RES PUBLICA AND THEOKRATIA
DULCE ET DECORUM EST PRO PATRIA MORI. “Sweet it is, and fitting, to die for the fatherland.”1 So wrote Horace, in uncharacteristically sombre mood, about old Roman virtues of endurance, courage, independence and reticence. Thus were the great heroes of the past remembered, those who had died for Rome. The glorious Jewish dead, by contrast, were believed to have given up their lives for God, as in the dreadful tortures inflicted, it was said, during the persecutions which preceded the revolt of the Maccabees in the 160s BCE:
It came to pass also, that seven brothers with their mother were arrested, and compelled by the king to taste swine's flesh forbidden by the law, and were tormented with scourges and whips. But one of them made himself their spokesman, and said, “What do you intend to ask and learn of us? We are ready to die, rather than to transgress the laws of our fathers.” Then the king, being in a rage, commanded pans and cauldrons to be made hot…2
Nonetheless, Jews as much as Romans envisaged their nation as a person. Rome was a goddess, Dea Roma, much worshipped outside Rome but also within the city itself from the time of Hadrian. To see Israel or Jerusalem as similarly divine was of course impossible for Jews, but Israel was envisaged as the spouse of God within the covenant between God and Israel brokered, according to the account in Exodus, by Moses and sealed on Mount Sinai, or as the wayward child of a loving father. In both societies the body politic could be understood through metaphors of health and disease. Sallust described the collapse of morals in Rome during the late Republic: “At first these vices grew slowly; now and then they were punished; finally, when the disease had spread like a deadly plague, the state was changed, and a government second to none in equity and excellence became cruel and intolerable.”3 So too Josephus, writing about the state of Judaean society before the outbreak of war and perhaps reflecting, like Sallust, the historiographic influence of Thucydides: “That period had become somehow so prolific of crime of every description among the Jews that no deed of iniquity was left unperpetrated … Thus everyone, both in private and in public, was sick.” In the 50s CE, as soon as one group of disorders was reduced in Judaea “another part flared up again, as in a sickening body.” Josephus addressed himself rhetorically to Jerusalem in the middle of the Roman siege, when the blood of corpses formed pools in the courts of God: “What misery to equal that, most wretched city, have you suffered at the hands of the Romans, who entered to purge with fire your internal pollutions?”4
The differences between Romans and Jews lay in conceptions of what the state is for. Neither society indulged as much as Greeks had done in the classical and Hellenistic periods in abstract political philosophy and analyses of the structure of the perfect state, but their shared Greek background ensured that some Jews and some Romans reflected on such matters at least a little, and the vocabulary and rhetoric conventional in each society revealed much about their political conceptions. Among Romans, more extended political philosophizing was not unknown, but in the imperial period it tended to take the form, as in Seneca's writings, of personal advice to rulers on ethical conduct and advice to subjects on how to maintain both dignity and morality when deprived of power. Cicero's treatise On the Republic, written in the political chaos of the late Republic, contained an analysis of the constitution of the ideal state along the lines standard in Plato and Aristotle, favouring a constitution which combined monarchy, oligarchy and democracy, an analysis which owed much to his judgement about earlier Roman history and the political turmoil of his own times, but such theoretical discussions were not much favoured under the benevolent rule of the emperors.
For Romans, the state was res publica, literally “the public affair,” an agglomeration of individuals united for the common good but permitting the greatest possible freedom of private ownership and individual political action, especially among the political elite. This was the nature of the “Republic” which Augustus claimed, on his coins issued in 27 BCE, to have restored following the long years of civil war. An objective observer, with the benefit of hindsight, might see Augustus' rule as the restoration of monarchy, which was indeed how the historian Cassius Dio described it in the early third century CE, but Augustus' portrayal of his regime as conservative and traditional precluded any images of revolutionary change. Hence the contrast between Augustus' own boast in the memoir of his achievements that he “refused to accept any office offered [to him] which was contrary to the traditions of our ancestors' and Dio's statement that
the power of both people and Senate passed entirely into the hands of Augustus, and from this time there was, strictly speaking, a monarchy; for monarchy would be the truest name for it, even if two or three men later held the power at the same time. Now, the Romans so detested the name of monarchy that they called their emperors neither dictators nor kings nor anything of this sort. Yet, since the final authority for the government devolves upon them, there needs must be kings.5
Dio's cynicism reflects the hindsight of the two hundred and fifty years of imperial rule which had passed by the time he was writing. In the first century CE the ostentatious deaths of senatorial “martyrs,” who preferred to die rather than compromise their rights to a somewhat spurious liberty which, in essence, involved little more than the right to speak their mind in public, show that some in the political elite continued to keep memories alive of the old ideals of an aristocracy dedicated to the state and prepared to share political power for the sake of the common good. The third element of the mixed constitution envisaged by Cicero, democracy, was hardly an issue at all in the imperial period, even though popular assemblies continued to meet to elect consuls (in normal conditions during the Republic the senior magistrates of the state, with two in office at any one time) and other senior magistrates and to pass laws. In his panegyric of the emperor Trajan, the younger Pliny praised the emperor for the seriousness with which he seemed to take the process of canvassing at the elections, but by his time, the end of the first century CE, the elections were a charade, the results in effect being decided by the favour of the emperor, with real choice delegated only to senators, and even then not for election to the most senior posts. What was left was no more than the vocabulary of democracy. Decisions were taken “by the Senate and people of Rome.” Emperors gloried in their role as tribunes of the plebs, using the years of their tribunician power as the criterion for dating their reigns. Winning popular approval in the hippodrome or in other arenas where emperors appeared in public was sufficiently important for the imperial image to justify immense expense on bread and circuses; only a rash emperor would deliberately provoke the people's hostility as Gaius did when he cried in anger, “I wish the Roman people had only one neck.” The formalities of democracy, which at times had given real power to the assemblies during the power struggles of the Republic, functioned now only as a façade for autocracy under the rule of emperors.6
Josephus, influenced by Thucydides, praised Ananus son of Ananus, the former High Priest who became commander-in-chief of the rebels in Jerusalem in autumn 66 CE, as uniquely a lover of freedom and enthusiast for democracy, but neither individual liberty nor the popular mandate of a majority vote carried the same weight for Jews as for Greeks and Romans. It has even been claimed that the concept of individual freedom is nowhere to be found in the Hebrew Bible, except in the narrow sense of release from slavery. The national freedom created by the Exodus from Egypt turned the Israelites from slaves of Pharaoh into a nation of servants of God. Jews had no formal public assemblies to match those in Rome, and the public assemblies which gave a semblance of authority to leaders in times of crisis did so not in conformity to any national constitution but simply as enthusiastic crowds, vocal in support of their favoured politicians: in 140 BCE the Hasmonaean Simon sought ratification from a “great congregation of the priests, and people, and rulers of the nation, and elders of the country” for his family's usurpation of the high priesthood; Herod in 12 BCE assembled the people in Jerusalem to present to them his three sons, who would be his heirs, although the only function of the crowd was to listen to the speech in which he expressed his affection and hopes for his offspring. Mass meetings seem to have played a significant role in the shifts of power between ambitious politicians during the intrigues in the independent city from 66 to 70 CE, but in all cases the power of the massed people was a brutal political fact rather than an ideal. For Jews, all ideals for the perfect state were expressed in terms of religion and subservience to God.7
Josephus' apologetic treatise Against Apion contained an analysis of Judaism which came as close as a Jew ever came to political theorizing about the nature of such a perfect state:
Some peoples have entrusted the supreme political power to monarchies, others to oligarchies, yet others to the masses. Our lawgiver, however, was attracted by none of these forms of polity, but gave to his constitution the form of what—if a forced expression be permitted— may be termed a “theocracy,” placing all sovereignty and authority in the hands of God. To him he persuaded all to look, as the author of all blessings, both those which are common to all mankind, and those which they had won for themselves by prayer in the crises of their history.8
Josephus seems to have been responsible for inventing in this passage the word “theocracy” (theokratia), which has since had a long history, adapted to many European languages. The term is less easy to translate into classical Hebrew, but both the Bible and Jewish liturgy refer frequently to the image of God as king, and the opposition voiced in the biblical book 1 Samuel to the people of Israel's demand for “a king to govern us like all the nations” was based explicitly on the conflict between rule by a human monarch and rule by God: “And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them …’ ”9 In his discussion of the Jewish constitution inAgainst Apion, Josephus makes it clear that for Jews the rule of God is ideally to be mediated through priests, and especially the High Priest: “Could there be a finer or more equitable polity than one which sets God at the head of the universe, which assigns the administration of its highest affairs to the whole body of priests, and entrusts to the supreme High Priest the direction of the other priests?” Elsewhere, at the end of his Jewish Antiquities, Josephus called this rule by High Priests an aristocracy: “After the death of these kings [Herod and Archelaus], the constitution was an aristocracy, while the High Priests were entrusted with the leadership of the nation.” The terminology may have had an apologetic intent for his gentile readers, since “aristocracy” means “the rule of the best,” and in his description of Moses' legislation, in the fourth book of the Antiquities, Josephus, not yet apparently having thought of “theocracy,” had called the Mosaic constitution an aristocracy: “Aristocracy, with the life that is lived thereunder, is indeed the best: let no craving possess you for another polity, but be content with this, having the laws for your masters and governing all your actions by them; for God is sufficient to be ruler.”10
Josephus did not claim that Jews had in fact always lived under this ideal constitution. On the contrary, he was well aware that they had come under many different forms of government over the years, as he laid out at the beginning of his narrative of the Second Temple period, from the return by some Jews to Jerusalem from exile in Babylonia in the late sixth century BCE to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE:
They dwelt in Jerusalem under a form of government that was aristocracy with oligarchy. For the High Priests were at the head of affairs until the descendants of the Hasmonaean family came to rule as kings. Before the captivity and deportation they were ruled by kings, beginning first with Saul and David, for five hundred and thirty-two years, six months and ten days; and before these kings the rulers who governed them were the men called judges and monarchs, and under this form of government they lived for more than five hundred years after the death of Moses and Joshua the general.11
A priestly aristocracy mediating the commands of God had thus not always been achieved by Jews—indeed, with the Temple destroyed it was no longer in operation at the time when Josephus was writing—but it was the Jewish ideal. The Jewish constitution was sufficiently distinctive to have come to the attention of the sympathetic Greek scholar Hecataeus of Abdera in the time of Alexander the Great, in the late fourth century BCE:
He [Moses] picked out the men of most refinement and with the greatest ability to head the entire nation, and appointed them priests; and he ordained that they should occupy themselves with the Temple and the honours and sacrifices offered to their God. These same men he appointed to be judges of the most important law cases, and entrusted to them the guardianship of the laws and customs. For this reason there is never a king of the Jews, and the leadership of the people is regularly given to whichever priest is regarded as superior to his colleagues in wisdom and virtue. They call this man High Priest, and believe that he acts as a messenger to them of God's commandments. It is he, so they say, who in their assemblies and other gatherings announces what is ordained, and the Jews are so docile in such matters that straightway they fall to the ground and do reverence to the High Priest when he expounds the commandments to them. Added to the end of their laws it is even written that Moses, having heard these things from God, declares them to the Jews.12
It is clear that, for Josephus at least, this role of priests in the mediation of God's rule to his people was crucial, for he was vituperative about the followers of a certain Judas the Galilean who in 6 CE “incited his countrymen to revolt, upbraiding them as cowards for consenting to pay tribute to Romans and after God tolerating mortal lords. This man was a sophist who founded a school of his own which had nothing in common with the others.”13 As we shall see in Chapter 11, the accuracy of Josephus' picture of Judas' “Fourth Philosophy,” its origins, influence and relation to other types of Judaism, is questionable, since his two brief accounts of its doctrines contain blatant contradictions and are supported by evidence from no other source, but his lack of confidence in unmediated divine rule emerged also in his condemnation of the Zealots when in 68 CE they appointed a new High Priest by lot rather than hereditary succession,
asserting that in old days the High Priesthood had been determined by lot; but in reality their action was the abrogation of established practice and a trick to make themselves supreme by getting these appointments into their own hands … By chance the lot fell to one who proved a signal illustration of their depravity … such a country rustic that he scarcely knew what the High Priesthood meant. At any rate they dragged their reluctant victim out of the country and, dressing him up for his assumed part, as on the stage, put the sacred vestments upon him and instructed him how to act in keeping with the occasion. To them this monstrous impiety was a subject for jesting and sport, but the other priests, beholding from a distance this mockery of their law, could not restrain their tears and bemoaned the degradation of the sacred honours.
Despite Josephus' denial of the Zealots' justification for this procedure by citing ancient custom, the use of the lot may have seemed to them a pious means to place the choice in the hands of God.14
In many periods of Jewish history in antiquity this reliance on divine rule mediated through priests coexisted with acceptance of monarchic rule. The Bible describes how Samuel grumbled at the request of the elders of Israel to “appoint us a king to govern us like all the nations,” but still acceded to their demand, however unwillingly.15 The power of the High Priest, even as described by Josephus, was quasi-monarchical, as was that of the patriarch or nasi within the rabbinic movement of the third and fourth centuries CE, and that of the maskil, the Guardian or Master, who presided over the strictly hierarchical assembly of the congregation which both constituted and governed the Dead Sea sect. For over half a century the Hasmonaean High Priests actually arrogated to themselves the title of “King,” partly, no doubt, in imitation of contemporary rulers of other Hellenistic states. Jews were presumably capable of justifying such monarchical rule by reference to the virtue of the monarch, along the same lines as Stoic arguments in defence of kingship: thus Philo praises Moses as leader of all those who joined the Exodus from Egypt on the grounds that he had been “invested with this office and kingship, not like some of those who thrust themselves into positions of power by means of arms and engines of war and strength of infantry, cavalry and navy, but on account of his goodness and his nobility of conduct and the universal benevolence to all which he never failed to show. Further, his office was bestowed upon him by God, the lover of virtue and nobility, as the reward due to him.”16 But such explicit justification for monarchy was rare. Rule by one man seems to have occurred in Jewish society, as in Roman, not as a product of ideology but as a by-product of the thirst for power by individuals—the priestly Hasmonaeans, the Herodians from Idumaea, and the “tyrants,” John of Gischala, Eleazar son of Simon, and Simon son of Gioras, whose internecine scheming for control of Jerusalem in the heady days of independence before the spring of 70 CE Josephus described with horrified distaste, until, as we have seen, the external pressures of the Roman siege forced even the most ambitious into an alliance for the common good, too late to avoid disaster.17
HOW WERE these two very different societies structured? Were the contrasting rationales for Rome and Jerusalem as civic communities in practice reflected in the social ties which mattered for ordinary Jews and Romans? And where differences existed, were they in any way responsible for the hostility which destroyed Jerusalem?
IF THE individuals who expressed sentiments on tombstones and other monuments are any guide to the affectionate relationships which really matter, what people cared most about in imperial Rome was the nuclear family. An epitaph might of course be commissioned only out of a sense of duty to the deceased by a relative or a beneficiary of the estate, but many inscriptions reveal real affection during life between spouses, children, parents and siblings.
