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date: 29 February 2024



  • Benjamin Isaac


Hebrew: יהודה = Yehuda; Greek: Ἰουδαία = Ioudaia; Latin: Iudaea. Judaea was subject to the Hellenistic kingdoms and then, for a period of time, was an independent kingdom. Subjugated by Rome, it was first a dependent kingdom, then annexed as a Roman province. After two serious rebellions, it was renamed Syria-Palaestina. The Roman garrison was increased in stages till there were two legions and a comparable number of auxiliaries. The most tangible long-term effect of their presence was the organization of a system of roads all over the province. Urbanization can be traced from the Hellenistic until the Byzantine period.


  • Jewish Studies

Updated in this version

Text greatly expanded to reflect contemporary scholarship. Bibliography and digital materials added.

The Name and Early History

The name Ioudaia / Judaea was the Greek rendering of the Persian satrapy of Yahud (538–332 bce) which, in turn, indicated the formal tribal area of Judah of biblical times.

In the Hellenistic period, the name could imply (a) the name “The Land of the Jews,” in its proper sense and (b) an administrative district: the territory of Jerusalem. In the Books of the Maccabees, for example, it is often used to indicate the country of the Jews; however, sometimes it clearly refers to the territory of Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 1.1). When the Jews gained political and military control, Ioudaia / Judaea naturally became, successively, the name of the Hasmonaean kingdom, of the Herodian kingdoms, and of the Roman province. The Hasmonaeans and Herod expanded their control over neighbouring peoples and cities. As a result of these conquests and gains, it became a term indicating a wider region than the original Jewish area in the narrow sense, including Samaria, the Galilee, and parts of Transjordan. Consequently, non-Jews are also included among the “Ioudaioi” in several sources of this era (Strabo 16. 4.2 (767); Plutarch, Ant. 36.3). After the Bar Kokhba war, in the reign of Hadrian, the Roman province of Judaea was re-named Syria-Palaestina. Thus an appellation referring to an ethnic element associated with Jews was replaced by the purely geographic one: Syria-Palaestina. That the name Palaestina was originally associated with the Philistines is clear. In the 2nd century, the appellation Palaestina apparently had no ethnic association. However, texts of the late 4th century mention Palaestini as a clearly identified group (Scriptores Historiae Augustae, Niger 7.9; Not. Dig. Or. 34.28). Thereby, a regular pattern of this period was followed: the inhabitants of a province came to be ethnically identified by a geographical label (Figure 1). It will be clear that there was not felt to be any connection between the old Philistines and the 4th-century Palaestini.

Figure 1. Judaea / Palaestina.

The name Judaea is still encountered in the sources dating from after the province was renamed Syria-Palaestina. Cassius Dio, for instance, writing in the early 3rd century, called the province Palaistinē in Greek, but noted that the land is also called Ioudaia and the inhabitants Ioudaioi (Dio 37.16).

The Hasmonaeans ruled the land semi-independently from the Seleucids between c. 140 and c. 116 bce. Subsequently, with the Seleucid Empire disintegrating, the dynasty became fully independent and expanded into the neighbouring regions of Samaria, Galilee, Ituraea, Peraea, and Idumea. The Hasmonaean rulers took the title basileus (‘king’). Judaea, accordingly, became successively the name of the Hasmonaean and Herodian kingdoms and of the Roman province.

In 63 bce, Pompey overran the country, besieged and captured Jerusalem. Judaea was now attached to the larger, new province of Syria. ‘Judaea’ as an administrative and political term originated in the period when the territory was a Roman client kingdom and subject to tribute. The non-Jewish towns both west and east of Jordan were detached from Judaea and placed under the jurisdiction of the governor of the province of Syria. The substantially reduced Jewish territory was assigned to Hyrcanus II as ethnarch and High Priest (63–40 bce). In 57–5 bce, it was reorganized by A. Gabinius, the proconsul of Syria, into five districts or councils (synodoi, synedria): Jerusalem, Amathus, Gadara, Jericho and Sepphoris. This is not an organizational framework that seems to have been adopted in subsequent periods, either by Herod or, afterward, by the equestrian governors of Judaea. Hyrcanus had little authority. Real power rested with Antipater (murdered in 43 bce), his son Herod, recognized as king (died 4 bce), and, briefly, Herod’s successor Archelaus, who was removed in 6 ce. Judaea then was annexed, still named Judaea and administered by an equestrian prefect (praefectus, eparchos) who was subject to the superior authority of the Syrian governor, an arrangement that lasted until 41, when Iulius Agrippa I became king. Agrippa’s brief reign lasted until his death in 44. Judaea then was re-annexed to the province of Syria and governed by equestrian procurators, until the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt in 66. After the war, in 70, Vespasian made Judaea a province under an imperial legate, legatus Augusti pro praetore, a former praetor, with the command of a permanent legionary garrison in Jerusalem. When a second legion was added to the garrison of Judaea, based at Legio-Caparcotna, at some date before 120, the rank of the governor was correspondingly raised to that of an ex-consul. The second-highest administrator was the equestrian procurator, in charge of finances and taxation. Both the legate and the procurator were based in Caesarea, where their residences have been excavated. The two legions each were commanded by a senatorial legatus legionis.

