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Chapter 6. Jewish Memorials in Rome.

Chapter 6.
Jewish Memorials in Rome.1

THE date of the arrival of the first Jews in Rome is not known, but we are told that the first embassy sent by Judas the Maccabee to seek the friendship of the mighty nation was received by the Senate in 160 B.C. Other ambassadors came in 145 in the name of Jonathan, brother and successor of Judas. The final treaty of friendship and commerce was signed only in 139, Simon, the third Maccabee, representing his nation, Popillius Lænas and Calpurnius Piso being consuls at Rome. The connection of this great Hebrew family with Rome is actually recorded by a monument, of doubtful authenticity, it is true, yet very curious and interesting. While the new “Confessione” was being excavated and built at the foot of the high altar in the church of S. Pietro in Vinculis, September, 1876, a marble sarcophagus was found, divided into seven compartments. The sarcophagus itself is an indifferent production of a Christian stonecutter of the fifth century, with bas-reliefs representing five subjects: the raising of Lazarus; the miracle of the loaves and fishes; the woman of Samaria at the well; Peter's denial; and Peter receiving the keys. The partitions were made with slabs of pavonazzetto, marked, I., II., III., IV., IIIII., IIIIII. Each compartment contained a thin layer of ashes and splinters of bones. The nature of the contents was explained by two lead labels inscribed with the following words: “In these seven ‘loculi’ have been laid to rest the bones and ashes of the seven holy brothers the Maccabees, of their father and mother, and of innumerable other saints.” These two labels date from the twelfth or thirteenth century. In announcing this discovery in the “Bulletino di archeologia di Cristiana,” 1876, p. 73, the late Comm. de Rossi said that it required maturer and closer investigation. Needless to say that the results of his critical inquiry have never been made known.

The Jewish colony on the banks of the Tiber was already flourishing at the time of Pompey the Great. Their presence annoyed Cicero. “You know what is their number,” he says, in “Pro Flacco,” xxviii., “their union, the power of their assemblies. I will speak low, therefore, to be heard only by the judges.” The phrase is purely oratorical, but it bears testimony as to the importance and influence of the Ghetto of those days. Many Jews had been brought back by Pompey as prisoners of war; and after their bonds of slavery were loosed by Julius Cæsar; they were allowed to form a separate caste, that of the Libertini, a humble but powerful one. The Libertini are mentioned in The Acts vi. 9, as forming a congregation of their own in Jerusalem (ἡ συναγωγὴ ἡ λεγομένη Λιβερτίνων), and probably in the following electoral bill discovered at Pompeii, September 1, 1764:—

CUSPIUM • PANSAM ÆD(ilem) FABIUS • EUPOR • PRINCEPS • LIBERTINORUM (rogat)

De Rossi claims that this Fabius Eupor, who took such a lively interest in the election of Pansa to the ædileship, was but the rabbi of the local Pompeian synagogue; but his opinion is not shared by the editor of vol. iv. of the “Corpus Inscr. Lat.” p. 13, n. 117, nor by Mommsen in “Rhein. Mus.” 1864, p. 456.

In Rome the Jews were met haunting the poorer quarters, selling matches, collecting old hats, shoes, and garments, hawking small articles of wear, begging for charity, teaching their children to do the same, and accepting sometimes broken glass instead of pennies. And when the foundations of a modest fortune were laid, they would turn usurers and money-lenders, as graphically described by Juvenal. The murder of Cæsar, who had made them freemen, was mourned by them as a national calamity. “In the general consternation of the city,” Suetonius relates, “all the foreign colonies expressed their grief; the most demonstrative being the Jews, who did not leave the Dictator's pyre even at night.”

Augustus, the founder of the Empire, was merciful to the Jews, who showed themselves loyal subjects, and abiding by the Roman laws, to the protection of which they often appealed, as The Acts certify. Their community was numerous. Philon pretends that eight thousand Jews supported or were ready to support his remonstrances to Caligula; but he, like all other Hebrew annalists, has a tendency to exaggerate the importance of the race. The colony was deeply attached to the mother country; and every year a rich present was sent from Rome to the temple of Zion. The Jews had their synagogues, their schools, their literature, their poetry, their special quarters, their cemeteries; yet they possessed no moral or political influence. In the eyes of the Romans they did not differ from the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Cappadocians, and other strangers, whom trading interests had attracted to the banks of the Tiber.

Tiberius did not share the feelings of tolerance of his predecessor; he determined to exterminate the colony, pushed to it probably by Sejanus, who excited and favored all the bad instincts of his master, hoping to make him more odious and insufferable to his subjects. After the death of the infamous adviser, Tiberius returned to a wiser policy; the surviving Jews, set free from their confinement in Sardinia, hastened back to the invincible attractions of the capital.

Caligula's bosom friend was the Jew Agrippa, belonging to the family of Herod, who had followed the fortunes of Drusus the younger. He was a frivolous and dissipated young man, who had just run the risk of losing his life in the persecution of Tiberius; he was perhaps the only representative of his race devoted to Caligula; the race itself was restive, and the statue of the young Emperor at Jerusalem found no worshipers. He revenged himself in two ways: first by proclaiming Agrippa King of the Jews,—a step which gave rise to the greatest consternation in Judæa,—and then by offering to Philon and his co-ambassadors from Alexandria the grotesque reception of which the imperial gardens on the Esquiline, called the Horti Lamiani, were the scene.

These beautiful gardens were largely excavated under my own supervision between 1873 and 1876, and they yielded the richest archæological harvest we have ever been able to gather in Rome from a single spot since 1870. They were an enchanted, fairy-like place, extending over the highest plateau of the Esquiline, from which such a glorious view is obtained of the Alban, the Prænestinian, and the Sabine hills. The Casino, where the Jews were received, contained apartments two stories high, with windows having panes of translucent marble instead of glass. The halls were so large that a portrait of Nero one hundred and twenty feet high (35.64 metres) could be painted in one of them. The huge canvas, twice as large as the mainsail of a frigate, was set on fire by lightning, together with the Casino. “Pictura accensa fulmine cum optima hortorum parte conflagravit.”2 I have myself seen a gallery two hundred and seventy-six feet long, the pavement of which, was inlaid with the rarest and costliest specimens of alabastrine-agate,3 while the ceiling was supported by twenty-four fluted columns of giallo antico resting on gilt bases; I have seen another apartment paved with large slabs of occhio di pavone,4 the walls of which were panelled with crusts of black slate covered with graceful arabesques in gold-leaf. I have seen a third hall with the floor made of segments of alabaster, framed in green enamel, around the walls of which were jets of water, four feet apart, which must have crossed each other in various ways, and under striking plays of light. All these things were found in November, 1875.

