While Niese's Greek text (1895) is authoritative, Whiston (1736) translated from an earlier Greek text edited by either John Hudson (1719) or Siwart (Syvert) Haverkamp (1726). Whiston translated τριήρη as "three-decked ship" but τριήρη transliterated is "trireme" (see https://en.glosbe.com/el/en/τριήρη).

    Assuming Herod fled Jerusalem in early May (just after Pentecost), travels to Alexandria and then sails to Rhodes (May to early June), it seems implausible that Herod could arrive in Rhodes, and receive the unscheduled construction of an entirely new trireme in just 3 months (or less) from June to August.  Victor Hanson estimates a Peloponnesian-era military trireme required some 6,000 man-days to construct, which equates (mathematically) to 75 men working 80 days continuously (not quite 3 months) and further assumes there aren't other limiting factors (such as construction techniques and materiel availability):

    Naval warfare in the Peloponnesian War, however, was not merely subject to the limitations of these fragile oared ships at sea. The construction of triremes was also costly, usually requiring the equivalent of some 6,000 man-days of labor. For a state like Athens to launch a fleet of 500 triremes consumed about the same outlay as outfitting an enormous hoplite army of 18,000 with full armor.  [p. 262]

    Victor Hansen, A War Like No Other,
    Random House (Nov 30, 2011)

    However, Lionel Casson identifies a smaller, more versatile three decked ship, a triemiolia ("trihemiolia"), originating and well known on Rhodes, that Herod might have chosen:

    Triemiolia is a loose compound of trieres 'trireme' and hemiolia;14 the proper form would theoretically be trieremiolia,15 but this is a mouthful difficult to pronounce.  Hardly more is known about this type of ship than about its disreputable ancestor.  All we can be sure of is that it was a standard navy unit16 and not a pirate craft, that it was particularly fast and manoeuvrable,17 and that it is found first in the fleets of Rhodes18 and then of Athens and Ptolemaic Egypt.19  The island in particular favoured it: there were organised flotillas of triemioliae in the Rhodian fleet and service on them was a recognised first step in the career of a Rhodian naval officer.20  All this does not add up to very much but, taken with what we have just learned about the hemiolia and with certain facts of history, it is enough on which to base a reasonable guess.

    17 Cf. the assignment the Rhodians gave to a flotilla of triemioliae during Demetrius' famous siege of their city (Diod. xx. 93.2-3).
    18 The earliest mention is in the passage of Diodorus cited in the previous note.

    It was the Rhodians who took upon themselves the thankless job of sweeping the seas clean of pirates, one they carried out successfully until, about the middle of the second century B.C., Rome's inane foreign policy made it impossible for them to continue.  The traditional units of a Greek navy were unfit for this purpose: a swift hemiolia under sail and oar could show its heels to any penteconter or trireme whose rig was designed primarily for cruising.  What was needed was a vessel that could not only give chase but have a clean advantage in the fight to follow.  The simplest and most logical explanation of the triemiolia is that it was a design worked out by the Rhodians as the answer to this problem.  Pirates had taken the two-banked galley, rearranged the oars in the after part of the upper bank, and created the hemiolia to chase merchantmen; the island's naval architects, fighting the devil with fire, took one of the faster models of the trireme, adapted it in the same way, and created the triemiolia to run down hemioliae.  A three-banked ship was more than a match for any pirate craft: it was heavier and larger and had sufficient height to enable archers to shoot down on the enemy, and even the lightest types had some decking to protect the crew and to accommodate marines; but the standard models were made, like all war-galleys, to go into action without sails aboard.  By designing a trireme whose upper bank, the thranite oars, was like that on a hemiolia, this disadvantage was obviated.  And what could be more natural than to name such a craft triemiolia?  Once it had proved its worth in the hands of its creators, it was borrowed by the Ptolemies who had their sea-lanes to Syria and Asia Minor and the north-eastern Aegean to protect and who were in close contact with Rhodes.  Then it made its way to Athens and, presumably, other navies.
    [pp. 16-17]

