The Jewish People Under the Roman Empire

Essential Question

What was the experience of the Jewish People under Roman Rule?

The Jewish People Under Roman Rule

The Romans were a very religious people. To celebrate their religious beliefs, the Romans held many festivals in honor of their gods. Because of the empire's huge size and diverse population, the nature of these festivals varied widely from place to place. The Romans were a very practical people. This practicality also extended into their religious lives. The Romans didn't think that they could be sure which gods did or did not exist. To avoid offending any gbds who did exist, the Romans prayed to a wide range of gods and goddesses. Many of the most popular gods in the Roman Empire were adopted from people the Romans had conquered.

Because of their ideas about religion, the Romans allowed people they conquered to keep their beliefs. In many cases these beliefs also spread among nearby Romans. As time passed the Romans built temples to the gods of these new religions, and knowledge of them spread throughout the empire.

For example, many Romans worshipped the Olympian gods of Greece. When the Romans conquered Greece they learned about Greek mythology. Before long, the Greek gods became the main gods of Rome as well. In the same way, many Romans also adopted gods from the Egyptians, Gauls, or Persians.

The only time the Romans banned a religion was when the rulers of Rome considered it a political problem. In these cases, government officials took steps to prevent problems. Sometimes they placed restrictions on when and where members of a religion could meet. One religion that some Roman leaders came to consider a political problem was Judaism.

Roman leaders considered Judaism to be a potential problem for two reasons. One reason was religious, the other political. Both reasons led to conflict between the Romans and the Jews of the empire.

Unlike the Romans, the Jews did not worship many gods. They believed that their God was the only god. Some Romans, though, thought the Jews were insulting Rome's gods by not praying to them. Still, the Romans did not attempt to ban Judaism in the empire. They allowed the Jews to keep their religion and prac- tice it as they pleased. It was not until later when political conflict arose with the Jews that the Romans decided to take action.

Political conflict arose because the Jews rebelled against Roman rule. Judea, the territory in which most Jews lived, had been conquered by Rome in 63 BC. Since then, many Jews had been unhappy with Roman rule. They wanted to be ruled only by Jews, not by outsiders. As a result, the Jews rebelled in the AD 60s. The rebellion was defeated, however, and the Jews were punished for their actions.

In the early 100s the Jews rebelled once more against the Romans. Tired of putting down Jewish revolts, the emperor Hadrian banned the practice of certain Jewish rituals. He thought this ban would cause people to give up Judaism and end their desire for independence.

Hadrian was wrong. His actions made the Jews even more upset with Roman rule. Once again they rebelled. This time Hadrian decided to end the rebellions in Jerusalem once and for all. The Roman army crushed the Jews' revolt, destroyed the Jewish capital of Jerusalem, and forced all Jews to leave the city. Then the Romans built a new city on the ruins of Jerusalem and brought settlers from other parts of the empire to live there. Jews were forbidden to enter this new city more than once a year. Forced out of their ancient city, many Jews moved into other parts of the Roman world.

Discussion Questions

  • What was the Roman attitude toward religion?

  • Why did the Romans come to consider Judaism a threat?

  • Why did the Romans destroy Jerusalem?

  • How do you think the spreading of Jews through the Roman world affected Jewish culture?

Activity 1: What was the experience like for the Jewish people under Roman rule?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities