Roman Times

History of Israel: Roman Times

The fascinating story of Judea & Jerusalem under the Roman Empire: All the BIGGIES were here! Augustus, Mark Anthony & Cleopatra, King Herod, Pontius Pilate, Jesus at Calvary, Peter, Cornelius, & Paul at Caesarea, and St. Helena, mother of the Byzantine ruler Constantine the Great, who built the Holy Sepulchre church over Calvary.

Pompey & Romans invade Judea (63 BC)

Israel Museum replica of Jerusalem 2nd Temple destroyed by Titus the Roman in 70 A.D.

Second Temple destroyed by Titus the Roman in 70 C.E.

Alexander Jannaeus the Hasmonean was the last independent Jewish king of Judea. He died in 76 BC and was succeeded by his wife Salome. When John Hyrcanus, Salome’s eldest son, succeeded to the throne in 67 BC, his brother, Aristobolus, backed by the Sadducees, immediately led a revolt against him. Both brothers sought the help of Pompey, the greatest Roman general of his day, who had advanced into Syria. The Roman sided with John Hyrcanus, the weaker of the two brothers, and the easier to control. Pompey advanced on Jerusalem and Aristobolus retreated to the Temple. Jerusalem fell in 63 BC after a three month siege. Judea became a puppet government of Rome and John Hyrcanus was allowed to rule a much reduced realm. His chief minister was Antipater II (father of Herod) who was of Idumean (Edomite) origin.

Julius Caesar & John Hyrcanus (48 BC)
The Jews never fully accepted Roman domination and in 57 BC Gabinius the Governor of Syria had to help Hyrcanus suppress a revolt. By 55 BC the Roman empire was controlled by three men: Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar. Caesar had acquired the provinces north of Italy and had already set out on the conquest of Gaul. Pompey had been given Spain. Crassus became governor of Syria and stole the treasure of the Temple in Jerusalem but he and his army were subsequently crushed by the Parthians (53 BCE). In the ensuing civil war Pompey fled to Egypt where he was assassinated (48 BCE). Julius Caesar recognized John Hyrcanus as ruler of the Jews and Antipater, his chief minister, gave important positions to his two eldest sons: Phasael was made governor of Jerusalem and Herod, now about 25 years old, was given command over Galilee.

Parthian invasion of Judea repelled (44 BC)
In 44 BC Julius caesar was murdered by Brutus and Cassius. The ensuing instability of the Roman Empire led to Hyrcanus’ rivals to make another bid for power. Antipater, Herod’s father, was assassinated (43 BC) and Antigonus son of Aristobolus (brother of John Hyrcanus), invaded Judea with Parthian support. Herod was called in by Hyrcanus to help repel the invaders and in return betrothed to Herod his beautiful granddaughter Miriam the Hasmonean. Herod divorced his wife Doris and expelled her and her son from Jerusalem.

Mark Anthony recognizes Herod (41 BC)
Shortly after, Brutus and Cassius were defeated by Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian.  By 41 BC Mark Anthony and Octavian shared the leadership of Rome and divided into two regions:  Western (Gaul & Spain) ruled by Octavian and eastern (Greece & Near East) ruled by Anthony.  Hyrcanus, accompanied by Herod and his brother Phasael, went to their new master and received recognition.

Mark Anthony & Cleopatra (41-31 BC)
Mark Anthony spent the winter of 41/40 BC in Cleopatra’s arms. She had been the former lover of Julius Caesar (in 48 BC he was 52 and she was 22).  As the richest woman in the world Mark Anthony needed her money to the war against Parthia and so invited her to Tarsus and from there they proceeded to Alexandria

Antigonus & Parthians conquers Judea (40 BC)
In the spring the Parthians along with Antigonus (son of Aristobolus and nephew of John Hyrcanus) reached Jerusalem. Phasael committed suicide and John Hyrcanus survived, though his nephew Antigonus cut off his ears so that he could never be high priest again because he was physically deformed. Herod, along with his wife Miriam and her mother Alexandra, escaped from Jerusalem and settled his family in Masada. Antigonus was now designated by the Parthians as king over Judea (c. 40 BC).

Herod made king over Judea (39 BC)

Masada palace fortress & refuge built by King Herod the Great in the Judean wilderness near the Dead Sea

Herod’s Masada

Herod arrived in Egypt, following Mark Anthony who had left for Asia Minor and Italy with news of the Parthian invasion. In Rome, Herod convinced Mark Anthony and Octavian to nominate him as king of Judea (39 BC). Flanked by Octavian and Mark Anthony, Herod mounted the Capitol where he offered sacrifice to Jupiter.


Herod captures Jerusalem, Antigonus beheaded (37 BC)
Herod felt no particular allegiance to the Jewish people. Upon being appointed as king of Judea by Mark Anthony and Octavian, he returns at the head of a Roman army and campaigns against Antigonus (39-37 BC). In 37 BC he captures Jerusalem after a 5 month siege. Antigonus was sent to Mark Anthony in Antioch and beheaded.

Mark Anthony marries Cleopatra, alienates Octavian (37 BC)
In the meantime, Mark Anthony while in Antioch sent his pregnant wife Octavia (sister of Octavian) back to Rome (they had been living in Athens) and then summoned Cleopatra to Antioch in Syria and married her (37 BC).

Herod fortifies Masada as place of refuge (37 BC)
Herod knew that Cleopatra wished to rebuild the empire of her fathers and that the empire had included Judea so he fortified Masada as a retreat for himself and his family in the event of an Egyptian invasion.

Octavian recognizes Herod as king  (37 BC)
Herod, who formerly supported Mark Anthony, then traveled to Rhodes to meet Octavian and gain recognition as king over Judea. Upon his return he faced many family problems due to rivalries between his various wives and their children.  Herod’s sister Salome and mother – Cyprus- devised a plot of adultery against Herod’s favorite- Miriam the Hasmonean. Miriam was found guilty and executed after which Herod was filled with remorse (29 BC)

King Herod (37- 4 BC)
An astute ruler with visions of grandeur Herod the Great undertook grandiose building projects- both Jewish and pagan – spreading his fame far and wide. These include the Temple of Baalbek (Lebanon), Samaria, Masada, the enlargement of the Temple (including the Western Wall), and numerous palaces. The most famous of Herod’s new towns was Caesarea Maritima, a showcase port city built on the Mediterranean coast begun in 22 BC and dedicated 10 years laster in 10 BC.

Octavian becomes emperor Augustus (31 BC)
With the suicide of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, following their defeat by Octavian at the battle of Actium (31 BC), Octavian becomes Augustus emperor of Rome.

Herod dies & kingdom divided (4 BC)

Herodian southwest of Jerusalem where Herod the Great was buried

Herodian where Herod the Great was buried

Herod died in his palace in Jericho in the year 4 BC (shortly after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth) and was buried at his Judean desert palace/fortress Herodian.  Augustus Caesar abolished the monarchy and Herod’s kingdom was divided three of his sons:

Archelaus rules Judea (4 BC-6 AD)
Archelaus son of Herod by his Samaritan wife Malthace, ruled the center of the country (Judea) and Jerusalem (4 BC – 6 AD). He ruled with a strong hand and on one occasion on Passover 3000 people were killed when they protested the putting to death by Herod of scholars that tore down the Roman eagle from the Temple gates. In 6 ACE a delegation of the people complained to Augustus, and Archelaus was exiled to Vienne in Gaul where he died in c. 16 AD. Judea was then placed under direct Roman rule of procurators.

Herod Antipas rules Galilee (4 BC-37 AD)

Coin of Herod Antipas: Palm branch with Greek "Herod the Tetrarch"

Coin of Herod Antipas ruler of Galilee: Palm branch with Greek “Herod the Tetrarch”

Herod Antipas (b. 20 BC), son of Herod by his Samaritan wife Malthace, was educated in Rome with his older brother Archelaus. He ruled over Galilee and the Peraea (the Jewish portion of Transjordan). Antipas rebuilt Sepphoris which had been burnt in the troubles following his father’s death (war of Varus) in 4 BC and made it his chief capital. After Augustus’ death in 14 AD, Antipas built Tiberias (14-18 AD), his new capital by the Sea of Galilee, in honor of the new emperor Tiberius Caesar (14-37 AD).

Antipas beheads John the Baptist (30 AD)
In ~30 CE Herod Antipas married Herodias, who had divorced his half-brother Herod  II. The forbidden marriage (Lev. 18:16) stirred the resentment of the people against him. This is presumably based on the commandment: “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.” (Lev. 20:21) and “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.” (Lev. 18:16).  So when John the Baptist dared to denounce this marriage publicly, he was executed in Machaerus (~30 AD) at the command of Antipas. This was after Salome, the daughter of Herodias & Herod II, danced before Antipas on his birthday and he promised to fulfill her mother’s every wish: “Having been prompted by her mother [Herodias], she [Salome] said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 14:8).

