The Romans, under General Pompey, conquered Judea in 63 B.C.E., effectively ending Judean autonomy and self-sovereignty in the land of Israel until the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The Romans incorporated the Jews as yet another ethnic group in their growing imperial system.
Ironically, the Romans entered Judean politics by invitation. After the death of Alexander Jannaeus, the last king of the Hasmonean line, in 76 B.C.E., it was unclear who of his two sons would succeed him. Both sons appeared before the Roman deputy located in Syria, each asking to be recognized as the ruler of Judea. Although the Romans initially supported one son and then switched their endorsement to the other, ultimately General Pompey was sent in to establish Roman rule over Jerusalem by force. He was met by a fierce Jewish resistance. In the end, however, Pompey successfully put down the Jewish resistance and placed Judea under Roman rule.
Roman dominance over Judea continued unquestioned for nearly a century until the First Jewish Revolt against Rome in 66 C.E. Judea was ruled, like the other provinces of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, as a vassal state. Herod, a native Judean, was installed as king in 37 B.C.E. and ruled until his death in 4 B.C.E. While Herod is commonly regarded as a tyrant, he was a builder of great cities and fortresses. During his rule, he rebuilt the Temple, and constructed the fortress Massada and the cities Herodium and Caeserea.
After Herod’s death, Judea was split into three parts and divided among Herod’s three sons. By 6 C.E., Herod’s descendants disobeyed and angered the Romans. As a result, Roman procurators, or governors, were sent to rule Judea and Jerusalem directly. Of these procurators, Pontius Pilate (26-36 C.E.) is perhaps the most famous for his involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The Roman procurators who ruled Jerusalem were corrupt and insensitive to Jewish religious practices. When in the fall of 66 C.E. procurator Florus stole money from the Temple treasury, a riot broke out against Roman rule. Led by the high priests, religious zealots who were staunchly anti-Roman forced Florus to flee Jerusalem and defeated his Roman legions. Other rebellions broke out all over Judea.
After the death of the Roman Emperor Nero, Vespasian proclaimed himself emperor. In the summer of 70 C.E., the Romans under Titus, the son of Vespasian, conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and defeated the remaining Jewish revolutionaries. To this day, Jews throughout the world commemorate the destruction of the Temple by the Romans on ninth of the Jewish month of Av (usually late August in the Gregorian calendar).
To celebrate the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, numerous “Judea Capta” coins were minted in bronze, silver, and gold in ca. 71 C.E. These coins represent the importance the Romans placed on the defeat of this Jewish revolt and served as a reminder to other provinces what could happen to them should they revolt.
After Vespasian’s death, Titus became emperor of Rome in 81 C.E., but he died soon thereafter. His brother Domitian rose to power and commissioned a victory arch to be constructed in honor of Titus. The Arch of Titus (ca. 85 C.E.) depicts a Roman victory procession in which the treasures of the Jerusalem Temple are carried away in triumph. Symbols of the captured booty that are depicted include the Temple’s golden menorah and golden altar, and a pair of trumpets.
To punish the Jews for the war, the Romans imposed a fiscus Judaicus (Jewish tax) and confiscated Jewish land in Judea. Roman rule over Judea remained stable for almost a century. Under the rule of Emperor Hadrian, however, Jerusalem was transformed into a Roman colony called Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were barred, on penalty of death, from entering the city. In 130 C.E., Hadrian minted a series of bronze coins to commemorate the refounding of Jerusalem as a Roman colony. Symbolizing the beginning of a new Jerusalem, Hadrian is shown plowing the land with a bull and a cow.
However, anger simmered again in the Jewish province due to the misrule of Tinnius Rufus, the Roman governor of Judea, and Emperor Hadrian’s attempts to found a Roman colony on the site of Jerusalem. From 132 to 135 C.E., Simon Bar Kochba led another rising (the Second Jewish Revolt) and was successful in regaining Jewish control over Judea and Jerusalem for a short period of time. The outcome, however, was inescapable. Emperor Hadrian, whose bust from 130 C.E. is featured on our site, sent numerous legions to put down the revolt.
After the Second Jewish Revolt, the Romans replaced the Latin name Judea with the Latin Palestina as their name for this province.
Judea Capta Coin – ca. 71 CE
Jerusalem Depicted in Ruins as a Warning to Riotous Roman Provinces
The decades preceding the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 66 B.C.E. were marked by Herod’s establishment of Caesarea as the Roman capital of Judea, increased taxes on the Jewish population by the Roman-appointed procurators, and a rising belief in the eminence of the “Kingdom of God” on earth. This messianic vision of the end of days went hand-in-hand with a belief that the Jewish nation’s redemption could only be initiated by the termination of Roman rule.
In 66 B.C.E., Emperor Nero sent one of his ablest generals, Vespasian, to put down the rebellion. After Vespasian became Emperor in 69 C.E., the command of the Roman forces transferred to his son Titus. In the spring of 70 C.E., Titus’ armies laid siege to Jerusalem. During the summer, the Tenth Roman Legion captured Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz and destroyed the Temple on the 9th of Av, the same date that is ascribed to the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. The revolt ended with the capture of Masada from the Zealots in 73 C.E.
To celebrate the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, numerous “Judea Capta” coins in bronze, silver, and gold were minted. The Judea Capta coin testifies to the great importance the Romans attached to quelling the revolt in Judea and capturing Jerusalem. This image was designed and circulated to send a message of Judea’s defeated revolt to all the provinces of the Roman Empire and served as constant reminder of the fate of rebellious provinces.
Arch of Titus – ca. 85 CE
Romans Defeat First Jewish Revolt and Carry Off Stolen Temple Treasures
Titus became the Emperor of the Roman Empire upon the death of his father Vespasian in 79 C.E. Titus died shortly after taking power in 81 C.E. and his brother Domitian rose to take his place. In 85 C.E., Domitian erected the Arch of Titus as both a memorial to his brother and as a reminder of the defeat of the First Jewish Revolt.
The arch depicts the triumphal procession of laurel-crowned Romans carrying off sacred treasures from the Temple in Jerusalem, after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. After the procession, the treasures were placed in the Temple of Peace in the Forum of Vespasian, and possibly remained there for four centuries. As Appian wrote, “this city, Jerusalem, had been destroyed in the days of Pompey; it was afterward rebuilt, and Vespasian again destroyed it, and Hadrian did the same in our ‘time.'”
Bust of Hadrian
Victorious Emperor Hadrian Renamed Judea “Palestina”
Hadrian became Emperor of the Roman Empire in 117 C.E. Thereafter, he traveled widely throughout the Empire and encouraged the reconstruction of cities destroyed during the Roman conquests. Hopes ran high among the Jewish people for the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem. These hopes stimulated a migration of Jews back to Jerusalem. However, in a turnabout from his previous intentions, Hadrian gave orders that the city was to be rebuilt as a Roman colony.
In 129-130 C.E., Hadrian announced plans for a city called Aelia Capitolina to be built over the ruins of Jerusalem. Aelia, after his family name, Aeluis, and Capitolina, after the three gods, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, who according to Roman belief, sat on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. Hadrian also changed the name of the country from Judea to Palestine; a Greek name for Philistine. By this action, Hadrian would demonstrate supremacy of the Roman deities in Judea. As the Roman historian Dio Cassius wrote, “A war (e.g., the Second Jewish Revolt) neither small nor short was caused when Hadrian established in Jerusalem a city in place of that which had been destroyed, which he called Aelia Capitolina, and when he erected, on the site of the Temple of the Lord a different temple, dedicated to Jupiter-Zeus. The Jews were shocked that foreigners were settling in the city and that ‘pagan temples were being built there.'”
Aelia Capitolina Coin – 130 CE
Commemorates Expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem and Renaming as Roman City “Aelia Capitolina”
In 130 C.E., Emperor Hadrian celebrated the transformation of Jerusalem into a Roman colony by plowing a traditional furrow, called a pomerium, around the city to mark its new boundaries. Jews were barred, on penalty of death, from entering the city. The Aelia memorialized the family of the Emperor, whose full name was Publius Aelius Hadrianus; Capitolina recalled the Capitoline Hill in Rome, the location of a temple of Jupiter. As a new colony, Aelia Capitolina was given the right to erect a similar monument dedicated o the most powerful Roman deity.
As shown in this reconstruction, Aelia Capitolina was laid out as a typical Roman colony–rectangular in shape and divided into quadrants with the major street, the Cardo Maximus, extending from the Damascus Gate in the north to the southern edge of the civilian quarter. Three towers, Phasael, Hippicus, and Mariamme, marked the Tenth Roman Legion’s headquarters on the western hill of Jerusalem. The small detachment of soldiers camped all over the southern part of the hill. A Roman temple or statue, dedicated to Jupiter, may have stood on the site of the destroyed Jewish Temple.
In 130 C.E., Hadrian minted a series of bronze coins to commemorate the refounding of Jerusalem as a Roman colony.