On Christmas eve of the preceding year, while our men were excavating the rooms at the corner of the Via Foscolo and the Via Emmanuele Filiberto, at the north end of the gallery mentioned above, the ground gave way, giving us access to a crypt or cellar on the floor of which we found lying the celebrated bust of Commodus in the character of Hercules, flanked by two tritons or marine centaurs and two statues representing either two maiden daughters of Danaos (according to Helbig) or the Muses Terpsichore and Polyhymnia (according to Visconti). There were also the Venus Lamiana, called by Helbig “a girl binding a fillet round her head” (see illustration, page 223); a portrait head of young Commodus; a head of Diana; a Bacchus of semi-colossal size, with drapery of gilt bronze (missing); and about twenty-five legs, arms, hands, and feet belonging to statues whose bronze drapery had likewise been stolen before the concealment.

As regards the furniture of this delightful palace, I find in the “Bullettino Comunale” of 1879, p. 251, the following description of a piece discovered in September of the same year at the corner of the Via Buonarroti and the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele, eighty or ninety yards from the room in which the statues were found: “It is not possible to ascertain the exact shape of this extraordinary piece of furniture, which had the frame of hard wood, encrusted with gilt metal, and studded with precious stones. Considering, however, that the piece was supported by four legs exquisitely cut in rock-crystal, connected by horizontal bands encrusted with gilt festoons and bulls' heads like a frieze, we are led to think it either a state chair or throne, or a state bedstead. One hundred fragments of the brass work, as well as four hundred and thirty precious stones, with which it was studded, have been recovered. There are carnelians, agates, chrysolites, topazes, lapis lazuli, amethysts, garnets, all plain; five engraved gems representing the rape of Europa, Venus, a lion, a butterfly, a male bust; and a ‘pasta vitrea,’ with two heads, probably of Septimius Severus and his Empress Julia Domna. One hundred and sixty-eight fragments of thin crusts of agate were also found in the same room, but we could not decide whether they belonged to the same bedstead or to the veneering of the room itself.” If we recall to mind that from these same imperial Lamian gardens come such world-renowned masterpieces as the Belvedere Meleager, the Niobides, and the two Athletes, now in the Galleria degli Uffizi; the Nozze Aldobrandini, now in the Vatican Library; the Discobolos of Myron, in the Lancellotti Palace; the Dancing Women, in the Museo Chiaramonti; the Hercules, removed to England by Colonel Campbell, and many other famous marbles, we may get an approximate idea of what a Roman garden must have been in the palmy days of the Empire, and of the wonders which met the gaze of the Jewish ambassadors on the day of their grotesque official reception by Caligula.

The Lamian gardens acquired fresh notoriety in 1620, when they became the property of the Marchesi di Palombara and the scene of their mysterious meetings with Christina, Queen of Sweden, then engaged in the follies of necromancy, and in the search for the philosopher's stone and perpetual motion. Contemporary chronicles relate5 how the queen, having taken up her abode in Rome in 1655, set up a laboratory for experimenting in occult sciences, with the help of the most distinguished alchemists of the age. One day a youth from beyond the mountains presented himself before the queen, and asked permission to work in her laboratory, in order to investigate the manner of making gold. Having obtained this, he presented himself again to the queen, after a few days, telling her that he had need of going in search of a certain herb, in order to complete the operation, and entreating her to grant him a hiding-place in which to deposit during his absence two vases of a liquor which, mixed with the herb, would become gold. He wished also that this secret place should be locked with two keys, of different form, one to be kept by the queen, the other by himself. Having obtained his request, he departed.

Some time elapsed, and no tidings being received concerning him, the queen, irritated at being thus deluded, caused the hiding-place to be opened by force, and found the liquor solidified into gold in one vase and into silver in the other.

Among those who frequented the salons of Christina, was the Marquis Massimiliano Palombara, Conservator of Rome for the years 1651 and 1677, and a famous alchemist. Having heard of this incident, he took the queen severely to task for having allowed such a master in this art to escape without revealing his secret.

The marquis was then occupying his Esquiline villa, where, one morning in 1680, he saw an unknown person enter the gate on the side of the Via Merulana, and examine attentively the ground, apparently looking for some mysterious plant. Surprised by the servants, the pilgrim declared that he was in search of an herb of marvellous virtue, and that, knowing how much interested the proprietor of the villa was in the art of making gold, he wished to demonstrate to him that the work, though difficult, was not impossible.

It is easy to imagine how eagerly the marquis welcomed him, and how anxiously he watched his proceedings. The pilgrim crisped and pulverized the herb gathered in the garden, threw it into the crucible, which was full of a mysterious liquor, and promised his host that on the next morning not only would the process be completed, but the secret should be revealed to him.

When the morning came and nothing was seen of the pilgrim, the marquis, fearing that something had happened to him, forced open the door of his room, but neither here nor in the adjoining laboratory were there any signs of him. The guest had, however, liberally kept his promise, for not only from the broken crucible had flowed upon the pavement a long stream of the purest gold, but on the table lay a roll of parchment, upon which were traced and written various enigmas, which, says Cancellieri, no one has been able up to this time to explain, nor ever will.

The Marquis Palombara caused a memorial of the mysterious pilgrim, and the recipes left by him for the manufacture of gold, to be cut in marble and exposed to the eyes of the public. One of the recipes says: “Si feceris volare terram super caput tuum, eius pennis aquas torrentum convertes in petram” (If thou wilt make earth fly over thine head, thou canst convert the waters of a torrent into stone).

