HYRCANUS (Ὑρκανός), a Greek surname, of unknown origin, borne by several Jews of the Maccabaean period.
John Hyrcanus I., high priest of the Jews from 135 to 105 B.C., was the youngest son of Simon Maccabaeus. In 137 B.C. he, along with his brother Judas, commanded the force which repelled the invasion of Judaea led by Cendebeus, the general of Antiochus VII. Sidetes. On the assassination of his father and two elder brothers by Ptolemy, governor of Jericho, his brother-in-law, in February 135, he succeeded to the high priesthood and the supreme authority in Judaea. While still engaged in the struggle with Ptolemy, he was attacked by Antiochus with a large army (134), and compelled to shut himself up in Jerusalem; after a severe siege peace was at last secured only on condition of a Jewish disarmament, and the payment of an indemnity and an annual tribute, for which hostages were taken. In 129 he accompanied Antiochus as a vassal prince on his ill-fated Parthian expedition; returning, however, to Judaea before winter, he escaped the final disaster. By the judicious mission of an embassy to Rome he now obtained confirmation of the alliance which his father had previously made with the growing western power; at the same time he availed himself of the weakened state of the Syrian monarchy under Demetrius II. to overrun Samaria, and also to invade Idumaea, which he completely subdued, compelling its inhabitants to receive circumcision and accept the Jewish faith. After a long period of rest he directed his arms against the town of Samaria, which, in spite of the intervention of Antiochus, his sons Antigonus and Aristobulus ultimately took, and by his orders razed to the ground (c. 100 B.C.). He died in 105, and was succeeded by Aristobulus, the eldest of his five sons. The external policy of Hyrcanus was marked by considerable energy and tact, and, aided as it was by favouring circumstances, was so successful as to leave the Jewish nation in a position of independence and of influence such as it had not known since the days of Solomon. During its later years his reign was much , however, by the contentions for ascendancy which arose between the Pharisees and Sadducees, the two rival sects or parties which then for the first time (under those names at least) came into prominence. Josephus has related the curious circumstances under which he ultimately transferred his personal support from the former to the latter.
John Hyrcanus II., high priest from 78 to 40 B.C., was the eldest son of Alexander Jannaeus by his wife Alexandra, and was thus a grandson of the preceding. When his father died in 78, he was by his mother forthwith appointed high priest, and on her death in 69 he claimed the succession to the supreme civil authority also; but, after a brief and troubled reign of three months, he was compelled to abdicate both kingly and priestly dignities in favour of his more energetic and ambitious younger brother Aristobulus II. In 63 it suited the policy of Pompey that he should be restored to the high priesthood, with some semblance of supreme command, but of much of this semblance even he was soon again deprived by the arrangement of the pro-consul Gabinius, according to which Palestine was in 57 B.C. divided into five separate circles (σύνοδοι, συνέδρια). For services rendered to Caesar after the battle of Pharsalia, he was again rewarded with the sovereignty (προστασία τοῦ ἔθνους, Jos. Ant. xx. 10) in 47 B.C., Antipater of Idumaea, however, being at the same time made procurator of Judaea. In 41 B.C. he was practically superseded by Antony’s appointment of Herod and Phasael to be tetrarchs of Judaea; and in the following year he was taken prisoner by the Parthians, deprived of his ears that he might be permanently disqualified for priestly office, and carried to Babylon. He was permitted in 33 B.C. to return to Jerusalem, where on a charge of treasonable correspondence with Malchus, king of Arabia, he was put to death in 30 B.C.