The close relationship between spouses is striking, because the legal framework within which Roman marriages operated was quite loose. Marriage was not a sacrament. Technically, all that was required for a man and woman to become husband and wife was for them to cohabit, with each regarding the other as a spouse, and marriages could be contracted and broken with little practical upheaval. On the other hand, as modern experience shows, emotional responses could be more complex. The beginning of a marriage union was marked by elaborate celebrations, at least among the upper classes, and by appeals to the many divinities who surrounded the new couple, to ensure their felicity and fertility. After a ceremony, in which bride and groom had sat, garlanded with flowers, on chairs tied together with wool and covered with the skin of the sheep that had been sacrificed to the gods that morning, and then enjoyed the wedding feast and endured the wedding speeches, they might have to remind themselves that the essence of the day was the witnessing and sealing of a contract which could always be dissolved. On the other hand, the proud boast on some tombstones that a woman had been univira, “a one-man woman,” suggests that it was common to have more than one partner in a lifetime, both because of high mortality among young adults and because divorce was easy and evoked little or no public disapproval. Again, the technicalities of divorce were simple: all that was required was for either husband or wife to announce to their partner that they no longer wished to live together within marriage. In the late Republic and early empire, divorce was so common among aristocrats that Roman practice appears less like monogamy than serial polygamy, one spouse at a time, but it would be wrong to assume as general in the wider Roman population behaviour that, at times at least, was generated more by political than domestic concerns: for instance, in 12 BCE the future emperor Tiberius was required by Augustus to divorce his wife Vipsania Agrippina, of whom he was fond, in order to marry Augustus' daughter Julia.18
On divorce, children stayed with their father. The effect on Roman children of separation from their mother can only be speculated upon, but Romans were well aware of the importance of maternal affection. Literary accounts portray the ideal mother as moral educator of sons. Roman mothers may have had less close relationships with their children than in modern Western societies, particularly if the baby was handed over to a wet-nurse and the child to a paedagogus (child-minder), but there is much evidence of mothers retaining affection and respect through a child's adolescence and into the mother's old age. Seneca wrote of his mother's generosity to him when he started in public life, and when he consoled a certain Marcia for her son, prematurely deceased, he stressed their close ties: “He was left a fatherless ward in the care of guardians until his fourteenth year, but his mother's guardianship lasted all of his life.”19
The perfect nuclear family of father, affectionate wife and mother, and just the right number of healthy children, was a Roman dream, but only rarely a Roman reality. Roman poets often expressed a wish that man and wife might grow old together. Thus Martial in a gentle epigram: “May she love him when once he is old, and may she herself, even when she is old, not seem to be so to her husband.” In fact, however, a typical marriage was likely to end after fewer than twenty years through the death of one of the couple, if it had not ended before through divorce. Since remarriage was common, many children grew up living with stepparents. In Latin literature, the wicked stepmother was often demonized. Conflict generally concerned property: the younger Pliny delivered one of his finest court-room speeches (according to his own estimation) in support of an aristocratic woman “disinherited by her eighty-year-old father ten days after he had fallen in love and brought home a stepmother for his daughter … Fathers, daughters and stepmothers all anxiously awaited the verdict … The stepmother, who had been left under the will a sixth of the estate, lost her case.” But many examples are also attested of cordial relations between children and both stepmothers and stepfathers. There is a striking lack of reference in the sources to conflict between step- and half-siblings, perhaps precisely because it was so normal for children with such relationships to grow up together.20
The willingness of Romans to pay less attention to genetic inheritance than to a legally defined familial relationship, apparent in the number of families with step-relationships, emerges also in the willingness of men to treat their offspring conceived by their female slaves as slaves, and in the common use, at least within the elite, of adoption. Adoption was a practice long established in Rome and regulated by law: a private ritual performed before a magistrate put the adopted person into a legal relationship to the adopter identical to that of a natural child born within wedlock, and on entering the new family the child took on the name and rank of his or her new father and came under the legal power of a new paterfamilias, family head. Much of the surviving evidence for adoption concerns the adoption of adults—the adoptive father might consider this a sensible move since he would be spared the uncertainties of childhood survival and would have a good idea what sort of person he was taking into his family. Augustus himself was adopted by Julius Caesar, albeit posthumously through a stipulation in his will, and the whole series of imperial successions from Nerva in 96 CE to Lucius Verus in 161 was shaped by a series of adoptions by emperors of younger men deemed appropriate successors.
The adoption of adult males suggests that the motivation of the adopter was generally the transfer and control of property or power. Even a Roman citizen who was a bachelor could adopt a son. There is little to suggest that a Roman would wish to adopt a baby for the pleasure of raising a family, as in some modern societies. Some families might house foster-children, known as alumni in the inscriptions, but sometimes only temporarily, and perhaps more for help around the house than to fill an emotional need or create a sentimental attachment: among the many sad epitaphs from Rome which record the piety of sons and daughters of the deceased, almost none were set up by foster-children. Some of those brought up by foster-parents will have been foundlings exposed by their natural parents at birth, and some of them will have lived in their new homes as slaves. Whether the treatment of such babies as slaves was approved by the law was one of the problems put to the emperor Trajan by the younger Pliny, who wanted to know how to decide cases in the province he was governing when the foundlings asserted their right to freedom; an added question was whether foundlings declared free should be required to refund to their former owners the costs incurred in their upbringing. Trajan replied that the issue “has often been discussed”; it was evidently a real problem. In practical terms, a free-born foundling and a slave foundling might live very similar lives as children in a poor household.21
In all but the poorest families, there would always be at least some slaves, and they would be treated as much as part of the family unit as the free children, even if their right to be spared physical abuse was legally inferior. Many Roman writers take for granted the administration of corporal punishment to children, if not by parents then by a slave nurse or paedagogus or, indeed, any adult who felt it would be good for a child's education to be chastised. Seneca's assertion, in an essay on anger (and how to control it), “that it is of the utmost importance that children be raised in the correct manner even if this means harsh punishment,” would have won broad assent among fellow Romans.22 Roman children were treated as vulnerable and in need of protection but also as unformed beings to be controlled, shaped and socialized to prepare them for the adult world. Romans saw childhood, as we do now, as a separate stage of life associated with particular rituals and emotions, although the divisions they made within childhood differed from those familiar in the modern world; they do not, for instance, seem to have recognized adolescence as a special and difficult time for unmarried girls, despite awareness that boys in the period of their iuventus, youth, need to be given greater freedom outside the house. Aninfans (“non-speaking” person) was any child under seven—there is no Latin word that translates simply as “baby.” A newborn was bathed, then swaddled limb by limb to mould it into shape: physical care for the very young inevitably took priority over other concerns when at least half of those children who survived to their first birthday would be dead before they were ten. Few households seem to have been multigenerational, since most grandparents died before their grandchildren reached an age that permitted them to establish close ties, but few households consisted simply of a nuclear family. Slaves, freedmen, stepchildren and others related in one way or another to the father and mother of the family all cohabited and contributed to the life of the house.
The term familia in Latin was quite frequently used to mean the household of slaves on whose work the running of the household depended, but familia could also mean, more formally, either all those in the legal power of one paterfamilias, whether they were relatives or slaves, or all the other blood relations through the male line who at one time had been in his power. In many ways the most distinctive feature of the law governing the private life of Roman citizens was the extraordinarily broad legal power wielded over his extended family by this family head, whose control reached down through the generations and could affect the fortunes of relatives who lived apparently quite separate lives. Any Roman male citizen not himself within the power of an older male relative was by definition himself a paterfamilias with power over all his descendants through his male children. The system ensured a great deal of social stability regardless of the fluidity of marriage relationships and the setting up of independent households. When it came to important decisions, the paterfamilias was in charge. He had total control over those within his jurisdiction: technically, they did not own anything at all, and if they “acquired” anything it passed immediately into his possession. The relationship was lifelong, unless the paterfamilias chose to emancipate a child, or a girl was transferred, as sometimes happened, to the jurisdiction of her husband's paterfamilias when she was married. Marriage was only permitted with his consent and he could insist on a divorce.