Some contain precepts of secret and profound wisdom, like: “Si sedes, non is!” (If thou sittest, thou advancest not); or else: “Quando in tua domo nigri corvi parturiant albas columbas tune vocaberis sapiens” (When in thine house black crows bring forth white doves, then thou shalt be called wise). Others are an absurd play upon words: “Aqua, a-qua horti irrigantur, non est aqua a-qua horti aluntur,” which baffles interpretation. The only sentence adapted to all times is: “Hodie pecunia emitur spuria nobilitas, sed non legitima sapientia” (You can purchase with your wealth a spurious nobility, but not true wisdom).

All these absurdities were actually engraved on the marble posts and lintel of one of the gates of the villa, hence called the Magic Gate. I remember having seen this curious document of human idiosyncrasy in my youth, on the right side of the road which then led from S. Maria Maggiore to S. Croce in Gerusalemme, nearly opposite the ruin called the Trophies of Marius. The door was covered with strange symbols in Latin and Hebrew letters, and astronomical and cabalistic signs of obscure signification; and every week, when the time for playing the Lotto was nearing, the Magic Gate witnessed an assembly of aged and filthy beggars, trying to get the key to the meaning of the signs, and secure a good “estrazione” from the wheel of fortune.6 It is astonishing to think how the Church authorities could have left this gate standing and claiming such a share of popular wonderment, when the august names of the Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saviour were mixed up with profane and cabalistic formulas.

The gate was removed from its place in 1876 and set up again in the square or garden of the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele, which occupies part of the old Lamian-Palombara estate.

Three other monuments of classic Rome besides the Lamian gardens refer to the Jews: the Arch of Titus on the Summa Sacra Via, the triumphal gate of the Circus Maximus, and the Temple and Forum of Peace. There were also a Jewish quarter, and Jewish schools, and many synagogues and catacombs.

The Arch of Titus, on the top of the ridge which separates the hollow of the Forum from that of the Coliseum, is a monument too well known to require a special notice. It was erected after the death and the deification of the conqueror of Jerusalem. Its interest centres in the high relief of the right pier (on the side of the Palatine) on which the spoils from the temple of Zion are represented. These are carried by the victorious soldiers guarding the prisoners of war, all of whom wear crowns of laurel, because even the conquered warriors were compelled to rejoice, at least in appearance, in their own defeat, though their hands are tied behind their backs. The principal trophies of war are the golden table with some of the sacred vessels, the silver trumpets, the ark of the covenant, and the seven-branched candlestick. According to Flavius Josephus these objects were not the original ones, but imitations, or, as it were, emblems of the Jewish defeat, as shown by the fact that the candelabra shows curved branches, instead of branches bent at right angles like those of a trident. Describing the incidents of the triumph of Titus in “Jewish War,” vii. 17, Flavius Josephus remarks: “The spoils taken from the temple of Jerusalem had the place of honor among the trophies of war: there was the golden table weighing several talents and the golden candlestick, which, however, differed considerably in shape from the one in use among us, which is formed of a central support standing on a base, and seven branches bent at right angles like a seven-pronged trident.” The last objects carried in the triumphal procession were the Tables of the Law.

There is an incident in the history of this arch but little known to students. The Frangipani, having raised their great Tunis Chartularia, or “Tower of the Records,” on the platform of the temple of Jupiter Stator, close by the arch, had made use of the latter for the main gateway of their stronghold, crowning it with battlements and turrets. No wonder that the weight of these superstructures should have impaired the stability of the arch. And when the architect Valadier was commissioned in 1822 by Pope Pius VII. to demolish the superstructures and restore the monument to its former shape, he began by taking most careful drawings of the joints of the blocks of Pentelic marble, and by marking them with cross-marks; he then removed such parts as had been disjointed or put out of place or out of the perpendicular, strengthened the foundations, rebuilt the arch, completing the missing parts in plain travertine, and left us the most judicious, the cleverest, and the most laudable specimen of a monumental restoration that could be desired.

The same process had been followed in 1811 by the architect Camporese in pulling down the temple of Vespasian on the Clivus Capitolinus, the columns of which leaned out of the perpendicular by half a diameter, and replacing them straight on more solid foundations. Those, however, were happy days in which sovereigns and governments trusted to men of genius who had won their confidence, and this confidence was not shaken by criticisms of envious rivals or by adverse comments of the press. Should we try the experiment nowadays, we should meet with a different fate, as shown by the following incident, which took place lately in the Forum.

On the southwestern side of this celebrated place, bordering on the Sacra Via, stand eight square pedestals of monumental columns, the shafts of which, varying in size and quality, are lying close by. Describing these pillars in “Ruins and Excavations,” p. 258, I had incidentally remarked that if they were raised once more on their pedestals the picturesqueness and the interest of the Forum would be greatly enhanced. The scheme was partially carried out in February, 1899, when the first and second columns, counting from the south, were set up again on their original bases. This simple and matter-of-fact process was proclaimed by the usual critics a “groundless restoration.” Deputations waited on the minister to offer their remonstrances, meetings were held, protests sent to the leading papers, and yet there is not a shade of doubt that the two shafts belong to the individual pedestals upon which they have been replaced. Both were discovered in my presence in 1872. The first, of gray granite, once covered with ornaments of gilt bronze, lay broken in seven pieces, partly on the pavement of the Sacra Via, partly on the stone “margo” of the Forum. The lower half of the second was still lying as it fell, in a slanting position, with the lower end almost level with the top of the pedestal, the upper end nearly touching the Sacra Via. This state of things is shown not only by contemporary photographs, but also by a sketch made by another eye-witness, the late Professor Heinrich Jordan, of Königsberg, who published it on p. 260 of the third volume (1879) of the “Ephemeris Epigraphica.”

The conquest of Judæa and the capture of Jerusalem were commemorated on another monument of classic Rome,—the arch at the curved end of the Circus Maximus called the Porta Triumphalis because the winning chariots left the arena through it. Here the so-called Anonymus of Einsiedeln saw, many centuries ago, the original inscription containing the following words: “The Senate and the people of Rome [dedicate this arch] to Titus, son of Vespasian [in the year 81 A.D.], because, acting on the advice and under the auspices of his father, he has conquered the nation of the Jews, and has taken by assault and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, a success which no leader of armies has been able to achieve before.” Arch and inscription have long since disappeared.

