Campaigns of ethnic, cultural, and religious persecution have frequently included bans on the practice as a means of forceful assimilation, conversion, and ethnocide. Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East in the fourth century BCE, and in the following centuries ancient Greek cultures and values came to the Middle East. The Greeks abhorred circumcision, making life for circumcised Jews living among the Greeks and later the Romans very difficult. Restrictions on the Jewish practice by European governments have occurred several times in world history, including the Seleucid Empire under Antiochus IV and the Roman Empire under Hadrian, where it was used as a means of forceful assimilation and conversion.Antiochus IV's restriction on Jewish circumcision was a major factor in the Maccabean Revolt. Hadrian's prohibition has also been considered by some to have been a contributing cause of the Bar Kokhba revolt. According to Silverman (2006), these restrictions were part of a "broad campaign" by the Romans to "civilize" the Jewish people, viewing the practice as replusive and analogous to castration. His successor, Antoninus Pius, altered the edict to permit Brit Milah.
During this period in history, Jewish circumcision called for the removal of only a part of the prepuce, and Hellenized Jews often attempted to look uncircumcised by stretching the extant parts of their foreskins. This was considered by the Jewish leaders to be a serious problem, and during the second century CE they changed the requirements of Jewish circumcision to call for the complete removal of the foreskin,* emphasizing the Jewish view of circumcision as intended to be not just the fulfillment of a Biblical commandment but also an essential and permanent mark of membership in a people.
* Hirsch EG, Kohler K, Jacobs J, Friedenwald A, Broydé I (1906). "Circumcision". Jewish Encyclopedia. In order to prevent the obliteration of the 'seal of the covenant' on the flesh, as circumcision was henceforth called, the Rabbis, probably after the war of Bar Kokba (see Yeb. l.c.; Gen. R. xlvi.), instituted the 'peri'ah' (the laying bare of the glans), without which circumcision was declared to be of no value (Shab. xxx. 6).