The city of Jerusalem and its surrounding area comprised Judaea, a region in southern Palestine. It was the homeland of the Jews during Greek and Roman times. Jerusalem reached its peak during the reign of Herod the Great, who ruled the kingdom of Judaea from 37 to 4 B.C.
Jerusalem is located on the ridge that separates the Mediterranean coast of present-day Israel from the Dead Sea. The city was first occupied by the Jebusites, a non-Jewish people who were conquered by the Hebrew hero and king David around 1000 B.C. David made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom. The city came to be called “the city of David.” His successor, Solomon, built the Temple around 960 B.C. This structure became the most important building for Jews. Within its sacred walls, they prayed to God and practiced the rituals* of their monotheistic* faith. The Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 B.C., but it was rebuilt about 50 years later.
Numerous foreign powers controlled Jerusalem over the centuries, including Alexander the Great of Macedonia and his successors, the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, and the Seleucid dynasty of Syria. In 168 or 167 B.C., Antiochus IV tried unsuccessfully to force the Jews to adopt the Greek culture and religion. He built an altar to Zeus in the Temple and prohibited the Jews from observing their religious customs. An uprising against foreign rule, led by Judah Maccabee, resulted in the recapture and rededication of the Temple in 164 B.C.
* ritual regularly followed routine, especially religious
* monotheistic having a belief in only one God
In 63 B.C., the Roman general Pompey seized Jerusalem. The Romans named Herod the Great king of Judaea in 37 B.C. During his 33-year reign, Jerusalem was transformed into a magnificent city with a theater, a track for chariot races, and a palace defended by three massive towers. The Temple was rebuilt in white stone and embellished with gold. High priests and other members of the privileged upper class lived in the elegant residential sections of Jerusalem.
After Herod’s death, conflicts between Romans and Jews were frequent and complicated. In A.D. 6, Judaea became a province* of Rome, governed by a Roman administrator, or procurator. A Jewish religious leader, Jesus of Nazareth, had a brief but stunning career in Roman-ruled Judaea before his crucifixion* in the early A.D. 30s. Jesus’ followers eventually split with traditional Judaism and became Christians. The city and the Temple were destroyed by Titus in A.D. 70 during a Jewish revolt, and the Jewish population scattered to escape further persecution. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a Roman colony called Aelia Capitolina in the early A.D. 100s. The mother of emperor Constantine I, with her son’s support, founded many churches on Christian holy sites in Jerusalem during the early A.D. 300s. As a result of their efforts, the city became a place of pilgrimage for Christians. Muslims conquered Jerusalem in A.D. 638 and added it to their rapidly expanding empire. (See also Christianity.)
* province overseas area controlled by Rome
* crucifixion act of killing someone by binding or nailing his or her hands and feet to a cross