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Judea or Judaea (יהודה "Praise", Standard Hebrew Yəhuda, Tiberian Hebrew Yəhûḏāh) is a term used for the mountainous southern part of historic Palestine, an area now divided between Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. In modern times, the name "Yehudah" is most often used by Zionists. Others prefer to use the collective name introduced by Jordan in 1948 - "West Bank" - rather than "Judea and Samaria".

The area was the site of the ancient Kingdom of Judah and the later Kingdom of Judea, a client-kingdom of the Roman Empire. The name Judea is a Greek and Roman adaptation of the name Judah and was originally applied to the whole of historic Palestine, but by the time of the New Testament it had been limited in scope to the south of the region.



Judea is a mountainous and arid region, much of which is considered to be a desert. It varies greatly in height, rising to an altitude of 1,020m (3,346 ft) in the south at Mount Hebron , 19 miles (30 km) southwest of Jerusalem, and descending to as much as 400m (1,312ft) below sea level in the east of the region. Major cities in the region include Jerusalem, Beitar Illit, Bethlehem, Efrat, Gush Etzion, Jericho and Hebron.

Geographers divide Judea into several distinct regions: the Hebron hills, the Jerusalem saddle, the Bethel hills and the Judean desert east of Jerusalem, which descends in a series of steps to the Dead Sea. In ancient times the hills were forested and the Bible records agriculture and sheep farming being practiced in the area. Animals are still grazed today, with shepherds moving them between the low ground to the hilltops (which have more rainfall) as summer approaches. The region dried out over the centuries and much of the ancient tree cover has since disappeared.


Human settlement in Judea stretches back to the Stone Age and the region is believed by paleoanthropologists to have been one of the routes through which homo sapiens travelled out of Africa to colonise the rest of the world around 100,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence of human settlement dates back 11,000 years in the case of the city of Jericho, believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world. In historic times, the region was inhabited by a number of peoples, most famously the Israelites. Judea is central to much of the narrative of the Old Testament, with the Patriarch Abraham said to have been buried at Hebron.

In historic times, Judea was ruled by the Kingdom of Judah and later by the Kingdom of Judea, a client-kingdom of the Seleucid dynasty of Persia. It gained its independence briefly in the mid-2nd century BC and again from 140 BC. During the 1st century BC Judea lost its autonomy to the Roman Empire by becoming first a client kingdom, then a province of the Empire.

The first interference of Rome in the region dates from 63 BCE, following the end of the Third Mithridatic war . After the defeat of Mithridates VI of Pontus, general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) remained back, to secure the area. Judea at the time was not a peaceful place. Queen Alexandra had recently died and her sons, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, were scourging the country in a power struggle. In 63 BCE, Aristobulus was besieged in Jerusalem by his brother's armies. He sent an envoy to Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, Pompey's representative in the area. Aristobulus offered a massive bribe to be rescued that Pompey promptly accepted. Afterwards, Aristobulus accused Scaurus of extortion. Since Scaurus was Pompey's brother in law and protégée, the general retaliated by putting Hyrcanus in charge of the kingdom as prince and high priest. Judea and Galilee became client kingdoms of Rome, which meant that, although independent, they had a subservient position towards the Republic.

When Pompey was defeated by Julius Caesar, Hyrcanus was succeeded by his courtier Antipater. Both Caesar and Antipater were killed in 44 BCE, and Herod (Antipater's son) was appointed as governor (tetrarch) by Rome 41 BCE. He became the outright ruler (basileus) of Judea in 37 BCE and was later known as King Herod the Great. During his reign the great port of Caesarea Maritima was built. He died in 4 BCE, and his kingdom was divided among his sons. One, Herod Archelaus , ruled Judea so badly that he was dismissed in 6 CE by the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, after an appeal from his own population.

The kingdom of Judea now became part of a larger Roman province, also called Judea. This was one of the few governed by a knight of the equestrian order, not a former consul or praetor of senatorial rank, because its revenue was of little importance to the Roman treasury and the region was pacified. Pontius Pilate was one of these procurators.

Between 41 and 44 CE Judea regained its relative autonomy, when Herod Agrippa was made king by the emperor Claudius. Following Agrippa's death, the province returned to Roman control for a short period. Judea was returned piecemeal to Agrippa's son Marcus Julius Agrippa in 48. There was, however, an imperial procurator in the area, responsible for keeping peace and tax raising. When he died, about 100, the area returned to exclusive Roman Empire control.

Judea was also the stage of three major rebellions against the Romans. They were (see Judea rebellions for the full account):

Following the suppression of Bar Kokhba's revolt, the emperor Hadrian changed the name of the province to Syria Palaestina and Jerusalem became Aelia Capitolina in order to humiliate the Jewish population by attempting to erase their historical ties to the region. The other portions of Roman Palestine became the provinces of Galilee, Samaria, and Peraea .

The region was conquered by Muslim Arabs in 640 but fell to the Crusaders in 1099. Arab control was restored in 1291. In 1516, the expanding Ottoman Empire took control of Judea, which it retained until the British defeated the Turks at the Battle of Megiddo on the site of the Biblical Battle of Armageddon.

It then became part of the British Mandate of Palestine, with the territory of Judea split between British-ruled Palestine and the autonomous Emirate of Transjordan (a territorial unit within the Mandate, later to become the independent Kingdom of Jordan). The area remained part of Jordan when the kingdom became independent in 1946, with most parts of Judea within the old British Mandate territory being administered by Jordan following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It was annexed by Jordan in 1950 (though this annexation was recognized only by the United Kingdom and Pakistan) and remained part of Jordan until the 1967 Six-Day War, when it was taken by Israeli forces. It is now generally known outside Israel as the West Bank, though within Israel it is often still referred to as Judea in a conscious attempt to re-associate the region with its Biblical past.


  • until 63 BCE - independent state
  • 63 BCE-6 CE - client kingdom of Rome
  • 6-41 - Roman province
  • 26-36 - procurator Pontius Pilatus
  • 41-44 - ruling of Herod Agrippa (client king)
  • 44-48 - Roman province
  • 48-100 - ruling of Herod Agrippa II (client king)
  • 66-70 - First rebellion
  • 100 onwards - Roman province
  • 115-117 - second rebellion
  • 132-135 - third rebellion: Simon Bar Kokhba
  • 135 - Judea renamed Syria Palaestina by emperor Hadrian
  • 640 - Beginning of Muslim Arab rule
  • 1099 - The Crusaders conquer the region
  • 1291 - Final defeat of the Crusaders and reassertion of Muslim rule
  • 1516 - Beginning of Ottoman rule
  • 1918 - Defeat of the Ottomans; beginning of British rule
  • 1919 - Incorporation into the British Mandate of Palestine
  • 1948 - Partial division between Israel and Jordan
  • 1967 - Most of historic Judea is captured by Israel

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