‘Strabo on The Herodian Dynasty’: An Unpublished Paper by Ronald Syme, Transcribed, Annotated, and Reviewed

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An unpublished paper entitled ‘Strabo on the Herodian Dynasty’ from Sir Ronald Syme’s archive, now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, is here for the time transcribed (being handwritten), annotated (lacking notes), and reviewed. It belongs to Syme’s incomplete Anatolica project of some 600 pages, written during his years at Istanbul in the mid-1940s, and edited posthumously into a book of twenty-eight chapters by Anthony Birley. While Syme frequently judges that Strabo’s view of Judaea, the Hasmonaeans, and the Herods, was the result of negligence, error, and confusion— whereas compression with nuances of abstract thought would be more appropriate—he is admirably perceptive in recognising important points. Syme adopts the mandatory emendation of Adamantios Korais, restoring the name of Hyrcanus II (in place of a ‘Herod’) as the high priest appointed by Pompeius. He senses that in connection to the impossible priesthood for Herod, Strabo may have unconsciously contaminated different views about Herod’s ancestry. He concedes that Josephus’ silence is not decisive when Strabo is testifying on the precarious positions of the two tetrarchs (Antipas and Philip), in 6 CE. With caution, Syme calls this ‘a new historical fact’. His brilliant mind shines throughout. There is nothing that Syme could have written during his lifetime, which would not still be of interest.

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