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The name Judea is a Greek and Latin adaptation of the name "Judah", which originally encompassed the territory of the Israelite tribe of that name and later of the ancient Kingdom of Judah. Judea was sometimes used as the name for the entire region, including parts beyond the river Jordan. Judea was the name in use in English until the Jordanian occupation of the area in 1948. 


Before and after the Babylonian Exile (587-538 BC), worship of the Semitic deity Yahweh came to heavily influence the native post-tribal societies of the Israelites and Judeans in the southern Levant. The main cult centres of Yahweh were found in both Jerusalem and on Mount Gerizim further north in Samaria. The monotheistic Yahweh cult of the ancient Jews and Samaritans seems to have appeared as late as the Seventh Century BC, notably during the reign of the young king Josiah of Judah (southern Judea). In 640 BC Josiah appears to have been influenced by a movement that existed among the contemporary Levite caste of priests, which historians refer to as the Deuteronomists. They were descended from refugees from the northern kingdom of Israel, who encouraged the belief among their Judean hosts of the concept of a single god. It was during this period that the earliest books that would later compose the Torah were conceived of and written. During the Exile period, many of the later books of the Torah, such as 2nd Kings, Ezra, Daniel, and Jeremiah, were written by the scribes of the Judean-Israelite nobility living in Babylon. Some years after the Persian King Cyrus conquered the Babylonians, the Judean nobleman Zerubbabel, believed to be descended from the House of David, returned as Cyrus' governor of the semi-autonomous province of Yehud Medinata. With Zerubabel came Joshuah ben Jehozadek, the Kohen Gadol (high priest). with the noble houses of Judah restored to their country, the Temple of Yahweh was rebuilt on what is now Temple Mount. This period of Jewish history would become known as the Second Temple period.

Since the Persian era, Judea had been an effective theocracy, as the Kohannim or priesthood had governed over the people, while submitting to the authority of foreign overlords, such as the Persians, Macedonians, and the successor kingdoms of the Seleucids and Ptolemaic Egypt.

The Kohanim, the priestly class of Judean society, were hereditary and claimed descent from the House of Aaron (brother to Moses) of the Tribe of Levi. They did not own land, but only they could officiate over sacrifices and ceremonies.

An Adon, or 'lord', was a secular nobleman in Judean society. The Adonim (plural) were those upper-class Jews of non-Levite descent, or otherwise were simply those who didn't become priests. They were likely the larger landowners and often commanded the military and were part of the secular administration of the nation. In the Hasmonean era, there were many noblemen, such as Antipater the Idumean, who were descended from indigenous non-Jews in the Kingdom of Judea who were forcibly converted during the conquests of John Hyrcanus (reigned 134-104 BC).

The alternate terms for the Jewish nobility, as described in the Torah, include the Sarim, who were may originally have been tribal chiefs, but the term has also been used to refer to military commanders of over a thousand men and in regard to officials of Israelite/Judean kings. For example, a Sar ha'Ir (lord of the city) was a royal official who collected taxes and governed a city or town from a fortress, and was authorized to command a local militia force.

The Edomite loanword Aluf, meaning 'champion' or 'chieftain', was a general and military governor as well as a hereditary noble title second only to the king.

Abi ha-melek (father of the king) was the chief advisor, while the Saris (Assyrian loanword meaning 'eunuch') was the king's chamberlain.

Pehah was likely an Assyrian loanword in the Hebrew language for a provincial governor.

Shophets or Shophetim were "judges" (named so in the Book of Judges) or magistrates, and was a term shared by the Phoenician nations, even Carthage in North Africa. Shophets were assisted in their duties by the Shotrim (foremen) who were guards and enforcers of the shophets.

Segan, which is often translated as "prefect" or "deputy", was a term used for officials of the king, or the Segan haKohanim, the deputy of the Jewish high priest.

Zikonim were town elders, and likely, the term used for members of the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Hasmonean state. A Mazkir was a term for scribe and secretary and served in an administrative role in Judean society. Hakamim, or 'wise men', were advisors of the kings of Judea.

