Titus coin

This coin of Titus, one of many variations minted in celebration of the defeat of the Jewish rebels in 70 CE, depicts a Roman commander standing triumphant on one side of a date palm (Rome's symbol for Judaea), and a seated captive in chains on the other. It is clearly inscribed with the words Iudea capta. (photo by P. Chabot)

Juvenal's reaction against Jews arises from a triple prejudice:

  1. against all foreigners who, through migration and slavery, came to Rome in large numbers, literally taking the place of natives by transforming the city to their own uses and customs;
  2. against their affinity with the Greeks with whom Jews shared a language (Koine Greek) and home in the troubled eastern empire;
  3. against their "otherness," which, despite successful Jewish assimilation, was stamped on them by their strict monotheism, their observation of the Sabbath, their practice of circumcision, and their obedience to the laws of Moses.

Tacitus' description of Jewish practices in Historiae 5.4-5 reflects a hostility which may have been common and long-standing (although in Greek, Flavius Josephus' Against Apion, The Wars of the Jews, and The Life of Flavius Josephus provide a more balanced picture of Jewish life under the Romans). Jews increasingly settled in the West after Pompey's conquest of Judea in 63 BCE. While Jews enjoyed special status under Caesar and Augustus, in 19 CE Tiberius expelled them from Rome, conscripting thousands into the army. Claudius in 41 banned them from gathering for religious purposes and then later expelled them for rioting. Jewish presence in Rome grew again after 70, with the capture of Jerusalem; as a result, Vespasian imposed a religious tax on every Jew over the age of 3 and Titus celebrated their defeat on coinage and monuments throughout the empire. Localized revolts of Jews under Trajan (115-117) and Hadrian (132-135) brought about punishment for all Jews, who were banned from Jerusalem and from practising circumcision.

arch of Titus

The triumphal procession of Titus with the booty from the Temple at Jerusalem, most clearly the sacred menorah, from the inner south side of the Arch of Titus. (photo by L. Curran)

For a useful summary of information about the Jews under Roman rule, see Margaret Williams, "Jews and Jewish communities in the Roman Empire" in Janet Huskinson, ed., Experiencing Rome: Culture, Identity and Power in the Roman Empire (London: Routledge, 2000).