Palestine Under Roman Rule

Judea becomes a Roman tributary.


In 63 B.C.E, the Roman general Pompey conquered Palestine, ended the Hasmonean state and brought Palestine into the Roman Empire. The following article describes Palestine under Roman rule. It is reprinted with permission from From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (Ktav).

Judea was ruled by a Roman procurator who managed its political, military, and fiscal affairs. Its governmental structure was reorganized by Gabinius, the Roman governor of Syria from 57 to 55 B.C.E., who divided the country into five synhedroi, or administrative dis­tricts. This arrangement was clearly intended to eliminate theage‑oldsystem of toparchies (administrative districts made up of central towns and the rural areas surrounding them), dating from the reign of Solomon, and taken over in turn by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, and then by the Ptole­mies and Seleucids.

The intent of this reorganization was to destabilize the nation and thus make certain that popular resis­tance would be impossible. Julius Caesar restored certain terri­tories to Judea and appointed Hyrcanus II ethnarch (Greek for “ruler of the nation”). [Hyrcanus II was the son of Alexander Yannai, the Hasmonean King who ruled from 103-76 B.C.E.] 

Hyrcanus was a weak figure who on his own could neither administer the affairs of Judea nor collect its taxes. For this reason, it became possible for the Idumaean Antipater, whose father had been forcibly converted to Judaism in the time of John Hyrcanus, to insinuate himself into the halls of power. [John Hyrcanus ruled the Hasmonean state from 134 B.C.E. through his death in 104 B.C.E. During his reign, the state vastly expanded, through conquest, to include Samaria, Transjordan and Idumea (northern Negev). When John Hyrcanus conquered Idumea, he converted the Idumeans to Judaism.]

roman soldierHe soon took control of virtually all matters of state, thus exercis­ing the authority that technically belonged to Hyrcanus as high priest, and combined with this the powers delegated to him by the Romans, who clearly saw him as their agent. Antipater’s decision to install his sons as governors, Herod over Galilee and Phasael over Jerusalem, sowed the seeds of the Herodian dy­nasty.

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Lawrence H. Schiffman is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Yeshiva University.

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