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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Israelites & Israel

Today's Israel and Palestine are irrevocably linked in terms of their history. The former was carved out of a large proportion of the already-expanded latter from 1948. Before that though lies four thousand years of history, sometimes recorded, sometimes alluded to, and sometimes a complete mystery. Unpicking it to establish a relatively stable story has been the work of decades, and even today there are differences of opinion regarding many of the details.

The region in which both names came to be created was Canaan, the long Mediterranean coast between ancient Syria and Egypt which today is known as the Levant. Various independent or united Semitic-speaking city states formed in this region from around 3000 BC onwards, reaching a peak of independent development in the second millennium BC. It was during the climate-induced social collapse of the late thirteenth century BC that both a state known as Israel and a region known as Palestine emerged, giving both terms similar founding dates (very approximately), with the Phoenicians emerging to the immediate north during the same period.

Then came the Jewish Diaspora and the age of great empires in the form of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Eastern Romans, Islam, and the Ottomans, until the twentieth century saw the most recent phase of empire-building come to an end and individual sovereign states emerge.

The term 'Israelite' is often used interchangeably with the terms 'Hebrew' and 'Jew', but these terms are not strictly interchangeable. The specific term 'Israelites', or 'people of Israel', is best used only for periods after the followers of Yahweh undertook their exodus from Egypt. It can also be used conveniently for the earlier period in which these people were subject to patriarchs (approximately between the eighteenth and sixteenth centuries BC).

The term loses its accuracy after the united kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon divided into the kingdoms of Samaria and Judah around 927 BC. The Old Testament tends usually to use the term 'Hebrew' for the entire period before 1000 BC, but it is best to avoid it here due to controversy surrounding its origins (regarding whether it descends from 'Eber', the ancestor of Abraham, or habiru, a general term for brigands and the dispossessed).

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler and from the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Sean Bambrough & Wayne McCleese, from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran (1992), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Bible Atlas.)

Roman Province of Judea
AD 44 - 136
Incorporating Roman Procurators of Judea (AD 44-70) & Roman Legates of Judea (AD 70-135)

The early Israelites were able to form a kingdom of Israel in the late eleventh century BC, although it quickly divided into Samaria and Judah. Both kingdoms were conquered, Samaria by the Assyrians in 721 BC and Judah by its Babylonian overlords in 586 BC, but it would be the latter which survived in terms of its identity even amongst the Jewish Diaspora.

Babylon's Yehud province commanded Judah from the north of its territory owing to a devastated Jerusalem. 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 gave Jerusalem freedom of a sort. The mainly-independent Jewish Hasmonaean state enduring a troubled century of existence before its nominal masters, the Seleucids, fell and Rome took over as a much more hands-on overlord.

Pompey 'the Great', besieged Jerusalem in 64-63 BC to end independence, although Jerusalem retained autonomy under the retained Hasmonaean rulers. Backed by Rome, Herod of Idumaea then fought a bitter three-year war to gain the blessing of his Roman masters to be able to rule in Jerusalem, founding his own Herodite dynasty. Herod very much had his own empire-building interests in mind but Rome also needed him, to hold together a tumultuous region which was full of messianic claimants and prophesies. Ultimately his successors were less successful than him in many regards, and it was Emperor Claudius who placed a Roman procurator in charge of the newly-formed province of Judea (or 'Judaea', the Greek (Seleucid) variation).

The country was economically unstable, prophets and holy men abounded, and religious and political insurrections broke out in many regions. During the Roman period, Jewish communities around the empire grew greatly in terms of their population figures as people emigrated from troublesome Judea. Cyrenaica alone (in modern eastern Libya) soon counted twenty-five percent of its total population as Jews. The earliest communities involving later Ashkenazi Jews may also have been formed in Europe towards the end of this period.

Rome's colosseum

(Information by Peter Kessler and from the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Edward Dawson, 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 Alexander to Cleopatra: The Hellenistic World, Michael Grant (University of California, 1982), from the Arts & Entertainment TV documentary, Ancient Mysteries: Herod the Great, first screened on 4 January 1996, from Caligula, Anthony A Barrett (New Haven, 1989), from Encyclopaedia Britannica (Eleventh Edition, Cambridge (England), 1910), from Historical Atlas of Ancient Greece, Angus Konstam (New York, 2003), from Antony and Cleopatra, Colleen McCullough (New York, 2007), from Caesar, Colleen McCullough (New York, 1997), from Caesar's Women, Colleen McCullough (New York, 1996), from The Grass Crown, Colleen McCullough (New York, 1991), from The October Horse, Colleen McCullough (New York, 2002), from Herod (National Geographic, Dec 2008), from Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff (New York, 2010), from Times Atlas of World History, Stacy Schiff (Maplewood, 1979), from Book World (Washington Post, 28 Mar 1999, review of The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior before Jesus, Michael O Wise), from Roman History, Cassius Dio, and from External Links: Listverse, and Who Exactly Were the Pharisees? (Faith Magazine).)

