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Near East Kingdoms

Levantine States


Roman Bishops of Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem)
AD 135 - 333
Incorporating the Bishops of Jerusalem (AD 333-458)

The kingdom of the early Israelites had been divided into Samaria and Judah in the tenth century BC. The latter was commanded by Babylonians from 586 BC, part of its Yehud province. Babylonian control was replaced by that of Persia, the Greek empire, Ptolemaic Egypt, and the Seleucid empire in Syria, before a second century BC Judean revolt created the mainly-independent Jewish Hasmonaean state.

Unfortunately, when the weakened Seleucids fell to Rome, so did Judea. Pompey 'the Great', besieged Jerusalem in 64-63 BC to end independence and impose the Herodite dynasty. Herod very much had his own empire-building interests in mind, but Rome needed him to hold together a tumultuous region which was full of messianic claimants and prophesies. Ultimately his successors were less successful, so that Emperor Claudius placed a Roman procurator in charge of the newly-formed province of Judea.

The country was economically unstable, prophets and holy men abounded, and religious and political insurrections broke out in many regions. Jewish Diaspora communities around the empire expanded quickly as people emigrated from troublesome Judea.

FeatureFrequent unrest resulted in two major revolts in the first two centuries AD. The second, from AD 132, saw Jerusalem destroyed and the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina built at least partially over the top of it. A pagan temple dedicated to Jupiter was built on the site of the Jewish Temple Mount itself, and the Jews were driven out of Jerusalem (see feature link).

By AD 136 Rome had forbidden Jews from entering Jerusalem, although Christian pilgrims were allowed. A major administrative change was made around the same time, probably as an attempt to completely disassociate with the long and troubled recent history of Judea. The Greek (Seleucid) name of 'Judea' or 'Judaea'  was abandoned, and the existing regions of Galilee, Judea, and Samaria were grouped into a new single province of Syria Palaestina.

The post of Bishop of Aelia Capitolina was introduced as part of Emperor Hadrian's policy of removing Jewish influence entirely from the new city. Most dates of office are unknown, while those which are known often come with variances to those shown below. The bishops were appointed by metropolitans of Caesarea.

The Catholic Church's 'First Council of Nicaea' in AD 325 created the post of Bishop of Jerusalem to replace the earlier position, appointed by the patriarch of Antioch. Aelia Capitolina and the concept of a replacement city was also largely abandoned in favour of a rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Rome's colosseum

(Information by Peter Kessler, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), from A History of the Jews, Paul Johnson (1987), from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from The History of Ancient Israel, Michael Grant (University of California, 1984), from Encyclopaedia Britannica (Eleventh Edition, Cambridge (England), 1910), from Times Atlas of World History, Stacy Schiff (Maplewood, 1979), and from External Links: Gallus Caesar (15 March 351 - 354 AD), Thomas M Banchich (Roman Emperors Online Encyclopaedia), and Jewish History Sourcebook: Julian and the Jews 361-363 CE (Fordham University), and Hakira.)

AD 135 - ?

Marcus / Mark / Mahalia

First Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.


Two years before his death, Roman Emperor Hadrian adopts a consul by the name of L Aelius Caesar to be his successor. This man's premature death forces Hadrian to select again. His new choice, Antoninus Pius, has a reputation for honesty and devotion to duty.

The expulsion of the Jews AD 135
Entitled Israel - Expulsion of the Jews AD 135 and sub-titled How Heraclius turned the Jews out of Jerusalem, this facsimile of a miniature comes from the Histoire des Empereurs, a fifteenth century manuscript which is part of Project Gutenberg text 10940


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina. Formerly in Jerusalem.


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

Maximus I

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

Julian I

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

Gaius I

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

? - 162

Gaius II

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

162 - ?

Julian II

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

165 - 180

Plague enters Rome from the east, brought back by returning legionaries. It quickly spreads throughout the empire and is generally known as the Antonine Plague, although the 'Plague of Galen', who describes its spread, is sometimes used. The total death toll may reach five million, with as many as two thousand a day dying in Rome at its height. It drastically weakens the army.