The third monument connected with the same events is the Temple and Forum of Peace, dedicated by Vespasian five years after the fall of Jerusalem, A.D. 75. Josephus (“Jewish War,” vii. 5) says: “After the celebration of the triumph, and the establishment of the Roman rule in Judea, Vespasian determined to raise a monument to Peace, which was brought to completion sooner and better than is generally the case with such great undertakings.…In this sacred enclosure were collected and exhibited numberless art treasures, to behold which men used to come from all quarters of the earth, and among these the objects of gold (χρυσᾶ κατασκευάσματα) which had been found in the temple of the Jews. The Tables of the Law, and the purple Veils were at the same time deposited by Vespasian's order in the imperial palace (ἐυ τοiς βασιλείοις).”

The art gallery of the Temple of Peace included, among other masterpieces, the celebrated Ialysos by Protogenes, the Scylla by Nikomachos, the Hero by Parrhasios; and, among the works of the chisel, a set of athletic statues from Olympia and Argos; the Ganymedes by Leochares; a group of the Nile surrounded by the sixteen infants, cut out of a single block of reddish basalt; an exquisite statue of Venus by an unknown artist; a bronze by Boëthos, representing a boy strangling a goose; and the celebrated Cow of Myron, praised by Cicero, Ovid, and Pliny, to which not less than thirty-six epigrams of the Anthology are dedicated. The Bibliotheca Pacis, attached to the temple, is mentioned more than once by Aulus Gellius, who says it contained books (for instance, the commentaries of Lælius, the master of Varro, and the letters of Asinius Capito) that could not be found anywhere else. There were, in the last place, vaults and safes in which private citizens could store and deposit their valuables. All these treasures—except the sacred vessels of the Jews, which were perhaps kept in a fire-proof compartment—perished in the memorable fire of Commodus, A.D. 191, vivid descriptions of which are given by Galen, Dion Cassius, and Herodianus. Galen complains of the loss of the first two books of his Treatise, the original manuscript of which he had inadvertently left in his office on the Sacra Via. The office was burnt to the ground together with the great libraries of Peace and of the imperial palace. Dion Cassius says that the fire originated in the middle of the night in a private dwelling, and that after devastating the Forum and Temple of Peace, destroyed the Horrea Piperataria, that is, the shops where the drugs and merchandise from Egypt and Arabia were stored, which I have already described in Chapter II. The vigiles and the prætorians, led by the Emperor himself, did not get control of the flames until the whole quarter was turned into a heap of smouldering ruins.

Herodianus, another contemporary historian (A.D. 180–238), is inclined to give to the conflagration an almost supernatural cause, and mentions at the same time a shock of earthquake, a thunderbolt, and flames bursting out of the earth. He calls the temple and its surroundings τὸ μϵ́γιστον κάi ̀ κάλλιστον, “the greatest and most beautiful” building of imperial Rome. Its destruction affected morally and materially every class of citizens, on account of the art treasures which no expenditure could ever replace, and of the valuables and personal securities which had been consumed with the safes.

After a lapse of eighteen hundred and nine years, the traces of the fire of Commodus are still visible within and near the sacred enclosure of Peace, and on the line of the Sacra Via, where Galen's office and consulting rooms stood among the stores of Eastern goods. These traces appear at the Templum Sacræ Urbis (SS. Cosma e Damiano) in the brick restorations made by Septimius Severus in the old stone building; they appear also in the ruins of the Horrea Piperataria, over which the Basilica of Constantine was afterwards built; and lastly in the line of houses and stores bordering on the Sacra Via, which have been quite lately reëxhumed, giving us a vivid picture of that scene of desolation.

Archæologists and historians disagree as regards the fate of the Forum and the Temple of Peace after the fire. Nibby and Canina7 contend that they never rose from their ashes; I cannot see on what ground, as we find the place constantly mentioned in the following centuries. The biographer of the Thirty Tyrants speaks of it in the Life of Victoria, chap. xxxi. The imperial almanac of the time of Constantine mentions it as giving its name to the fourth regio of the City. When the Emperor Constantius visited Rome in 357, he was led to behold among the wonders of the metropolis “urbis templum, forumque Pacis, et Pompeii theatrum.”8 Symmachus speaks of having entered the forum, in the seventy-eighth letter of the tenth book. De Rossi has discovered in the library of St. Gall certain fragments of the Chronicle of Horosius, giving an account of all the wonderful and fearful events which marked the decline and fall of Rome from the fourth to the sixth century. One of these records says: “In the year 408, under the consulship of Bassus and Philippus, underground rumblings were heard in the Forum of Peace for seven days.” I believe the true solution of the case is to be found in the following passage of Procopius (Goth. iv. 21): “A drove of oxen was led through the forum which the Romans call of Peace, from a great temple which lies there in ruins, having been struck by lightning in the old times.” Procopius therefore makes a distinction between the temple, which had never been rebuilt since the fire of Commodus, and the forum, which had either escaped uninjured, or had been thoroughly restored. We know, for one thing, that two, at least, of the masterpieces, the Cow of Myron and the Ganymede of Leochares, were still to be seen in the forum at the time of the Gothic wars, long after the pillages of Alaric, A.D. 410, of Genseric, A.D. 455, of Ricimer, A.D. 472, etc. For the bronze Cow we have the authority of Procopius himself (i. 120); as to the Ganymede of Leochares, we know that the pedestal upon which this celebrated work of art stood was discovered in the Forum of Peace towards the middle of the fifteenth century. This pedestal is now preserved in the Galleria degli Uffizi. Ligorio, who witnessed the find, saw also a piece of the marble group, representing the eagle carrying off the beautiful youth to Olympus. Considering, however, that the original group had not been chiselled in marble by Leochares, but cast in bronze, we infer that the bronze had perished in the great conflagration and a marble copy had been substituted in its place. The cut on page 239 represents another copy of the group, discovered at Fallerone (Faleria) in the province of Ancona, and placed in the Galleria dei Candelabri in the time of Pius VI.

It seems hardly possible that the golden vessels from the Temple of Zion, placed in the Temple of Peace among other trophies of war, should have escaped the effects of the fire, the suddenness and violence of which were such that not even the state archives kept in the adjoining fire-proof building (the Templum Sacræ Urbis, now SS. Cosma e Damiano) could be saved from destruction; and yet there seems to be little doubt on the point.

According to Procopius the Jewish spoils were carried off by King Alaric when Rome was looted in August, 410, and tradition adds that when Alaric died in southern Italy, near the city of Cosenza, his followers buried him and his treasures in the bed of the river Busentinus, first diverting the course of the waters, and then letting them flow again over the tomb. The tradition is probably a new and revised edition of the true story of Decebalus, king of the Dacians, which I have already related in “Ancient Rome,” p. 391. According to another version, the golden spoils either escaped detection at the time of Alaric or else were only partially looted. The man into whose hands they ultimately fell was Genseric, who stormed Rome in June, 455, at the head of a powerful army of Vandals, with whom were mixed Bedouins and Moors. Genseric appears to have devoted himself mainly to the plunder of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; its statues were carried off to adorn the residence of the Vandal kings at Carthage, and the roof was stripped of its tiles of gilt bronze. That portion of the Jewish spoils which had been overlooked by Alaric in 410 was apparently landed in safety at Carthage. Here it was discovered eighty years later by Belisarius, the Byzantine general, and hence it was removed to Constantinople, where it was offered as a present to the Emperor Justinian. Justinian sent it as a pious offering to the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, whence it was carried away in 614 by the Persian conqueror Chosroës.

Whichever of these versions deserves credit, or whether neither one of them is worthy of it, the Tiber is at all events out of the question. The tradition that the seven-branched candlestick was thrown into its muddy bed is very old, and the writers of the Talmud, to make it lie in a more decent place, state that the bottom of the river between Rome and Ostia is paved with sheets of solid metal, stolen from Palestine by the emperors. President Charles de Brosses, in one of his “Lettres sur I'Italie,” relates that under Pope Benedict XIV. (1740–1758) the Jews asked permission to drain the river at their own expense, provided they could get undisturbed possession of the treasures which their undertaking might eventually bring to light. According to the same writer the Pope withheld his consent for fear that the stirring up of the mud and silt of the river would generate the plague. Dignum patella operculum! The simple-minded president did not perceive that his cicerone was taking advantage of his good faith.

The Ghetto of classic Rome was on the right bank of the Tiber, among the slums of the Trastevere. In the early days of the City, the region between the river and the Janiculum was made so unhealthy by sluggish streams and pools of stagnant water that it was chosen by the Senate as the place of relegation for prisoners of war whom they wished to destroy. Here were led the inhabitants of Tellene, Ficana, and Medullia after the capture of their villages, and also the leading citizens of Capua, who had sided with Hannibal. If many of their number perished, many also lived to form in progress of time a poor and unhealthy but populous quarter. Boatmen, lightermen, tanners, dyers, scavengers, carriers joined the original settlers, together with beggars and vagabonds, and that shady class of strangers who flock to the great cities in quest of fortune or shelter.

The first Jew colonists, driven from their native land by poverty or brought as slaves behind the chariots of Roman conquerors, took refuge in this wretched district, where the Syrians, their neighbors, had preceded them, and where they felt at home among a crowd of pariahs. Juvenal describes another small Jewish centre, just outside the Porta Capena, in the neighborhood of the sacred grove of Egeria, their furniture being restricted to a basket suspended from a tree and a bundle of straw.

Yet some, if not many, of the Jewish immigrants became wealthy, rose in the scale of society, and, leaving the abject home of their coreligionaries in the Trastevere, settled in the most fashionable streets of the City, where they could make a loud display of their wealth, and built their family mausolea in the aristocratic cemeteries of the Via Appia and the Via Latina. Of this practice we have a curious but little known piece of evidence, in a sarcophagus now preserved in the court of the Palazzo Spada among other relics discovered by Cardinal Girolamo Spada-Veralli when he restored the church of S. Agnese fuori le Mura after the pillage of 1527. According to the inscription, engraved in a style characteristic of the Severian age, the sarcophagus belonged to a Jewish lady of rank, named Julia Irene Arista, mother of Atronius Tullianus Eusebius, senator of the empire, “vir clarissimus.” The pious lady, faithful to the law of God (juste legem colens), after having been delivered from a mortal illness, “Dei virtute et fide mea nobis conservata,” lived happily to a green old age, and was buried in the fashionable cemetery of the Via Nomentana, where probably she and her son owned property. The interest of this remarkable document centres in the title of “vir clarissimus” claimed by the son, of which no other example is to be found in Roman epigraphy: an explanation, however, of this singularity is to be found in the following passage of Ulpianus, “De Officio Proconsulis”:9 “Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla allowed the adepts of the Jewish superstition to reach the highest honors and offices.”

The headquarters of the Jews remained, nevertheless, in the Transtiberine district, in the vicinity of the harbor, where vast numbers of Greek, Syrian, Alexandrine, and Carthaginian ships were always moored, allowing them to carry on a brisk trade with the motley crews.10 Here also were their best schools, their law-courts (Bath-Dim), and the central synagogue where the banished sons of Abraham might behold a good yet deceptive reproduction of the sanctuary of Zion.

Nine other synagogues are mentioned in connection with other quarters of the City, viz., those of the Augustans, of the Agrippans11 of the Campus, of the Campus and Volumnus, of the Subura, of Eleia, of the lime-burners, of the Rhodians, and of the harbor of Rome (Portus Augusti). Their rabbis were called “gerusiarchi,” or “archontes,” or “archisynagogi.” We find also among their dignitaries several “fathers and mothers of the synagogue,” and scribes, and patrons, and readers of the law.

