Roman period

The Roman era in the Land of Israel commences with Pompey the Great’s conquest of Syria and the Hasmonean kingdom in 63 BC, extending until 324 AD, marking the onset of the Byzantine era. Archaeologically, the Land of Israel abounds with discoveries, including structures, thoroughfares, and assorted artefacts like coins and glassware, owing to the advent of Roman glassblowing techniques. Stone and metal vessels, predominantly weaponry, alongside bone artefacts and numerous epigraphic findings, such as royal and military inscriptions and scrolls like the Bar Kokhba scrolls from Nahal Hever, contribute to the rich tapestry of this period.

Throughout the Roman epoch, new urban centers emerged, exemplified by Caesarea and Antipatrus, constructed in the distinctive Roman architectural style. Existing settlements underwent renaming and urban revitalization, like Maresha, Scythopolis (Beit Shean), Susia (Hippus), and Sebastia (Samaria). Specific locales attained the designation of a Roman colony, such as Caesarea, Acre, Jerusalem, Samaria, and Tiberias, granting their populace Roman citizenship and tax exemptions.

Politically, the three centuries of the Roman era witness a multitude of political and military dynamics. Following the conquest, the Hasmonean monarchs’ efforts to rebel and restore autonomous governance to Judah proved unsuccessful.

In 37 BC, Emperor Augustus appointed Herod as the ruler of the Jews. Herod, a staunch Roman ally, significantly expanded Judah’s sphere of influence during his reign. Despite lacking popularity among the majority of Judah’s populace, Herod’s rule was marked by a degree of tolerance and respect for religious rituals. He erected opulent residences and palaces, some repurposed as governmental edifices. Structures like Herod’s palace in Caesarea and Agrippa’s palace in Paneas endured as Roman administrative centers long after their builders’ time, alongside numerous other constructions.

Under Herod’s stewardship, innovative Roman techniques were employed in the construction of ports, such as the one in Caesarea, utilizing imported materials like volcanic ash from Naples. Infrastructure development mirrored that of the broader Roman Empire, with the establishment of well-paved roads adorned with milestones, intricate aqueduct systems, and public baths throughout the Land of Israel.

Roman architectural elements, such as temples and recreational venues like amphitheatres for spectacles and hippodromes for chariot races, adorned various locales such as Beit Shean, Caesarea, Sepphoris, and Tiberias, enriching the cultural fabric of the region.

Upon Herod’s passing in 4 BC, the Roman Empire incorporated Judea as a province, appointing commissioners to oversee affairs from Jerusalem. In 41 AD, Emperor Claudius granted Agrippa I, Herod’s grandson, a brief three-year stint as an autonomous ruler until his demise from illness. Subsequently, Judea reverted to provincial status in 44 AD, with Rome appointing commissioners, primarily of Syrian descent, who were viewed as corrupt and antagonistic toward the Jewish populace.

Tensions culminated in the massive uprising of 70 AD, as the Jewish rebellion against Roman rule engulfed the entire country. Rebels minted their own currency, bearing Jewish motifs, throughout the five-year conflict, a significant archaeological discovery shedding light on the Roman period. Detailed accounts of the rebellion were chronicled by Joseph ben Mattathias, a rebellion leader turned Roman historian under the Flavian dynasty, known as “Josephus Flavius.”

Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus quashed the rebellion, resulting in the destruction of the Jewish Temple and the loss of Judea’s status as a Roman ally. Subsequently, the Tenth Legion established a permanent presence in Jerusalem, imposing heavy taxes (Fiscus Judaicus) on the Jewish population, while engaging in military activities including the construction of fortifications, water systems, and roads.

The ascension of Emperor Hadrian reignited rebellion in 132 AD, led by Shimon bar Kokhba. After nearly four years, the rebellion was suppressed, leading to significant territorial changes and the relocation of Jewish settlements to Galilee.

Despite periods of turmoil, subsequent emperors fostered relatively stable relations. In 324 AD, Emperor Constantine II proclaimed Christianity as the official religion, marking the transition to the Byzantine period in historical research.

In summary, the Land of Israel, as a part of the vast Roman Empire, experienced both the benefits of Roman technological advancements and periods of oppressive governance that inflicted economic and religious hardships on the local populace.

Josephus ben Mattathias (Flavius ​​Josephus). The history of the Jewish war with the Romans. Translated from the Greek original by Ullman, Lisa 2009. Carmel. Jerusalem.

Yavin, S. 556 (1952). War of Bar Kokhba. Jerusalem.

Rappaport, A. 1972 (2011). The Great Revolt – Understanding it in the Light of the Historical Sources. In: Shahar, Y. in collaboration with Mostigman, R. and Oppenheimer A. (editors). In Israel and the Diaspora during the Second Temple Period and the Mishna Period, a memorial book for Aryeh Kasher Tel Aviv: 147-191.