Judea was located approximately where the present day country of Israel is. In the east, the River Jordan flows south into the Dead Sea. To the West lies the Mediterranean Sea. The west coast lies mainly at sea level, with increasing elevations toward the inward section. These heights vary from 200 m to 1500 m above sea level, and decrease to below sea level when the region of the River Jordan is reached.
The territory usually ran from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan, in the east-west direction, and from the southern tip of the Dead Sea and the Gaza Valley in the south to the Plain of the Esdraelon (Jezreel) in the north. These boundaries changed quite often, but they always remained in this general vicinity.
The people of this area were of Hebrew decent. They had a long history of migration as they were constantly conquered, enslaved, and then set free only to embark on an ongoing search for a permanent homeland. Through their trials they developed a religion specifically unique to them with the worship of only one God, Yahweh. This monotheism was called Judaism from the Latin word Judaeus. In Greek the word was known as Ioudas.
Even though there was a large degree of Hellenisation in the urban areas that resulted in the wide use of the Greek language, the Roman culture never took such a strong hold. The Jewish name is the only thing they obtained from the Romans. Even in urban areas, they never spoke Latin or incorporated the Roman lifestyle. Herod did to some extent try to set up Roman influences through constructing new buildings, using Roman architecture. Josephus refers to a theater and a coliseum that Herod built in Jerusalem; however there is no archaeological references for these claims. Architecture was the only possible facet where Roman culture could be incorporated to the Jewish culture. The Jewish lifestyle was strictly managed by their observance of a monotheism. The Jews had become deeply attached to this belief system and did not take kindly to any attempts at forcing them to change. Smart rulers, like Herod tried to appease the Jews as much as possible and even adapted emperor worship so that it would not run contrary to their belief in one God. Only rulers who allowed for this religious freedom were able to maintain a quasi state of peace.
Sources for our Knowledge
The main bulk of our historical information about Judea comes from Josephus. He was a Jew who fought in the Revolt of AD 70 and at the end surrendered to Rome. After he was taken to Rome he took to recording the Jewish and Roman struggles and encounters that lead to the outbreak of the revolt. He often puts heavy blame on the radicals for the war, and relieves the mass of the Jewish population of responsibility. Josephus works are not objective. He clearly wrote the books, especially The Jewish War, with the intent of restoring Rome and Judea to their previous state of understanding and respect. There are many questions that Josephus leaves unanswered, and many times he gives conflicting opinions.
Accounts can sometimes be cross referenced with the Bible, Rabbinic sources, the Dead Sea Scrolls, or another writer named Philo, who was a philosopher and a well distinguished Jew in the city. Although none of these sources are as direct or extensive as Josephuss works, the accounts do compare and can be evaluated for their independent historical significance.
The official time period of Roman rule lasted from AD 6 to AD 638, when the land was conquered by the Arabs. However, Roman involvement started long before AD 6, and it was at the request of aggressive Jewish factions coveting the thrown. In 64 BC there was a tremendous amount of political, and religious friction. The ruler Alexander Jannaeus had died, and his sons were fighting for the throne. Both sons and other Jews appeared before Rome and asked to be recognized as the official ruler. Rome eventually supported Hyrcanus II, and his brother Aristobulus II surrendered to the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC after seeing that fighting was hopeless. Hyrcanus was given the title of high priest, but not king. Judea was not incorporated into the Roman territory, but was directly under their domain. Romes involvement in the political scene in Judea did not decrease turbulence. Over the next few years, there were times the Jews were allies with Rome and at other times they were a force the Roman government saw as a threat that must be weakened.
In 47 BC Julius Caesar came through Judea and Syria. He granted various benefits to the Jews and entitled Hyrcanus as ethnarch, the ruler of the nation, and gave Antipater the Idumean the title procurator, the caretaker. Antipater was assassinated and his position fell onto his son Herod.
In 40 BC Syria was invaded by Parthinians and they set Aristobulus II up on the throne as king and high priest. Herod went to Rome and persuaded the Senate that he was capable of restoring peace and Roman rule in Judea. After Herod accomplished this in 37 BC, Rome appointed Herod king of Judea. Although Herod was very brutal, he kept peace in his country until his death in 4 BC Herod the Great was an excellent politician, and his attempt to please everyone was his greatest political skill (killing off his enemies did not hurt him at all either). Herod constantly sought for the approval of his people, and although he did not uphold the Jewish traditions, he was very careful not to desecrate any of them. Even more important to him was the approval of the Roman government. Herod had the position of king, but he was still just an administrative arm of the Roman government. Starting with Herod, the Jews were given religious autonomy and a limited system of self-government was set up through their religious council, called the Sanhedrin.