    The triemiolia was not a permanent contribution to the ship-types of the ancient world.  It shared the fortunes of its inventors: it came into being some time before 300 B.C., when Rhodes' naval power was approaching its zenith, and it passed away when Cassius in 42 B.C stripped the island of its fleet.  It needed as large and as well-trained a crew as any trireme; the lubberly Romans passed it up and did their chasing of pirates in the more easily manned liburnians.  But it did not completely die.  So attached were the Rhodians to these ships that for over a century they kept a few alive in the slips to bring out on ceremonial occasions.21  Like Nelson's Victory at Portsmouth or the Constitution in Boston, they were powerful reminders of past great days on the sea.
    [pp. 17-18]

    Lionel Casson, "Hemiolia and Triemiolia",
    The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 78 (1958) pp. 14-18

    While the Rhodian fleet of triemiolia's was "stripped" in 42 B.C., it would seem that 2 years later Herod would have a choice of triemiolia's from those that Rhodes had begun rebuilding for the next 100 years.

    In a chapter titled "The Trireme" in Sailing into the Past: Learning from Replica Ships, Boris Rankov discusses the benefits of a triemiolia ("trihemiolia") and the costs of operating a trireme specifically (and implicitly a triemiolia) based on the experimental reconstruction of the triereme Olympias:

    By the end of the fourth century, Rhodes had developed an intermediate type from these which became particularly associated with the island.  This was the three-level trihemiolia, which most likely had a larger complement of oars at the two upper levels and a smaller complement at the lowest (e.g. 42 + 48 + 30 = 120). Such a vessel would have been only about half a knot slower than a trireme either cruising or in a sprint, whilst being significantly more economical in terms of oarcrew.21

    21 Morrison and Coates pp. 319-21 with Fig. 74, p. 345., Greek and Roman Oared Warships 399-30 B.C. Oxford (1996)

    [p. 38]

    The principal lesson learned from the Olympias reconstruction is clearly that three-level oarsystems can be made to work, thus settling an argument which goes back to the sixteenth century. This does not in itself prove that the ancient trireme was a three-level ship, but it does remove once and for all the principal objection. ...

    The importance of carrying sufficient drinking water for the oarcrew also became apparent.  Trialling at the height of summer, the Trust’s rowers were each drinking a litre of water per hour, which is in fact a conservative amount for athletes, however well acclimatized, exercising in these conditions.  That implies the consumption by an ancient oarcrew of around 1.7 tonnes of water in a typical ten-hour rowing day.  The daily replenishment of this amount of water, especially when ships were travelling in squadrons and fleets, would have had major logistical implications which have rarely been considered by historians.
    [pp. 50-51]

    Boris Rankov, "The Trireme"
    J. Bennett, Sailing into the Past: Learning from Replica Ships, Barnsley (2009) pp. 34-51.

    Note that such water ration requirements of the oarcrew would seem to dictate coastal routes, whereby ships could put into port nightly. This logistical requirement diminishes the plausibility of Herod taking an alternate mid-ocean route (shown in orange on the maps below).

Plausibly, Herod's voyage from Alexandria to Pamphylia could encounter "winter-like" storms that would detour him to Rhodes where he could refit and equip an existing trireme or trihemiolia instead of having a new ship built, and hired a captain and crew from the shipyards of Rhodes.


Map of theoretical sailing conditions of Herod's voyage

What were the likely sailing conditions Herod enountered and how would that affect his route and duration of voyage?

The wind rose map, below, "Fig. 2.3b. Wind roses depicting directions and strengths of winds across the Mediterranean typical for the month of July. Image: courtesy of the Met. Office. (Mediterranean Pilot Vol. II 1978: diagram 8)" was reproduced from p. 302 of James Bereford, The Ancient Sailing Season, Brill (2013). It was then overlaid on a Google Earth projection of the Mediterranean onto which Herod's route, as dictated by sailing conditions, was mapped.