The best known of the Jewish suburban cemeteries is the one discovered by Antonio Bosio in the hills of Monte Verde, not far from the present railway station by the Porta Portese. This Columbus of underground Rome explored the long-forgotten crypts on December 14 of the year 1602, and attributed them to the Jewish Transtiberine community on account of the seven-branched candlestick, and of the formula, “Here rests in peace,” by which the tombstones were distinguished. Bosio did not carry his exploration very far, probably on account of the crumbling and dangerous state of the crypts. Bianchini, the great archæological explorer, claims to have entered the same place in the first quarter of the last century.12 Gaetano Migliore, who followed at a later period Bianchini's footsteps, says: “I could not advance very far on account of the falling stones, yet I saw with my own eyes cubicula, arcosolia, loculi, all utterly devastated, and also, I believe, scattered pieces of Jewish emblems. I did my best to enter the deepest recesses of this old burial-place, but I was obliged to retire because the very sound of my footsteps seemed to hasten the fall of the crumbling rocks.”13 Since Migliore's attempt no one has entered the place; Padre Marchi tried to rediscover its entrance in 1843, but without success. In 1892 I watched for weeks and weeks the attempts of a man—a painter by profession—to cut a passage through the layer of loose earth at a spot which had been pointed out to him by an old gardener as the entrance to a “subterranean palace.” That man had actually cut with his own hands a gallery four feet high and fifteen feet long, when he was compelled to abandon the attempt. I cannot tell whether the rock-cut door which he had reached led to the long-lost Jewish catacomb, or to a Christian one, because the fragments of inscriptions found in the loose earth bore no characteristic religions symbols; but I am rather inclined to think the latter, because, if we believe what Fioravante Martinelli says in his “Roma ricercata,” p. 20, the crypts seen by Bosio were destroyed at the time of Urban VIII., when the new line of city walls was raised on the ridge of the Janiculum. At all events, this ridge is so honeycombed with catacombs that it is difficult to single them out and ascertain their origin. Sixteen years after his first discovery, Bosio found a second catacomb in the same spur of the hill. Benjamin of Tudela must refer to one of these places of entombment when he describes a cave near the Tiber containing the tomb of the “ten martyrs of the kingdom,” that is, of the ten Hebrews, preachers of the Mishna, who had given their life for their faith.14 The whole district outside the Porta Portese has retained its connection with the Ghetto of ancient Rome up to our own days, the plain between the Via Portuense and the foot of the hills being called “Ortaccio degli Ebrei,” just as in by-gone times it bore the name of “Campus ludæorum” or “Contrata Hebreorum.” The construction of the new railway station has altered the whole aspect of the place.

Other cemeteries have been discovered on the Via Appia and the Via Labicana, the best of all being the one first entered on May 1, 1859, in the Vigna Randanini, opposite the church of S. Sebastiano. It is still open to visitors. The one found in 1867 on the same road in the vineyard of Count Cimarra is briefly described by de Rossi, “Bullettino di archeologia cristiana,” 1867, n. 1. Its inscriptions have never been published in full. Those found in 1883 on the Via Labicana, and in 1885 on the Via Appia Pignattelli have been illustrated respectively by Marucchi and Müller. From their tombstones we gather that some of the Roman Jews kept their own or gave to their children Biblical names slightly Latinized, such as Aster (Esther), Gadia (Gaddi), lonata, Semoel, Sarah, Lea, etc. Others adopted Greek or Latin names, borrowing the “gentilicium” from patrician families or individuals, to whom probably they had lent money, or rendered service for a consideration. Thus we find two Ælii, one Æmilia, and several Flavii, although this last was the family name of the two hated conquerors of Judæa, Vespasian and Titus. Still more remarkable is the occurrence of many pagan and decidedly profane names, such as Aphrodisia, Asclepiodote, etc.

The head synagogue, mentioned above, is placed by topographers in the neighborhood of S. Cecilia, because the adjoining street was known in the middle ages by the name of “Rua Judæorum.” Its precious contents—tapestries woven of gold threads, gold plate, etc.—were plundered by the populace at the time of King Theoderic; but the Jews repaired the damages soon after.

It does not appear that their Transtiberine quarter had a fixed boundary like the Ghetto of later times; but the spirit of brotherhood which seems innate in the Jewish race kept them clustered and huddled together around their temple. It was only after the pillage of Rome by Robert Guiscard, in 1084, that they migrated, with their neighbors the tanners, to the opposite bank of the Tiber,15 and settled among the remains of the Porticus Octaviæ the Porticus Philippi, and the Theatre of Marcellus, not far from the Fabrician bridge, which was henceforth named “Pons Judeorum.” They continued, however, to bury their dead in the old Ortaccio near S. Francesco a Ripa, until they obtained from the City another “field of death” among the ruins of the Circus Maximus under S. Prisca. This last cemetery is still in existence.

The Jews were not many at the time of this migration. Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Rome in 1165, says: “My fellow-worshippers number about two hundred, all honest men, independent, paying tribute to nobody. Some hold important offices in the court of Pope Alexander III. [1159–1181], like David Magnus, and R. Jechiel, B. Abraham, a bright and courteous youth, who is intendant of the Pope's household.” One of the squares of the Rione Regola, destroyed in 1887 to make room for the new Via Arenula, was called Piazza dei Branca, from the illustrious Jewish family of that name—the Branca di Clausura—which flourished in the fourteenth century. The most famous and powerful Roman family of the middle ages, the pillar of the Church, the representative of the Pope's judicial power, the warder of the Pope's state prison, the Pierleoni, were also of Jewish extraction. The grandfather of “Peter son of Leo” (Petrus Leonis, Pierleone) having lent to and gained large sums of money from the Holy See, and seeing the prospect of larger gains and political influence, abjured the faith of his fathers and was baptized under the name of Benedictus Christianus, which was that of the reigning Pope Benedict IX. (1033–1046). His son was likewise named from the Pope Leo IX. (1049–1055), and his grandson, the real founder of the Pierleoni dynasty, assumed the name of the Prince of the Apostles. The great-grandson became the antipope Anacletus II.! It seems that this family of mediæval Rothschilds, made barons of the holy Roman empire by their apostolic debtors, were afflicted for generations with the most pronounced Jewish features. They could not get rid of a sallow complexion, a nose like a hawk's, and curly black hair. Orderic Vitalis describes one of them, who sat in the Synod of Rheims in 1119, as “nigrum et pallidum adolescentem, magis Judeo vel Agareno, quam Christiano similem,” and Arnulfus also expatiates on the forbidding Jewish appearance of Anacletus II.

