Following the death of King Herod the Great in 4 BC, the Herodian Empire was divided among his heirs. Herod had changed his will many times due to his paranoia and the murder of some of his sons. During his fatal illness in 4 BC, he had another change of heart about his successor and revised his will one last time to appoint his eldest surviving son, Herod Archaelaus, as king of Judaea. His younger surviving son, Herod Antipas, would rule Galilee under a lesser title.
Because of Judaea’s status as a Roman client kingdom, King Herod’s succession plans had to be approved by the Emperor in Rome. It turns out his final will had not been approved by Caesar Augustus prior to his death, so this lead to a dispute between Archaelaus and Antipas, who both thought they should inherit the kingdom. The two sons traveled to Rome to make their case. While most in the Senate supported Antipas because of the cruelty of Archaelaus, Caesar Augustus followed the final form of Herod’s will and split the kingdom according to his wishes. However, Augustus would not grant the title of “king” to Archaelaus.
The Herodian Empire after Herod the Great included Archaelaus, Antipas, and Philip. Archaelaus received Judaea, which also included the regions of Idumea to the south and Samaria to the north. Archaelaus was called an “ethnarch,” or ruler of a people. Antipas received Galilee and Peraea and was called a “tetrarch,” or ruler over a fourth. Herod Philip, the half-brother of Archaelaus and Antipas, was also called a tetrarch and ruled the small regions of Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanaea, and Panias in the northeast.
In Judaea, Herod Archaelaus ruled only from 4 BC to 6 AD due to his cruel, violent, and self-serving nature. He killed thousands of Jewish religious leaders, replaced several high priests in Jerusalem, and diverted water from the people to his new palace at Jericho. Finally, a delegation of Jews and Samaritans traveled to Rome in order to complain and hopefully depose Archelaus. Even his brothers, Antipas and Philip, brought accusations against him before Caesar Augustus. In 6 AD, he was banished to Gaul and his territory became the “Province of Judaea,” directly under the control of the Roman Empire.
In Galilee, Herod Antipas ruled from 4 BC to 39 AD. While typically referred to as Antipas in order to distinguish him from the other Herods, the Gospels simply call him Herod, which sometimes causes confusion with chronology. As tetrarch of Galilee from 4 BC to 39 AD, Antipas lived marginally in line with Judaism and never attempted to do anything like build Roman temples, put his face on a coin, or erect statues and other images in the area of the Temple—all things which later Herodians did.
Antipas maintained his power as tetrarch during the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. He was even involved in the trial of Jesus later in history.