The Roman Period
The collapse of the Seleucid Empire led to a second period of self-rule for the Jews, from 140 B.C. to 63 B.C. When King Herod assumed power with the help of the Romans, however, Judea became a client state of the Roman Republic. Judea was officially absorbed into the Roman Empire as the Judaea Province in 92 A.D.
There were three major Jewish revolts against the Romans in Judaea, the first of which began in 66 A.D. It was quelled in the year 70 when Titus sacked Jerusalem. The city was burned and most of the Jews were killed or sold into slavery throughout the Roman Empire. The second revolt, called the Kitos War, lasted from 115 to 117. At the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135), the Romans completely razed Jerusalem. Once again, they sold the majority of the survivors into slavery, this time placing severe restrictions on those who remained.
By the 2nd century, Jews were located throughout the Roman Empire. By the 5th century, there were scattered communities from Spain in the west to the Byzantine Empire in the east. Because Jews were usually restricted by law from owning land, they turned toward occupations in commerce, education and medicine.
Large communities of Jews settled in France and Germany after the fall of Rome, the Arab conquests in the Middle East, and the expulsions from Spain. The Jews who settled in Germany (called Ashkenazi) spoke Yiddish, a mixture of German, Hebrew and Aramaic.
Over the centuries, the Jews settled where they could throughout western Europe, enduring frequent discrimination and periodic expulsions from various countries. Facing increasing persecution in the west during the 11th and 12th centuries, many of the Ashkenazi Jews moved from England, France and Germany to eastern Europe, where Poland and Lithuania encouraged Jewish settlement. Historically, Ashkenazi Jews lived in separate towns known at shtetls. In 1500, approximately 500,000 Jews lived in Poland. By the middle of the 17th century, there were more than 1 million. It is estimated that, prior to World War II, more than 90% of all Jews in the world were descended from the Ashkenazi Jews.
During the late 19th century, government-condoned persecution of the Jews in Russia, called pogroms, forced many to move to the United States and to Palestine. In 1897 Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist, established the Zionist Organization and became the charismatic figurehead of the growing modern Zionist movement. He and his supporters continually lobbied foreign governments for help in the establishment of a Jewish state.
After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I, its territories, including Palestine, were divided into mandates administered by the British and French. The British government, with its Balfour Declaration in 1917, announced its support of establishing Palestine as a national home for the Jews. After World War II, during which an estimated 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, the United Nations divided Palestine in two, effectively creating a new Jewish state, Israel.
As of today, about 42% of all Jews worldwide live in the modern state of Israel. A small number of Jews have lived in this region for generations, tracing their ancestors back thousands of years, with the majority returning in the last century.