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Berenice – Jewish lover of Titus

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Titus and Berenice in the painting
Titus and Berenice in the painting

Berenice, the Jewish queen from the east, almost became empress of the then-largest state – the Roman Empire.

Her family, though royal, was infamous in the pages of history, where murder, conspiracy and treason were the order of the day. Her father Herod Agrippa I, King of Judea, was the grandson of Herod the Great. Herodias, who, by means of the sensual dance of her daughter Salome, tricked the beheading of John the Baptist, was her aunt.

Map showing Judea in the 1st century CE
Wikipedia User: Andrew c

Berenice was born around 27, at the age of around 11 she was married to Mark Julius of Alexandria, who came from a respected Jewish family, who would have become the governor of Alexandria had it not been for his premature death. Little Berenice did not enjoy widow status for long, because her father decided to marry her to his brother Herod of Chalcis, who on the day of his wedding in 44, was over 50 years old, while Berenice was less than 17. Also, this marriage did not last long, as Herod died around 48, making the young queen widow again and orphaning their two sons, Berenicianus and Hyrcanus.

Berenice decided to go to the court of her brother Herod Agrippa II, a year older than her. All visitors to the siblings’ house quickly noticed that their relationship was far different from the brother-sister relationship, and more like a husband-wife relationship. Apparently, this fact should not be too shocking, because it was a fairly common practice at royal courts. But keep in mind that they were of Jewish descent, where such behavior was unacceptable. Soon, rumors started circulating about their incestuous relationship. Which caused widespread outrage and scandal. Both became the subject of lewd jokes not only in elite circles.

To extinguish the rumors, Berenice decides to remarry. This time, the chosen one was Ptolemy, the king of Cilicia, who underwent circumcision to establish a relationship with a Jewish princess. So our Berenice becomes the queen again, this time in Cilicia (the area of ​​today’s Turkey). But the marriage did not last long this time. After two years, the couple decided to divorce. Ptolemy cited the queen’s promiscuity as the reason for the divorce. What the truth is unknown. It is known that Berenice returned to her brother, to Caesarea. Unfortunately, the situation in the city was quite tense, which soon turned into an open war against Roman rule in these areas. The siblings were known for their pro-Roman stance. They both had Roman citizenship, and Herod, a young man, was sent by his father to Rome where he was raised and educated.

Statue showing the armored Emperor Titus Flavius​​. The object is made of white marble and dates back to 79 CE

Berenice and her brother left Caesarea at the last moment, where their house was set on fire. They went to Galilee, wherein 67 CE the 13th Roman legion, led by the consul Titus Flavius, entered. Probably then still beautiful Berenice, although it was no longer the beauty of a young girl, she charmed Tytus, who was 10 years younger. From the very beginning, the couple did not hide their feelings, and Titus reportedly even promised Brenica a marriage. They appeared together in public at all kinds of events organized on behalf of Titus. Apparently, before the demolition of the Jerusalem Temple, they both went inside holding hands. In the eyes of the Jews, it was an open contempt directed at their beliefs, desecrating this holiest place.

The many years of bloody war ended with the victory of the Roman army. Titus returned to Italy in 75 CE, taking with him ships full of loot and captured Jews. In the same year, Berenice joined her lover in Rome. They lived together in the Palace of Titus on the Palatine, where she behaved like his future wife.

Roman society was indignant. Salt in the eye was her Jewish origin, alleged incestuous relationship with her own brother, and her age. She was seen as a calculating, dissolute queen from the Far East, who had probably murdered her former husbands and cast a spell on the universally respected Titus. The obvious reluctance of the Roman people and mockery towards Berenice caused Titus’ father, Vespasian, to order his son to send his mistress back to where she came from. The heir to the throne must not become the object of mockery and jokes. Apparently, with tears in his eyes, Titus dismissed his bride, whom he had promised marriage.

Berenice left Rome. She returned to him in 1980 when she learned of Vespasian’s death. She hoped that now she would be able to marry Tytus without any problems. However, this did not happen. Her ship was ordered to turn back on the orders of Emperor Titus himself. Apparently, Titus unscrupulously sacrificed his former love for Berenice for the sake of the imperial wreath at his temples.

What does Berenice say? We don’t know that. It is not known what happened to her and what was her further fate. Sources are silent on this.

Author: Roger Rytter (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Alekander Krawczuk, Tytus i Berenika
  • Wikipedia
  • Żydowska kochanka cesarza, "Focus historia"

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