This system was maintained until the late 3rd century, when the functions of the senatorial legate and the equestrian procurator were combined by an equestrian official. Sometime afterward, the military functions of the governor—as distinct from his civilian duties—were transferred to a newly created office, that of the Dux Palaestinae. This was part of a large-scale reorganization that separated civilian and military organization, the latter having been transformed into a territorial command entitled limes or “frontier district.” The authority of the Dux Palaestinae covered three civilian provinces, Palaestina Prima, Secunda, and Tertia, the latter representing the Negev which, until then, had been part of Arabia Provincia. The responsibility of the dux extended in range beyond these civilian provinces (when he acted, for instance, in the Red Sea region). He had troops under his command called limitanei, well attested in an ancient source, the Notitia Dignitatum, and in legal sources. These troops were separate from the comitatenses, the field army.1


According to Josephus

[Judaea] is divided into eleven klerouchiai (districts) of which Jerusalem is the capi­tal. The other parts, after Jerusalem, are divided into topar­chiai (see below): Gophna is the second, then Acrabeta, Thamna, nearby Lydda, Emmaus, Pella, Idumaea, Engedi, Herodion, and Jericho. Following these, Jamnia and Jaffa administer the sur­rounding areas. (Josephus, BJ 3.54)

Pliny, writing after 70, gives a slightly different list of toparchies (NH 5.70). The term toparchia indicates a territory that is not subject to the jurisdiction of a city and was commonly given to a large settlement without the status of a city, but with some administrative functions. It is not, however, used in a consistent way in the sources.2

After 70, Jerusalem was no longer a city but had become the “toparchy of Orine.” Ein-Gedi ceased to be a toparchy and was annexed to Jericho (P. Yadin 16, l. 16). Herodium continued as toparchy at least until the Bar Kokhba revolt, for it is mentioned as such by Pliny and in a papyrus of 124.3 It is clear too that Akrabatene and Gofnah continued to function as toparchies; probably Zifene also was one. Eventually the toparchies disappeared altogether, in the century-and-a-half after Bar Kokhba: Eusebius’ Onomasticon (late 3rd–early 4th century) contains not a single reference to a toparchy. The reason is clear: the entire province of Judaea was gradually divided up into city-territories (apart from a number of imperial domains, discussed below). Eusebius’ frequent references to city-territories show that this became the essential organizational principle in the province.

A matter of debate has been the influence and authority of the Jewish leadership in the province, notably that of the rabbis. These, of course produced the entire body of Talmudic literature. Besides acting as authorities in matters concerning religion and scholarship, they also exercised juridical control and are attested as representing the Jewish population of Judaea vis-à-vis the Roman authorities.4


In most of the eastern Mediterranean, as distinct from the north-western part of the Roman Empire, urbanization preceded the Roman conquest, and this is true for Judaea as well. For a detailed list of cities, we may refer to Schürer.5 At the time of Pompey’s annexation of Syria, the territory of Judaea had eighteen cities. During the subsequent Herodian period six more were founded or re-founded. From the Flavian period onward, another seven were newly founded or re-founded. This does not include towns in the provinces of Syria, such as Damascus, or in Arabia, such as Gerasa.

It is usually claimed that Pompey re-founded many cities, which were subsequently physically reconstructed by Gabinius, proconsul of Syria from 57 to 55 bce. According to these claims, this would have been a programme of tremendous scope: in a newly annexed region, numerous cities would have been re-founded and physically reconstructed by the Roman authorities. A good case can be made, however, that this programme in fact entailed no more than a series of administrative measures, reorganizing existing cities after their removal from Jewish control. There is indeed no evidence of large-scale physical construction in the cities at this stage.

