Augustus was the first Roman emperor (27 B.C.E.). The policies of Augustus toward the Jews of the Roman Empire in general, and the inhabitants of Judea in particular, followed the favorable line established by Julius Caesar . But with respect to Judea, the emperor's personal friendship with Herod probably played the decisive role. Herod's rule in Judea (37–4 B.C.E.) was contemporaneous with the rule of Augustus, and a close relationship existed between the two monarchs. It was Augustus, together with Mark Antony, who had been instrumental in the Senate's appointment of Herod as ruler of Judea (Jos., Ant., 14:383; Wars, 1:283–5). After the defeat of Antony at Actium (31 B.C.E.), Herod had been summoned by Augustus to Rhodes to explain his relations with the defeated Antony, and had succeeded in gaining the favor and friendship of the new emperor. After Augustus had confirmed his rule, and occupied Egypt, he annexed to Herod's kingdom "the territory which Cleopatra had earlier appropriated [in 34 B.C.E., i.e., mainly the territory of Jericho] with the addition of Gadara, Hippos, and Samaria and the maritime towns of Gaza, Anthedon, Jaffa, and Strato's Tower [later Caesarea]" (Wars, 1:396; Ant., 15:217). Aware of Herod's difficulties within his realm, Augustus did everything to support him in his effort to fulfill his obligations as a faithful vassal of the Roman Empire. Augustus thought highly of Herod's ability as a ruler and valued his personal friendship. He approved of Herod's efforts to introduce Roman culture into Judea and for this reason paid little heed to the claims of Herod's enemies, foreign and domestic. The deterioration of their relationship toward the end of Herod's reign was only a minor interlude, after which the friendship was restored. Knowing the Jewish aversion to pork, it is reported that Augustus, on hearing of Herod's execution of his own son *Antipater , made the pun that he would rather be Herod's pig (Greek: ὑς) than Herod's son (ὑιος). In spite of this friendship, Herod's rule as a Roman vassal was never changed by Augustus. After Herod's death in 4 B.C.E. Augustus did not confirm his will but divided the country among the king's three sons. Archelaus was appointed to rule over Judea, Idumea, and Samaria, but only as ethnarch and not as king, as had been the will of Herod. The two other sons, Herod Antipas and Philip, were assigned tetrarchies in the north of the country. The Hellenistic cities of Gaza, Gadara, and Hippos were detached from the territory by Augustus. Archelaus failed to live up to the hopes reposed in him, and in 6 C.E. Augustus accepted the demands of two embassies from Judea, both urging abolition of the monarchy, as a result of which Archelaus was banished and Judea came under direct Roman rule.
Jews throughout the Diaspora were favorably treated by Augustus. In one edict the rights of Jews in Asia Minor were upheld, including the privilege of sending money to the Temple treasury (Ant., 16:102 ff.). Augustus also issued decrees in favor of the Jews of Cyrene (ibid., 169 ff.). He also ensured the "inviolability of their sacred books and synagogues" and exempted them from the need to give bond to appear in court on the Sabbath or Friday after the ninth hour. The emperor's praise of his grandson, Gaius, for not worshiping in Jerusalem (Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum, 2:93) does not imply antagonism toward the Jews, but reflects his rejection, in general, of the Eastern religious rites which were penetrating Rome at that time. Probably in Augustus' lifetime, several synagogues were founded in Rome (cf. the Synagog Augustasion).
Vogelstein-Rieger, 1 (1895), 11 ff.; Juster, Juifs, 1 (1914), 149 ff.; Schuerer, Hist, index; Schuerer, Gesch, index, S.V. Octavianus Ausgustus; A. Schalit, Hordos ha-Melekh (19643), 507.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Wikimedia, DSC04496 Istanbul - Museo archeol. - Augusto - sec. I d.C. - Foto G. Dall'Orto 28-5-2006.jpg