Herod the Great's Mediterranean route versus prevailing Mediterranean winds in July
Herod's route vs prevailing winds in July small
(click to enlarge)

On the wind rose map from Bereford, note two details:

  1. The elongated NW pointing petals on all the wind roses indicate the prevailing northwest winds throughout the Mediterranean.
  2. The elongated N pointing petal on the wind rose at the western coast of Asia Minor (left of and above Rhodes) are the summer Etesian winds. Note that the length of the darkened end of the petal, indicates strength of the Etesian winds.

It is the prevailing north-westerly winds combined with the summer Etesian northern winds that would drive a west-bound ship onto the northern coast of Crete. That is why Herod's Rome-bound route (red) is drawn along the southern coast of Crete. As Casson remarks:

After sailing along the south shore of Asia Minor the grain ships normally would put in at Rhodes or at Cnidus, as the vessel carrying St. Paul did (Acts 27 :7),13 and as the Isis would have, had she not been driven into the Aegean.  From here it is hard to resist laying a course north of Crete due west to Malea.  But a sailing vessel cannot travel west on northwest winds and these are the ones, as we have seen before, that prevail in these waters.  The best it can do is sail SW x W, a course that will ultimately force it ashore somewhere on the north coast of Crete.  The grain ship that was carrying St. Paul to Rome cleared Cnidus and "the wind not suffering us," says Luke (Acts 27:7), "we sailed under Crete."
[p. 48]

Lionel Casson, "The Isis and Her Voyage",
Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 81(1950), pp. 43-56

Casson also explains why Josephus records Herod's first destination when departing Alexandria was Pamphylia, not Rome:

A sailing vessel travels best under a wind that is blowing from some point abaft the beam.  The ship can then move at its fastest directly toward its destination.  Such a wind, whether blowing directly over the stern or over the quarters (i.e., from a point on either side of the stern) is a favorable wind.  Unfavorable or "foul" winds are those that blow from some point ahead.  These force a vessel to tack, i.e., sail at an 80 degree angle to the wind, a procedure that is uncomfortable, wearisome, and slow.  The vessel heels heavily, the decks are forever wet with spray, and the sails are constantly being reset.  When the destination lies 80 degrees to the right or left of the direction from which the wind is blowing, a vessel can head directly for it. More often the destination lies either nearer than 80 degrees or right in the eye of the wind and then the ship must tack back and forth in zigzag fashion.  This is the most time-consuming course of all since it forces the vessel actually to cover far more distance than a straight line to its goal would measure.7

7 An excellent case in point is the voyage from Alexandria to Rome which could take as much, as five times as long as the return. When Warmington (The Commerce Between the Roman Empire and India [Cambridge 19281 51) tells us that the merchant who wanted to go from Alexandria to Rome could wait in Alexandria "until the direct sailing of cornships began in May" instead of taking the Alexandria-coast of Syria-Asia Minor route, he is talking nonsense. There was no direct sailing from Alexandria to Rome in the summer since the winds did not permit it: see Casson 43-51.

[pp. 137-138]

Lionel Casson, "Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships"
Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 82. (1951), pp.136-148

In addition to the oarcrew, a trireme or a trihemiolia (triemiolia) was rigged with square sails. Such square-sail rigged ships could not sail "close-hauled", at an angle of less than 60° off a headwind, i.e. the best they could do was a "close reach" when tacking:

Mediterranean square-sail performance
The potential performance of the single square-sail rig of the ancient Mediterranean (and similar rigs in north-west Europe) has long been the source of speculation amongst scholars, who have largely focused on the ability of vessels to sail to windward (for example Holmes, 1909; Gillmer, 1979; Rougé, 1981: 22; Tilley, 1994; Casson, 1995: 273–4; Roberts, 1995). All have concluded that the single-masted square-rigged vessel, such as those of the Roman period, had some ability to sail above 90° to the wind, the consensus being that vessels were able to steer a course 65–80° off the wind.  This correlates with the range of close-hauled heading angles reported from the sailing-trials of reconstructed historic square-sail vessels (Table 2). It should be noted that these figures almost certainly represent the ‘best’ results produced by a particular vessel during trials.
[p. 7]