Philip rules Golanitus (4 BC-34 AD)

Banias Caesaria Philippi source of Jordan near Mt. Hermon & Golan Heights

Banias or Caesaria Philippi source of Jordan River at the foot of Mt. Hermon and the Golan Heights

Philip the Tetrarch, also known as Herod Philip II, son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem, was educated in Rome with his half brother Archelaus. He ruled the area of Golanitus and the east shore of the Sea of Galilee (4 BC-34 AD) and founded the city of Caesarea Philippi or Paneas (today’s Banias), at the sources of the Jordan river. Another city founded by him was Julias, named after Julia, the daughter of Augustus Caesar. Julius is situated on the site of the biblical village of Bethsaida (excavated in recent year) and is located at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, not far from Capernaum. Philip the Tetrarch was married to his niece Salome, daughter of his half-brother Herod II & Herodias, and grand daughter of Herod the Great and Mariamne II. After Philip’s death in 34 AD his territory was eventually given to Agrippa I (in 37 AD), the grandson of Herod the Great.

Judea under Roman governors (from 6 AD)
Roman governors (prefects or procurators) were instituted over Judea in 6 AD when Herod’s son Archelaus was deposed for failing to competently rule. Their primary role was military supervision over the country and collection of imperial taxes. They also appointed the Temple High Priest since the latter controlled the Temple Treasury, the repository or vault where the gold was kept. There were a total of 14 Roman governors in Judea, the first being Coponius (6-9 AD). While the official residence of the governors  was in Caesarea, on Jewish festivals, their seat was temporarily transferred to Jerusalem in order to control the thousands who flocked to the Temple on these occasions. In general, the procurators were either openly hostile or, at best, indifferent to the needs of the Jewish population. Their relatively short tenure, coupled with hostility towards Jews as a whole, may have impelled them to amass quick profits.

Pontius Pilate over Judea (26-26 AD)

Pontius Pilate engraved stone plaque found at Caesaria on the Mediterranean coast of Israel

Pontius Pilate stone plaque found in Caesarea Maritima, Roman administrative capital of Judea on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. Original in Israel Museum

Pontius Pilate arrived in Judea and ruled for 10 years (26-36 AD). At the time, the sons of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas in Galilee and Philip in Golan, continued to administer the northern districts of their father’s former kingdom. Pilate’s traditional title is “procurator” (used by the Roman historian Tacitus 56-117 AD) but according to the Pilate Stone inscription discovered in Caesarea and erected in honor of the emperor Tiberias, his precise title was “prefect”. However, after the death of King Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great), in 44 AD, when Judea reverted to direct Roman rule, the governors used the title “procurator”.

Pontius Pilate & Judea
Pilate is most well known for the trial and condemnation of Jesus of Nazareth who is accused of being “king of the Jews”, doesn’t deny it, and is crucified. Pontius Pilate however also offended Jewish religious sensibilities: While it was Valerius Gratus (who preceded Pontius Pilate as governor) that appointed Caiaphas in 18 AD as High Priest over the Temple in Jerusalem, Pilate kept him in power (until 36 AD). Pilate also brought Roman standards into Jerusalem bearing the imperial image and angry Judeans descended on Caesaria and besieged Pilate in his palace for days. Later on, he expropriated Temple funds to build an aqueduct and attacked the Samaritans who had gathered on Mt. Gerizim for a religious ceremony (35 AD). In both cases demonstrators were killed. The Roman governor of Syria had to recall Pilate to Rome to answer before Tiberias on account of his irresponsible conduct (36 AD) and appointed Marcellus in his place. Tiberias died however before Pilate reached Rome and he never returned to Judea.

Marcellus governed (36-37 AD) followed by Marullus (37-41 AD). Then follows a 3 year of interlude without procurators during which king Agrippas I ruled all of Judea like his grandfather Herod the Great.

Agrippa I:  Grandson of Herod (11 BC-44 AD)
Agrippa I, also known as Herod Agrippa or Agrippa the Great (11 BC-44 AD), was the son of Aristobolus IV & Bernice, and grandson of Herod the Great & Miriam (Mariamne I) the Hasmonean. He was educated in Rome with other princes at the imperial court of Tiberias caesar. In 23 AD he returned home to Judea and was subsequently appointed agoranomos (“market overseer”) in the newly built city Tiberias at the shores of the Sea of Galilee by his brother-in-law Herod Antipas, who was married to his sister Herodias. After the death of his uncle Philip the Tetrarch (37 AD), the Roman emperor Caligula (37-41 AD), successor to Tiberias, gave him Golanitus. In 39 AD Caligula added Galilee – the territory of Herod Antipas who had in the meantime been exiled to Gaul. Agrippa I used his connections in Rome to intercede with Caligula on behalf of the Jews. For example, to retract an order to erect the emperor’s statue in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Herod Antipas exiled to Gaul by Caligula (~40 AD)
With the accession of the emperor Caligula (37-41 AD) after Tiberias, Agrippa I accused his brother in law, Herod Antipas, of preparing for a war against Rome with Parthian assistance. Antipas came to Rome and was exiled with his wife Herodias (sister of Agrippa I) to Lugdunum Comvenarum in Gaul (today St. Bertrand de Comminges, France). His domain was attached to Agrippa’s kingdom.