These feelings of repulsion, however, were not shared by the fair ladies of the Roman patriciate, to judge from their anxiety to marry the wealthy sons of Peter. These had established their headquarters over the remains of the Theatre of Marcellus, where the Palazzo Orsini now stands, while their vassals and servants and gens-d'armes occupied the quarter between the theatre, the Tiber, and the Forum Boarium, which we still call “quartiere di Porta Leone,” a picturesque cluster of mediæval houses and towers and lanes but little known to tourists.

The island of the Tiber, crowned with towers,—one of which is still to be seen at the west entrance to the Fabrician bridge (Ponte Quattro Capi, Pons Judeorum),—served as tête-de-pont. Pope Urban II., who had made the Pierleoni warders of the Castle of S. Angelo, died in their house “apud sanctum Nicolaum in Carcere,” in 1099. The constant friendship of the Popes, their high connections by marriage, unlimited wealth, and great political power, made the world soon forget the humble origin of the family. The Frangipane, as representative of the Ghibelline faction, did not yield to the general feeling; and their hatred of the Jewish parvenus, who claimed the leadership of the Guelph party, more than once caused trouble and bloodshed within the walls of the City. At last peace was sealed by marriage and by the common pretense of both families to kinsmanship as collateral descendants of the Anicii.

Tradition says that two Pierleoni migrated to Germany towards the middle of the fifteenth century, where they became the head of the Hapsburg family. This story was credited not only in Rome but also in Austria, until the emperors of the house of Hapsburg found out that their alleged relationship with the Pierleoni would make them seek for their forefathers in the Ghetto of mediæval Rome. By a welcome chance of fate we still possess the tombs of the founder and of the last representative of the great family. The founder died on June 2, 1128, and while the graves of contemporary Popes are all lost, the coffin of the Hebrew Crœsus still lies under the southern wing of the beautiful cloisters of St. Paul's. It is a marble sarcophagus of the third century, with bas-reliefs representing Apollo, Marsyas, and the Muses, and a panel inscribed with the following words:—

“May Peter and Paul, to whom you were so faithful, protect you, Peter, son of Leo, and welcome your soul into the glory of heaven,” etc.

Of the last representative of the family, Lucretia, daughter of Luke, we have a bust and an inscription dated 1582, in the church of S. Maria della Consolazione.16 Lucretia proclaims herself “the only surviving daughter of the most noble Roman and Austrian race.”

In pursuing a mild and lenient policy towards the sons of Israel, the Popes followed the advice of the Fathers of the Church, such as Gregory the Great and Thomas Aquinas;17 and besides, they were too often in need of financial help to lose the good-will of their bankers. In a document preserved in Cod. Vatic. 7711, the average amount of money borrowed from this source is valued at one hundred and fifty thousand scudi for a period of thirty years. The Jews themselves borrowed considerable sums from Christian bankers at four per cent., lending it in turn to more needy customers at eighteen.

Another reason for their peaceful life in the capital of the Christian world must be found in their skill in medicine, and in their kindness in treating the poor. Towards the end of the fourteenth century a doctor named Emmanuel and his son Angelo rose to such celebrity that the city council in the plenary sitting of May 8, 1385, granted special privileges in their favor, “because they are so brave and merciful in the exercise of the healing art, attending gratuitously the needy.” These privileges were confirmed in July, 1392, by Boniface IX. in a letter which begins: “Bonifacius…dilecto filio Angelo Manuelis iudei…nato Judeo; medico et familiari nostro salutem!” Martin V. and Eugene IV. were attended in their ailments by the Jew doctor Elihu, Innocent VII. by Elihu Sabbati, Pius II. by Moses of Rieti. Infessura the Diarist relates how Innocent VIII., at the point of death, yielded to the suggestion of a Jew charlatan to have his blood rejuvenated with the blood of three boys. The result of the operation was that the Pope died as well as the three boys, but the charlatan saved himself by a prompt flight. The Æsculapius, the Galen, the Prince of the Jewish medical school in Rome, was without doubt the Rabbi Samuel Sarfati, of Spanish extraction, who rose to the much envied position of Pontifical Archiater at the time of Julius II. His wonderful career has been described by Marini in his “Archiatri Pontificii,” vol. i. p. 290.

Paul IV., Caraffa, in opposition to the policy of his predecessors, put an end, for the time being, to the peaceful state of the colony. His constitution, cum nimis absurdum, dated July 15, 1555, orders that the Jews must henceforth live apart from the Christians in a quarter of their own, to be surrounded by a wall with but one entrance and one exit. The bishop of Ischia, governor of Rome, enforced obedience to the decree so strictly that on the 27th of the month, that is, twelve days after its promulgation, the Jews were already immured in their pen. Four Christian churches which happened to fall within the enclosure were sacrificed to save them from the unwelcome contact,—S. Lorenzo dei Cavalluzzi (belonging to the Armenians, who received in exchange the beautiful temple of Fortune by the Forum Boarium, Christianized under the name of S. Maria Egiziaca), S. Leonardo de Platea Judeorum, S. Salvatore di Baroncini, and a fourth dedicated to the unheard-of saints Patermuzio and Coppete.

The boundary wall was enlarged from time to time, and the number of gates increased first to five, later to eight. The gates were closed at seven o'clock in winter and at eight in summer. The Mattei family enjoyed the privilege of furnishing the gatekeepers for a yearly remuneration of one hundred and sixty-three scudi and twenty bajocchi. The Ghetto was furnished with a slaughter-house (which I have seen in the place where Prince Orsini now has his stables), and with bakeries for the azim bread. The bakeries were located in the lane called after them delle Azimelle, a congested, evil-smelling alley, demolished in 1888. The Ghetto was a wretched place, and it is one of the glories of the early pontificate of Pius IX. to have destroyed its boundary wall, thrown open its gates, and broken the chains which fettered the faithful Jews. When Gregorovius visited Rome for the first time fifty years ago, the whole Ghetto was inundated by the Tiber as far as the Propylaia of Octavia's portico; yet the place was not essentially unhealthy: in fact, more than once it has enjoyed immunity from epidemics which ravaged the rest of the town.

