The Byzantine era came to an end in Palestine, as it so often did, with the clash of two empires, this time Byzantium and Persia. Once more this small, but strategically important land became a battlefield as, in 614 AD, the Persians under Khosru II (ruled 591-628 AD) invaded Palestine as part of an attempt to reestablish the Achaemenid* empire. They destroyed almost all the Christian shrines in Jerusalem and Palestine. Not since Titus and his legions decimated the city and the Temple more than five hundred years earlier had Jerusalem known such carnage. The Persian army systematically demolished the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Justinian's Nea Church and other buildings built by the empress Eudokia. Only the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was spared because, it is said, the Persians saw a mosaic on the church facade depicting the Magi dressed in Persian attire and were misled into believing Christians also venerated their prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathusthra). In an instant, nearly three centuries of work lay in ruins. For three years the Jews, who supported the Persian action, were given control of Jerusalem.
Soon after the Persian invasion, the Byzantine emperor Haraclius launched a brilliant fifteen-year campaign to regain the lost provinces of Syria, Egypt and Palestine. In 629 AD he recaptured Jerusalem, however his triumph proved short-lived...
*The Achaemenids were Persian kings who ruled over a vast empire extending from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River from 549 to 330 BC. They were named after an ancestor, Achaemenes. This was the first world empire of antiquity, and many civil institutions first appeared under the Achaemenids' rule, including Universal law (the king's law), the postal system and coinage, and Zoroastrianism became widespread in this period. The first Achaemenid ruler was Cyrus the Great, but Darius I was the real architect of the empire; Darius III, its last king, was defeated by Alexander the Great.
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