Julian Whitewright, "The Potential Performance of Ancient Mediterranean Sailing Rigs"
The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (2011) 40.1: pp. 2–17

Wind direction. Wind direction. It was mentioned above that, provided the wind force does not exceed 15 knots, the sailor has some freedom as to his direction of sailing. Ships were normally sailing from wind astern (180°) to wind abeam (90°), but it was possible to sail into the wind up to around 60° (see Arnaud, 2005, and Morrison et al., 2000). Modern sailing boats may reach 20-30° as shown below, but note that they are designed for racing more than for transporting cargo.

Arnaud, P. “Les routes de la navigation antique”, éd. Errance, 2005.
Morrison, J.S.; Coates, J.F.; Rankov, N.B. “The Athenian Trireme”, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
[p. 25]

Arthur de Graauw, Ancient Ports and Harbours, Vol. III - Ancient Port Structures,
6th ed. (2017)

Boris Rankov remarks about the trials of the reconstructed trireme Olympias:

To the surprise of many, she also turned out to handle extremely well under sail (Fig. 12), being stable in winds of up to 25 knots, rolling and heeling 10° to 12° in a 22-knot wind on the beam, and sailing within 65° of the apparent wind, her long keel keeping leeway down to between 5° and 7°. With a 15-knot wind on the quarter, she easily maintained 7 knots under full sail, and momentarily touched 10.8 knots in a following gust of 20 knots.
[p. 49]

Boris Rankov, "The Trireme",
J. Bennett, Sailing into the Past: Learning from Replica Ships, Barnsley (2009) pp. 34-51.

Assuming Whitewright's closest point of 65° (which is less conservative but more recent than Casson's 80°), and given the prevailing northwest winds in the Mediterranean (assume a 45° angle from true north which is a bearing of 315°) then the closest starboard tack would be a bearing of 315°-65°=250° or approximately west-southwest, and the closest port tack would be a bearing of 315°+65°=380°=20° or approximately north-northeast. This means the segment of Herod's route from rounding the west tip of Crete to Brundisium would require frequent close-reach tacks back and forth across the headwind, with headway possibly assisted by rowers if the sea state was not too heavy.

Conversely, the return voyage to Ptolemais would most likely be running downwind entirely with few tacks.

So a course that Herod might have followed has been postulated that accounts for all the waypoints of the journey and the likely sailing conditions.


Map of theoretical distances and durations of Herod's voyage to Rome in 40 B.C.

How much time then does such a course require for travel and how much time would be available on Rhodes to acquire a trireme or trihemolia ("three-decked ship")?

In the analysis of Herod's route (below), Edward Ormond's date of October 2nd for the Treaty of Brundisium has been used because it is a specific date and it is the most constraining on the duration of Herod's voyage.

As described by Josephus, Herod the Great's ship was plausibly either a trireme or a trihemiolia (triemiolia), and Rhodes was known for its trihemiolia fleet.

Because of the food and water ration requirements for the oarcrew (120 for a trihemiolia or 170 for a trireme) it is most likely that Herod put into a harbor every night or other night. This would mandate a coastal route. The alternate mid-ocean "orange" route (below) seems excluded based on unavailable restocking of ships stores. Note also that Herod's return route is assumed to pass Greece, Crete, Rhodes, and Cyprus to allow for replenishing food and water stores.

The trireme could only leave its masts, sails and rigging ashore prior to engaging in battle under oars alone. But the smaller trihemiolia could stow its mast, sails and rigging onboard. This meant when the winds were too adverse, the sail rigging could be stowed while at sea and headway made under rowing alone. Being in haste to get to Rome against prevailing winds, this might be a reason (along with its smaller crew complement) Herod possibly chose a trihemiolia rather than a "trireme" (which Whiston translated as a "three-decked ship"), though it must be acknowledged that "τριήρη" (trireme) is what Josephus reported.

The routes shown below are speculative approximations of average directions. They are average because ships tacked frequently, thus extending the actual distance travelled.

Herod the Great's Mediterranean route from Jerusalem to Rome (red) and return to Ptolemais (green) in 40 B.C.
Herod's route jerusalem rome ptolemais small
(click to enlarge)

Both the outbound and homebound voyages would likely track close to coastlines because of the need to frequently replenish rations for the crew.

Upon reaching Brundisium, because of prevailing headwinds that slow a sailing ship bound for Rome, an overland route via a Roman post road to Rome is faster, and Herod could have disembarked and instructed his captain to sail the ship to Rome where Herod would rejoin it, while Herod travelled overland to Rome.


Table of route segment distances and durations

Essentially, the "days on Rhodes" available for Herod the Great to refit a ship are estimated; dependant upon a fixed Pentecost date at Jerusalem, variable arrival and departure dates at Rhodes, and a fixed date for arrival at Brundisium after the treaty.

The table below was generated from an Excel spreadsheet. Given the fixed dates (expressed in Julian Day numbers) for Pentecost (9 May 40 B.C.) and the Treaty of Brundisium (2 October 40 B.C.), the calculations determined how many days were available to Herod while on Rhodes to refit a ship, for either of two routes: the red "coastal" route or an alternate orange "mid-ocean" route.

Distances for each segment of the route (shown on maps above) were measured using Google Earth and input into each row under the column "miles". Then minimum and maximum travel durations for each route segment were input into the column "days". Travel duration values were obtained from either cited scholarship (e.g. for voyages or travel via Roman post roads) or were estimated from rates of travel overland. The earliest and latest arrival dates on Rhodes were calculated from the route segments between Jerusalem and Rhodes (assuming departure from Jerusalem either 2 or 4 days after the fixed date of Pentecost), and the earliest and latest departure dates from Rhodes were calculated from the route segments between Rhodes and Brundisium (assuming arrival at Brundisium 5 days after the fixed date of the treaty).

The available days on Rhodes to refit a ship are:

Lastly, the earliest and latest dates for Herod's arrival at Rome (having traveled the Roman post road from Brundisium) and his ship's arrival at Rome (having sailed around from Brundisium) are calculated, as well as the earliest and latest arrival back at Ptolemais assuming a departure from Rome of 7 days after Herod's arrival.

Note in the estimates below that allowances have been made for: Herod departing Jerusalem a few days after Pentecost (rather than assuming the same day); 1 day each for meetings and skirmishes; a much slower 10 miles/day overland travel speed is assumed for the sake of the women being taken to Masada; after Masada, Herod's 'forced march' speed over rough terrain of 40 miles/day is slower than the ~50 miles/day over a Roman post road; Herod's arrival 5 days after the Treaty of Brundisium (rather than on the same day); and note further that Herod's ship arrives at Rome from Brundisium before the 7 days Herod spent in Rome elapses.

The important results are:

Anchor dates around which time line is constructed
Historically verified dates
Days on Rhodes, assuming coastal route 1
Days on Rhodes, assuming mid-ocean route 2

