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Thinking about the Roman Empire? Here’s a Jewish background.

Screenshot from @ambarrail on TikTok
Screenshot from @ambarrail on TikTok

 

@ambarrail

This trend is incredible. Some of the best ones #romanempire #romanempirecompilation

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The Roman Empire has unexpectedly exploded on social media. Videos of adult women have been asking their male spouses “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” have gained popularity in recent days and weeks. The answer is actually quite common that men often think about the Roman Empire. 

In this article, we will be exploring the history of Judaism in the Roman Empire. Marked by various periods of both tolerance and persecution and spanning several centuries, the history of Judaism within the Roman Empire is complex. Here are some key points in the history of Judaism within the Roman Empire:

The Author visiting the Kotel in November 2021 – Courtesy of the Author

Early Roman rule consisted of gradual expansion and conquer among various cultures and kingdoms. During the early years of Roman rule, the Jewish community in Judea was generally allowed to practice its religion and retain a degree of autonomy.

In the 1st century BCE, Herod the Great, a Roman-appointed king of Judea, expanded and beautified the Second Temple in Jerusalem, an important religious and cultural center for Jews. This period of relative peace and prosperity was marked by a strong Roman influence.

Jewish-Roman War – Tensions between the Jewish population and Roman authorities led to a rebellion in 66 CE. This culminated into the Jewish-Roman war. The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE by the Roman general Titus was a significant turning point in the war. This traumatic event marked the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora, which led Jews into exile across the world. This event is commemorated by Jews on Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning the destruction of the Second Temple. 

The fall of Masada, which was one of the final events in the war, is a story of Jewish resistance. Masada was a mountaintop fortress located near the western shore of the Dead Sea, in modern-day Israel, and is today is tourist attraction. The Roman forces, led by the Roman governor Flavius Silva, descended upon the fortress, which was held by a group of Jewish zealots and Sicarii rebels led by Eleazar ben Ya’ir. The siege began in 73 CE and lasted for several months. Ultimately, in 74 CE, the Romans breached the defenses of Masada and found that the Jewish defenders had chosen mass suicide rather than surrender. 

The Davidson Archaeological Park in Jerusalem, October 2021 – Courtesy of the Author

Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 CE): Another major Jewish revolt occurred under the leadership of Simon bar Kokhba, a Jewish military leader from Judea. The Romans brutally suppressed this rebellion, resulting in the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem and the renaming of the city as Aelia Capitolina. Jews were also forbidden from entering Jerusalem.

Jewish Life in the Roman Diaspora: Jewish communities thrived in various parts of the Roman Empire, including Alexandria, Rome, and other major cities. They often enjoyed relative religious freedom and contributed to the cultural and economic life of their host societies.

Theodosian Code: In the late 4th century, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I issued laws that restricted Jewish religious practices and further marginalized the Jewish community.

End of the Western Roman Empire: The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE did not significantly alter the status of Jews, as they continued to live in various regions under the rule of various successor kingdoms. 

The Time of Now – Having faced persecution long after the Roman Empire ended, we faced expulsion, significant antisemitism, pogroms, and most notably, the Holocaust. In 1948, modern-day Israel was established to give us a safe haven. To this day, antisemitism remains, and unfortunately, is on the rise. The Jewish people remain committed to their values, strengthening traditions, and uniting in the face of hate. The kindred spirit and resilience of the Jewish people is one that shines within us. 

About the Author
Perri Schwartz is an activist and writer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She is a 2021-2022 alumnus of the Young Judaea Year Course gap year. She interned with the Israel Daily News Podcast while on Year Course. She is also on the autism spectrum and is super passionate about making the world a better place. You can follow her on Instagram, @thezioprincess.
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