A member of the property-owning middle-class was perhaps known as a Ba'al ha'Bayith or "master of the householdMost of the Baalei ha'Bayith (plural) would have resided in Jerusalem or the larger towns in Judea. The Hebrew term for a merchant, who would have been part of the backbone of this class, was Rakal.

The class of peasants in Judean society were the Am ha'aretz, or 'people of the land' who were looked down upon as either uneducated ignoramuses with no knowledge of the proper customs, or worse, were little other than "Goyim". When monotheism was taken hold in the upper echelons of Judean society, the rest of the rural population continued to worship the gods of their Canaanite ancestors. By the Second Temple era, many would have been illiterate and had a slender grasp of what the laws of their religion expected of them. It was customarily forbidden for sons of the priestly caste and the lay nobility to intermarry with a member of the Am ha'aretz.

The Hasmonean Kingdom[]

The Kingdom of Judea gradually emerged under the leadership of the Maccabees against the rule of the Macedonian dynasty of the Seleucids. Mattathias ben Yohanan of Modiin, a Levite and a member of the Kohanim, instigated the revolt in 167 BC when he slew a Syrian-Greek official who demanded they sacrifice to Zeus as part of the edicts of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire.

Mattathias' third son, Judah Maccabee, would be the first military commander of the Judean resistance. Though his older brother, Simon Thassi, would become the first independent ruler of Judea and the founder of the Hasmonean dynasty, reigning from 142-135 BC. Though, Simon would be known only as Kohen Gadol (Jewish high priest), Nasi (Hebrew for prince) and Ethnarch (Greek: national leader) of Judea. A delegation sent to Rome in 139 BC would result in recognition of the Senate for the new polity, who needed the help of the increasingly powerful Republic against the vengeance of the Seleucids. Simon Thassi was assassinated, along with his two eldest sons when they arrived at an intended banquet with his son-in-law, Ptolemy ben Abubus.

Yohanan Hyrcanus, Simon's third son, took the reins of power in the semi-autonomous nation of Judea in 135 BC and ruled until 104 BC. The cognomen 'Hyrcanus' was due to his taking part in an allied military expedition under the leadership of the Seleucid ruler Antiochus VII Sidetes against the Parthians of Iran, where they almost reached as far as the shores of the Hyrcanian (Caspian) Sea. Due to the difficulties experienced by the Seleucids against Rome and the rising empire of the Parthians in the east, Yohanan Hyrcanus took full advantage to annex territories in the Transjordan at the expense of the Aramaic-speaking Ammonite tribes and the Greek colonial cities of Decapolis, the region of Iturea in Phoenicia, and against the Idumeans in the Negev desert. Wars were also waged against the rival nation and religious sect of Yahweh in Samaria, where the rival temple of Yahweh on Mount Gerizim was destroyed. Hyrcanus would issue a program of forced conversions on the different non-Jewish ethnic groups in his realm.

Hyrcanus' son, Judas Aristobulus I reigned briefly between 104-103 BCE. He was the first of his dynasty to style himself Basileus (Greek for king) or ha'Melekh ('the king' in Hebrew).

Aristobulus was succeeded by his son, Alexander Jannaeus ('Jannaeus' was the Greek form of his Hebrew name, Yehonatan'), who ruled between 103-76 BC. A warlike king, Alexander was nicknamed "the Thracian" by his own people, for both his barbarism and the fact that he employed an army composed of mercenaries of Greek and Thracian origin. He would lead the conquests of Gaza and Raphia near Egypt and the region of Gaulanitis (Golan). During his reign, the divisions between the pro-Hellenistic Saducees (derived from the name of the Biblical Tzadok the priest) and the more zealous and nationalistic sect of the  Pharisees, had grown into outright political rivalry. Under Alexander Jannaeus came the establishment of the political body of the Sanhedrin, the name of which is derived from Synedrion, the Greek term for 'council'. It was made up of seventy-one councilors, with the presiding member known as the Nasi, who could be either the High Priest or the ruler of Judea. After the Kingdom of Judea lost its independence, the High Priest would invariably become the Nasi of the Sanhedrin.