Josephus days speed Julian Day Number 3 Julian Date 3
Antiquities Wars Segment or event of Herod's journey miles 4 min max min max Earliest Latest Earliest Latest
14.13.4 1.13.3 Feast of Pentecost / Shavout had come 1706941.5 5 1706941.5 May 9 May 9
14.13.7 1.13.7 Herod departs Jerusalem 2 4
14.13.8 1.13.7-8 Jerusalem to Oresa to Masada, overland 42 4 4 10 10
14.13.9 1.13.8 days for skirmish at Herodium 0 1 1
14.13.9 1.13.8 met with brother at Thressa, Idumea (Oresa) 0 1 1
14.13.9 1.13.8 days to settle women at Masada 0 1 1
14.14.1-2 1.14.1-2 Masada to Petra to Pelusium, overland 201 5 5 40 40
14.14.1 1.14.1 days to meet with Arabian king, Malchus 0 1 1
14.14.2 1.14.2 Rhinocolura to Pelusium, overland 46 1 1 40 40
14.14.2 1.14.2 days to procure passage to Alexandria 0 1 1
14.14.2 1.14.2 Pelusium to Alexandria, oversea 6 263 3 3
14.14.2 1.14.2 days to meet with Cleopatra 0 1 1
14.14.3 1.14.3 Alexandria to Rhodes oversea 7 449 7.5 10
Herod arrives at Rhodes 1706970.0 1706974.5 Jun 6 Jun 11
14.14.3 1.14.3 Days available on Rhodes to refit a ship     86.2 90.6
14.14.3 1.14.3 Herod departs Rhodes in his own ship 1707050.0
Aug 25 8 Sep 5 9
14.14.3 1.14.3 Rhodes to Brundisium, coastal oversea 10 846 31.9 42.5
Treaty of Brundisium (October 2, 40 B.C.) 1707087.5 11 1707087.5
Herod arrives Brundisium days after treaty signed 0 5 5 1707092.5 1707092.5 Oct 7 Oct 7
14.14.3 1.14.3 Brundisium to Rome via Appia Vetus 299 12 5 13 5 13
Herod arrives Rome 1707097.5 1707097.5 Oct 12 Oct 12
14.14.4-5 1.14.4 Herod appointed King of Judea while at Rome
14.14.5 Consulship of Calvinus & Pollio; 184th Olympiad
Total travel distance and days 2146 63.4 76.5
days available on Rhodes to refit a ship 63.4 81.6
Herod departs Rhodes in his own ship
Aug 13 8 Aug 27 9
Rhodes to Brundisium mid-ocean oversea 14 1086 40.9 54.6
Total travel distance and days 2386 71.0 86.7
Herod's ship departs Brundisium, sails to Rome
Brundisium to Strait of Messina, favorable winds 294 1.8 2.7 4.6 15 6.9 15
Strait of Messina to Rome, unfavorable winds 16 356 5.3 6.4 2.3 15 2.8 15
Herod's ship arrives at Rome from Brundisium 650 7.1 9.1 1707099.6 1707101.6 Oct 14 Oct 16
14.14.5 1.15.3 Herod departs Rome for Ptolemais after 7 days (Ant. 14.15.3) 7 7 1707104.5 1707104.5 Oct 19 17 Oct 19
14.15.1 1.15.3 Herod arrives Ptolemais 1549 10 15 1707114.5 1707119.5 Oct 29 Nov 3 18

