The Roman Jews (2). ‘Segregated In The Ghetto Because Of Their Own Guilt’

[see The Roman Jews (1)]

A millenary presence

There’s evidence of the millenary presence of the Jews in the city. Of the over 40 imperial Rome catacombs unveiled 6 are Jewish. At the end of the catacomb period a Jewish cemetery rose around Porta Portese. We also know of at least one synagogue in Ostia antica and of several in Trastevere.

The arch of Titus is also an indirect sign of presence. The Roman generals in triumph were usually followed by the captives in fetters, although on one arch panel we see only the head of the procession – but someone says it shows also prisoners – with the riches looted in Jerusalem, among which the seven-branched menorah.

The Menorah carved on the Arch of Titus. Detail from a copy of the original arch panel. Click for larger picture and credits

By the way, where is the splendid gold menorah gone? Oh so many speculations and legends flourished! [see Lanciani at the foot of the page]

From both Josephus and the panel we guess it was brought to Rome, then possibly kept in the Temple of Peace until the Vandals stole it in 455 AD.

One legend is told by Giggi Zanazzo (1860 -1911), our source on Roman culture written in the Roman dialect (full text):

“The candelabrum we see carved under the arch of Titus was all in gold and was brought by the ancient Romans to Rome from Jerusalem, when this city was sacked and burned by them. It is said some turmoil occurred and they came to blows when someone tried to steal it. Since they happened to pass over the Quattro Capi bridge [pons Fabricius – see below – the most ancient bridge surviving, built in 62 BC] it was thrown into the river so nobody had it and the water now is enjoying it.”

Pons Fabricius, also called Quattro Capi, is the most ancient bridge in Rome (62 BC.) It connects the Tiber Island with the Jewish ghetto. Click for credits

It was said that under Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) the Jews asked permission to drain the river at their own expense, but the Pope refused fearing that stirring up the mud would generate the plague [Lanciani.]

Did the Jews live so long with the Romans that some paganism brushed on them? Zanazzo writes that the Holy Mary was evoked in ways that remind me of Juno Lucina, the Roman goddess of childbirth:

“When the Jewish women are about to give birth, during the hardest labour pains, in order for their childbirth to be successful, they ask our Madonna for help. When all is finished quickly and well they get a broom and sweep the floor saying: “Fora, Maria de li Cristiani (out, Mary of the Christians).”

4th century AD. The Tiber Island with pons Fabricius leading to the left bank and the D-shaped theatre of Marcellus. Behind, Porticus Octaviae big rectangle

From the right to the left bank

Since they had arrived to Rome the Jews had mainly lived on the right bank of the Tiber, in the Transtiberine district, where the harbour was.

After Christianity split into Protestants and Catholics (from the 16th century on) and an epoch of religious fanaticism began, the Jews were forced to settle down on the left river side, in a district called rione S. Angelo [see above the area at the times of emperor Constantine; see below as it is today.]

On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV issued a Bull that cancelled all the rights of the Jews and segregated them in a walled area, il Serraglio delli Hebrei, as it was called (i.e. the ghetto,) an unhealthy place subject to floods and too small for its inhabitants.

The Fabricius bridge leading from the Tiber island to left bank and the ghetto (rione S. Angelo) with its synagogue. Click for credits and larger pict

The ghetto: ‘Condemned for their fault’

Heavy gates were kept open only from sunrise till sunset.

The Bull Cum nimis absurdum took its name from its first words. It decreed that the Jews had to be separated from the rest ‘through their own fault’ [Latin, propria culpa]:

“Since it is absurd and utterly inconvenient that the Jews, who through their own fault [e.g. having caused the death of Christ] were condemned by God to eternal slavery, have access to our society and even may live among us […] we ordain that for the rest of time […] all Jews are to live in only one [quarter] to which there is only one entrance and from which there is but one exit.”

The Bull encouraged the creation of walled ghettos in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

More than 3 centuries later part of the Roman ghetto was demolished after Italy’s unity in 1870. Among the disappeared places was via Rua, where the most prominent Jewish families lived.

Well, if this was a sort of main street, one has an idea of the poverty of the entire place! Look at this watercolour by Ettore Roesler Franz (ca 1880 .)

Tormented cohabitation

The Jewish obstinacy in keeping their own traditions increased the mistrust of the Christians. Constrained since centuries to be second rate traders, they were additionally impoverished by segregation, which added to the idea that God had punished them. All this favoured humiliation and violence.

“The men had to wear a yellow cloth (the “sciamanno”)- we read in the Wiki – and the women a yellow veil (the same colour worn by prostitutes). During the feasts they had to amuse the Christians, competing in humiliating games. They had to run naked, with a rope around the neck, or with their legs closed into sacks. […] Every Saturday, the Jewish community was forced to hear compulsory sermons in front of the small church of San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi, just outside the wall.”