During the reigns of Claudius and Nero, veterans of four legions were settled in a new colony at Ptolemais-Acco. This was a city in Syria (on the border with Judaea), but the establishment is relevant for Judaean history. The road constructed at the same time was a project apparently undertaken for security reasons: under Claudius there were dangerous conflicts between Jews and Samaritans that were investigated on the spot by Ummidius Quadratus, governor of Syria.6 The next city established in the region with the status of a colony (Colonia Civium Romanorum), the highest rank among provincial cities, was colonia prima Flavia Augusta Caesariensis or Caesarea. It was originally a Hellenistic city named Straton’s Tower (or perhaps Demetrias), renamed and extensively expanded by Herod. The name Caesarea apparently refers to the fact that, in this city, Vespasian was proclaimed Emperor by his own troops. There is disagreement as to whether the title of “colony” was a purely honorary grant of superior status or whether it also involved the settlement of veterans in Caesarea, then the capital of the Roman province. It is to be noted, however, that Flavius Josephus states explicitly that Vespasian founded in Judaea “no city of his own . . . but only to eight hundred veterans did he assign a place for settlement called Emmaus” (Josephus, BJ 7.217). This would seem to be a decisive statement excluding the possibility that veterans were settled also in Caesarea.

The Elder Pliny mentioned Ascalon as a free town (NH 5.68), a status that was not all that common in the eastern provinces and was, in this region, the only case. Ascalon was freed from Seleucid rule in 104–103. It had never been incorporated in the Hasmonaean state, nor was it ever a part of Herod’s kingdom. As regards Joppa, coins of the 3rd century give the name of the city as “Flavia Ioppe.” The least this could indicate is that the town received an honorary title in the Flavian period. However, since we know that many of its Jewish inhabitants were killed and much of the city was destroyed in the First Revolt, the name might be taken to imply some form of formal re-foundation, which could have taken place at the same time as the foundation of the new city of Flavia Neapolis (Shechem, Sichem).

In the reign of Hadrian, Jerusalem was re-founded as a Roman veteran colony, Aelia Capitolina, a decision taken presumably at the time of Hadrian’s visit in 130, a cause of the revolt of Bar Kokhba. In Galilee, the town of Sepphoris was renamed “Diocaesarea” before or early in the reign of Antoninus Pius with the title of “sacred, inviolate, and autonomous” (hiera, asylos kai autonomos).

The next stage of activity in terms of urbanization came during the reign of Septimius Severus. The settlements of Beth Guvrin and Lod received city status and were renamed, respectively, Eleutheropolis and Diospolis. Septimius Severus also gave Samaria-Sebaste the rank of a Roman colony, the third city with that status in the province.7 In the reign of Elagabalus, Emmaus was founded as a city and re-named Nicopolis. It should be clear that this process of urbanization was not merely a series of administrative arrangements. Archaeological evidence makes it abundantly clear that settlements that became cities underwent an architectural programme of urbanization as well: a city ought to have some sort of forum / agora, at least one theatre, a hippodrome and, in several instances an amphitheatre. The latter is a highly interesting feature, for the amphitheatre is usually associated with western, Roman urban culture.8 We have little evidence, however, of what actually happened in such structures in Judaea/ Palaestina.

This completed the process of the urbanization of Judaea/Palaestina in the Roman period. Some adaptations of status occurred: Scythopolis, for instance, received the honorary status of a colonia before 308–311.9 A few minor additional towns appear on the Byzantine lists of Hierocles and Georgius Cyprius. Thus, for instance, “Legio,” the civilian settlement that developed near the legionary base and in the vicinity of the old village of Kefar ‘Otnay, received city status in the 4th century, after the transfer of the legion elsewhere. It was renamed Maximianopolis. All these cities had their territories, an essential element of the urban status of a settlement and, mostly thanks to Eusebius’ Onomasticon, there is a good deal of information on the extent of these territories—but not enough to draw proper maps.10 The pagan cults practiced in them are attested mostly through archaeological material.11

It should be noted that the Jewish population of Judaea / Palaestina seriously declined after the Bar Kokhba war, as a result of death, exile, and emigration. A parallel phenomenon is substantial migration of Jews from central Judaea to Galilee in the same period after the rebellion. Centuries afterward, there is good evidence that the Byzantine period saw a substantial increase of the general population, both in the cities, many of which saw expansion, and in the rural regions.

