Roman Rule (63 b.c.e.–313 c.e.)
The expanding Roman Empire became interested in Judea, and in 63 b.c.e., under Pompey, the Roman legions seized Jerusalem. When the Romans replaced the Seleucids, they granted the Hasmonean king, Hyrcanus II, limited authority under the Roman governor of Damascus. The Jews did not willingly accept the new regime, and the following years witnessed frequent insurrections.
The last attempt to restore the former glory of the Hasmonean dynasty was made by Mattathias Antigonus (40 b.c.e.). His defeat and death three years later at the hands of the Romans brought Hasmonean rule to an end, and the land became a vassal state of the Roman Empire.
In 37 b.c.e., Herod, a Jewish convert from a politically influential family, was made king of Judea by the Roman senate, and although nominally independent, he had no authority in foreign policy. Herod was however granted almost unlimited autonomy in the country’s internal affairs and became one of the most powerful monarchs in the eastern part of the Roman empire. An admirer of Greco-Roman culture, Herod launched a massive building program that included the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste and the fortresses Herodium and Masada. He also remodeled the Temple.
After Herod’s death in 4 b.c.e., the authority of his heirs was progressively diminished, mainly due to popular opposition, until Judea was brought under direct Roman administration in 6 c.e..
Rome granted the Jews a degree of religious autonomy and some judicial and legislative rights through the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish legal and religious body under Rome. Its exact composition and role remains in some doubt and controversy. When increasingly harsh and insensitive Roman rule became intolerable, a group of Jews, later referred to as the Zealots, launched a revolt in 66 c.e. in the last days of the Roman emperor Nero.
It was during this rebellion that followers of Jesus Christ established Christianity. This First Roman War ended with the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple (in 70 c.e.) and the defeat of the last fortress of the Jews at Masada (in 73 c.e.). The ruthless destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Titus, head of the Roman forces, gravely affected the Jewish people. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed or taken captive.
A last brief period of Jewish sovereignty followed the revolt of Shimon Bar Kochba in 132 during which Judea and Jerusalem were regained, but only for three years. In conformity with Roman custom, Jerusalem was then “ploughed up with a yoke of oxen,” and to blot out all Jewish ties with the land, Judea was renamed Syria Palaestina and Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina. The Temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem, burned to the ground. A small and impoverished Jewish community remained primarily in Safed and in Galilee.
Under Byzantine Rule (313–636)
By the end of the fourth century, following Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity (313) and the founding of the Byzantine Empire, the area had become predominantly Christian. The Persian invasion of 610–614 was welcomed and aided by the Jews, who were still inspired by messianic hopes of deliverance.
In gratitude for their help, the Jews were granted the administration of Jerusalem; this interlude, however, lasted only about three years. Subsequently, the Byzantine army reentered the city (629) and again expelled its Jewish population.