The first Pope who caused the inhabitants of the Ghetto to wear a sign by which they could be distinguished from their Christian fellow-citizens was Martin V. The signs varied with time and with the caprice of the ruler. We hear at first of “tabarri rubei,” flaming-red overcoats which had to be worn by the unfortunate brotherhood winter and summer, by men and women alike. At Ferrara, where the number of the Jews had increased alarmingly since their banishment from Spain and from Portugal, Duke Hercules selected as a mark the letter O in yellow ochre, to be worn sewed on their breast. Paul IV., their great persecutor, changed the red overcoat for a conical cap of orange hue, not unlike in shape to the one characteristic of our popular mask, Pulcinella; for which fresh insult the Jews took signal vengeance. On the announcement of Paul's death, which took place on August 18, 1559, the populace, who had tolerated long enough the cruel rule of the Caraffa family, broke into the Conservatori palace and overturned the statue of the Pope, dragging the head through the streets. The Jews took a leading share in this outbreak of popular feeling, and carried the head, in their turn, through the Ghetto, covering the pontifical tiara with the hateful orange cap.

As a rule, common law penalties were applied with more severity in the case of Jews than in the case of Christians, especially when the offence was against public morality. Thus, while Christian “cortigiane”18 breaking the police regulations were simply punished with fustigation,—much to the joy of the populace, who counted upon such performances as one of the attractions of Carnival,—the Jewesses were generally burned at the stake in the Campo di Fiore.

It is true, at the same time, that Christians who fell victims to the fascination of the brunette daughters of Israel ran the risk of losing their lives, as is proved by the following anecdote.

Sixtus V. having heard that the young Duke of Parma had lived for a certain time on intimate terms with a Jewess, caused him to be arrested, and on the acknowledgment of his guilt, to be sentenced to the scaffold. As the moment of the execution approached, and when the most powerful intercessions had failed to obtain a mitigation of the sentence from the stern old pontiff, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, uncle of the young duke, thought of the following stratagem. He caused all the clocks of the Vatican to be put back, with the exception of the Pope's private one, which alone was left to mark the true time. Cardinal Alessandro having entered the audience-room a few moments before the hour fixed for the execution, made a supreme appeal to the clemency of Sixtus V., but in vain. At last the Pope, looking at the quadrant and thinking that all was over, granted the pardon, provided it was not too late. The cardinal rushed to the prison, where the executioner, deceived by the clock, was waiting for the fatal hour to strike. When the stratagem was at last discovered the duke was already beyond the reach of the Pope's police.

Alas! it was reserved to the present generation to see the twenty-two hundred years old Jewish colony dispersed forever. The Ghetto, so quaint in its filth and picturesqueness, is no more. The scheme for the sanitation of the City required its disappearance, and it has disappeared. The Jews of Rome have lost their identity and their personality, scattered as they are among a population of five hundred thousand souls. Yet the poorer ones are still faithful to their old habits; they still pace our streets buying old garments and hawking small articles of wear. The only difference is that they no longer accept broken glass instead of pennies.19

  • 1.

    Compare Emmanuel Rodocanachi: Le saint siège et les Juifs, le Ghetto à Rome, Paris, 1891 (Bibliography, pp. xiii–xv); A. Bertolotti, “Les Juifs à Rome aux xvi, xvii, xviii, siècles,” in Revue des Etudes juives, 1888, fasc. 4; Pietro Manfrin, Gli Ebrei sotto la dominazione romana, Roma, 1888–1890; Ettore Natali, Il Ghetto di Roma, 1887; W. D. Morrison, The Jews under the Roman Rule, 3d ed., London, 1896; A. Berliner, Geschichte der Juden in Rom, Frankfurt, 1893 (Bibliography, pp. 220–222); A. S. Barnes, M. A., St. Peter in Rome, chap, ii., London, Sonnenschein, 1900.

  • 2.

    Pliny, Hist. nat. xxxv. 7, 33.

  • 3.

    A section of this pavement was removed to the Gabinetto delle medaglie in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. Two of the columns have been placed in the passage leading from the Rotunda of the same palace to the Sala delle Terrecotte.

  • 4.

    The occhio di pavone is a conglomerate of round shells of the species called Anomia ampulla, of various hues, the rarest being the pavonazzo or purplish, of which there are two magnificent columns in the Vatican library.

  • 5.

    The best account by Francesco Cancellieri in his pamphlet, Sopra la statua del Discobolo scoperta nella villa Palombara, Roma, 1806, p. 42, n. 2.

  • 6.

    The public lottery is drawn every Saturday at two o'clock, five numbers being drawn from the wheel, which contains ninety in all.

  • 7.

    Del tempio della Pace e della basilica di Constantino; Dissertazione di A. Nibby. Roma, de Romanis, 1819. Compare Becker, Topographie, p. 440.

  • 8.

    Ammianus Marcellinus, xvi. 10.

  • 9.

    Pandect, De decurionibus, leg. 3 d.

  • 10.

    The Jews themselves did occasionally take to the sea. Several proscinema by Jewish sailors have been found engraved on the rocks of the little harbor of Grammata in the island of Syra.

  • 11.

    King Herod had given the same names of Augustus and Agrippa to two wings of his palace. See Josephus, Antiq. xv. 9, 3.

  • 12.

    Delle porte Romane, p. 70.

  • 13.

    Cod. Vatic. 9143.

  • 14.

    Basnage de Beauval, Histoire des Juifs, La Haye, 1716. The vineyard in which Bosio made his discoveries belonged in 1602 to the Ruffini family, and later on to Muzio Vitozzi. See Armellini, Cronichetta Mensile, 1879, p. 27.

  • 15.

    The latest record of the residence of the Jews in the Trastevere is to be found in a deed of 1515 in the state Archives, vol. 1121, p. 291, where the “Curia Judeorum” is mentioned in the neighborhood of S. Cecilia.

  • 16.

    Second chapel on the right.

  • 17.

    Gregory's Epist. viii. 25; Thomas Aq. Epist. 363.

  • 18.

    In Pope Leo X.'s time the number of the cortigiane was equal to about one third of the total of single women or widows within the walls of the city. Their number had diminished to 604 in 1600, to rise up again steadily until the maximum of 1295 was reached in the year 1639.

  • 19.

    “Transtiberinus ambulator, qui pallentia sulphurata [matches] fractis permutat vitris.” Martial, Epigr. i. 36.

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