AD 44 - 46

Cuspius Fadus

First Roman procurator of Judea.

AD 44 - 46

At an uncertain point between these two dates, a Jewish rebel by the name of Theudas leads his followers to fight against Roman controls. Professing to be a prophet, he leads many Judeans towards the River Jordan, no doubt to cross it and escape Roman authority. Fadus sends a troop of horsemen to intercept them. Many are killed or captured, while Theudas is taken and beheaded.

Rome during the height of the empire was by now complete with its famous forum, circus, and winding viaducts

46 - 48

Tiberius Julius Alexander

Roman Jewish procurator of Judea. Later prefect of Egypt.

46 - 48

Tiberius Julius Alexander oversees a rare moment of relative peace in Judea during his term of office. Despite this, he does sentence James and Simon, sons of the rebel Judas of Galilee, to execution and sees the population suffer a major famine.

48 - 52

Ventidius Cumanus

Roman procurator of Judea. Recalled, tried, and exiled.

48 - 52

Under Cumanus, Judea experiences riots, a massacre in the Second Temple, violence between Samaritans and Galileans, and agitation between Judeans in general and the Roman garrison.

In the very middle of this period, AD 50, St Peter attends the Council of Jerusalem, which decides to accept Gentile (non-Jewish) converts into the new Catholic Church. It seems that Peter is the one who opposes the Pharisees in their demands for circumcision and Mosaic law in relation to the Gentiles (according to Acts).

52 - 59/60

Marcus (?) Antonius Felix

Roman procurator of Judea. Known for cruelty. Recalled.


Antonius Felix oversees a general increase in violence and armed bands of freedom fighters. Alongside that is a similar increase in reputed miracle workers, with all of the disruption involving nationalistic, revolutionary, and messianic slogans.

59/60 - 62

Porcius Festus

Roman procurator of Judea. Start date uncertain. Died.

60 - 62

Procurator Festus is responsible (according to the New Testament's Acts of the Apostles) for handling the final hearing for the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus). Festus seeks to induce Paul to seek trial in Jerusalem but Paul appeals to the emperor. This results in Paul being sent to Rome for judgment by the emperor himself where he is later 'martyred' (executed) in uncertain circumstances.

Saul (Paul) of Tarsus
St Paul (Saul of Tarsus) turned from an enemy of Jesus of Nazareth into one of his strongest supporters, working tirelessly to bring Christianity to the peoples of the Near East during his long lifetime


Ananus / Ananias / Hanan (II)

High priest and acting governor.

62 - 64

Lucceius Albinus

Roman procurator of Judea. Assassinated post-office.

62 - 64

Lucceius Albinus faces serious problems even before he arrives to take up his post. High Priest Ananus, temporarily without Roman oversight, oversteps his authority by convening the Sanhedrin to have James 'the Just' (brother of Jesus of Nazareth) and others sentenced to death by stoning for allegedly violating of the 'Law of Moses'.

64 - 66

Gessius Florus

Roman procurator of Judea. Recalled to Rome.


Fighting breaks out between Greeks and Jews in Caesarea Maritima. Florus arrests a Jewish deputation which seeks an audience with him. He seizes a large sum from the Second Temple treasury to make up for unpaid taxes, but fighting and crucifixions follow, with Roman troops from Caesarea being called in to restore order.

Eleazar, captain of the Second Temple and son of former High Priest Ananus, bans sacrifices to the emperor. The result is the outbreak of the First Jewish Uprising or First Roman War. Eleazar occupies Jerusalem, and the high priest, Mattathias, flees towards Roman protection.

Fighting between Greeks and Jews spreads to Alexandria, Caesarea Maritima, Samaria, Galilee, and Transjordan. Cestius Gallus, governor of Syria, send an army into Judea, where the rebels rout it, killing six thousand. The rebels gain control of large portions of Judea and form a secessionist government which is headed by the former high priest, Ananus.

The Roman destruction of Jerusalem
Jerusalem was besieged for two years, with starvation, disease, and murder being the order of the day for the increasingly desperate inhabitants

66 - 67

Ananus / Ananias / Hanan (II)

Leader of the rebel government. Killed by Zealots.

66 - 70

Marcus Antonius Julianus

Last Roman procurator of Judea.

67 - 68

Menahem, son of the guerrilla leader, Judas the Galilean, interrupts Eleazar's siege of the palace. Menahem allows Jewish soldiers who are inside the palace to surrender while Roman soldiers take refuge in its towers. Menahem murders Ananus himself, after which he is in turn captured, tortured, and killed by Eleazar. The Romans are slaughtered and their commander undergoes enforced circumcision.

