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Jewish revolt against Heraclius


Jewish revolt against Heraclius

Jewish revolt against Heraclius
Part of the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628
Date 614–628[1]
Location Palaestina Prima of the Diocese of the East (Byzantine Empire)
Result Jewish surrender and expulsion
  • Byzantine defeat and temporal rule of Persians and Jews over parts of Diocese of the East
  • Expulsion of Jews from the region
  • Brief restoration of Byzantine rule 628–634
Palaestina Prima and Secunda temporarily annexed to the Persian Empire as the Jewish-Sasanian commonwealth, but abandoned by Persians within 5 years and surrendered back to the Byzantines.
Byzantine Empire Sasanian Empire,
Jewish allies
Commanders and leaders
Emperor Heraclius
Patriarch Zacharias (614) (POW)
Abba Modestus (from 617)
Nehemiah ben Hushiel 
Benjamin of Tiberias
Greek contingent of Jerusalem
Byzantine Army
Persian forces;
26,000 Jewish rebels
Casualties and losses
Tens of thousands Tens of thousands

The revolt against Heraclius was a Jewish insurrection against the Byzantine Empire across the Levant, coming to the aid of the Sasanian Persia during the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628. The revolt began with the Battle of Antioch (613) and culminated with the conquest of Jerusalem in 614 by Persian and Jewish forces and the establishment of Jewish autonomy. The revolt ended with the departure of the Persian troops and an eventual surrender of Jewish rebels to the Byzantines in the year 625 (or 628).


  • Revolt 1
    • Persian invasion 1.1
    • Christian rebellion 1.2
    • The Sasanian Jewish Commonwealth 1.3
    • Restoration of Byzantine rule 1.4
  • Aftermath 2
  • In literature 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


Persian invasion

Following the victory in Antioch, the joint Sasanian-Jewish army commanded by Shahrbaraz arrived to Palaestina Prima and conquered Caesaria Maritima. The army was then joined by Benjamin of Tiberias (according to Jewish sources a man of immense wealth), who enlisted and armed additional Jewish soldiers from Tiberias, Nazareth and from the mountain cities of Galilee. Together they marched on Jerusalem. Later, they were joined by the Jews of the southern parts of the country and supported by a band of Arabs. The united forces took Jerusalem in July 614.[2]

According to Jewish sources, after the conquest of Jerusalem, Nehemiah ben Hushiel had been appointed the ruler of Jerusalem. He began making arrangements to rebuild the Temple and to sort out genealogies to establish a new High Priesthood.

Christian rebellion

Several months after the Persian conquest, a riot occurred in Jerusalem, in which the Jewish governor Nehemiah was killed by a band of young Christians, along with his "council of the righteous."[2] Shortly, the events escalated into a full-scale Christian rebellion, resulting in a battle of Jews and Christians inside Jerusalem. In the aftermath many Jews were killed and survivors fled to Caesarea, still held by the Persian Army.

Judeo-Persian reaction was ruthless—Persian Sasanian general Xorheam assembled Judeo-Persian troops and went and encamped around Jerusalem and besieged in for 19 days.[2] Eventually, digging beneath the foundations of the Jerusalem, they destroyed the wall and on the 19th day of the siege, the Judeo-Persian forces took Jerusalem.[2] For three days they were slaughtering almost all the people in the city and allegedly burned the place down.

According to Antiochus Strategos, whose perspective appears to be that of a Byzantine Greek and shows an antipathy to the Jews,[3] thousands of Christians where massacred during the conquest of the city. Estimates based on varying copies of Strategos's manuscripts range from 4,518 to 66,509 killed.[4][5] Strategos wrote that the Jews offered to help them escape death if they "become Jews and deny Christ." The Christian captives refused. In anger, the Jews then purchased Christians to kill them.[6] 37,000 were reportedly deported by the Persians and many more thousands sold as slaves to the Jews.[7] The Jewish community had no time for the monuments attesting the ascendancy of Christian orthodox culture in the city, and all monasteries and churches were burned down.[3] A mass burial grave at Mamilla cave was discovered in 1989 by Israeli archeologist Ronny Reich. Near the site where Antiochus reported the greatest number of corpses were found. The human remains were in poor condition containing a minimum of 526 individuals.[8] Modern archaeological assessment of Jerusalem didn't however find significant signs of destruction - neither in Churches or in habitation areas.

