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Jewish history

The Jews in the Middle Ages

A mosaic pavement in a 6th-century synagogueA mosaic pavement in a 6th-century synagogueBy the time Emperor Constantine I had founded a new capital of the Eastern Roman Empire at Byzantium in 324 CE (Common Era, equivalent to AD), renaming it Constantinople, Jews were widespread throughout the Roman Empire. Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the empire. Jewish communities across Europe and North Africa fell victim to religious intolerance. Jerusalem, the former Jewish capital, became a Christian city. In 380, Emperor Theodosius I issued a set of decrees directed against Jews: they were forbidden to own slaves, to build new synagogues, to hold public office, or to marry non-Jews. Later Byzantine emperors, including Justinian, further restricted the civil rights of Jews.

Islamic period

The Temple Mount or Al-Aqsa Mosque, JerusalemThe Temple Mount or Al-Aqsa Mosque, JerusalemByzantine rule in the Levant lasted for just over 300 years. Following their victory at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636, Muslim Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate swept the defeated Byzantines from the lands of Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. The Arab Islamic Empire under Caliph Umar encouraged the Jews to return to Jerusalem—after a lapse of 500 years. Jewish communities began to grow and flourish. Many Jews fled the remaining Byzantine territories to live in the Arab Empire.

Umar (also spelled Omar c. 584–644 CE), a close companion of the Prophet Mohammed, was one of the most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs in history. According to Jewish tradition, he was also a "friend of Israel." Umar set aside the Christian ban on Jews and allowed them into Jerusalem and to worship.

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