The Idumaeans immediately benefit from the uprising, having governors of their own appointed from the revolutionary government in Judea, although this role is terminated in AD 68. Also in that year Josephus begins his History of the Jewish War.

68 - 69

Titus Flavius Vespasianus

Roman senatorial commander of Judea. Later emperor.

68 - 73

Marcus Antonius Julianus fails to prevent the serious disturbances across the region from devolving into all-out warfare. Instead Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus) is appointed as overall commander, of senatorial rank.

He besieges Jerusalem until the 'Year of the Four Emperors' provides a distraction. With popular support from across the eastern regions, he becomes the first Flavian emperor in AD 69, leaving his son, Titus Caesar Vespasianus to complete the siege. Jerusalem and the Second Temple are destroyed in AD 70, and many Jews are taken as captives to Rome, either to be executed or to be used as gladiatorial sacrifices.

Roman siege of Jerusalem AD 70
The Nabataeans are perhaps unknown for the part they played in the siege of Jerusalem in AD 67-70, however minor that part may have been, with their support going to the Romans against their long-standing regional rival

The development since the Hasmonaean period of an oral teaching tradition known as the tanna becomes the means by which the Judaic faith is able to survive the fall of the Second Temple, becoming central to Judaic prayer which replaces sacrifice. It leads directly to, and through, the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism.

The destruction of the Second Temple marks the end of the Hellenic era as far as Jews are concerned. The remnants of the revolutionary Zealots are now holed up in Masada, the Sadducees have either disappeared or are about to (perhaps, controversially, giving birth to the Ananite Jews along the way), and the Essenes also vanish (perhaps because they have already moved so far away from Temple-based worship that they are no longer relevant). The age of Judaic sectarianism is over.

Only two major groups remain: Christians and Pharisees. The early Catholic Christian faith is still largely indivisible from Judaic practice, but it is Christians who will gradually gain dominance in Judea, and then across the Roman world. The Pharisees and their Pharisaic Judaism will gradually mutate between the second and fourth centuries AD into Rabbinic Judaism.

Pharisees during the lifetime of Jesus of Nazereth
The Pharisees believed both in the 'Oral Law' and the 'Written Law', with the former being the teachings of the prophets and the oral traditions of the Jewish people, and the latter being the law which was given to Moses on Mount Sinai and which was placed in the Torah

The Ashkenazi Jews are also probably created at this time, as the first elements of Jewish Diaspora communities in Roman Italy and along the Mediterranean cost are formed by the general exodus. The Romaniote Jews can probably also trace their origins to this period, with Jewish groups entering pre-Eastern Roman Greece where they will form its core Jewish communities until the much later arrival of other groups.

Considering the fact that some of the Exile-period Jewish families had remained in Babylon, it is also likely that migration begins or is stepped up in that direction, increasing the population of what in modern times is labelled eastern or Mizrahi Jews (plus several sub-groups). The Georgian Jews of Kolkis are known to receive a fresh boost to their population at this time, thanks Vespasian's campaign against Jerusalem.

The origins of the Karaite Jews of the Middle Ages in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and even Crimea, can probably also be placed within this time period. They develop out of the strict Ananites who are extinct by the tenth century AD.

69 - 70

Titus Caesar Vespasianus

Son. Roman commander of Judea. Later emperor.

70 - 71

Sextus Vettulenus Cerialis

First Roman legate of Judea (more senior than procurator).

71 - 72

Sextus Lucilius Bassus

Roman legate of Judea. Died on campaign.


The Romans have been hunting down anyone who claims to be connected with the House of David. Sextus Lucilius Bassus is tasked with cleaning up the last remnants of Jewish resistance. He destroys strongholds at Herodium and Machaerus, but dies before he can reach Masada.

The mountain fortress of Masada
The final act of the First Jewish War was the siege of the fortress at Masada, when Roman engineering know-how guaranteed the fall of the fortress (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 International)

72 - 79/80

Lucius Flavius Silva

Roman legate of Judea.

72 - 73

The Jewish revolt reaches its bloody conclusion at the Masada fortress near the Dead Sea. Eleazar son of Jair (apparently a grandson of Judas the Galilean) commands there, but the fortress is captured by Rome shortly after the defenders commit mass suicide in the face of a hopeless situation.

With the revolt put down, Rome abolishes the high priesthood and the council of elders, and resettles a large number of pagans throughout Judea. Given the steady exodus of Jews over the past thirty years, the famine, the war itself, and the aftermath, the population of Jews in Judea is significantly reduced.

80 - 85

Marcus Salvidienus

Roman legate of Judea.

85 - 89

Gnaeus Pompeius Longinus

Roman legate of Judea. Cmdr of Legio X Fretensis.

89 - 93

Given that the legate of Judea in this period is also the commanding officer of Legio X Fretensis, which is stationed in Jerusalem (on the Western Hill using parts of the ruins of Herod's palace), it seems unlikely that either post would remain vacant for four years.

However, Gnaeus Pompeius Longinus is claimed as the fifth legate, and Sextus Hermentidius Campanus as the sixth, suggesting either that a record has been lost to history or a more junior (and unrecorded) officer commands until the next legate arrives. Similar gaps exist over the next forty years.

Tombstone of Tacitus
The tombstone of Tacitus once marked the final resting place of one of Rome's most important authors, who not only chronicled the creation of the empire, but also listed the many barbarian tribes of Europe and the British Isles (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike International)

93 - 97

Sextus Hermentidius Campanus

Roman legate of Judea. Cmdr of Legio X Fretensis.

99 - 102

Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes

Roman legate of Judea.

102 - 104

Gaius Julius Quadratus Bassus

Roman legate of Judea. Consul (AD 105)

105 - 107

Quintus Pompeius Falco

Roman legate of Judea. Roman Governor of Britain (AD 118).

114 - 117


Roman legate of Judea.

115 - 117

The Quietus War (later corrupted to Kitos War) erupts while Rome is busy fighting the Parthians under Emperor Trajan. His death on the way back allows his successor, Hadrian, to concentrate on peace. Several hotspots in this widespread Jewish revolt are dealt with, primarily by Lusius Quietus (his name is applied to the war). One of the revolt's major leaders, Lukuas, flees to and is captured in Jerusalem. The others are captured or killed.

115 - 117


Revolt leader in Cyrenaica. Captured in Jerusalem.

115 - 117


Revolt leader. Captured in Lydda. Executed.

115 - 117


Brother & revolt leader. Captured in Lydda. Executed.

115 - 117


Revolt leader on Cyprus. Defeated, and Jews banned.

117 - 118

Lusius Quietus

Roman legate of Judea. Murdered (possibly assassinated).

c.124 - ?

Gargilius Antiquus

Roman prefect of Judea.

130 - 132/3

Quintus Tineius Rufus

Roman legate of Judea.


The Second Jewish Uprising or Second Roman War is led by Simon bar Kochba against Roman rule. He captures Jerusalem and establishes a short-lived independent state which he governs as nasi ('prince').

The Bar Kochba Revolt in Palestine
The bloody Second Jewish Uprising witnessed brutality on both sides, so much so that the victorious Emperor Hadrian did not declare a triumph upon his eventual return to Rome

132 - 135

Simon bar Kochba

Leader of the Second Jewish Uprising. 'Prince'.

132/133 - 135

Sextus Julius Severus

Legate. Former Roman Governor of Britain.

132 - 135

FeatureRoman armies under Emperor Hadrian which include the former Roman Governor of Britain, Sextus Julius Severus, raze Jerusalem and the emperor builds the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina on the site. A pagan temple dedicated to Jupiter is built on the site of the Jewish Temple Mount itself, and the Jews are driven out of Jerusalem (see feature link).

The reasons for the uprising are unknown, but Roman treatment of the Jews is generally suspected as being the main cause. Another reason may be the establishment of the pagan temple and the colony of Aelia Capitolina. This appears to be named after the Emperor Hadrian, whose full name is Publius Aelius Hadrianus. Conversely, both these two reasons may be the results of the revolt - punitive action taken by Hadrian after the event.

The suspicion that construction of Aelia Capitolina is begun before the revolt is supported by an archaeological discovery in 2014. Excavating north of the Damascus Gate, a large limestone fragment is found which commemorates Hadrian. The other half of the fragment had already been found in the 1800s.

Hadrian inscription
The missing half of the inscription to Hadrian was found recycled into a floor around a cistern opening, north of the Damascus gate in Jerusalem

In its original form, the stone slab may be part of a gateway, but at some point it is recycled into a floor around an opening for a cistern. It is dedicated to Hadrian in 129-130 by Legio X Fretensis and states 'To the Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus... high priest, invested with tribunician power for the fourteenth time, consul for the third time, father of the country (dedicated by) the Tenth Legion Fretensis Antoniniana'.


By this year Rome has forbidden Jews from entering Jerusalem. Christian pilgrims, though, are permitted entrance. Large Jewish communities now exist across the Roman empire, beginning (or furthering) a general Jewish Diaspora which develops independently of events in the Near East.

The end of the bar Kochba revolt especially sees a large exodus to the Judean Himyarite kingdom of today's Yemen, greatly increasing the population of Yemenite Jews there.

A major administrative change is made, probably as an attempt to completely disassociate with the long and troubled recent history of Judea. Emperor Hadrian consolidates the existing regions of Galilee, Judea, and Samaria into a new single province of Syria Palaestina.

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