A Brief History of Jerusalem: Part II Romans to the Ottomans

Ok, where were we. The last time we checked in on our fair city, the Jews were pissed that they were being forced to adopt Greek culture, so they rebelled and became the capital of the Hasmodean kingdom. The Hasmoneans were nothing to write home about, it lasted for 103 years until 37 BCE, when the Romans rolled in and calmed things down. To put this all in perspective, Julius Caeser was murdered in 44 BCE. The kingdom was marred by the normal things that plague a hereditary monarchy, fratricide and regicide. There were varying blocks of civil war until the Romans rolled back in in 27 BCE.

Finally in 19 BCE, Herod was installed by the Romans. He married a Hasmonean princess to make himself seem more legitimate, and then murdered all of her relatives. To his credit, he built a huge complex around the Second Temple. He also greatly expanded the minting of currency in the city. After he died in 6 BCE, Jerusalem and the Judea came under direct Roman rule.

Siege and Destruction of Rome

Siege and Destruction of Rome by David Roberts

Without going into details, we know that Early Christianity began to evolve in the city at this point in time. Jerusalem was allegedly the site of the original crucifixion, and was where the Apostles really started preaching the Gospel. The Romans tended to be decent about letting a race keep its culture once it was a province of the empire; however in 66 CE, the Jews revolted in opposition to the Roman taxation as well as cultural imposition. The soon-to-be emperor Titus brought in 60,000 troops, and beseiged the city, crucifying the thousands that attempted to flee. Finally he broke through and destroyed the Temple and the better part of the city. Only a section of one wall of the temple was left, what is now known as the Wailing Wall.

Jerusalem remained a relatively unimportant colony of the Roman and Byzantine empire for nearly 600 years. During that time the city was rebuilt, and the Jews rebelled unsuccessfully against the Romans two more times. In 335, the emperor Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, turning the city into the epicenter of Christian worship. It is worth noting that Jews were banned from the city during this time.

Things really start to get messy when Muhammed allegedly ascended into heaven from Jerusalem in the mid 630s. Islam had spread through the Arabian peninsula, and they wanted to take over their holy city. The Jews, as they had been banned from their holy city for nearly 600 years allied with the Muslims in their conquest. In 638 the Arabs overwhelmed Jerusalem, slaughtering everyone who was garrisoned there. 60 years later, the calphate built the Dome of the Rock, on the spot where Muhammed allegedly ascended into heaven. The Dome would come to be the second most sacred site in the Muslim faith.

The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock

Jerusalem did very well during the early years of Arab rule. Christians and Jews, were treated as somewhat second class citizens. They could not practice their religion, but for the most part were tolerated, which was very kind of the Muslims if you ask me. This all changed in 1009, when the acting Caliph ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, started killing clergy, and harassed pilgrims. 30 years later his successor tried to make it right by allowing the church to be rebuilt, realizing the the reason Jerusalem was doing so well was because of the pilgrims.

But the damage was done. In 1095 the Byzantine Emperor and the Pope called for all good Christians to take up arms. This was not 100% religiously motivated, the Arabs were weakening, and Christianity in general needed some good news. But, the crusades had begun. The Crusaders reached Jerusalem in 1099, tired and hungry, a fraction of the size when they had begun. The Jews and Muslims did their best to keep the crusaders out of the city, but in the end they didn’t stand a chance. The Crusaders murdered as many Muslims and Jews as they could get their hands on, and burned all the synagogues and the mosques oftentimes with their respective worshipers inside. Please keep this in mind next time you hear a politician use the phrase “crusade”.

The New Christian Republic of Jerusalem lasted until 187 when Saladin took it back. He went out of his way to make it known that all religions would be tolerated under his rule. This was unacceptable to the Christians, and another crusade was lead by Richard I. At one point on his trek, he took over a city by telling them that they would be spared, only to massacre the residents when their gates were opened. Richard made it to the city walls, but never took the city, instead arranging a deal where unarmed Christian pilgrims could come to the city whenever they wanted.

For one reason or another in 1219, the acting caliph destroyed the walls of the city, rendering

Badass statue of Saladin in Damascus

Badass statue of Saladin in Damascus

the city completely defenseless. 10 years later the Germans came under control of the city, and tried to rebuild the walls, but they were again knocked down 10 years later when their lease ran out (no joke). Again in 1243 the Christians took control of the city, but ended up staring at a massive army of Mamluk Turks that easily took over the city and murdered all but 2,000 Christians and Jews.

Jerusalem is so vulnerable at this point that there is a possibility that Mongols periodical wailed on the city from time to time during this period. There is no evidence to support this, but the general area was always on fire it seems. The Mamluks did their best to rebuild the city, but eventually in 1517 the Ottomans took it over. And that is where I will stop the summary.

Living in Jerusalem was seemingly a death sentance in the 1500 years after the death of Julius Caesar. Some of the worst atrocities in the brief history of humankind were committed during that period. At this point now the Muslims are the top dogs in the region. Next time we’ll start with the Ottoman Empire and take it to our modern period.

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Published in: on August 7, 2009 at 3:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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