We have to say that strictness in Rome was always tempered by the laxity and good-nature of its inhabitants. The yellow colour often became indistinguishable, some covert movements were possible, hate or mistrust were not seldom replaced by warm solidarity. Moreover the Roman people, popes included, needed the arts of the Jews – the astrology & medicine they had learned from the Arabs, and their trade skills.

There were never pogroms in the city, like elsewhere in Europe. And never the Jews from here were tempted by another diaspora.

In short, they were tolerated. So they remained in Rome.

The Roman Jewish ghetto in October 2004. Click to enlarge and for credits

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Note. For an in-depth analysis of the Jews’ presence in ancient Rome see the 6th chapter from the splendid Rodolfo Lanciani’s New Tales Of Old Rome (1901) [full text].

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See the previous installment:

The Roman Jews (1). Are They the Most Ancient Romans Surviving?

See also:

A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (1) The Roman Jews
A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (2). Is a Roman ‘Race’ Surviving?

Pedro’s Story. Peruvian Roots And Gold

Andean Machu Picchu, Peru. Click for credits and larger picture

Second and last part of Pedro’s story. As I said in the first part of this story I am impressed by Pedro’s personality, by his intelligence and extreme hardiness towards fatigue or any kind of climate. He has a lively and authoritative look. He’s pensive sometimes. Not the gloomy pensive, though. The optimistic pensive. He hums while he works.

Pedro directs a team of 10-15 workers, some of them appearing as impenetrable Inca masks to me.

There’s regret in him that the Peruvian ancient cultures were wiped out. “How could they treat the Inca civilization like that?” he laments. Even today – he says – there’s a lot of gold up there. The mountain peasants are poor but they’re surrounded by precious minerals.

“You dig the mountain and you see gold, you see copper. I have been working in the mines. Then foreigners arrived who took away everything. The people, who were poor before, are still poor today.”

His eyes lit up when he saw we speak English at home now and then. He’s therefore started to take English classes.

“We’d be a strong community in Italy had we harmony. There’s envy and jealousy instead towards those who have success.”

One interesting thing he told me about Chile. “After the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship the people have straightened up and now they respect the rules, while everybody in Peru is tricking everybody and there’s total anarchy. A folk sometimes needs some straightening up.”

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This final observation – let me digress – reported by an ex 1968 student like me who saw Augusto Pinochet as the devil incarnate … Things must be seen from many view angles, and generally speaking democracy isn’t a plant that adapts itself to any terrain, I believe.

Pedro’s Story

Lima3
Lima Centro seen from San Cristobal

I’ll postpone the final part of the Roman Jews writing and will speak about Pedro today.

Pedro is a 49-year-old Peruvian emigrated to Italy long ago. He has created a small construction firm that takes care of everything  – masonry, electrical and plumbing infrastructure etc. The work done is professional and accurate.

I find Pedro’s personality impressive. Here are bits of his life story, told trying to use his own words.

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His father died when he was 8 so his mother had to roll up her sleeves. She has been a great woman. Pedro as a boy was busy doing any possible job in the streets of Lima, washing windscreens, polishing shoes – he had to be ingenious in many ways.

When coming back to Lima years later and meeting again his former street pals he found out many had ended up in drugs and some had died.

In Peru too, he says, there’s this street children problem and the cleanup squads that murder them. But he committed no crime on the street. It’s his mother – he says. She raised him the hard way. Iron-willed she borne them all completely by herself, tied to a rope fastened to a beam, with the babies being brought to the world and she cutting the umbilical cord with her bare hands.

She is over 80 and sick now. Pedro’s brother phoned him to ask him to come back for next Christmas or he won’t see her again.

Peru map
Topographic Map of Peru. Wikimedia. Public domain

Pedro’s parents were from the Andes. They weren’t native Liman. You’ve got the plains over the ocean, the big mountains and the jungle in Peru [see the picture on the right.]

They teach humility, honesty and hard work in the Andean mountains, he says. That is why when this folk get down to the plains they are too naive and get easily cheated. These people meet a world where cunning and dishonesty are winning. This creates confusion in their heads, he says.

The Andean is more active, has a tougher character and is most resistant to fatigue. At the big markets in Lima lots of them manage the stands. Their bodies are smaller and their skin darker. The native Liman has lighter skin and a bigger body instead.

The Peruvian from the Andes in Italy aren’t usually working in the Italian families for housework. They set up construction, cleaning or transportation firms. Pedro always tells his compatriots to learn a job well instead of trying to figure out how to make money quickly. “It’ll be your wealth” he says.

He is happy when there’s problems to solve. “I love le grane! [trouble]” he keeps saying while shaking a head a bit too large compared to the body. Difficulties do not discourage him. They make him more resourceful instead.

He has learned both from his mother and from the street.