Three Imperial Domains are attested in Judaea-Palaestina during the High Empire: Jamnia, Jericho-‘Ein Gedi, and part of the Valley of Jezreel.12 The town of Jamnia was inherited after Herod’s death by his sister Salome. Salome left it to Livia. After Livia’s death it became imperial property, as shown by the presence of a procurator(epitropos).13 It is clear that in the late 5th century Jamnia still was part of an imperial domain, more than four centuries after Josephus described it as such. Jericho and ‘Ein-Gedi were especially famous for their date palms and balsam, or opobalsamum, the only tropical resin grown in this region, and a most expensive one. These plantations were crown property as stated by Pliny, the Babatha archive, and the Byzantine list of Georgius Cyprius. In the Valley of Jezreel, there is a continuation of crown (later imperial) property from around 200 bce until the 4th century ce. Finally, the Byzantine period provides information about two districts of imperial land in the northern Negev, namely the Saltus Geraritice and the Saltus Constantinianus.14

The Roman Army and Road-System in the Province

The roads in the province of Judaea-Palaestina formed an integrated system of four north-south arteries and a series of east-west routes. The locations where these roads intersected developed into towns such as Caesarea Philippi, Diocaesarea, Scythopolis, Caesarea, Neapolis, Antipatris, Diospolis, Nicopolis, Eleutheropolis, Hebron, Jericho, and the legionary base at Legio. Jerusalem was one of the nodal centres of the road network before the Roman period for obvious reasons and continued to function as such after the establishment of the headquarters of the Legion X Fretensis there.

The chronological development of the road system can be traced to some extent through the dated milestones set up along the roads. No milestones dated to the time before the reign of Claudius have been found anywhere in the eastern provinces beyond Anatolia, including Judaea-Palestine.

As mentioned, during the reigns of Claudius and Nero, veterans of four legions were settled in a new colony in Ptolemais-Acco in Syria. As part of the same programme the coastal road from Antioch to Ptolemais was constructed and marked with milestones dated to 56 ce and inscribed: “from Antioch to the new Colony of Ptolemais.” This was the first Roman road marked by milestones in Syria.

M. Ulpius Traianus, commander of the Legio X Fretensis and father of the Emperor, is mentioned on a milestone, dated to 69 ce, on the Scythopolis–Legio road.15 At the time of its construction this road facili­tated communications between the legionary winter-quarters at Caesarea and Scythopolis. Eventually, however, it became one of the most important routes crossing Palestine. The road probably continued to Pella and Gerasa, for milestones dated to 112 ce, discovered between these cities, mention the restoration of the road.16

Under Hadrian, at least twelve roads were marked by mile­stones for the first time in Judaea, all dated to years well before the outbreak of the Bar Kokhba revolt—that is, to 120 and 129/130. The series dated to 129/130 is contemporary with the emperor's visit to Judaea. This represents a marked increase in Roman activity in the province. The garrison was doubled, and the decision was taken to found the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina at Jerusalem. In Arabia, at least one new road was constructed under Hadrian, in 120: a road from Gerasa via Adra'a to Bostra.17 This provided the legion in Bostra with organized access into the Decapolis. Under Hadrian, a legion was transferred to Legio-Caparcotna, and roads were built to provide an organized link with the legion at Bostra. No milestones have been discovered that date to the years of the Bar Kokhba revolt.

The milestones dated to 162 are by far the most extensive series attested in Judaea: more than thirty have been discovered to date. In Arabia, too, milestones were set up with identical texts at this time. It is clear that these milestones were created in connection with roadwork done for the Parthian campaign of Lucius Verus, which started in the winter of 161/162.

Milestones dated to several years during Septimius Severus’ reign have been found in Judaea. There is some evidence that the inscriptions were produced by the citizens of the towns in whose vicinity they were found. A study of the coastal road in Syria has shown that there was a change of organization in 198.18 In the province of Arabia there is evidence that the army started moving into the north-eastern desert in the reign of Severus.19

The chronology of some of the milestone-texts suggests that they are related to events outside of the province of Judaea. Apart from the series of 162, there are series that coincide with imperial visits to the area (in 129/130 and 198). Other series are mere declarations of loyalty, such as that of Pertinax or the stones dated to 324–326. There was a short period when milestones were produced as a matter of routine instead of special initiative, from 198 until the death of Caracalla. No milestone inscriptions in Judaea are dated later than the reign of Constantine. In Arabia, a few inscriptions proclaiming support for the Emperor Julian are the latest in date.

