Roman Judea is the political situation of the Holy Land at the beginning of the Roman period. It is described by the authors of Antiquity, notably the historian Flavius Josephus (37-100).
The Hasmonean priest-kings reconstituted the independent Israelite kingdom in the 2nd century BC. J.-C. did not resist the ambitions of the Roman Empire. In 63 BC. AD, General Pompey, who had just conquered Syria, was called as arbitrator by the two Hasmonean princes, Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II, to designate who would accede to the throne. Pompey decided for Hyrcan II but took the opportunity to seize Jerusalem with the help of his legions. The new occupant divided the Israelite territory into three parts, entrusting Roman Judea and Galilee to Hyrcanus II and attaching Samaria to the Roman province of Syria.
Three major geographic areas now divided the land of the Hebrews. To the south, Roman Judea designated the ancient kingdom of Judah between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. To the north, the Galilee extended over the region west of Lake Tiberias. Between the two was inserted Samaria, which more or less corresponded to the ancient schismatic kingdom of Israel.
Table of Contents
History of the Roman Judea
After Pompey’s defeat before Julius Caesar, one of Hyrcanus II’s ministers, an Edomite prince named Antipater. Obtained the kingship for the benefit of his son Herod. In 40 BC, the future Herod the Great traveled to Rome. Where he was named King of Roman Judea by Antony and Octavian.
Back in Roman Judea, Herod had a rival to fight, the Hasmonean king Antigonus II, son of Aristobulus II. With the support of Roman troops, he succeeded in repelling him. And taking control of most of the territories granted to him by Roman power.
His scepter united a vast domain that stretched from Edom, south of the Dead Sea, to Galilee, covering Roman Judea and Samaria. To this group were added other regions located east of Jordan: Perea to the northeast of the Dead Sea and several territories of Syria beyond Lake Galilee. Israel had never known such an extensive kingdom since the days of David.
The Herodian Judea
Herod undertook the construction of new towns with monumental buildings. On the Mediterranean coast, he founded Caesarea Maritime in honor of the Roman emperors. The new city was equipped with a hippodrome, a theater, an amphitheater, an artificial port, a temple, and a palace projecting into the sea. The town quickly became a first-rate commercial city plan and would later serve as the primary residence of Roman governors.
Herod also built the city of Sebaste (name meaning “Augustus” in Greek) on the ancient city of Samaria. According to the Greco-Roman model, this city saw a pagan temple rise in place of the former palace of Ahab, king of Israel. Finally, he built a site called Panium near Mount Hermon and the sources of the Jordan, a magnificent Roman temple in white marble.
But the most important project was undoubtedly the reconstruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Which replaced that of Solomon. The new dimensions of the building and the means employed to achieve it were colossal. Completed only after his death, the Temple of Herod served Jewish worship and welcomed countless pilgrims during Jewish holidays. Herod probably died in the year 4 BC. He left behind him monumental buildings and the memory of a cruel and megalomaniac king, very jealous of his authority but at the same time faithful to Rome and respectful of Jewish traditions. His ambiguous religious policy supported both pagan cults and Israelite monotheism.
The Temple of Herod the Great
The major work of Herod, the builder, is undoubtedly the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s great and only sanctuary. The Babylonians had pulled down King Solomon’s First Temple in 587 BC. BC, and a second were built in its place after the return from exile in 516 BC. J.-C. Herod undertook to restore and enlarge this Second Temple from 19 before our era. Established like the previous one on the current esplanade of the mosques, it was completed in about forty years.
The information we have on this monument comes mainly from the writings of Flavius Josephus and the rabbinic Mishna. Its reconstruction required even more substantial work than the first. The esplanade was practically doubled in surface, which required digging the rocky hill to the north and enlarging the barrier to the south. The new court was surrounded by a cyclopean retaining wall on four sides. The esplanade was divided into several areas—first, the “courtyard of the Gentiles,” that is to say, the pagans. A site accessible only to Jews, itself compartmentalized into courtyards reserved for men, women, and priests. It is in this last perimeter that the Temple itself was built.
- The hill of Herodion has the shape of a truncated cone, at the top of which remain the ruins of an imposing circular fortress containing a sumptuous palace. At the foot of the hill, a vast architectural complex was implanted, also Herodian, complete with extensive gardens and a long driveway. These remains were extensively excavated, except the royal tomb, the location of which remained unknown.
- Around the tomb were still the fragments of two more sober coffins and the stones of a monument in ruins. A general plan of the tomb was then sketched. It was a mausoleum twenty meters high, which contained three superimposed chambers, each of which must have housed one of the three coffins.
Without any inscription or bone, the other two coffins were attributed to members of Herod’s family. Although it was found in pieces, the discovery of this tomb solved an enigma over thirty years old.
In Roman Judea, a famous spot is the hill of Herodion had not finished revealing its secrets. On the other side of the staircase, another incredible work was unearthed. Nothing less than a 450-seat amphitheater facing the plain. Then the most magnificent part of the whole site appeared: the royal box, which sat enthroned at its summit. And whose interior walls were covered with splendid polychrome frescoes. False windows painted in trompe-l’œil opened fictitiously onto imaginary. And fabulous landscapes, representing seas and islands, plants and animals, ships and people.
Even if there is no absolute proof, all these developments reflect the will of a very wealthy sponsor. Who can reasonably be identified with King Herod I? If so, this site shows that one of the cruelest monarchs of antiquity showed a refined artistic taste.
Shortly before his death, the founder of a new religious current was born through a man named Jesus.