Map of the Italian diaspora in the world | (c)


In continuation with the discussion of the Jewish encounter with Rome, we will look into the diaspora of Jews in Italy. Way before the period of the great Roman-Jewish war, Jews have already existed in the Roman Empire, especially in Rome and Sicily. Looking at the history of Jews with Rome, there has already been extensive relations between Judea and Rome way before the wars and rebellions emerged.

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Roman Xenophobia

During this time, the Jews living in Italy had to deal with hints of xenophobia in their environment. Since they were coming from two different backgrounds, The Romans didn’t necessarily understand the behavior of Jews at times. Thus, it led to their fear of the unknown or unfamiliar. This can be based on some of the references to Jews that we can find in Roman literature from the 1st century. As a lot of Jews were brought to Rome as slaves, most Romans looked down on them due to their lower social status.

Post War Refugees

After the first Roman-Jewish war, a massive wave of post war refugees emerged. The Romans made a tremendous amount of political controversy out of the fall of Judea. This is partially the reason for the support shown towards the Flavian dynasty. The flavians had more humble beginnings compared to previous emperors, so they made an effort to highlight their military exploits in order to prove that they deserved to be the imperial ruler. This is apparent with The Arch of Titus and Judea Capta Coins that celebrate and promote their military victories.

Another interesting piece of evidence is the tombstone of a female prisoner from Jerusalem that dates from the 1st century. According to the marker, her name was Claudia Aster and she was married to a man named Tiberius Claudias who was an imperial freedman. You can kind of see a glimpse of the assimilation that takes place during those times. This particular evidence, shows how Jewish slaves started coming into society by marrying Roman individuals.

Secondary Burial

The strength of the Jewish community increased in the following centuries and this is attested by the establishment of catacombs for secondary burial, a classic Jewish practice that was also mentioned in The Talmud. In this practice, the Jewish community would transfer their dead to a specific location where they would be left there to decompose. After some time has passed, the family members of the deceased would come back to the site in order to collect the bones. These bones would then be finally transferred to the family crypt where they would be preserved.

Another evidence of a Jewish community in Rome is the Christian community. There have been debates regarding the suitable posture of the mother religion of Judaism, and over the course of the 1st-2nd century of the Christian movement, the gradual de-judaization is apparent. This can also depict a shift in the relationship between the Jewish and Christian community. In the early 4th century, there was still a strong Jewish community that’s even closely equal to the size of the Roman empire.

Jewish Life in Europe

The next phase of this particular time in history is the Jews becoming freedmen and following the legions all around Europe. Thus, evidence of Jewish life can be seen scattered in various remote Roman locations.

One piece of evidence found in Halbturn is the Halbturn Amulet. This flat piece of gold foil about 2.5×1.5 cm in size has greek letters written on the surface and it was originally folded into a small silver box as a type of amulet that is typically worn around the neck. This amulet was believed to be a kind of protection to ward off any unfortunate events. Interestingly, it was found on the skeleton of a child that was buried in a Roman gravesite. With the recent discoveries, it can be suggested that these communities may have been estranged to the usual Jewish practices back in the days.