Forum

Antigonus II son of Aristobulus II
In Response To: Augustus son of Catalus ()

Continuing with this line of reasoning, we now need to consider whether Augustus and Julius Caesar shared an even closer lineage (than is currently assumed via Julia the grandmother of Augustus and sister of Julius Caesar).

Let’s assume for the moment that Josephus did in fact diligently preserve the Eastern identity of Octavius/Caesar Augustus in his histories just as he did Augustus’ predecessor Julius Caesar (Hasmonean Alexander II) and his successor Tiberius Caesar (Herodian Gioras/Gurion). Considering the great sensitivity of the matter, we should expect a fair amount of dissimulation on the part of Josephus regarding Augustus, even as he did concerning Julius Caesar and Tiberius Caesar. The Hasmonean identity of Julius Caesar, Alexander II, is conflated, probably deliberately so, with his predecessor Alexander I/Jannaeus. In the case of Tiberius, Josephus leads the reader to believe that he "died young in Rome", when in fact he was only temporarily excluded from succession.

By process of elimination, there is only one name left in the writings of Josephus to directly associate with Augustus (Octavius), that is, Antigonus II. In the narrative concerning the death of this Antigonus (Antiquities, Book XV, Chapter 1), rather than inform in a matter of fact style as he usually does, Josephus instead cites the authority of Strabo of Cappadocia. Josephus, explicitly on Strabo’s authority, tells us that Mark Antony decided to behead Antigonus. However, Josephus is careful not to actually state that Antony followed through on his judgment. It is left to the reader to draw this conclusion.

If Antigonus II is the Hasmonean name of Octavius (the future Caesar Augustus), then clearly Antony neither had him beheaded nor paraded him as a captive through the streets of Rome in triumph. In what may be one of the strangest reversals of history, Antony would have then spared Octavius from both death and demoralization only to later see this young prince outflank him for supremacy of the world.

Josephus makes Antigonus II and Alexander II (Julius Caesar) brothers, both being considered the sons of Aristobulus II. However, as we have seen, Alexander II was more likely a true son of his namesake Alexander I/Jannaeus, perhaps by a wife of Aristobulus II. Antigonus II could not have been the true son of his namesake the elder Antigonus, who died more than twenty year before his birth – although we could propose that he was the grandson of that earlier Antigonus by another Antigonus whom Josephus doesn’t mention, and whose death occurred in the 50’s BC (coinciding closely with that of the younger Catalus, but perhaps not the same as Catalus).

The cleanest (but not necessarily the correct) solution is that the Hasmonean name Antigonus corresponds to the Roman name/title Octavius (at least during the time period under consideration). The Hasmonean name Aristobulus then goes with the Roman name Catalus. The Hasmonean name Alexander has already been associated with Julius Caesar. According to Josephus, the elder Antigonus was murdered by the elder Aristobulus, followed shortly thereafter by the suicide of the elder Aristobulus. This tracks well with the murder of the elder Octavius in 87 BC followed almost immediately by the suicide of the elder Catalus, although Catalus does not seem to be blamed in Roman histories for the death of Octavius. Also, in this scenario, the deaths of Antigonus and Aristobulus would have taken place at about the same time (within a year or so) of that of Jannaeus, and not a long time before as is commonly assumed.

What is far more difficult to reconcile is that the younger Catalus, the renowned senator of Rome, could have been one and the same as the younger Aristobulus (II) and more particularly also Mithradates VI the scourge of Rome and of Roman citizens in Asia. Or, was it mistaken to conclude that Aristobulus II was one and the same as Mithradates VI, even though they were both deposed by Pompey in 63 BC (and about the time the younger Octavius/Augustus was born)? Perhaps so, but we still can’t rule out a very different parallel life for Catalus away from Rome.

We know that Julius Caesar (Alexander II “son” of Aristobulus II) resisted the aggressive, anti-Roman policy of Mithridates king of Pontus. Another “son” of Mithridates named Pharnaces II (Antigonus II?) did so as well, and was a contributing factor in his final downfall. If Mithradates VI was also Aristobulus II, perhaps he accepted the terms of his defeat and was allowed to retain his status in Rome as well as a governorship in Macedonia for the last five years or so of his life. This kind of treatment of wayward kings was fairly typical.

Unfortunately we do not get much help from Caesar Augustus himself regarding this puzzle. All he would divulge was that his forebears were rich men. Wealth was venerated above all else in Rome, kingship wasn’t. Therefore, it was not advisable for Augustus to claim descent from kings, even though he most certainly was from a very long line of the very richest of kings.