After Herods death numerous riots broke out. Some people were simply displaying their anger toward the deceased hostile king and others were in search of profit from the chaos, either by looting or by proclaiming the kingdom for themselves. Rome divided Judea into three sections, with each of Herods sons as a vassal king over one region. His sons were all disposed of in AD 6, however, due to misrule, and Judea was incorporated into the Roman Empire with the province of Syria. Judea was now governed by a series of Roman prefects. We know next to nothing about any of them, except Pilate (ca AD 26-36) Pilate did not respect the Jewish customs. There were even times the Roman Emperor stepped in to protect the Jews. Pilate was eventually removed from office by continual complaints against him to the Governor of Syria.
Violent resistance within the province was continually growing. Some believe that if Agrippa I, who reigned as king from AD 41-44, had ruled longer, the violence would have subsided. Agrippa was very popular, and only admirable references toward him can be found in the ancient texts. He upheld all the religious customs and tried to attain a minor degree of independence from Rome. With his death Judea went through a twenty-year period of Roman procurators. Josephus documents many misuses of power, eventually leading to the eruption of revolt in AD 66.
The final straw that threw Judea into revolt was when the procurator Florus seized seventeen talents from the temple treasury. Although this act was no worse that any other offences against the Jewish people, their tolerance was gone. A violent riot broke out, which Florus answered with brutality. This act only intensified their anger, and Florus was forced to leave the city. The official declaration of war came with the suspension of the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor and the Roman Empire. The Sicarii became the leading revolutionary group. Generals were assigned to every district to set up a defense system. When the Romans with Vespasian as their general arrived the entire north fell quickly, except the fortress of Jopata, which held out for almost seven weeks. Fighting resumed in the spring of 68, and by the summer only Jerusalem was left unconquered. The end seemed near; However, Vespasian had to neturn to Rome because the Emperor Nero was killed. In the spring of 70, Vespasian sent his son Titus to finish the job. The two year break should have given the revolutionaries time to regroup and prepare, but all it brought was internal strife and famine. By late August, Jerusalem was captured and the temple destroyed. A Triumph was given for Vespasian and Titus, upon their return to Rome in 71.
The only punishment given to the Jews was the "jewish tax"; a half-sheckel that was formerly given to the Temple at Jerusalem now went to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome. Jewish land throughout Judea was also confiscated, but this is the normal practice after a war. There were no restrictions on their worship and Titus even defended their right when he was petitioned to expel the Jews from Antioch. After the triumph of Titus, there were only a few trouble spots to be cleaned up. This was completed by 74.
Peaceful relations were found throughout Judea until the rule of the Emperor Hadrian. He issued several edicts to try and establish a cultural uniformity . This repression sparked the Bar-Kochba rebellion from 132-135. Again the rebellion was crushed, and the Temple at Jerusalem was destroyed. Hadrian renamed the city Aelia Capitolina. He forbid Jews to enter the city; However, they were allowed to travel once every year to a fragment of the destroyed temple, the western wall, which became known as the Wailing Wall. The Jews were essentially left with no state and turned toward their religion for identification and protection. This internalization provided for the survival of their faith.
The remaining period of Roman occupation was relatively uneventful. Judea did have a period of increased prosperity in 330, when Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the empire. When the Empire was spilt in 395, Judea remained in the east half of the empire. The relationship between the Roman Empire and Judea was upheld until Judea was conquered by the Arabs in 638. This effectively ended the period of Roman domination of in Judea.
Benefits and Economics
There were not any superb advantages to the conquest and possession of Judea. The farming was nothing to brag about, and there were no abundant natural resources. It was just added territory to the Roman kingdom, and gave them more land along the Mediterranean Sea.
The economic conditions in Judea were fragile, and the taxes imposed on them by the Romans often increased the poverty of the country. Brigands--men sometimes identified as Robin Hood type characters--roamed Judea prior to and during the period of Roman control. These men were landless and were the best representation of the poverty and the social distress consuming many peoples lives in this region. This territory gave the Romans many more problems than they bargained for. They would probably have done better just to leave Judea to its own problems.