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Revolt against Heraclius

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Template:Campaignbox Jewish-Roman wars The Revolt against Heraclius was a Jewish insurrection against the Byzantine Empire, coming to the aid of the Persian invaders. It began in 610 AD with the riots in Antioch and ended with the execution of Benjamin of Tiberias and other revolutionaries by Theodosius in 625 AD.[1]


The Jews of Palestine (originally Judea) joined Sassanid Persia in the invasion of Byzantine Empire in order to liberate Jerusalem and to be able to control it autonomously. The main battle was in Jerusalem, where the city fell to the combined forces of the Persians and the Jews after a 20-day siege. The Christian population of Jerusalem was then massacred. Jews were given permission to run the city and they effectively did so for the next five years. Reports indicate that at the time 150,000 Jews were living in 43 settlements throughout Palestine.

Benjamin of Tiberias was the Jewish leader who aided the Persians in their battles.

The Sassanid Jewish Commonwealth

The Jews of Jerusalem gained complete control over the city, and much of Palestine became an autonomous Jewish province. Animal sacrifices were restarted for the first time in half a millennium and construction of a new Temple was begun. However, approximately five years later the Persians gave control of the province to the Christians.


In 625, the Byzantine army reconquered the territory. 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 as allies. According to Eutychius, the Emperor would have kept peace with them had not fanatic monks instigated him to a massacre. Only a few Jews escaped into Egypt or sought refuge in caves and in forests.[2] In atonement for the violation of an oath to the Jews, the monks pledged themselves to a fast, which the Copts still observe.[3] 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.[4] The situation of the Jews was so desperate that the Tiburtine Sibyl said that the entire community of Jews in the Byzantine Empire would be converted in one hundred and twenty years (by 628).[5]

In 629, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius marched into Jerusalem at the head of his army. 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. His solution was to disperse the Jews as Titus had in the Jewish Revolt, and so a massacre of the Jews in Jerusalem ensued and tens of thousands of Jews were put to flight from Palaestina to Egypt.

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.[6]

In 638, the Byzantine Empire lost control of the territory of Palaestina to the Arabs. The Arab Islamic Empire under Caliph Umar conquered Jerusalem and the lands of Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt.


  1. A History of the Jewish People, by Hayim Ben-Sasson (Editor), Harvard University Press, 1985
  2. Eutychius, ii. 241
  3. 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.
  4. Pertz, "Monumenta Germaniae Historica," i. 286, vi. 25; compare Joseph ha-Kohen, "'Emeḳ ha-Baka," tr. Wiener, p. 5
  5. Sackur, "Sibyllinische Texte," p. 146, Halle, 1898, seems to refer to these occurrences, since about one hundred and twenty years elapsed from the time of the Persian war under Anastasius, in 505, to the victory of Heraclius in 628. It has been suggested that several Jewish apocalypses refers to this expedition of Heraclius against the Jews.
  6. God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Lewis, publisher Norton 2008 page 69


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