In the following months the Jews swept through the Land of Israel, destroyed the monasteries, and expelled or killed the monks.[2] Bands of Jews from Jerusalem, Tiberias, Galilee, Damascus, and even from Cyprus, united and undertook an incursion against Tyre in the north, having been invited by the 4,000 Jewish inhabitants of that city to attack the Christians on Easter night.[2] The expedition, however, miscarried, as the Christians of Tyre learned of the impending danger, and seized the 4,000 Tyrian Jews as hostages.[2] The Jewish rebels destroyed the churches around Tyre, but were avenged by the Christians by killing two thousand of their Jewish prisoners.[2] The Jewish besiegers, to save the remaining prisoners, withdrew.[2]

The Sasanian Jewish Commonwealth

Though there are limited sources on what happened in the following years,[9] it appears Jews were given permission to run the region, and they did so effectively for the next five years.[10] The Jews of Jerusalem gained complete control over the city, and much of Judea became an autonomous Jewish province of the Sasanian Empire.

Overall, the Jewish rebels conjugated with the Persian Army took the upper hand in the struggle and secured rule over much of the Diocese of the East. When news of the destruction in Jerusalem reached Khosrau, he was terrified - he did not intend to rival Christians that far.[2] He commanded that the Jews be driven from the city, and the king's order was quickly implemented, with great urgency. The Jewish troops were stationed outside the Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount.[2]

The Byzantine response was swift - to counter the Jewish insolence there was the largest ever meeting of Merovingian Bishops, the Fifth Council of Paris in Gaul.[2] They decided that all Jews holding military or civil positions must accept baptism, together with their families. Massive Jewish persecutions began to occur throughout Byzantine Empire.[2]

The distrust between the Jews and Khosrau reached its lowest point, when it was said that Khosrau had acted treacherously and plotted the assassination of Nehemiah.[2] The distrust between former allies resulted in the deportation of many Jews to Persia. Meanwhile, the Persian troops overran Jordan, Israel and the entire the Sinai Peninsula, and reached the frontiers of Egypt. Arabia was split between pro-Persian and pro-Byzantine tribes.[2]

Restoration of Byzantine rule

The sources greatly diverge on what happened in the aftermath of the revolt. According to some sources, in 625 the Byzantine army reconquered the territory, and amnesty was granted to Benjamin of Tiberias and the Jews who had joined the Persians. In 628, after the defeat and death of Khosrau II, Heraclius came as victor into Jerusalem. The Jews of Tiberias and Nazareth, under the leadership of Benjamin of Tiberias, changed sides and joined him. It is even claimed that Benjamin accompanied Heraclius himself during his entry into the city. In 629, the situation escalated, resulting in a wide scale massacre of Jewish population throughout Jerusalem and Galilee, ensuing with tens of thousands of Jews put to flight from Palaestina to Egypt. According to Eutychius (887-940), the Emperor would have kept peace with the Jews, had not fanatic monks instigated him to a massacre.[11][12][13]

According to Abrahamson's summary, in 617, Khosrau issued an order to grant amnesty to Byzantine prisoners as a gesture.[2] He further ordered Jewish soldiers to leave Jerusalem and forbade Jews to settle within a three mile radius of the city.[2] The Persians also placed a Christian priest named Modestos over the city as governor.[2] Despite Khasrau's orders, the Jewish soldiers continued to encamp outside golden gate of Jerusalem. Two years later, Khasrau withdrew all support from Jewish autonomy and Byzantine troops became able to attack the Jewish soldiers, trapped outside the golden gate. The Byzantine attack on Jewish contingent resulted in a slaughter of some 20,000 Jewish troops.[2] Heraclius, unsatisfied with Persian gestures, went on a rampage killing every Jew found in the country. Men, women and children are killed without mercy. By 622 CE, the Roman Emperor Heraclius had assembled an international army against the Persians. He had retaken all Judea (Palaestina Prima) from the Sasanian Persians.

Heraclius is said to have dreamed that destruction threatened the Byzantine Empire through a circumcised people. He therefore proposed to destroy all Jews who would not become Christians; and he is reported to have counseled Dagobert, king of the Franks, to do the same.[14] In atonement for the violation of an oath to the Jews, the monks pledged themselves to a fast, which the Copts still observe.[15] I.e. the so called Fast of Heraclius,[16] which immediately preceding Lent, forms the first week of the Great Fast. The origin of this fast is said to be as follows: that the emperor Heraclius, on his way to Jerusalem, promised his protection to the Jews of Palestine, but that on his arrival in the holy city, the schismatical patriarch and the Christians generally prayed him to put all the Jews to the sword, because they had joined the Persians shortly before in their sack of the city and cruelties towards the Christians. (Abu Salih the Armenian, Abu al-Makarim, ed. Evetts 1895, p. 39, Part 7 of Anecdota Oxoniensia: Semitic series Anecdota oxoniensia. Semitic series--pt. VII], at Google Books).