Glevum plague victims
The widespread Antonine Plague left this mass grave for archaeologists to find in Gloucester in Britain, with scholars judging the disease to have been smallpox


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

Maximus II

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.


The centre of Jewish life moves to Galilee. Rabbi Judah HaNasi presides over a reconstituted Sanhedrin, or high court. The same rabbi is responsible for recording the oral laws of Judaism into the Mishnah to ensure their survival in a highly volatile Palestine.

The result, in the next two centuries or so, is the compilation of various works which is known as the Talmud (with the Jerusalem version, or 'Jerusalem Talmud', being the oldest). This process also involves Pharisaic Judaism transmuting itself into Rabbinic Judaism, thereby finally removing any lingering traces of former Pharisee sectarianism in favour of a more inclusive form of Judaism. Temple ritual is replaced by prayer in synagogues.

The nasi ('prince') is the patriarch of the Sanhedrin, a powerful position which is almost akin to royalty. The position is terminated in 425, but the Sanhedrin has already been dissolved by then, in 358.


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

? - 185


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

185 - ?

St Narcissus of Jerusalem

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina. Returned in 200s.

189 - 199

Pope St Victor I introduces the Latin mass to Rome, where it replaces the typical mass in Greek. He also takes a firmer stand in the growing disagreement about dating the celebration of the Passover and Easter.

Pope St Victor I
The most famous act by the Africa-born Pope Victor I is his excommunication of the leatherworker, Theodotus of Byzantium, for his Adoptionist doctrine ('Dynamic Monarchianism', or 'Adoptionism') which proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth to be non-divine

The Christian church in Asia Minor celebrates it on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan, the day before the Jewish Passover, on whichever day that falls. Rome celebrates Easter only on the Sunday following the fourteenth of Nisan. It is a small difference which is causing increasing friction between the two Christian churches.


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

? - 211


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

?- 231

St Narcissus of Jerusalem

Restored Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

231 - 249

St Alexander

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina. Died 251.

249 - 260


Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

260 - 272

Crisis strikes the weakened Roman empire, with two major splinter states forming in the same year. The Rhine frontier collapses completely at around the same time.

The second of these splinter states is the Palmyrene empire which encompasses the Roman provinces of Syria, Palestine, Egypt and large parts of Asia Minor. It is ruled as little more than an expanded kingdom by Queen Zenobia for her infant son Vaballanthus, with a capital at Palmyra.

Palmyra (now in central Syria) was a Roman client kingdom for many years, and was fully independent again in AD 260, commanding a large swathe of Roman eastern territory at the same time

These crises, and the expenditure required to bring them to resolution, means a great deal of increased taxation across the empire. The Jewish population of Palestine seems to be especially impacted.

Large numbers of Jews emigrate to Babylon and the more tolerant Sassanids (where they form a large contingent of modern Israel's Mizrahi Jews, which in turn eventually supplies the nucleus for the later Indian Jews). There, autonomous Jewish communities are allowed to flourish, with individuals able to lead full and rewarding lives.

260 - 276

Imeneus / Hymeneus

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina. Palmyrene subject.

276 - 283

St Zamudas / Zambdas / Bazas

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

283 - 314

Ermon / Hermon

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina.

314 - 333

St Macarius I

Catholic bishop of Aelia Capitolina, then Jerusalem (325).


The first ecumenical Christian council, the 'First Council (Nicaea I)', is held by Constantine the Great in Rome. A new post is created, the bishopric of Jerusalem, with Bishop Macarius of Aelia Capitolina present to become the first occupier of the replacement post.

First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea, held in Rome in AD 325, decided upon the basic tenants of the Catholic Church, including the contents of the Bible

All of the fundamental basics of Catholic Christianity are debated and decided, including which books to include in the Bible (and which to discard because they do not fit the specific message to be broadcast by the church), the date for Easter, and the divinity of Jesus, whereas before he had usually been regarded by his followers as an ordinary (if special) man.

333 - 348

St Maximus III of Jerusalem

Catholic bishop of Jerusalem.

350 - 386

St Cyril I

Catholic bishop of Jerusalem.