Thus all adult Roman citizen women and some adult Roman citizen men spent their entire lives without winning full control over their own destinies. That this was not even more common for adult men was the result of low life expectancy: since far more adults died between the ages of twenty and forty than in modern societies, and survival through to the sixties and beyond was rare, twenty-year-olds might find themselves without older male relatives to exercise legal constraint over their lives. When young adult males did find themselves still without power to make their own decisions about marriage or money, tensions between the generations could become acute. Romans were well aware of this possibility, which provided stock situations in Roman exercises in the techniques of oratory, as in a knotty problem posed for students by the elder Seneca at the start of his Controversiae:
Children should support their parents, or be imprisoned. Two brothers quarrelled among themselves. One had a son. The uncle fell on hard times. Although his father forbade him to do so, the young man supported his uncle; for this reason, his father disinherited him, and he did not protest. His uncle adopted him. His uncle received an inheritance and became wealthy. His father began to fall on hard times. Although his uncle forbids him to do so, the young man supports his father. His uncle is now disinheriting him.
What arguments could the young man use to justify what he had done?23
In legal theory a paterfamilias had far more extreme powers of life and death, and Romans told stories of their virtuous ancestors who had executed their sons in the interests of the state. Even in the first century CE Augustus' marriage laws permitted apaterfamilias in very specific circumstances to kill his daughter if he caught her in an act of adultery. But by the early empire such legally condoned violent exercise of control belonged mostly in the realm of folk memory, tempered by ties of affection and gentler custom, except in one case which was still common: it was the paterfamilias whose decision about a newborn infant decreed whether it should be raised or left to die (about which more in Chapter 6). For a Roman to beat his spouse and children as he felt free to beat his slaves was evidently, though legal in the name of “discipline,” not normal. Romans took pride in being good, gentle fathers and husbands. In the mid-second century BCE Cato the Censor “used to say,” according to his biographer Plutarch, “that the man who struck his wife or child laid hands on what was most holy and sacred.”24 Clearly such treatment was conceivable but it was not, it seems, socially respectable. For most teenage or adult Romans, more real than physical violence was the possibility of disinheritance.A paterfamilias had wide rights to dispose of his property as he pleased by testament and could explicitly disinherit a son in his will: by the early empire, a son could appeal to a magistrate against such a will as “undutiful,” but without certainty of success.
The familia—siblings, cousins, uncles, nephews, nieces on the male side of the family—provided the social base for most Roman citizens, from which they could expect, even if they did not always receive, support and patronage. Wider kinship ties, though formally recognized, had less impact on social relationships. A Roman citizen belonged by definition to a gens or clan which provided a central element to his or her name: hence the emperors were Iulii, Claudii and Flavii during the first century CE, signifying their membership of the Julian, Claudian and Flavian gentes. Aristocratic Romans who shared membership of a particular gens might occasionally in the late Republic call on each other for support, believing themselves descended from a common ancestor and linked by communal cults or shared burial places: “The bonds of common blood hold men fast through good-will and affection; for it means much to share in common the same family monuments, to use the same sacred rites, to have common tombs.”25 This was what Cicero wrote, but in Rome a century later there is little evidence that those who shared the name of a gens shared anything more than the name itself. It did not help that freedmen took the name of their former masters and that newly enfranchised citizens were free to choose what name they liked, often opting for the name of the ruling emperor—hence huge numbers of Romans with Julius, Claudius or Fla-vius in their names.
Those born as Roman citizens also inherited membership of one of the Roman tribes. In the early Republic, allocation to a tribe had been by virtue of place of residence, with Roman territory divided by the mid-third century BCE between four urban and thirty-one rustic tribes, but from 241 BCE, as citizenship was extended throughout Italy and beyond, no new tribes were created, new citizens being assigned to existing tribes, and any sense that members of a tribe represented any particular region was much diluted. In any case, tribal affiliation, in the Republic a matter of genuine significance as voting units in political assemblies, became a formality in the early empire. It was standard for a Roman citizen to include his tribe in his name on formal inscriptions, and provincials admitted to Roman citizenship were still all assigned to one tribe or another, but the rules for assigning one new citizen to a particular tribe and another to a different one are obscure, and in practice belonging to one particular tribe rather than another made no difference at all.26
DESPITE SOME surface similarities, the structure of Jewish society was very different from that of Rome. Jews, like Romans, believed that they had once been divided into tribes, and the symbolic notion of the twelve tribes still mattered to them despite their belief that ten of the twelve had been carried out of the land of Israel by the Assyrians in the eighth century BCE and had not returned. As Josephus puts it, “there are two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while until now there have been ten tribes beyond the Euphrates—countless myriads whose number cannot be ascertained.”27 According to Rabbi Akiva as cited in the Mish-nah, “the ten tribes will not return again” to the land of Israel.28 Others were more optimistic: according to the author of Acts, Paul spoke before the Jewish king Agrippa II about “the hope of the promise made to our fathers, to which promise our twelve tribes, intensely serving God, hope to come.”29 But these were pious wishes for an eschatological future. In the present, in Jerusalem in the first century CE, few referred to their own tribal origin. Paul himself was a rather surprising exception, describing himself as “an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” and “of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews”; the tribal affiliation was perhaps part of the generally archaic tone of these self-descriptions, intended to lend weight to his claim to Jewish respectability.30
The general decline in importance of tribes may well be in part a result of conversions to Judaism over the centuries. Unlike new Roman citizens, new Jews do not seem to have been assigned to any tribe, but the fact that (for instance) Herod the Great, descended from an Idumaean proselyte, belonged to no tribe did not make him less a Jew. Tribal affiliation mattered only for the members of the tribe of Levi, since, as we have seen, Levites and priests (a subgroup of the tribe, the descendants of Aaron) exercised, by right of birth, important duties in the Jerusalem Temple, and, in the case of the priests, enjoyed considerable concomitant privileges. On the other hand, there is nothing to suggest social solidarity between priests, let alone between priests and their fellow members of the tribe of Levi. On the contrary, Josephus describes how the servants of rich High Priests in his day “would go to the threshing floors and take by force the tithes of the priests … so it happened at that time that those of the priests who in olden days were maintained by the tithes now starved to death.” Josephus, himself a priest (as he proudly informs his readers), remarks with disgust the innovation in the early 60s CE which allowed non-priestly Levites to dress like priests: “Those of the Levites—this is a tribe—who were singers of hymns urged the king to convene a council and get them permission to wear linen robes on equal terms with the priests … All this was contrary to the ancestral laws, and such transgression was bound to make us liable to punishment.”31
Where Jewish society differed greatly from Roman in the early imperial period was in the role, or lack of role, of the extended family. It had not always been so. In biblical texts from Genesis onwards, the extended family, the mishpaha, had played a central role similar to that of the Roman familia, both in the sense that the family included not only those related by blood ties but also slaves and hired servants, and in the sense that all those who looked back to a common father figure felt a sense of solidarity with each other. The law in the biblical book of Leviticus envisaged that if a relative had been forced by penury to sell himself into slavery, “either his uncle, or his uncle's son, may redeem him, or any near kinsmen belonging to his family may redeem him.” Jacob's family was described as including his sons, their little ones, their wives, his sons' sons, his daughters, and his sons' daughters, “all his offspring … sixty-six persons in all,” not counting his sons' wives. The decline of such extended families as central units in Jewish society is well illustrated by changing attitudes to the law in Deuteronomy that, if a man died without children, his brother had a duty to “perpetuate a name in Israel” for his dead sibling by marrying his brother's widow (a process known as “Levirate marriage”). The rabbis cited in the Mishnah stated quite explicitly that this law was no longer appropriate in their day.32
