Early Islamic Period
In the 4th century CE a major change took place in the hitherto-pagan Roman Empire, when Constantine the Great recognized Christianity as a tolerated religion. The name of this period comes from the city of Byzantium in Asia Minor, where Constantine founded his new capital, Constantinople. By the end of the 4th century CE, Christianity was declared the official religion of the Empire, and the Land of Israel became known as “the Holy Land.”
This new status brought with it economic prosperity and growth: ambitious building projects were carried out under imperial auspices, and pilgrims flocked to the holy places, many of them choosing to settle in the Land. Christianity, a large and influential minority, became the dominant force and left its imprint on virtually everything.
The Jews continued to settle mainly in the eastern Galilee and Judea; the Samaritans lived predominantly in Samaria; and a pagan minority resided in the south and along the Mediterranean coast. These populations enjoyed close relations, which led to a certain stylistic uniformity in their material culture. Greek remained the common language, spoken alongside Hebrew and Aramaic.
The end of the Byzantine Period in the East was marked by battles with the Persians and by Arab incursions on the Empire’s eastern borders. In the 7th century CE, the Muslims succeeded in conquering the entire Middle East, and with it the Holy Land.