Palæstina Secunda or Palaestina II was a Byzantine province from 390, until its conquest by the Muslim armies in 634-636. Palaestina Secunda, a part of the Diocese of the East, roughly comprised the Galilee, Yizrael Valley and Bet-Shean Valley, with its capital in Scythopolis (Bet Shean). The province experienced the rise of Christianity under the Byzantines, but also was the center of Judaism, after the Jews had been driven out of Judea by the Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries.
Syria-Palaestina became organized under late Roman Empire as part of the Diocese of the East, in which it was included together with the provinces of Isauria, Cilicia, Cyprus (until 536), Euphratensis, Mesopotamia, Osroene, Phoenice and Arabia Petraea. Under Byzantium, a new subdivision did further split the province of Cilicia into Cilicia Prima, Cilicia Secunda; Syria Palaestina was split into Syria Prima, Syria Salutaris, Phoenice Lebanensis, Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda and eventually also Palaestina Salutaris (in 6th century). The major cities of the province were Scythopolis, Capernaum and Nazareth.
In the 5th and 6th centuries, Byzantines and their Christian Ghassanid allies took a major role in suppressing the Samaritan Revolts in neighbouring Palaestina Prima. By the 6th century Christian Ghassanids formed a Byzantine vassal confederacy with a capital on the Golan, forming a buffer state between the Byzantine Empire and the Arabian tribes.
In 614, both Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda were conquered by a joint Sassanid-Jewish army, creating a short-living Jewish Sassanid Commonwealth. The leader of the Jewish rebels was Benjamin of Tiberias, a man of "immense wealth" according to Middle Aged sources. The event came as shock to the Christian society, as many of its churches were destroyed according to Christian sources of that period. After withdrawal of the Persian troops and the afterward surrender of the local Jewish rebels, the area was shortly reannexed into Byzantium in 628 CE.
Byzantine control of the province was again and irreversibly lost in 636, with the Muslim conquest of Syria. It was later roughly reorganized as Jund al-Urdunn military district of Bilad al-Sham (Syria) province of the Rashidun Chaliphate.
The province of Palaestina Secunda largely included Jews, as well as a mixed Greek and Aramaic-speaking population, who practised mostly Christianity. The Jews had made Galilee and the Gaulantis their center since the defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century; and flourished through the 4th and 5th centuries, as Byzantine control of the area dimmed, providing a great deal of autonomy for local populations.
North-Eastern parts of the province were also inhabited by pagan Itureans, who lived in more significant numbers in the neighbouring Phoenicia and Phoenicia Libani provinces to the north. Christian Arab Ghassanids migrated to the province from Yemen in around 4th and 5th centuries and settled the Gaulantis, as well as former territories of Arabia Petraea province, creating a buffer Byzantine client kingdom in the 6th century, with the capital on the Gaulantis - the North-Eastern border of Palaestina Secunda.
By the 6th century, the majority of the Byzantine province residents were either Mosaic Jews or multi-ethnic Aramaic and Greek speaking Christians. In the early 7th century the province experienced a significant demographic collapse due to the consequences of the Byzantine-Persian war and the Jewish rebellion. Following the shortliving restoration of Byzantine rule, the Muslim armies caused flight of significant proportion of Christians to the north - into still Byzantine ruled territories of northern Syria and Anatolia.
The province of Palaestina Secunda was a thriving center of Judaism through the 4th and 5th centuries, where the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled. The prime Jewish authority of Sanhedrin existed in Tiberias until the early 5th century, before being abolished by the Byzantine authorities. The last president of Sanhedrin was Gamaliel VI, who was executed in 425 by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius for "illegally constructing synagogues".
The conversion of Constantine set in motion events that restored Palestine as a major theater in the development of the Christian church, as it had not been since 70. Only few Minim (Jewish Christians) had lived in few Galilean towns such as Sepphoris and Capernaum. However, beginning in the 4th century the Byzantine government responded to Christian interest in the Holy Land by embarking on a massive program of patronage, especially church-building, that encouraged Christians to move to Palestine. Less successfully, imperial policy tried to encourage Jews to convert to Christianity by offering protection and rewards. Eventually, as a result of Christian settlement in the vicinities of Nazareth and Capernaum (where a synagogue and a church lie almost across the street from each other) and Tabgha, Galilee lost its Jewish majority.
Roman cult and paganism
Small minority of pagans - whether non-Christian Romans and Hellenists or Itureans had been populating the province during early Byzantine rule.
- Lehmann, Clayton Miles (Summer 1998). "Palestine: History: 135–337: Syria Palaestina and the Tetrarchy". The On-line Encyclopedia of the Roman Provinces. University of South Dakota. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
- Greatrex-Lieu(2002), II, 196
- Palestine: History, 337-640: Late Antique Palestine