According to twelfth century tradition, the nasi of the Sanhedrin, Hillel II, decides to draw up the fixed Hebrew calender which remains in use to this day. His reasoning is that the increasing diaspora demands greater unity in terms of religious practices.

A ninth century letter reveals the fact that, although the calender is in use, holidays are still being observed at different times across various communities across the Jewish Diaspora. The calender seems not to be finalised and fully accepted until the early tenth century when the Abbasids control later Palestine.

The Sanhedrin
The highest court in Roman-era Judea was the 'Great Sanhedrin (a form of supreme court), which was usually based in Jerusalem and which consisted of seventy-one judges and was led by the nasi


The rise to power of Emperor Julian the Apostate comes with his abandonment of Catholic Christianity and support for pagan ceremonies. On his way to campaign in the east against the Sassanids he orders the construction of a Third Temple in Jerusalem.

An earthquake in Galilee in the same year (actually two in quick succession, both severe) is held as the main reason for the failure of any serious construction (the old ruins are cleared but the earthquake occurs just as the new foundations are to be prepared). Much more likely a reason is the death of Julian and the accession of a Christian emperor who cancels the work.

386 - 417

St John II

Catholic bishop of Jerusalem.


The Roman empire finally divides permanently between the Eastern Roman and Western Roman portions, acknowledging a state of affairs which has already existed in practise for many years. Palestine and its population of Mizrahi Jews falls under the jurisdiction of the eastern half, as do the Byzantine Jews within the European section of the eastern empire.

In a reorganisation which takes place in the late fourth century (and probably very close to this division), Syria Palaestina is divided in three. The main aim is to give each governor a smaller and more solidly-organised defensive base. Together, all of these provinces are part of the newly-created Dioceses Orientis.

The coming of the Sassanids as replacements for the Parthians meant an entirely new and more vigorous empire being created in the north-western borders of Saka-controlled lands

Palaestina Prima or Palaestina I has its capital in Caesarea Maritima, while also including central Palestine, the coastal plain, Judea, and Samaria.

Palaestina Secunda or Palaestina II has its capital in Scythopolis, while also including northern Transjordan, the lower Jezreel Valley, Galilee, and Golan.

Palaestina Salutaris, Palaestina Tertia, or Palaestina III has its capital in Petra, and includes the Negev, southern Transjordan, and parts of the Sinai peninsula.

417 - 422

St Praulius

Catholic bishop of Jerusalem.

422 - 458

St Juvenal

Catholic bishop of Jerusalem. Patriarch from 451.


Having sorted out problems with the Huns for the next thirty years, Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II orders the Sanhedrin to be disbanded. Roman persecution continues off-and-on, while Jewish resentment continues to trigger various incidents which does little to help its case.


Eastern Roman Empress Eudocia has removed the ban on Jews being able to pray at the Second Temple site. The heads of the Jewish community in Galilee issue a call 'to the great and mighty people of the Jews' which begins: 'Know that the end of the exile of our people has come!'

However the Catholic Christian population of the city see this as a threat to their primacy, so a riot erupts which chases Jews out of the city.

Attila the Hun
Despite his great success over the barbarian tribes of eastern and Central Europe, Attila's stalemate against an allied Roman-led army in 451 was a blow to his prestige, and his death soon afterwards caused his empire to crumble

451 - 453

The Fourth Council (Chalcedon) is held by the Catholic Church in 451. Monophysitism is condemned, but the fatal disaffection of Syria and Egypt is effected (the former eventually forms the Syriac Orthodox Church which survives to the present day).

Oriental Orthodoxy develops a distinctive flavour of its own under the patriarchate of Alexandria in Egypt, with the majority of its adherents hailing from Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Armenia.

Palestine is also affected by the division. In 451 or 452, having gained church autonomy, the anti-Chalcedonian (largely Orthodox) clergy elect a rival bishop by the name of Theodosius to hold the post of bishop of Jerusalem. He is forced into exile in 453 but the Syriac Orthodox church holds supremacy in the region right up to the modern day, under the patriarch of Jerusalem.

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