Palestine: Crossroads of the World

Updated on December 18, 2017
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ata1515 is a student of history, focusing on the modern, medieval, and ancient histories of Europe.

British Mandate of Palestine
British Mandate of Palestine

Palestine, Ancient and New

Across the face of the Earth, few places have felt the touch of foreign boots as Palestine has. As a geographical entity Palestine sits at the center of Eurasian conflict from the time of the Pharoahs until the Great War of the twentieth century.

History is rife with examples of people, armies and borders moving across Palestine. These movements have created the unique cultures that exist in the Levant to this day, even as the people of the region are cyclically replenished.

To understand the conflicts of history we must define the meaning of the words we use to understand it. Palestine is not a state, nor is it a people. It is a region with many names: the Levant, Palestine, and Syrio-Palestine to name a few. This region encompasses the area between the Taurus Mountains in the north to the Arabian Desert in the south, and from the Sinai Peninsula in the west to Mesopotamia in the east.

From the earliest Jewish settlements to the time of the Roman Empire, Palestine was a hotbed of activity. Jews, Egyptians, Hittites, Persians and Greeks all tread on the soil of Palestine. From Rome until the rise of the Ottoman Empire the riches of the Levant filled the coffers of foreign powers, each of whom left their unique mark on the region.

Palestine during the early Roman Empire
Palestine during the early Roman Empire

The Edge of Empires

Palestine may have been the crossroads of the ancient world, but it was rarely the center of attention. Empires rose and fell around the Mediterranean world, but the Levant was, for a long time, a piece in the games of other players.

Egypt was the first great power to truly exercise control over Palestine, but largely as a buffer against the Hittites and threats from Asia. Alexander the Great spent a good deal of time pacifying the region as a means of creating supply lines to his wars in Egypt and Persia.

When Alexander died it fell to the diodochi to rule the Greek speaking world, and they fought fiercely over Palestine. The battles between East and West during the wars of succession established a rich vibrant culture that lasted until the Crusades. Even as war loomed, Palestine became the backbone of the Seleucid Empire, and the ruling seat of its realm.

The Mithradatic Wars saw Palestine firmly aligned with Western Civilization for several hundred years. Barring small periods of time when the region was invaded by others, Palestine was to be ruled by Rome until the Arab invasions.

Palestine circa 1915
Palestine circa 1915

Decline and Intervention

Palestine was the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, but also a holy site for Islam. When the Arab powers invaded Palestine and unseated Rome, Palestine began to decline.

As the power centers moved to Syria, Egypt and Baghdad the battlegrounds of the Middle East began to shift. A brief resurgence of conflict occurred during the Crusades, but the religious violence resulted in the region being depopulated and impoverished.

The rise of the Ottoman Empire signaled the end of Palestines woes, and importance. Once the Ottomans fully incorporated the region and the surrounding empires, the east-west war shifted to the Balkans and to modern day Iran.

It would take the World War of the twentieth century to bring Palestine back to the forefront of world politics. When the allied powers invaded and occupied the Middle East, Palestine was able to differentiate from the rest of the Turkish-Arab world, and the waves of Jewish immigration rapidly changed the face of the entire region.

Further Reading

Waterfield, Robin. Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire,

Mayor, Adrienne. The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithridates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy.

“Tackling Heterogeneity: Critique of the Achaemenid Policy of Assimilation." Singh, Abhay Kumar. Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 65, 2004, pp. 1009–1024., www.jstor.org/stable/44144810.


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