Berenice

BERENICE bər’ ə nes. This Herodian princess, born in a.d. 28, daughter of Agrippa I makes a brief appearance in the NT in the story of Paul’s examination before Festus at Caesarea (Acts 25:13-27). She was visiting the Rom. garrison town with her able brother, Agrippa II. Berenice was married as a child of thirteen years to Marcus, son of Tiberius Julius Alexander, the Arabarch and on his death to her uncle Herod, for whom Agrippa I, confirmed now by Claudius in control of the dominions of Herod I, begged the petty kingdom of Calchis (Jos Antiq. XIX. v. 1). There were two sons of this marriage, Berniceanus and Hyrcanus (Jos. B. J. XI).

After her husband’s death in a.d. 48, Berenice returned home to share the household of her brother Agrippa, with whom she appears to have shared warm friendship and mental fellowship. Rumor, inevitably, constructed from this situation a story of incestuous union for which there is no real evidence. To meet the scandal, however, Berenice married another petty monarch, Polemon II of Olba in Cilicia (about a.d. 65), but the union did not last long. Juvenal (Sat. VI. 155-160) is a fair example of the tainted sources of such tales:

The far famed gem which Berenice wore,

The hire of incest and thence valued more.

(Gifford’s tr.)

Where Berenice most notably appears in the pages of history is in the account of the heroic and self-sacrificing endeavor, which she shared with her brother, to prevent the outbreak of the great rebellion of a.d. 66. She confronted the mad procurator, Gessius Florus, at peril of her life. Tacitus (Hist. 2. 81) mentions her canny cultivation of the favor and goodwill of Vespasian during the war. She was then, says the historian, “in the bloom of her youth and beauty,” in spite of her forty-one years. Titus became Berenice’s lover during the same years of war, when Agrippa and Berenice sought asylum in Caesarea, and he appears to have taken her to Rome, sending her away, no doubt for political reasons, in a.d. 70 (Suet. Tit. 7. 2). It was “invitus, invitam,” the historian laconically reported “against the wish of both of them.” This was two years before Titus’ death, when he was seeking to rebuild the image of Vespasian. With this the princess disappears from history.

See also

  • Bernice