After Jannaeus' death in 76 BC, his wife, Queen Salome Alexandra, who was initially a supporter of the Pharisee sect under the influence of her brother, Simeon ben Shetah, ruled as the queen regnant between 76-67 BC, so she reigned in Judea at the time of the Third Servile War. Salome's eldest son was the future King Hyrcanus II, who had already been anointed as High Priest upon his father's death. Much as his mother before him, Hyrcanus II was a supporter of the Pharisee sect of Judaism.

Shortly into the reign of Hyrcanus II, did his younger brother, the pro-Saducee prince Aristobulus, rose in rebellion against his brother. Defeated in battle outside of Jericho, Hyrcanus took refuge inside Jerusalem, but the city's capture by Aristobulus compelled his surrender. Hyrcanus abdicated as King of Judea and as Gadol Kohen. But fearing for his life in retirement, Hyrcanus was convinced by his advisor, Antpater the Idumean, into fleeing to the court of King Aretas III of Nabataea and to assist him against his brother. Antipater bribed the Nabataean king with the promise of returning some territory lost to Judea in previous wars in return for his aid.

Having gained the High Priesthood and kingship of Judea in from his brother in 66 BC, Aristobulus II had to contend with the 63 BC Nabataean invasion of Judea, which aimed to restore the weaker Hyrcanus II to the Judean throne. The Nabataean army would lay siege to Jerusalem. At the same time, however, the Roman commander, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, having just previously completed the Roman victory over Mithridates of Pontus, was now taking advantage of the weakened state of the remnants of the Seleucid realm in Syria. Both Hyrcanus and Aristobulus sent emissaries to Pompey, entreating him to aid their cause. Pompey initially sent one of his officers, and brother-in-law, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, to handle the situation in his stead. Scaurus favoured the cause of Aristobulus and offered a sum of ten thousand talents, from the coffers of Aristobulus II, to King Aretas III of Nabataea to end the siege of Jerusalem. When that ended, Aristobulus accused Scaurus of extortion.

The Roman forces of Pompey occupied the country of Judea, and it was decided that Hyrcanus II would make a better client-ruler than Aristobulus II. This decision was, like before with King Aretas of Nabataea, moved by Antipater the Idumean. Aristobulus, still in control of Judea, had to endure another siege, this time by the Romans. The city fell, though, Aristobulus II escaped, along with his son, Antigonus, and sought refuge in the fortress of Alexandrium. But that too was taken by the Romans, under the command of Pompey's legate, Aulus Gabinius. 

Hyrcanus II was restored as High Priest, but not as king. The secular governance of Judea would be handled by his Epitropos (Greek: regent) Antipater the Idumean, who took advantage of his political position to enhance the status of his own house. Antipater was the father of the future Roman client-king of Judea: Herod the Great.

Roman Conquest []

Judea lost its independence to the Romans in the 1st century BC, by becoming first a tributary kingdom, then a province, of the Roman Empire. The Romans had allied themselves to the Maccabees and interfered again in 63 BC, at the end of the Third Mithridatic War, when the proconsul Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) stayed behind to make the area secure for Rome. Queen Alexandra Salome had recently died, and a civil war broke out between her sons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. Pompeius restored Hyrcanus but political rule passed to the Herodian family who ruled as client kings for Rome. Antipater the Idumean became the regent of Judea, while his patron, Hyrcanus II, was only permitted to re-assume the office of Gadol Kohen. Antipater's sons, Phasael and Herod, were each given authority over different regions of the kingdom. Phasael became governor over Jerusalem and the surrounding region of Judah, while Herod was made governor over Galilee.

However, after some years in exile in Rome, Antigonus Mattathias, the son of the late Aristobulus II, returned to Judea in 57 BC. There, Antigonus Mattathias would foment rebellion among the Jewish population in order to usurp his uncle as the High Priest, accusing him of being a puppet of Antipater the Idumean. The Roman Proconsul of Syria, Aulus Gabinius, was required to deal with Antigonus Mattathias.

In 47 BC, during the civil war between Gaius Julius Caesar and the conservative Optimate faction in Rome, Antigonus Mattathias entreated Caesar to support his claim as the ruler of Judea. in 42 BC, with the support of some of the nobility, including the Pharisees, including that of his brother-in-law, Ptolemy Mennei, Antigonus Mattathias briefly seized control of Jerusalem. But this attempt was defeated by Herod, the son of Antipater the Idumean.

