When the Romans replaced the Seleucids as the
great power in the region, they granted the Hasmonean king, Hyrcanus
II, limited authority under the Roman governor of Damascus. The Jews
were hostile to the new regime, and the following years witnessed
frequent insurrections. A last attempt to restore the former glory of
the Hasmonean dynasty was
made by Mattathias Antigonus, whose defeat and death brought Hasmonean rule to an end (40 BCE), and the Land
became a province of the Roman Empire.
In 37 BCE, Herod,
a son-in-law of Hyrcanus II, was appointed King of Judea by the
Romans. Granted almost unlimited autonomy in the country's internal
affairs, he became one of the most powerful monarchs in the eastern
part of the Roman Empire. A great admirer of Greco-Roman culture,
Herod launched a massive construction program, which included the
cities of Caesarea and Sebaste and the fortresses at Herodium and Masada.
He also remodeled the Temple into one of the most magnificent buildings of its time. But despite
his many achievements, Herod failed to win the trust and support of
his Jewish subjects.
Ten years after Herod's death (4 BCE), Judea came
under direct Roman administration. Growing anger against increased
Roman suppression of Jewish life resulted in sporadic violence which
esclated into a full-scale revolt in 66 CE. Superior Roman forces led
by Titus were finally victorious, razing Jerusalem to the ground (70 CE) and defeating the last Jewish outpost at Masada (73 CE).
The total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was
catastrophic for the Jewish people. According to the contemporary
historian Josephus Flavius,
hundreds of thousands of Jews perished in the siege of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country, and many thousands more were sold into
A last brief period of Jewish sovereignty in
ancient times followed the revolt of Shimon Bar Kokhba (132 CE),
during which Jerusalem and
Judea were regained. However, given the overwhelming power of the
Romans, the outcome was inevitable. Three years later, in conformity
with Roman custom, Jerusalem was "plowed up with a yoke of
oxen," Judea was renamed Palaestinia and Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina.
Although the Temple had been destroyed and Jerusalem burned to the ground, the Jews and Judaism survived the encounter with Rome. The supreme legislative and
judicial body, the Sanhedrin (successor of the Knesset
Hagedolah) was reconvened in Yavneh (70 CE), and later in Tiberias.
Without the unifying framework of a state and the Temple,
the small remaining Jewish community gradually recovered, reinforced
from time to time by returning exiles. Institutional and communal
life was renewed, priests were replaced by rabbis and the synagogue became the focus
of Jewish settlement, as evidenced by remnants of synagogues found at Capernaum,
Korazin, Bar'am, Gamla and
elsewhere. Halakhah (Jewish religious law) served as the common bond among the Jews and
was passed on from generation to generation.
Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs