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Jewish-Sasanian commonwealth

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Jewish-Sasanian Commonwealth
Autonomous province of the Sasanian Empire


614–619 (or 625)

Capital Jerusalem
Historical era Late classic (early Middle Ages)
 •  Siege of Jerusalem (614) 614
 •  Battle of the Golden Gate 619 (or 625)
Today part of  Israel
 Palestinian Authority

Jewish-Sasanian commonwealth refers to the autonomous Jewish vassal state in the Sasanian Empire between 614 to 617 (or 619). The short-living political entity was established as a result of the Jewish rebellion against Heraclius, who provided vital support for Persian troops in conquering the Diocese of the East, but quickly descended into anarchy due to Christian discontent and disputes between Sasanian leader Khosrau II and the Jews.



During the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, resistance to the Persians in Syria and Palaestina was not strong; although the locals constructed fortifications, they generally tried to negotiate with the Persians.[1] The cities of Damascus, Apamea, and Emesa fell quickly in 613, giving the Persians a chance to strike further south. Nicetas continued to resist the Persians but was defeated at Adhri'at. He managed to win a small victory near Emesa, however, where both sides suffered heavy casualties—the total death count was 20,000.[2] More seriously, the weakness of the resistance enabled the Persians to capture Jerusalem in three weeks, despite its determined resistance.[3] Somewhere between 57,000 and 66,500 people were slain there; another 35,000 were enslaved, including the Patriarch Zacharias.[2] Many churches in the city (including the Church of the Resurrection or Holy Sepulchre) were burned, and numerous relics, including the True Cross, the Holy Lance, and the Holy Sponge, were carried off to the Persian capital Ctesiphon. The loss of these relics was thought by many Christian Byzantines to be a clear mark of divine displeasure.[4] Some blamed the Jews for this misfortune and for the loss of Syria in general.[5] There were reports that Jews helped the Persians capture certain cities and that the Jews tried to slaughter Christians in cities that the Persians had already conquered but were found and foiled from doing so. These reports are likely to be greatly exaggerated and the result of general hysteria.[1]

Jewish governorship[edit]

Though there are limited sources on what happened in the following years,[6] it appears Jews were given permission to run the region, and they did so effectively for the next five years.[citation needed] The Jews of Jerusalem gained complete control over the city, and much of Judea and Galilee became an autonomous Jewish province of the Sasanian Empire. At the time, 150,000 Jews were living in 43 settlements throughout the territory.[7]

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.[8] 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.[8]

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.[8] The distrust between former allies resulted in the deportation of many Jews to Persia. Meanwhile, the Persian troops overran Jordan, Israel and the whole of the Sinai Peninsula, and reached the frontiers of Egypt. Arabia was split between pro-Persian and pro-Byzantine tribes.[8]


According to Abrahamson's summary, in 617, Khosrau issued an order to grant amnesty to Byzantine prisoners as a gesture.[8] He further ordered Jewish soldiers to leave Jerusalem and forbade Jews to settle within a three mile radius of the city.[8] The Persians also placed a Christian priest named Modestos over the city as governor.[8] Despite Khosrau's orders, the Jewish soldiers continued to encamp outside golden gate of Jerusalem. Two years later, Khosrau 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.[8] 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.


The attempt to establish the Third Temple during the Persian conquest of Palaestina is considered among the most ambitious Jewish attempts to regain control over Jerusalem in late Classic Era and early Middle Ages. Though little has eventually came out of this attempt, the historic impact of the event brought a serious reconsideration of the Messianic thought in Rabbinic Judaism. The establishment and quick abolishment of the Jewish autonomy also created a powerful impact on Jewish nationalism, which became practically dormant until the 16th century.

The demographic impact is thought to be among the key elements to prevent further Jewish attempts to return to Judea for almost a millennium. It is also possible that the crisis of the early 7th century, including the events of the Jewish revolt against Heraclius and the Muslim conquest of Syria resulted in Jewish migration to lower Germania and establishment of the Ashkenazim as a large population.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kaegi 2003, p. 77
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kaegi 2003, p. 78
  3. Ostrogorsky 1969, p. 95
  4. Norwich 1997, p. 90
  5. Kaegi 2003, p. 80
  6. Reinink, G. J.; et al. The Reign of Heraclius: 610–641 crisis and confrontation. p. 103. Search this book on
  7. Melton, John Gordon (2013). Faiths Across Time: 5,000 Years of Religious History. ABC-CLIO. p. 499. ISBN 9781610690256. Search this book on
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Abrahamson et al. The Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 compared with Islamic conquest of 638. [1].

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