There is thus not much trace, apart from the history of royal courts, of such extended families living as units in Jewish society in the first century CE, nor of cousins, apart from those of the Herodian family, acting together as a social unit. Herod relied on family members for political support, appointing his brother Pheroras and his uncle (and brother-in-law) Joseph to positions of authority, and linking members of his wider family by marriage to each other, but he behaved in this way not because it was standard among contemporary Jews but because he did not want to give power to outsiders who might have more natural authority with the Judaean population than he, as an Idumaean, could muster. In any case, as a despotic monarch and a Roman citizen, Herod could wield all the power of a Roman paterfamilias, but ordinary male Jews could not. The chilling account of treatment of rebellious sons as laid down in Deuteronomy amounts not to affirmation of parental power but to its restriction, since the affronted parents handed over punishment to the wider community:
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and although they chastise him, will not give heed to them, then shall his father and his mother take hold of him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, “This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” And all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones: so you shall purge the evil from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Early rabbinic interpretation of this custom, as found in the Mishnah, makes clear that it was not in operation in their time. They restricted its application to teenage boys on the cusp of adulthood, “from the time that he can produce two hairs until he grows a beard (the lower one and not the upper one; howbeit the sages spoke in modest language), for it is written, ‘If a man have a son’;—a son and not a daughter.” Despite the optimistic view expressed in the Mishnah that the law if it was applied would ultimately be of benefit to the son—“for the death of the ungodly is a benefit to them and a benefit to the world”—the rabbis cited in the Tosefta in the mid-third century CE believed that “a stubborn and rebellious son never was and never will be.”33
The different approaches of Jews and Romans to sexual unions which might be construed as incest neatly reflect the different assumptions on which kinship relations in the two societies were based. One family relationship seemed too close for marriage to some in both Jerusalem and Rome while being permitted by others: both Jews and Romans forbade marriage between a man and his aunt, but were more ambivalent over whether a man could marry his niece. Such marriages were illegal at Rome until the emperor Claudius changed the rules to permit himself to marry his niece Agrippina, daughter of his brother Germanicus, whose popularity would bring him much-needed political support. Tacitus records the doubts of the nation: “marriage with a niece was unprecedented—indeed it was incestuous, and disregard of this might, it was feared, cause national disaster.” Objections were overcome by a speech to the Senate by Lucius Vitellius, who held the censorship alongside Claudius: “Marriages to the daughters of our brothers are new to us. Yet in other countries they are regular and lawful. Here also, unions between cousins, long unknown, have become frequent in course of time. Customs change as utility requires, and this innovation too will take root.” This latter observation was perhaps Tacitean irony, since in Tacitus' own day, in 97 CE, the emperor Nerva had prohibited marriage to a niece. In Jewish society, by contrast, the issue of uncle-niece marriage revolved, characteristically, around interpretation of the Bible. The list of forbidden relationships laid out in Leviticus included that of a woman with her nephew, and the Dead Sea sectarians apparently deduced from this by analogy that a man should not marry his niece, who is his “near kin”: “though the laws against incest are written for men, they also apply to women. When, therefore, a brother's daughter uncovers the nakedness of her father's brother, she is near kin [and therefore forbidden].” By contrast, the rabbis in the Tosefta insisted that it was not only legal for an uncle to marry his niece, but that “a man should not take a wife until the daughter of his sister has grown up.”34
Even more than in Roman society, among Jews the main unit for domestic life was the nuclear family, which also often had an economic role: early rabbinic texts envisage that a man might set up his wife as a shopkeeper, or a couple might go together to the harvest or olive-picking or vintage; by contrast, they have nothing to say about relations between a woman and her mother-in-law or about property relations between a man and his father, although in Jewish law, unlike Roman, a man could own his property outright in his father's lifetime. The father in a nuclear family was responsible simply for the welfare of his wife and children: whatever his wife earned belonged to him, and, although rabbinic texts presuppose that women participated in public economic life such as selling goods in the market, the standard duties assumed for a wife were entirely domestic, “grinding flour and baking bread and washing clothes and cooking food and giving suck to her child and making ready his bed and working in wool”; women could indeed gain a certain financial independence, but only under male supervision.35
Evidence for the operation of family law in Jewish society in the early centuries CE has been much enhanced in recent years by the discovery and publication of numerous legal documents unearthed from caves in the Judaean desert: marriage contracts, wills, divorce documents and deeds of sale show real life in action among Jews in the province of Arabia in the first half of the second century CE, although it is hard to know to what extent custom among such Jews, whose communities were not in the centre of Jewish settlement, reflected Jewish life in the capital city of Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed. There is a danger that our entire picture of how families worked in Jewish society may depend on the convoluted relationships revealed in the large cache of documents which belonged to a certain Babatha, who hid her most important papers in a leather bag and deposited them in a cave some time soon after August 132 CE, which is the date of the latest document in the bundle. Babatha had been twice married and widowed, and she was rich. Her papers reveal that she was able to own extensive property in her own right, but that she could only control her property through a male guardian, since she had no right to represent herself in court in person.36 This last at least was probably true of all Jewish women.
In general, it appears both from these documents and from the legal rulings preserved in the rabbinic tradition that in much of their family law in the first centuries CE Jews followed more or less the same practices as their non-Jewish contemporaries, just stressing the biblical warrant for some of those practices in order for them to appear more Jewish. In Jewish society, as in Roman, marriage was a contract rather than a sacrament in the Christian sense, but it was marked by a process of betrothal known in the Mish-nah as kiddushin, “consecration” of the bride to the groom, which could be achieved “by money or by writ or by intercourse”—that is, by the man ceremonially handing over a sum of money or a document of betrothal, or by the couple living together for the purpose of betrothal; according to the rabbinic rulings, these actions needed to be accompanied by a statement of purpose from the groom: “Be you betrothed to me with this silver dinar.” The terms of the marriage contract were written down in a document agreed with the groom by the bride's father or other male guardian. The contract laid down most importantly the rights of the bride to maintenance in the event that she was widowed or divorced. Such contracts, embodying important safeguards for women on their transfer from parental to marital home, are unknown in the Bible but were evidently standard, at least among Jews in the land of Israel, by the late Second Temple period. A number of such documents have been found in the Judaean desert, including the cache preserved by Babatha. They exhibit some variety in terminology and also in the precise conditions laid down for the contract, but the general pattern, which exhibits much in common with contemporary Greek marriage contracts known from Egypt, is clear. In early rabbinic texts such marriage deeds are taken for granted and only the details disputed. The deed was known simply as a ketubah, “written document,” as if this was the only sort of written text standard in Jewish society. The term was also used by transference to refer to the amount of money a wife might be guaranteed by the document on divorce: “The ketubah of a virgin is two hundred denars, and of a widow one mina. ”37
Prenuptial agreements with arrangements for terms on divorce were thus standard in Jewish marriages by this period, suggesting a general acceptance of the possibility of breakdown of marriage much as in contemporary Rome, but there is also much evidence, as in Rome, that the marriage bond was viewed as far more emotional than the dry legalities might suggest. The wedding itself involved processions, feasting and dancing—the Mishnah records the prohibition of such rejoicing by the rabbis in the war of 66– 70: “During the war of Vespasian they forbade the crowns of the bridegrooms and the [wedding] drum.” More significantly perhaps, both the prophets in the Bible and the rabbis used marriage as a symbol of perfect relationships, such as Israel and Torah, Israel and the Sabbath, and Israel and God: “I remember the devotions of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness.”38
