HERODIAN ESTATES EAST & WEST OF THE
In most of the societies of the world,
people own land that is exclusively their own. But in the
ancient near east that was not the case. In Egypt, for
example, all land was considered the property of the Pharaoh.
When the successors to Alexander the Great (died in 323 BC)
came to rule Egypt, they too considered all the land as their
property. Since these successors, called the Ptolemies, ruled
Palestine as well, they regarded all of that land as theirs.
All future rulers of Palestine, east and west of the Jordan
river, accepted the same notion.
In practice, however, these rulers (whether
Ptolemies 320-198 BC, Seleucids 198-164 BC, Hasmoneans 164-31
BC, or Herodians 31 BC-AD 70) tended to appropriate only the
best lands for themselves and to allow the peasant freeholders
to farm small plots if they paid the ruler taxes or rents.
Such a practice resulted in several huge landed estates which
belonged to the ruler and which were passed on to the next
By the time Herod the Great came to power
(31-4 BC) there were already several established royal estates
in Palestine. At least one of these began in the Persian
period, but most of them were established by the Ptolemies and
Seleucids. As the new ruler, Herod inherited these estates and
the enormous income that came with them.