Woman & child. Andes
Peruvian woman and child in the Andean region of the country. Wikimedia. Some rights reserved. Click for credits and larger picture

His mother Maria was a strict woman and when she wanted to punish her children and they fled away like lightning she caught them while asleep in the deep of the night and beat them up soundly. I didn’t ask him whether his mother remarried or not. He told me that, with the years passing, life had become a bit easier for his family. This made his brothers different. They didn’t have to fight as much as he did.

Having a good head is all that matters in life, he says.

He regrets not having had any education, nor having read enough  – he saw the piles of books in our apartment. He’s glad his children had the opportunity to study. One of them will soon be an engineer.

His sons and daughters ask him:

“Papà, had you been born again, what job would you do?”
“The mason.”
“Papà, the mason again?”
“Yes, the mason. That’s the thing I love most.”

[to be continued]

A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (2). Is a Roman ‘Race’ Surviving?

Arch of Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus
Arch of Titus Flavius Vespasianus at the Roman Forum. Click for credits and a larger picture

Lichanos
But I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!

MoR
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe [see below the ethnicity thing.]

Are they Roman, Jew or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears.

I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …

An irony? Roman-ness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.

I’ll try to explain this roman-ness concept the way I see it.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

A. Being Roman in antiquity meant an ethnic thing only in early Republican times. With the late Republic and the Empire “Rome” and its territories became a huge melting pot, more or less like America today (Pompey had Celtic blood and Cato the younger had a slave among his ancestors.)

Very strong cultural traits [one can check ‘Romanitas’ in any history manual] were transmitted to Berbers, Greeks, Syrians, Jews, Gauls, Spaniards, South and West Germans, Romanians etc. Even the class of the emperors was multi-ethnic, and polytheism made every creed and religion accepted. Focusing on Rome only, it was additionally populated by so many slaves coming from anywhere that it is foolish to think in terms of a Roman “race” surviving today.

B. Being Roman today. As for Romanness today, I clearly feel connections between an ancient Roman and a Roman of today.

The ancient Roman populace progressively lost its simplicity, temperance and character. Even the poor were proud of living in Rome (the Jews were among the poor) and had ‘panem et circenses’ without any merit.

Privileged and spoiled compared to other folks they became bit by bit crass, indolent, cynical, blasphemous, braggart, with a couldn’t-care-less attitude towards anything.

They nonetheless retained bits of magnanimity, of a sense of universalism, and a good nature and compassion that comes from the ancient Romans (yes, the Romans were compassionate and had a good nature).

The Roman actor Aldo Frabrizi
The Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi, a modern Roman icon

Their vulgar Latin turned little by little into this loose modern dialect that is either loved unconditionally or hated in this country, and which can be terribly concise and abrupt. The true Roman – a species dying out – doesn’t speak that much, he is ironic, full of humour, and can knock you out with very few words, as the Calcagnis, my grandmother’s family, could do (and did).

We are all sons of the base empire a bit! But in our decadence there’s vitality and toughness – some old Romans look like lions and jump off the Tiber bridges even in their 70s.

The modern Roman verve is well depicted in *Carlo Calcagni’s memoirs*.

And, when Leone Limentani the Jew exclaimed: “The edict doesn’t forbid me!”- it was a typically Roman (more than Jewish) scene [see the previous post for it.]

A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (1) The Roman Jews

A view of Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1729-1778)
A view of Rome. Etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1729-1778). Click for credits and larger picture

The previous post on the Roman Jews had kicked off an interesting conversation with readers and especially with Lichanos on a theme central in this blog: Romanness past and present.

Huge topic, I know.

Lichanos’ energizing comments have though compelled me to clarify and integrate what I had in mind. I really thank ALL my readers for their contribution. Discussion helps to clarify and enrich lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (see my method post.)

My friend Mario has told me recently: “You are exploiting your commentatori”.

Roman-like, and using polite words in my translation, I told him he better shut his helluva mouth up.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

MoR
So what Davide Limentani said is probably true: the Roman Jews are the most ancient Romans surviving. The origin of their roman-ness appears to be prior to the era of the Flavian Emperors. Actually Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years!

Lichanos
I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!

MoR
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe.

Are they Roman, Jewish or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears. I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …

An irony? Romanness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.

Lichanos
Touché! The stereotype inverted! I was thinking it was ironic because Jews are usually thought of as the “other – not us” group, so it seemed ironic that they would be the most Roman. Of course the Jews are the most Roman, stands to reason given their history there…

MoR
Jews … usually thought of as the “other – not us” group
A bit being due to elements of the Jewish culture, people who see the Jews as aliens are either racist, stupid or narrow-minded (I’ll bypass the religious fanatics). Variety is what makes life interesting! Plus they are usually very intelligent, which is not bad these days.

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My personal take on Romanness has been pruned from the above conversation for the sake of readability. See the upcoming post for it. The Roman Jews (2) writing will soon follow.