Thus divorce was not considered desirable, but it was recognized by Jews as possible, as sanctioned by the Torah, and, despite occasional denunciation of men for putting away “the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (so wrote the prophet Malachi), as no reason for shame for either party.39 The process differed from that in Rome in the general rule, rather crucial for wives, that divorce could only be effected at the behest of the husband. The procedure as outlined in Deuteronomy is simple: “When a man has taken a wife and marries her, and it comes to pass that she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes for her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife …”40 According to the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph was minded to divorce Mary when she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit: “Joseph, her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away quietly.”41 Discussion among the early rabbis centred only on the nature of the “indecency” in the wife which sufficed to justify divorce, with views ranging from trivial misdemeanours to serious sexual transgression: “The School of Sham-mai say: ‘A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her’ … And the School of Hillel say: ‘Even if she spoiled a dish for him …’ Rabbi Akiva says: ‘Even if he found another fairer than her.’ ” Each view was supported, naturally enough, by a Bible text, read differently in each case to fit the interpretation.42
The Herodian princess Salome took the initiative in divorcing her husband, the Idumaean Costobar, but she was presumably following Roman rather than Jewish law, since she at least was a Roman citizen through her father: in the words of Josephus, she “had occasion to quarrel with Costobar and soon sent him a document dissolving their marriage, which was not in accordance with Jewish law. For it is the man who is permitted by us to do this, and not even a divorced woman may marry again on her own initiative unless her former husband consent.”43 It is possible that early rabbinic opposition to unilateral divorce by wives arose out of a concern that Jewish women who were Roman citizens might more generally take such advantage of the more liberal provisions of Roman law. On the other hand, some early rabbis envisaged the wider community compelling a husband to give his wife a bill of divorce in certain circumstances, at her request: “These are they that are compelled to put away their wives: he that is afflicted with boils, or that has a polypus, or that collects [dog's excrements], or that is a coppersmith or a tanner … It once happened in Sidon that a tanner died and had a brother who was a tanner. The Sages said: ‘She may say, “Your brother I could endure; but you I cannot endure.’ ”44
Jewish mothers, like Roman women, were vulnerable to losing contact with their children on divorce, since the offspring of a marriage would stay with the father, but this drastic blow, and the alienating loss of self-esteem that must have been a natural corollary of return from the marital household to the paternal home left months or years earlier amid celebrations and rejoicing, might sometimes be avoided by the husband resorting to bigamy rather than divorce, an option not open to contemporary gentile Romans. Most notorious of Jewish polygamists in this period is Herod the Great, whose ten wives were clearly reckoned unusual, since they provoked the comment from Josephus that all had been “chosen for their beauty and not for their family, since marrying many was permitted by Jewish custom and the king enjoyed having many.” Herod was not, however, alone, for, as Josephus writes elsewhere in less disapproving fashion, “it is an ancestral custom of ours to have several wives at the same time.”45 The rabbis in the Mishnah envisaged the problems when a man married to four wives died: “the [claim of the] first wife comes before that of the second, that of the second before that of the third, and that of the third before that of the fourth… .”46 The Christian Justin Martyr fulminated in the mid-second century CE to the Jew Trypho about “your blind teachers, who even still now agree that each of you can have four or five wives.”47 To the Christian such polygamy was shocking, and at least some Jews seem to have agreed: theTemple Scroll found at Qumran laid down, among the statutes incumbent on a king, that “he shall take a wife for himself from his father's house, from his father's family. He shall not take another wife in addition to her, for she alone shall be with him all the time of her life.”48 By contrast, one view cited in the Mishnah was that the rule laid down in Deuteronomy that the king should not “multiply wives to himself” should be interpreted to mean that he must restrict himself to just eighteen.49 It may reflect Greek, or even Roman, influence that the practice of polygamy seems in fact to have been rather rare among Jews in Judaea. None of Herod's male descendants is known to have been married to more than one wife at a time, and all stories about early rabbis presuppose monogamy. However, the rich widow Babatha, whose documents were found in the Judaean desert, married a second husband, Judah, who already had a wife, Miriam. The two women seem to have kept separate households: in a summons, dated 9 July 131 CE, to appear before the provincial governor, Babatha accuses Miriam of seizing everything in Judah's house after his death, to which Miriam replies that she had previously warned Babatha to stay away from Judah's possessions.50
Among Jews, then, as among Romans, the nuclear family unit could be quite complex, with stepparents, children from previous marriages, and others all part of the household. Jews, like Romans, could expect to employ slaves, except in the poorest families. All Jewish sources of this period suggest that Jews took the ownership of slaves as entirely normal, apart from the Essenes who, according to Philo, “condemn slave-owners as unjust in that they offend against equality, but still more as ungodly, in that they transgress the law of nature which, having given birth to all men equally and nourished them like a mother, makes of them true brothers, not in name but in reality”;51 Josephus also remarks that the Essenes did not own slaves, “since they believe that [slave ownership] contributes to injustice.”52 The rabbinic texts, by contrast, envisage slaves as integrated into domestic life and discuss legal safeguards for their well-being. Tabi, slave of Rabban Gamaliel, was a household servant. To clinch an argument that the Passover offering can be roasted on a grill, Rabbi Zadok is cited in the Mishnah as noting that Rabban Gamaliel once told his slave Tabi to go and do just that. He lived in close proximity to his master. “If a man sleeps under a bed in the Sukkah [the booth used as a temporary dwelling on the festival of Tabernacles] he has not fulfilled his obligation … Tabi, the slave of Rabban Gamaliel, slept under the bed, and Rabban Gamaliel said to the elders, ‘You have seen Tabi, my slave, that he is a learned scholar, and knows that slaves are exempt from [the law of] the Sukkah; and so he sleeps under the bed.’ ” Tabi, however, was exceptional. When he died, Rabban Gamaliel “accepted condolence because of him. They said to him, ‘Master, did you not teach us that men may not accept condolence for slaves?’ He replied, ‘My slave Tabi was not like other slaves; he was a worthy man.’ ”53
Slaves thus formed part of the family, but, unlike in Roman households, there was not likely to be a gaggle of slave children, the offspring of the master and his maidservants. Sexual abuse of female slaves undoubtedly occurred, but such behaviour was generally treated as disgraceful. Despite the biblical prototypes of Abraham and Hagar, and many others, ordinary Jews by this date no longer openly had slave concubines alongside their wives. The Hasmonaean king Alexander Jannaeus in the early first century BCE, who, according to Josephus, “feasted with his concubines in a conspicuous place” while he ordered the crucifixion of eight hundred of his Jewish opponents, seems to have been following the custom of Hellenistic monarchs rather than Jewish practice. There is no evidence that ordinary Jews set up home with their female slaves as, in effect, common-law wives, as seems to have been quite common among poorer Romans.54
One complication common in Roman families seems to have been unknown among Jews, and that was adoption from another family. No such adoption laws are to be found in the Hebrew Bible, although, as elsewhere in the ancient Near East, a father might decide to “adopt” as a legitimate heir one of his own sons by a concubine. The precise relationship of Naomi in the book of Ruth to Ruth's baby Obed looks rather like adoption—“Boaz took Ruth … and she bore a son … and Naomi took the child, and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse, and the women her neighbours gave him a name, saying, ‘There is a son born to Naomi.’ And they called his name Obed”—but since Obed was already her grandson by the law of Levirate marriage, “son” may mean no more than that.55 The assertion in the book of Esther that Mordechai brought up his orphaned cousin Esther and “took her for his own daughter” looks more like real adoption, but it is noticeable that the Hebrew text consistently refers to their relationship as cousins; if she had been adopted in the Roman sense, she would have referred to Mordechai, rather than her real parent Abihail, as her father.56 In any case, adoption is unknown in late Second Temple and rabbinic texts. A foundling might be fostered, but he or she could not take on a new identity as a full member of the foster family. For Jews it remained always crucial to retain the memory of actual parentage. In theory gentiles who converted to Judaism became radically new individuals and severed all connection with their previous families, but this did not prevent rabbinic sages, as reported in the Palestinian Talmud, from debating whether a gentile man married incestuously to his sister should divorce her if he became a proselyte. His sister was still his sister, even if he had been “born again.”57