Agrippa I appointed King of Judea by Claudius (41-44 ACE)
Shortly afterwards, Caligula was murdered (41 AD) and Agrippa I, who was in Rome and supported the succession of Claudius, was awarded Samaria and Judea (41 AD). Agrippa I now reigned as king over the whole area of Herod’s kingdom and the procuratorship of Judea was temporarily suspended. The three years of Agrippa’s reign were a period of relief and benefit for the Jewish people of Judea. Agrippa also made an attempt to fortify the walls of Jerusalem. Josephus states that “his permanent residence was Jerusalem, where he enjoyed living, and he scrupulously observed the ancestral laws.” It is Agrippa I who is referred to in the Mishnah which points out that when celebrating the Festival of the First Fruits (Shavuot), “even King Agrippa carried the basked [of first fruits] on his shoulder (Mishnah Bikurim 3:4). He is also mentioned in Mishnah Sotah 7:8 which states that contemporary rabbinical sages accorded him particular regard when he made a special point of standing up to read the Torah in the Temple Courtyard of the Women, even though it was permissible for a king to do so while seated.

King Agrippa I arrests James & Peter (43 AD)
Agrippa I is the king named “Herod” in the book of Acts 12: In about 43 AD, while in Jerusalem for Passover, King Agrippa I had James (the brother of John, sons of Zebedee and among the first disciples of Jesus in Matthew 4:21) put to death, He also arrested Simon Peter with the intention of putting him on trial after the holiday. The night before the trial, an angel helped Peter escape from prison and he seeks asylum at the house of Mary, mother of John Mark. King Agrippa had the Roman guards put to death and left for Caesaria. Agrippa died suddenly when in Caesarea, possibly as a result of poisoning by the Romans who feared his popularity with the population. After his death, Judea reverted to the status of Roman procuratorship.

Procurators over Judea reinstituted (44 AD)
After the interlude of semi-independence under Herod Agrippa I, the second series of procurators were deprived of their power of appointing the Jewish high priest:

Cuspius Fadus (44-44 AD) was the first and gained custody of the priestly vestments.
Ventidius Cumanus (48-52 AD) let his troops cause a panic in the overcrowded Temple area on Passover, resulting in the death of 20,000 Jews (Jos., Ant., 20:105-12).
Antonius Felix was next in line (52-60 AD)
Porcius Festus (60-62 AD) made vain attempts to improve conditions
Albinus (62-64 AD)
Gessius Florus (64-66 AD) was the last of the Judean procurators, is reported by Josephus to have sparked off the Jewish War and revolt in 66 CE with his demand for 17 talents of gold from the Temple funds. The action caused rioting that led to the outbreak of hostilities.

Agrippa II king over parts of Judea (50 AD)
Agrippa II (29-92 AD), great grandson of Herod the Great, was the son of King  Agrippa I and the last king of the Herodian line. Like his father, he was educated in Rome and he was there when he learned of his father’s death. The emperor Claudius refused to let him succeed on account of his youth. The coins of Agrippa II indicate that he reckoned his reign from the year 50 and he was accorded the title “king” but at no time was he king of Judea as his father Agrippa I had been. The Roman emperor Claudius entrusted to him the supervision of the Temple and the right to appoint the high priest. In 54 he received the territory of Golanitus.

Agrippa II under Nero (54 CE)
In this same year Claudius died of poison (54 AD) and Nero was proclaimed emperor (54-68 AD). During Nero’s reign the borders of his jurisdiction in Judea were extended. In 61 AD Agrippa II received parts of Galilee including the Roman city of Tiberias. At the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66, Agrippa was in Alexandria. He sided with Rome and hurried back to Jerusalem to try to convince the local Jewish community of the futility of their cause against the power of Rome. His mission failed and he sent 2000 men, archers, and cavalry to support Vespasian and was wounded at Gamla on the Golan. In 68, upon receiving news of Nero’s suicide, he set sail with Titus for Rome. Vespasian gave him estates in the north – areas populated primarily by non-Jews. He died, apparently childless, about the year 93/94 AD.