Finally, there are hardly any milestones in the settled area of Judaea dated to the time of the Tetrarchs and their successors. This coincides with the reduction of the garrison in these parts, in this period. In Syria and Arabia, where troops were not withdrawn but the army was reorganized, there are many milestone inscriptions along the roads in the same period.20 Clearly there is a connection between army presence and the maintenance of the road-system. For Palestine, there is an exception that proves this rule. Three Tetrarchic and Constantinian mile-stations have been found, each of them, numbering eight to ten pieces, all of them north of Yotvata in the Arabah in the Southern Negev. They are dated to the Tetrarchic and Constantinian reigns (284–324 ce ). The existence of mile-stations along a road from Aela, which continues northward beyond Yotvata, proves that there was a public road all along the Arabah. The construction and organization of this road coincided with the transfer of the Legio X Fretensis from Jerusalem to Aela on the Red Sea.21

The Roman road-system was originally developed by the army for its own use and later maintained for the army by the local population. It was not substantially restored or expanded until the 20th century and continued to serve the local population and other armies after the Roman-Byzantine period.

The Provincial Garrison

The non-Jewish population of Caesarea and its territory furnished a substantial proportion of the troops in Judaea under Herod and perhaps under the prefects. These were one ala of cavalry and five cohorts of infantry of “Caesareans and Sebastenes,” about three thousand men. They are mentioned first in connection with the upheaval following the death of Herod in 4 bce, as being three thousand in number (Josephus, BJ 2.52; 58; 63; Ant. 17.266). The next occasion for their appearance in Josephus’ work was the death of Agrippa I in 44 ce, when the populations of Caesarea and Sebaste, especially the numerous soldiers among them, caused scandal by their exuberant and tasteless expressions of joy at the death of the king, whom they regarded as a (pro-)Jewish enemy. These units remained and continued to be a source of tension, until Vespasian moved them elsewhere after the First Jewish Revolt. The units were stationed in Caesarea and in various other cities and towns. After the First Revolt, the Legio X Fretensis had its headquarters in Jerusalem. Its commander, a legatus Augusti pro praetore of praetorian rank, acted also as provincial governor. In addition, Agrippa’s brief reign lasted until his death in 44. Judaea then was reincorporated as a province under equestrian governors with the title procurator until the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt in 66. After the war, in 70, when Vespasian put Judaea under an imperial legate, a roughly similar number (about 5,000) auxiliaries served in the province. Military diplomas of 86 and 90 gave the list of the units present at the time (two alae and seven cohorts, one of them milliary).22 This represented a total of about 10,000 men.

No later than 120, presumably in 117, a second legion was stationed in Judaea, at Legio-Caparcotna near Tel Megiddo in the Emeq Yizreel. The identity of the legion based there at first is not entirely certain, but it was probably the Legio II Traiana, replaced eventually by the VI Ferrata. At the time, the rank of the governor must also have been raised from that of an ex-praetor to that of an ex-consul. The first governor of this status was probably Lusius Quietus, followed by Cossonius Gallus. The number of auxiliary units in the province was augmented as well. The earliest clear evidence is a military diploma from 139, which lists three alae and twelve cohorts, two of them milliary.23 This means that the garrison had doubled to more than 20,000 men and had become comparable to major provinces like the two Germaniae. Yet this did not prevent the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

The garrison, as it was in the late 3rd and early 4th century, is mentioned in fairly good detail in Eusebius’ Onomasticon of Biblical Place Names. For the subsequent stage there is the Notitia Dignitatum of the late 4th century).24 At an uncertain date in the 3rd century, the Legio VI Ferrata, based at Legio-Caparcotna, left the province of Syria-Palaestina. It is attested at the legionary base of Udruh in southern Jordan in 303. The other Palestinian legion, the Legion X Fretensis, was at some stage transferred to Aela (Elath / Aqaba) on the Red Sea. The date is not certain. The legion remained in Aelia Capitolina at least until 250–251, for it is still attested there by city coins of Herennius Etruscus (250–251) and Hostilian (251).25 Furthermore, Eusebius mentioned the legion as based at Aela in his time. That still does not give us a precise terminus ante, for Eusebius’ Onomasticon is itself not firmly dated. For various reasons, the transfer is likely to have happened in the Tetrarchic period. In Jerusalem, the legion was replaced by a smaller unit. By the end of the 4th century, this was the cavalry unit of Mauri Illyriciani. Finally, it should be mentioned that the list of units attested for this period in Palestine was a radically different one from those known from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The most striking difference is the preponderance of cavalry units. A second significant feature is that, relatively speaking, more troops were based in the southern, sparsely settled part of the country, and few in the urbanized northern part. A third point is that the total number of troops declined over time in the Byzantine period.

Primary Texts

Cassius Dio, Roman History

Flavius Josephus, Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities


Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia


Scriptores Historiae Augustae

Strabo, Geographia


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