Within the nuclear family, education of children was primarily the duty of the father, and the use of corporal punishment of children to inculcate teachings was taken for granted as much by Jews as by Romans. Rabbinic texts enjoin the father to give practical as well as ethical instruction: “The sages said: ‘By the law of the Torah a man is obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem him [if he be a first-born], to teach him Torah, and to teach him a trade, and to get him a wife.’ Rabbi Akiva says: ‘Also to teach him how to swim.’ ” In the highly moralistic version of the story of the revolt of the Maccabees to be found in the edifying philosophical work known as 4 Maccabees, the mother of the seven sons about to be martyred exhorts them to stand fast by reminding them of their father, who had taught them the Law and the Prophets: “He read to you of Abel, killed by Cain, of Isaac, offered as a burnt-offering, and of Joseph, in prison. He spoke to you of the zealous Phineas, and taught you about Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael in the fire”; she says nothing about the teachings she herself had provided. Relations of mothers with daughters may have been closer but they will often have been curtailed, as in Roman society, by the transfer of girls soon after puberty to the houses of their husbands.58
The nuclear family in Jewish society was thus controlled by the father as much as in Roman society, but in one area of life, religion, the role of Jewish women in the family was much more important than that of Roman matronae. Most of the religious activities in a Roman house were performed by men, but for Jews the process of keeping many of the laws in the Torah required, in essence, doing housework in a particular way, and, among Jews as among Romans, housework was women's work. Most obviously, the rules for the preparation of kosher food fell above all on the women in a household. What this would mean in practice would depend on the kind of Judaism espoused by the family (which, in turn, would make it hard for most women to attach themselves to groups different from their husbands). The wife of a haver, “fellow,” who piously took upon himself only to eat food which could be guaranteed properly tithed and who would only eat in the state of purity usually reserved for priests eating sacred foodstuffs, would presumably have a harder time than the wife of a Sadducee who only took upon himself the written laws found in the Bible; but, even so, the task of turning the home into a locus of sanctity to a great extent rested with her. It is not accidental that the three transgressions for which, according to the Mishnah, women die in childbirth, involve the purity of the marriage bed, the preparation of food, and a failure to designate correctly within the house the sacred time of the Sabbath: “heedless-ness of the laws of the menstruant, the dough-offering, and the lighting of the lamp.” On the other hand, although the women lit the lamp which proclaimed the start of the festival on which all manner of work would cease, the rabbis assumed that it was her husband who told her to do so: “Three things must a man say within his house when darkness is falling on the eve of Sabbath: ‘Have you tithed?’, ‘Have you prepared the eruh?’ and, ‘Light the lamp.’ ”59
FRIENDSHIPS, PATRONAGE AND COMMUNITY
NEITHER JEWS nor Romans in the first century CE had as strongly developed a sense of distinction between public and private life as we now take for granted, so these differences in the ordering of Jewish households might in principle come to be known to Romans, although it is hard to see why they should lead to hostility (and no evidence that they did so). More likely to arouse comment, admiring or disdainful, would be the way Jews helped each other even when they were not kin. But in fact Roman ties between friends could be just as binding as those of Jews, even if they were based on different principles.
Roman friendships could be marked quite formally, especially among the upper class, creating ties of obligation which could last a lifetime and beyond, to the next generation. Cicero's treatise On Friendship reveals a whole discourse about what it entailed and should entail: “We now have to determine in our discussion of friendship what are the limits and, so to speak, the boundary lines of affection … It is your duty on every occasion to consider carefully both what you will demand from a friend and what you will permit him to obtain when he makes a demand on you.” The making and breaking of friendships were clear-cut. Romans knew precisely who they thought of as their friends. The signs of friendship were universally recognized—admission to the salutatio, the morning welcoming ritual in the house of a rich man; invitations to dine; a mention in a will, even if only for a small bequest. Hoping for bequests seems to have been a preoccupation among some in the circle of the younger Pliny in Rome, probably less because they needed the money than as recognition of their social links. If Latin literature in the early empire seems to put a remarkable degree of emphasis upon such tokens of esteem, it was partly because they pointed to relationships of greater social significance—the way to advancement in a career, the link to a successful marriage—but also because they were vulnerable to caprice when friendships were unequal. In practice, a friend was often either a patron or a client, to be helped or to be applied to as a source of help himself. The tact required in relationships between real equals, to avoid giving offence, was all the more exquisite.60
In contrast to the vocabulary of friendship required between friends themselves, in describing to third parties a friendship between unequals Romans did not hesitate to use the language of patronage, which the Greek observer Dionysius of Halicarnassus described in the time of Augustus as a distinctive feature of Roman life that went back to the time of Romulus, who “placed the plebeians as a trust in the hands of the patricians, by allowing every plebeian to choose for his patron any patrician whom he himself wished … [and] assigned friendly offices to both parties, thus making the connection between them a bond of kindness.” It was, as Dionysius noted, a practice much preferable to similar relationships among the Greeks, in which abuse or contempt for the poor led all too often to class warfare. Nonetheless, the unequal relationship could be demeaning for the client forced to wait to be noticed; humiliation may indeed sometimes have been intended as a way to emphasize his inferiority. Moralizing Romans like the younger Seneca complained about such boorish behaviour at a salutatio:
How many are there who keep away their clients by staying asleep, or by self-indulgence, or by being rude? How many are there who rush off on a pretence of urgent business after torturing the client by a long wait? How many avoid going through an atrium packed with clients and escape through a concealed door, as if it were not ruder to deceive than to exclude? How many, still hung-over and half-asleep from last night's drinking, will yawn disdainfully at men who have interrupted their own sleep in order to wait upon his awakening, and will mumble a greeting through half-open lips, bestowing the right name only after it has been whispered to them?61
The younger Pliny notes with distaste the perpetration of similar snubs by an acquaintance who gave different food to his dinner guests depending on their status: “For he served the best dishes to himself and a few guests, but cheap and paltry portions to the others … There was one wine for himself and us, another for his lesser friends (for he has his friends graded), and a third kind for his and our freedmen.” Pliny goes on to insist that he himself advocates equality at dinner: “I serve the same to everyone, for when I invite guests it is for a meal, not to be marked by class distinctions. I have brought them as equals to the same table, so I give them the same treatment in everything—even the freedmen, for on these occasions I regard them as my fellow diners, not freedmen.”62 Part of the delicacy involved in talking about patronage between free-born Romans derived from the need to distinguish their link from the formalized dutifulness of the freedman, who in practice might be more a part of his patron's household than of his own and might end up, if he remained in his patron's good books, buried in the family tomb.
Beyond such friendships between individuals, some Romans attached themselves to voluntary associations which might provide them with a social circle quite separate from family (though not necessarily in conflict with it). There were many different kinds of club, from the circle of intense worshippers of Mithras or Isis to the more mundane self-help group of poorer citizens who banded together to pay for each other's funeral. Many of these associations are known only from the detailed rules of conduct for members which, in characteristically Roman fashion, they often liked to display engraved on stone:
It was decided unanimously that anyone who wished to join this club should pay an initiation fee of a hundred sesterces and an amphora of good wine. Then each month he should pay five asses. It was also decided that if any member has not paid his fair share for six months in a row, and then meets death, arrangements will not be made for his funeral, even if he has made a will. It was also decided that if any member of this club has paid his dues regularly and then dies, three hundred sesterces will be allotted from the club treasury for his funeral. From this amount fifty sesterces will be used to reimburse participants in the funeral procession. The fifty sesterces will be divided up at the site of the funeral pyre. However, participants must walk.