Simon Peter martyred in Rome (64 AD)

Roman Theater in Caesarea by the sea built by King Herod on Israel's Mediterranean coast

Roman Theater in Caesarea Maritima

It was under King Agrippa I (41-44 AD) that Simon Peter was imprisoned in Jerusalem but miraculously escaped the night before he was to put on trial. He was the disciple of Jesus who had a vision to take the gospel to the Gentiles and converted Cornelius the Roman centurion in Caesaria. Peter may have gone on to Asia Minor, perhaps Corinth, and is believed to have been martyred in Rome during Nero’s persecution of Christians, around 64 AD.

Paul before Festus sent to Rome (62 AD)
Paul of Tarsus was kept in custody at Caesarea for two years by the Roman procurator Felix. His successor, Festus, suggested that Paul be tried in Jerusalem. Paul however, as a Roman citizen from Tarsus, appealed to the Roman emperor (Nero) and was sent to Rome (approx. 62-64 AD). According to the New Testament, Agrippa II showed an indifferent attitude towards Paul and the spread of Christianity. In Acts 25-26 we read: “A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea…The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of [the procurator] Festus, Paul was brought in… Then king [Agrippa II] rose [after questioning Paul], and with him the governor and Bernice… After leaving the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment… Agrippa said to Festus, This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” Paul was taken under escort to Rome, probably released, and spent further time in missionary work before being martyred on a second visit to Rome during Nero’s persecution of 64 AD.

Judea revolts-Temple destroyed (70 AD)

Roman Judea Capta coin commemorating defeat of Jews in Judea by Titus in 70 CE

Roman Judea Capta coin commemorating victory over Judea

The growing conflict between the Jewish way of life and growing Roman inroads into local social and religious life led to the Great Jewish Revolt. It broke out in 66 AD in Caesaria and spread like wildfire. The Romans under Titus respond by destroying Jerusalem and burning the 2nd Temple. The revolt ended In 73 AD with the fall of Masada, where less than 1000 Jewish men, women, and children stood up to a full Roman legion and took their lives rather than be sold into slavery.

Bar Kokhba revolt (130 AD)

Secret tunnel hideout used by Jews in Judea during the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans in 130 CE

Tunnel from Bar Kokhba revolt that Jews hid in

The last attempt at reestablishing Jewish independence was the Bar Kokhba revolt (130-135 AD) led by Shimon (Simon) bar Kokhba at the time of Hadrian the emperor. Fighting was so severe that the Romans had to send as many as twelve Roman legions to Judea of which the Roman Legion XXII was probably wiped out and at the end of the fighting Hadrian didn’t greet the Senate with the usual message, “All is well for me and my troops”. After suppressing the Bar Kokhba revolt, Hadrian introduced anti religious measures such as forbidding circumcision, Sabbath observance, and Torah study. Rabbi Akiva the greatest sage of the period, was martyred. Hadrian also tried to erase any Jewish connection to the Land of Israel: He changed the name of the Roman province of Judea to Syria Palestina and Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina. A pagan temple to Jupiter was built over the site of the destroyed Jewish Holy Temple on the Temple Mount and a temple to Venus (Roman equivalent of the Greek god  Aphrodite) over Calvary. Jews were forbidden from living in and around Jerusalem. As a result, the center of Jewish life, study, courts, and rabbinic leadership gravitates to Galilee. In 200 ACE the Mishna – code of Jewish Law is compiled by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince) of Tzipori (Sepphoris).

Byzantine period (313-636 AD)

Holy Sepulchre built over Calvary by St. Helena in 4th century ACE

Holy Sepulchre church built over the site of Calvary or Golgatha by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, in the 4th century AD

In 313 AD, under Constantine the Great, Christianity became the official religion of the eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. In 324 AD His mother, St. Helena, builds the first churches, the most famous of which was the Holy Sepulchre over Golgatha, the place of crucifixion, in Jerusalem. Over the spot stood a Roman temple to Venus built by Hadrian the emperor in the 2nd century following the Bar Kokhba revolt. In the west, the Roman Empire was collapsing to the barbarians, but in the east it was to thrive for many more centuries – up until the end of the 15th century and the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul) to the Turks.

Over the next three centuries, the Land of Israel became predominantly Christian and many large imperial churches, esp. under the 6th century emperor Justinian, were built. Jews were forbidden from holding public office and frequently not allowed to enter Jerusalem- except on Tisha B’av, to mourn the destruction of the Temple.

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