Roman Expulsion of Judaism: Factors, Background, & Events

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  • 0:02 Roman Expulsion of Jews
  • 0:34 Judaism in Rome
  • 1:47 First Expulsion
  • 2:58 Second Expulsion
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore what life was like for Jews during the early era of the Roman Empire, leading up to the first century expulsion of the Jews from Rome.

Roman Expulsion of Jews

Twentieth-century Jewish history is dominated by the most horrific event of the era, the Holocaust, when approximately six million Jewish men, women, and children were murdered based on religious hatred and stereotypes. Though this is arguably the most barbaric affront to Judaism in history, it is nowhere near the only one. Indeed, Jews, historically, have had a pretty rough time. In this lesson, we'll explore yet another period of religious persecution experienced by Jews: the expulsion of Judaism from Rome.

Judaism in Rome

Before we discuss the expulsion itself, we should probably establish just what life was like in the Roman Empire for Jews. Before the second century B.C., most Jews had lived in Palestine and parts of the Middle East. However, gradual migration to the north and west slowly brought Jews into contact with the Roman world and by the end of the first century B.C. Jews were populous enough in the Empire that special laws were made regarding the religion. According to these laws, Jews received a sort of protected status within the Empire and, among other things, received special dispensation absolving them from Rome's normally compulsory military service.

By the first century A.D., Jews lived various existences in the Roman Empire and in the city of Rome itself. Though the exact number and ratio of each is not known, many Jews in Rome were slaves. Though some were lifetime slaves, most were indentured or slaves for a set period of time. Once those slaves had served their time, they were made free through a process called manumission. Many of Rome's Jews were this type of freed slaves. In fact, some were even made Roman citizens upon manumission and there was a large population of Jews who were citizens of Rome in the first century A.D.

First Expulsion

The fact that Jews had enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence in Rome prior to the first century A.D. makes the expulsion they experienced in the first century A.D. all the more puzzling. In 19 A.D., the Jews were expelled from the city of Rome. Both ancient writers and today's historians differ on exactly why the Jews were expelled from Rome. Some ancient writers claim the Jews were simply too good at winning converts and Roman authorities worried that further spread of the Jewish religion would undermine state authority. Still others claim that Jews were a continual source of civic unrest in the city, while yet another writer claims the Jews were expelled from Rome after a few Jewish men deceived a Roman aristocratic woman and stole her expensive gifts meant for a religious temple. This last explanation, it should be noted, is largely discounted by historians today.

What we do know about the 19 A.D. expulsion is that it was an expulsion more in name than in practice and that Jewish religious practices were in no way restricted; they were simply required to move outside the bounds of the city. This expulsion, it should be noted, was strictly in regards to the city of Rome itself; Jews in other parts of the Empire were largely unaffected.

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