When the Parthians invaded Roman Syria in 40 BC, Antigonus Mattathias gained their support to install him as High Priest and King of Judea. The Parthians spared him a force of five hundred to safeguard his person. With his uncle, a captive, Antigonus Mattathias had his uncle, Hyrcanus II, mutilated by having his ears cut off. As those who were disfigured were not deemed eligible to be either kings or high priests in Judea. Hyrcanus was sent into exile to live with the Jews of Mesopotamia. Phasael, the eldest son of Antipater the Idumean and the Tetrarch over southern Judea on the death of his father, was executed.

In 39 BC, Herod came to Rome to seek the Senate's and Triumvirate's aid in restoring his authority in Judea. In 38 BC, the Roman-backed forces of Herod successfully ousted Antigonus Mattathias, who was captured, taken to Antioch in Syria, and was beheaded on the orders of the Roman Triumvir Marcus Antonius. While Herod became the first and only member of the Herodian dynasty to become King of Judea.

In 6 AD, Judea came under direct Roman rule as the southern part of the province of Iudaea. Eventually, the Jews rose against Roman rule in 66 AD in a revolt that was unsuccessful. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD and much of the population was killed or enslaved

Peoples of Judea[]

Apart from the Jewish people themselves, there were other Goyim populations in neighbouring regions that were brought under Judean rule during the reigns of Yohanan Hyrcanus and Alexander Jannaeus.

The semi-nomadic Idumeans were likely of Arabic origin, as they lived close by the Kingdom of Nabataea in modern Jordan. Known as the "Edomites" in the Bible, or the "Udumu" in Assyrian texts, they occupied the southern regions of Judea as far as the Sinai Peninsula. During the reign of Yohanan (John) Hyrcanus, the region and its people were conquered by Judean forces, and forcibly converted to Judaism, which involved many being circumcised against their will. Despite this, however, they were still viewed as false Jews and were despised for it. Despite this, certain members of the local Idumean nobility, such as one Antipater the Idumean, rose in the service of later Judean kings.

The Itureans were a nomadic tribe, of possible Arabic or Aramaic origin, residing in the Lebanese mountains of Phoenicia, close to the region of Galilee. In 105 BC, Aristobulus I of Judea annexed the region, and seems to have Judaized.

The Samaritans, sharing much of the same beliefs as the Jews of Judea, have never the less held each other disdain ever since the Babylonian exile. The returning Jews saw the Samaritans as interlopers, as Arabs from the desert who were resettled in Israel after the conquest of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians, while the Samaritans claimed descent from the Hebrew tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim as well as the Tribe of Levi. The regional capital of Samaria, the Samaritan homeland, was Shechem, with the temple to the god Yahweh based on Mount Gerizim outside of Shechem. The Samaritans were a protectorate of the Seleucid Empire until 129 BC, when Yohanan Hyrcanus conquered the land of Samaria and destroyed their temple to Yahweh.

Decapolis was the collective name of a group of cities which were inhabited by Greeks or were dominated by Greek culture. These include Gerasa (modern Jerash, Jordan), Scythopolis (modern Beth-Shean, Israel), Antiocheia Hippos (near modern Kibbutz Ein Gev, Israel), Gadara (modern Umm Qais, Jordan), Pella (near modern Irbid, Jordan), Philadelphia (modern Jordanian capital Amman), Canatha (modern Qanawat, Syria), Dion (later called Capitolias, now Beit Ras in Jordan) Raphana (modern city in Jordan), and Damascus, the former regional capital which was colonized by Seleucid Greeks. "Decapolis" meant 'the ten cities'. Some were founded as Greek colonies, while others, such as Damascus, had long histories before the conquests of Alexander the Great of Macedon. During a military campaign which lasted between 83-80 BC, the Judean King Alexander Jannaeus, seeking to annex more territory east of the River Jordan, was said to have conquered the city Hippos and forced the local Greeks to be circumcised and converted to Judaism. During the conquest of Judea by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus in 63 BC, the local Greeks saw Pompey as a liberator and named their new calendar era, the Pompeian Era, in his honour.

Notable Judeans[]

External Links[]