After the defeat of the Persian Empire, a new threat, the Arab Islamic Empire, had emerged in the region. Heraclius sought to consolidate and secure his gains. Though he had previously granted the Jews amnesty for their revolt, he would not risk another likely revolt in a war with the Arabs.

Heraclius experienced a most exquisite triumph as he knelt in the rebuilt church to receive the blessings of the patriarch that extraordinary day. Apologists would say afterwards that only because of the adamant demands of the patriarch and the local clergy did the Emperor rescind his pledge of amnesty and reluctantly authorize the forced baptism and massacre of the Empire's Jews.[17]

In 638, the Byzantine Empire completely lost control of Judea to the Arabs. The Arab Islamic Empire under Caliph Umar conquered Jerusalem and the lands of Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Egypt.

In literature

The events of the Persian-Byzantine struggle in the Levant and the consequent Arab conquest inspired several apocalyptic Jewish writings of the early Middle Ages. Among those are the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel, which is partially attributed to the events between the Persian conquest of Palaestina and subsequent Muslim conquest of Syria (614-625 and 634 respectively).[18]

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Abrahamson et al. The Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 compared with Islamic conquest of 638. [2].
  3. ^ a b Kohen, Elli (2007). History of the Byzantine Jews: A Microcosmos in the Thousand Year Empire. University Press of America. p. 36.  
  4. ^ Antiochus Strategos, monk of Mar Saba (1991). Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, ed. Antiochus Strategos of Mar Saba., Capture of Jerusalem - Orientalia Christiana Periodica 57. Pont. institutum orientalium studiorum. p. 77. xxvZAAAAMAAJ. Palestinian monk Antiochus Strategos of Mar Saba. in his Capture of Jerusalem, the Georgian text of which fills 66 large octavo pages of 33 lines each. Strategos devoted particular attention to the massacre perpetrated by the Jews in "the reservoir of Mamel" (Abrahamson et al., p. 55, The Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 compared with Islamic conquest of 638) 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Horowitz, Elliott S. (2006). Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence. Princeton University Press. p. 241.  
  8. ^ "Human Skeletal Remains from the Mamilla cave, Jerusalem". Yossi Nagar. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  9. ^ Reinink, G. J.; et al. The Reign of Heraclius: 610–641 crisis and confrontation. p. 103. 
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Eutychii Annales
  12. ^ Eutychius (Patriarch of Alexandria) (1863). J.P. Migne, ed. Epistolai, Volume 111 of Patrologiæ cursus completus: Series Græca 111. PmJ7zGaz9D4C. (Pocoke, Annals) from this (Migne 1863, Patrlogie, Series Graeca iii.) 
  13. ^ Mosheim, Johann Lorenz (1847). Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern: In Four Books, Much Corrected, Enlarged, and Improved from the Primary Authorities. Harper & Brothers. pp. 426–. pg0QAAAAYAAJ. CHAPTER II: ADVERSITIES OF THE CHURCH.: 1 Persecutions of the Christians.: ...The Christians suffered less in this than in the preceding centuries. ...In the East especially in Syria and Palestine the Jews sometimes rose upon the Christians with great violence (Eutyrhius, Annales tom ii., p. 236, &c. Jo. Henr. Hottinger, Historia Orientalis, lib. i., c. id., p. 129, &c.) yet so unsuccessfully as to suffer severely for their temerity. (Mosheim 1847, p. 426) 
  14. ^ Pertz, "Monumenta Germaniæ Historica," i. 286, vi. 25; compare Joseph ha-Kohen, "'Emeḳ ha-Baka," tr. Wiener, p. 5
  15. ^ While the Syrians and the Melchite Greeks ceased to keep it after the death of Heraclius; Elijah of Nisibis ("Beweis der Wahrheit des Glaubens," translation by Horst, p. 108, Colmar, 1886) mocks at the observance.
  16. ^ Abu Salih the Armenian;  
  17. ^ Lewis, David (2008). God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570–1215. Norton. p. 69.  
  18. ^ Silver, Abba Hillel (2003). "II The Mohammedan Period". History of Messianic Speculation in Israel. Kessinger Publishing. p. 49.  
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