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Roman Palestine

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Roman Palestine

Syria Palaestina
Province of the Roman Empire






Capital Antioch
Historical era Classical antiquity
 -  End of the Bar Kokhba revolt 135
 -  Disestablished 390
Today part of

Syria Palæstina was a Roman province between 135 and about 390.[1] It was established by the merge of Roman Syria and Roman Judaea, following the defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135. In 193, coastal Coele-Syria was split from Syria Palæstina, to form a separate Roman province. Syria Palaestina had become part of the splinter Palmyrene Empire for a brief period that lasted from 260 to 272, when it was restored to Roman central authority. Eventually the province became reorganized under the Byzantine Empire as part of the Diocese of the East, which divided it into the provinces of Syria Prima, Phoenicia, Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda.


Name origins

Further information: Palestine § Boundaries and name and Timeline of the name Palestine

The earliest numismatic evidence for the name Syria Palæstina comes from the period of emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

Herodotus wrote in c. 450 BC in The Histories of a 'district of Syria, called Palaistinê" (whence Palaestina, from which Palestine is derived).[2] And in c. 40 BC, the Roman-Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria wrote of the Jews in Palestine: "Moreover Palestine and Syria too are not barren of exemplary wisdom and virtue, which countries no slight portion of that most populous nation of the Jews inhabits. There is a portion of those people called Essenes"[3]


In 63 BC, Syria was incorporated into the Roman Republic as a province, following the successful campaign of Pompeius the Great against the Parthians.

During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, the independent Hasmonean state of Judea expanded in territories of the collapsing Seleucid Empire, but from the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 63 BC onwards, it increasingly fell under foreign influence. Judaea at first retained its independence, but an internal struggle between pro-Roman and pro-Persian heirs of the Hasmonean dynasty, eventually led Herod the Great to assume power in 37 BC, making Judaea a client Kingdom of Rome. Following Herod's death the Herodian Kingdom became a Tetrarchy, partitioned among Herod's sons, but in 6 AD Roman intervention made Judaea a Roman Province.

The capital of Roman Syria was established in Antioch from the very beginning of Roman rule, while the capital of the Judaea province was shifted to Caesarea Maritima, which, according to historian H. H. Ben-Sasson, had been the "administrative capital" of the region beginning in 6 AD.[4]

The Provinces of Judaea and Syria were key scenes of an increasing conflict between Judaean and Hellenistic population, which exploded into full scale Jewish-Roman Wars, beginning with the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70. Disturbances followed throughout the reigon during the Qitos War in 117-118. Between 132–135, Simon Bar Kokhba led a revolt against the Roman Empire, controlling Jerusalem and the surrounding areas for three years. He was proclaimed the Messiah by Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph. As a result, Hadrian sent Sextus Julius Severus to the region, who brutally crushed the revolt and retook the city.

Syria Palaestina


After crushing the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Roman Emperor Hadrian applied the name Syria Palestina to the entire region, that had formerly included Iudaea Province. Hadrian probably chose a name that revived the ancient name of Philistia (Palestine), combining it with that of the neighboring province of Syria, in an attempt to suppress Jewish connection to the land.[5][6][7] However Cassius Dio, the Roman historian from whom we have the bulk of our understanding of the revolt, does not mention the change of name nor the reason behind it in his "Roman History".[8] The city of Aelia Capitolina was built by the emperor Hadrian on the ruins of Jerusalem. The capital of the enlarged province remained in Antiochia.

In 193, the province of Syria-Coele was split from Syria Palaestina. In the 3rd century, Syrians even reached for imperial power, with the Severan dynasty. Syria was of crucial strategic importance during the Crisis of the Third Century.

Conflict with Sassanids and emergence of the Palmyrene Empire

Beginning in 212, Palmyra's trade diminished as the Sassanids occupied the mouth of the Tigris and the Euphrates. In 232, the Syrian Legion rebelled against the Roman Empire, but the uprising went unsuccessful.

Septimius Odaenathus, a Prince of Palmyra, was appointed by Valerian as the governor of the province of Syria Palaestina. After Valerian was captured by the Sassanids in 260, and died in captivity in Bishapur, Odaenathus campaigned as far as Ctesiphon (near modern-day Baghdad) for revenge, invading the city twice. When Odaenathus was assassinated by his nephew Maconius, his wife Septimia Zenobia took power, ruling Palmyra on behalf of her son, Vabalathus.

Zenobia rebelled against Roman authority with the help of Cassius Longinus and took over Bosra and lands as far to the west as Egypt, establishing the short-lived Palmyrene Empire. Next, she took Antioch and large sections of Asia Minor to the north. In 272, the Roman Emperor Aurelian finally restored Roman control and Palmyra was besieged and sacked, never to recover her former glory. Aurelian captured Zenobia, bringing her back to Rome. He paraded her in golden chains in the presence of the senator Marcellus Petrus Nutenus, but allowed her to retire to a villa in Tibur, where she took an active part in society for years. A legionary fortress was established in Palmyra and although no longer an important trade center, it nevertheless remained an important junction of Roman roads in the Syrian desert.[9]

Diocletian built the Camp of Diocletian in the city of Palmyra to harbor even more legions and walled it in to try and save it from the Sassanid threat. The Byzantine period following the Roman Empire only resulted in the building of a few churches; much of the city went to ruin.


In c.390, Syria Palaestina was reorganised into the several administrative units: Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda, and Tertia (in the 6th century),[10] Syria Prima and Phoenice and Phoenice Lebanensis. All were included within the larger Byzantine Diocese of the East, together with the provinces of Isauria, Cilicia, Cyprus (until 536), Euphratensis, Mesopotamia, Osroene and Arabia Petraea.

Palaestina Prima consisted of Judea, Samaria, the coast, and Peraea with the governor residing in Caesarea. Palaestina Secunda consisted of the Galilee, the lower Jezreel Valley, the regions east of Galilee, and the western part of the former Decapolis with the seat of government at Scythopolis. Palaestina Tertia included the Negev, southern Transjordan part of Arabia — and most of Sinai with Petra, as the usual residence of the governor. Palestina Tertia was also known as Palaestina Salutaris.[11]


A number of events with far-reaching consequences took place, including religious schisms, such as Christianity branching off from Judaism.

Second Temple Judaism

The practitioning population of the Mosaic faith at the time included the Jews, Samaritans, Nabateans and Edomeans. Among the Jews and Edomeans, the Jewish-Roman Wars created a crisis of religion, out of which the Rabbinic Judaism emerged.

Following, the Jewish-Roman Wars, many Jews left the country altogether for the Diaspora communities, and large numbers of prisoners of war were sold as slaves throughout the Empire. This changed the perception of Jerusalem as the center of faith and autonomous Jewish communities shifted from centrilized religious authority into more dispersed one.

Roman cult

After the Jewish–Roman wars (66–135), which Epiphanius believed the Cenacle survived,[12] the significance of Jerusalem to Christians entered a period of decline, Jerusalem having been temporarily converted to the pagan Aelia Capitolina, but interest resumed again with the pilgrimage of Helena (the mother of Constantine the Great) to the Holy Land c. 326–28.

New pagan cities were founded in Judea at Eleutheropolis (Bayt Jibrin), Diopolis (Lydd), and Nicopolis (Emmaus).[13][14]

Early Christianity

The Romans destroyed the Jewish community of the Mother Church in Jerusalem, which had existed since the time of Jesus.[15][verification needed] Traditionally it is believed the Jerusalem Christians waited out the Jewish–Roman wars in Pella in the Decapolis.

The line of Jewish bishops in Jerusalem, which is claimed to have started with Jesus's brother James the Righteous as its first bishop, ceased to exist, within the Empire. Hans Kung in "Islam :Past Present and Future", suggests that the Jewish Christians sought refuge in Arabia and he quotes with approval Clemen et al.:[16]

"This produces the paradox of truly historic significance that while Jewish Christianity was swallowed up in the Christian church, it preserved itself in Islam".

Christianity was practiced in secret and the Hellenization of Palaestina continued under Septimius Severus (193–211 AD).[13]


As a large province, the territory of Syria-Palaestina comprised the Levant and the western part of Mesopotamia. In Northern Levant, the mixed pagan population of Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans formed the majority, along Ismaelite Arab societies of Itureans and later also Qahtanite Ghassanids (Arab Christians), who migrated to the area of Golantis in 4th century from Yemen.

A mix of Arameans and Assyrians were populating the western Mesopotamia, and nomad Arabs, like the Nabateans, were thriving in the Syrian Desert and south. In Southern Levant, until about 200 and despite the genocide of Jewish-Roman Wars, Jews had formed a majority of the population.[17] Due to the decline of Jewish population, Samaritans and Greco-Romans became the dominant societies in this region by the end of the 2nd century.

By the beginning of the Byzantine period (disestablishment of Syria-Palaestina), the Jews had become a minority and were living alongside Samaritans, pagan Greco-Syrians and a large Christian community."[18] Other opinions however, put the majority population of southern Levant on Samaritans or Christian Byzantines.

External references

  • Two legates and a procurator of Syria Palaestina Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 1977

See also



  • Nicole Belayche, "Foundation myths in Roman Palestine. Traditions and reworking", in Ton Derks, Nico Roymans (ed.), Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity: The Role of Power and Tradition (Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2009) (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies, 13), 167-188.

External links

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