[1] This corresponds to the red path on the maps portraying Herod's route.
[2] This corresponds to the orange path on the maps portraying Herod's route.
[3] Conversion between Hebrew dates, Julian dates, and Julian Day numbers were done with the Fourmilab Calendar Converter.
[4] Measured on Google Earth
[5] Julian Day number for 3721 Sivan 6 (Hebrew calendar)
[6] Pelusium to Alexandria, 5 or 6 [days] by land, 1 to 2 [days] by sea (estimated in Encyclopedia Biblica v 4, p. 5186)
[7] Alexandria to Rhodes, 7.5 - 10 days, per Lionel Casson, "Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships", p.145
[8] Maximum Rhodes to Brundisium voyage time requires departing Rhodes earlier, to arrive at Brundisium after treaty.
[9 Minimum Rhodes to Brundisium voyage time allows for departing Rhodes later, yet arriving at Brundisium after treaty.
[10] Interpolated from Casson's 'Rhodes to Rome' voyage, oversea south of Crete via Messina Strait is 1,194 miles (Google Earth) taking 45-63 days (Lionel Casson, "Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships", p.146). Also:"[Augusius] left Rhodes sometime after the 27th day of May and arrived at Brindisi 8 July" = 42 days per Lionel Casson,"The Isis and Her Voyage", n. 16 pp. 49-50
[11] Julian Day number for October 2, 40 B.C. (Julian calendar)
[12] English miles = ~360 Roman miles.
[13] "Cato, according to Plutarch, rode in five days from Brundisium to Rome, a distance of 360 Roman miles" (A.M. Ramsay, "The Speed of the Roman Post", p. 67)
[14] Interpolated from Casson's 'Rhodes-to-Rome' voyage, oversea south of Crete via Messina Strait at 1,194 miles (Google Earth) taking 45-63 days (Lionel Casson, "Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships", p.146)
[15] Casson determines "4 to 6 knots with the wind and 2 to 2.5 against" (Lionel Casson, "Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships", p. 114).
[16] Casson calculates Naples to Rome at 3 days ("Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships", p. 146).
[17] Sep 24 - Oct 11 "Navigation doubtful" per Vegetius; fierce equinoctial storms (Oded Tammuz, "Mare clausum? Sailing seasons in the Mediterranean in early Antiquity", p. 146)
[18] Nov 11-Mar 10 Seas are closed per Vegetius; shipping interrupted with frequent storms (Oded Tammuz, "Mare clausum? Sailing seasons in the Mediterranean in early Antiquity", p. 146)


Summary of Reconciliation

Josephus' only error was in dating Herod's appointment as King to the 184th Olympiad. All other details of Josephus' account reconcile with other historical reports and circumstances.

Herod the Great fled Jerusalem in early May of 40 B.C. to escape the Parthian attack. He then marched to Masada, Petra, Rhinocolura and Pelusium, and then sailed to Alexandria (per Josephus Ant. 14.13.1-14.14.2 and Wars 1.13.1-1.14.2) where he missed meeting Mark Antony who had wintered there (41/40 B.C.) with Cleopatra but who had left earlier in the spring for Tyre (per Appian, The Civil Wars 5.1.10-5.6.52).

Herod then sailed for Rome to catch up with Antony, but a not-uncommon summer storm on the Mediterranean detoured him to the island of Rhodes. While on Rhodes for 86-90 days, Herod "refitted and provisioned a three-decked ship", possibly a 120-oared, three-level, trihemiolia (which were well known at Rhodes) or a 170-oared trireme and also hired a captain and crew, and then sailed for Brundisium (per Josephus Ant. 14.14.3, and Wars 1.14.3) likely along the southern coast of Crete and then the western coast of Greece. This voyage would be windward, against prevailing winds, and likely took 32-42 days.

Herod arrived at Brundisium, Italy just after Antony and Octavian had returned to Rome having just agreed to the Treaty of Brundisium (dated variously late September to 12 October of 40 B.C. per the Concordia Casinum Inscription and Virgil's 4th "Eclogue"). Herod then proceeded to Rome, likely overland via the faster Roman post road, while he sent his ship around the longer coastal voyage to meet him at Rome.

Antony, Octavian, and the Roman Senate appointed Herod the Great as King of Judea after the Treaty of Brundisium sometime in early to mid-October of 40 B.C., and within 7 days thereafter Herod sailed back to Ptolemais (Acco) on the coast of Judea. This would be a short 10-15 day leeward (downwind) voyage arriving in late October or early November of 40 B.C., in time for Herod to gather an army and begin a campaign against Antigonus and the Parthians (per Josephus Ant. 14.14.4-14.15.1 and Wars 1.14.4-1.15.4), ultimately capturing Antigonus and Jerusalem in 37 B.C., Herod's 3rd year since being made King (by Tishri reckoning).

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(last updated July 6, 2020)