Many of these associations seem to have drawn their members from particular walks of life, and people with particular occupations clearly felt a sense of communal identity, as political graffiti for local elections in Pompeii illustrate: “All the goldsmiths ask you to elect Gaius Cuspius Pansa as aedile.” In the late Republic associations had been frequently co-opted by politicians to foment unrest, and at one stage in the 50s BCE were banned in Rome altogether, but close state control by emperors from Augustus onwards was effective in preventing any recurrence.63
Much behaviour in Roman society was thus structured around friendships and clubs, which could be quite clearly distinguished from the commercial relations, with trader, banker, employer or employee, into which ordinary Romans expected to be drawn but for which they sought confirmation not in social convention but in the possibility of appeal to law. You were expected to help your friends or, conversely, if you did a favour for someone, like helping him in a court case, he became your friend (and to act against him in the future, should circumstances so dictate, would be uncomfortable). The letters of Cicero and of Pliny are replete with requests for patronage both for their own friends and for their friends' friends. Conversely, Romans recognized no social obligations to those with whom they had no social ties, even indirectly. Not that the giving of benefits to friends was therefore an uncomplicated issue of reciprocity: on the contrary, the younger Seneca wrote seven books On Benefits to unravel the complex issues of intention and attitude that could turn a gift into a bribe or nullify a favour by the condescension of the donor—although “there is no reason why the multitude of ingrates should make us more reluctant to be generous.” But the more that the moralist insists that “the man who, when he gives, has any thought of repayment deserves to be deceived,” the more it is clear that this was precisely the attitude of most Romans, for whom the primary purpose of generosity was reciprocity. To the rich and moderately well-off, the very poor were thus invisible. Charity, in the sense of giving to the needy as a virtue for its own sake, was not a concept that Romans understood. There were indeed beggars in Rome, who relied on arousing pity in their search for alms, but they had a hard time. When the poet Ovid violently attacked in verse a detractor who had mocked at the misfortunes that had sent him into exile in the last years of Augustus, he noted optimistically that fortunes can be reversed: “The man who once denied cheap food to the wretched is now himself fed from begged bread.”64
It was almost a cliché among Greek and Latin authors who wrote about Jews and Judaism that Jews stuck together in their synagogues, and that these synagogues were full of beggars, although why this should have been more true of Jews than of others they did not seek to enquire.
Doubtless, beggars in Jewish society also had a hard life, but at least the attitude of Jews to beggars depended not on pity or on the reciprocity of the relationship, as among Romans, but on divine command. Charity was a duty incumbent on all Jews, even if the recipient was previously not even an acquaintance. The Mishnah laid down rules about the minimum to be given to a person in need, and the degree of destitution which qualified an individual to accept the different kinds of poor-relief laid down in the Bible, from the grain left by harvesters in the field, either in the corners or as forgotten sheaves or as gleanings, to the communal meals and funds established to alleviate the worst effects of poverty: “A poor man that is journeying from place to place should be given not less than a loaf worth a pondion … If he spends the night he should be given what is needful to support him for the night. If he stays over the Sabbath he should be given food enough for three meals.” There was neither need nor expectation that the recipient would be known to the donor in any such gift of charity, although it seems generally to have been assumed that the poor who benefited would be fellow Jews, a proviso highlighted by the exception stipulated in a ruling in the Tosefta: “A city in which Israel and gentiles are: the collectors of funds for the support of the poor … provide support for the poor of the gentiles along with the poor of Israel, for the sake of peace.” Among the characteristic nuisances of Rome which Martial cited as a reason to leave the city for rural peace and quiet was the Jew “taught by his mother to beg.” Juvenal also complained about Jewish beggars. Jews were hardly the only poverty-stricken community in Rome, but presumably begging as a means to seek a livelihood was more worthwhile within Jewish society, which treated charity to the poor as normal, than elsewhere in Rome.65
However, it should not be deduced that these more general duties to fellow Jews precluded altogether recognition by Jews of the special claims to be made on an individual by personal friends. The classic biblical story of friendship was that of David and Jonathan, when “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul,” to the extent that Jonathan was prepared to provoke the anger of his father Saul in order to protect his friend. Josephus' narrative of the intrigues which beset him during his command of the Jewish forces in Galilee at the start of the war against Rome in 66—7 CE frequently explains political decisions by himself and others of the Jewish ruling elite as a natural result of friendships. John of Gischala, Josephus' main rival in Galilee, hoped that the Pharisee Simon son of Gamaliel would persuade the national assembly in Jerusalem to depose Josephus from power and appoint him instead, because he “was John's old and intimate friend.” Josephus, too, had friends on whom he could rely: details of plots being hatched against him in Jerusalem were sent to him in a letter from his father to whom the information had been leaked by Jesus son of Gamalas, “an intimate friend of mine.” This description of political allegiances in terms of personal friendships comes close to the Roman system. In the admittedly fraught circumstances of the struggle for power between ambitious Jewish leaders in Jerusalem during the brief independence of the city in 66–70, those competing to win control achieved positions of authority not by virtue of constitutional right but through personal charisma and a network of political friends, rather like the informal power of a mafia boss.66
Jews as much as Romans could also forge commercial bonds, seeking legal redress rather than social pressure if the partner in the relationship failed to do what was expected. Thus, for instance, biblical law forbidding interest on loans was in practice circumvented by a variety of legal fictions, such as fixing the time limit for repayment and levying a “fine” when it was breached, so that sophisticated financial deals were possible between individuals who recognized no other social tie between them. But what Jews seem to have lacked were the pervasive patronage ties across divisions of class and status, unrelated either to commercial advantage or to the exercise of political power, which were so important in Rome. Patronage links did not, it seems, extend beyond the relationships of the most politically powerful, such as the members of the Herodian family, to their followers. Josephus was a rich landowner with estates near Jerusalem. If he had been in a similar position in Rome he would have felt himself beholden to a coterie of clients who in turn would have accompanied him in public when they could and generally bolstered his public image as a great man. Josephus records that some Jerusalem aristocrats did indeed gather retinues around them in the early 60s CE, but he decries such practices as intimidation. In a feud between a High Priest and his predecessor, “each collected a band of the most reckless sort and it frequently happened that after exchanging insults they went further and hurled stones.” It does not seem that poorer Jews would gravitate, as in Rome, into the patronage of a rich co-religionist. There is not even evidence for the formal link between a freed slave and his or her former owner which in Rome was the paradigm of a patronage relationship enforced not just by custom but by law. The impoverished Jew looked not to an individual patron but to the charity of the community as a whole, and the freed slave became a full member of the community without residual ties to the site of their former enslavement.67
But if non-family ties to specific other Jews, as patrons, clients or friends, seem to have been weaker in Jewish than in Roman society, the prevalence of solidarity to voluntary associations seems to have been stronger. The groups which bonded together to hear the Torah being read and expounded at weekly services were self-regulated and self-funded. In the land of Israel the provision of a synagogue would be one of the responsibilities of local village administrators—or at least such was the assumption of the early rabbis cited in the Tosefta: “The townspeople [should] require one another to build a synagogue, and to buy a scroll of the Torah and prophets.” In the diaspora, local Jews would have to band together to buy a suitable place and agree on administration. Each of the synagogues in the city of Rome formed a separate community led by its own officials, most of them now known only from the titles on tombstones found in the catacombs: “Here lies Annius, gerusiarch of the synagogue of the Auguste-sians. In peace his sleep.” The inscriptions all date probably to the third century CE and later, but already in the early first century CE Augustus knew that Roman Jews “have houses of prayer and meet together in them, particularly on the sacred seventh days when they receive as a community a training in their ancestral philosophy.” Voluntary associations of diaspora Jews were also to be found in Jerusalem, organized in much the same way as in diaspora cities despite the Jewishness of their surroundings. Among those who debated with the early Christian Stephen in Jerusalem were “certain of the synagogue, which is called ‘of the Libertinoi,’ ” “freedmen.” It is likely that these people preferred each other's company for the reading of the Torah if only because they were more comfortable hearing it in Greek. Those who called themselves “the Freedmen” were probably the descendants of Jews who had been taken as slaves to Rome by Pompey or after later wars and, on being freed, had returned to Jerusalem; if so, retention of a Latin name for their synagogue suggests a certain pride in their connection to the imperial city despite the servile status of their ancestors. Since there was no need for each synagogue community to own an impressive building, and in principle they could meet in private houses or even in the open, there were hundreds of such groups in first-century-CE Jerusalem. Some relied on the generosity of wealthy donors. The provision of such donations is explicitly attested in the one extant synagogue inscription (dated to the first century CE by the letter forms used) to survive from the ancient city: “Theodotus, [son] of Vettenus, priest and archisyna-gogue, son of an archisynagogue, grandson of an archisynagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments, and the guest-house and the rooms and the water supplies for the lodging of strangers in need, which his fathers founded and the elders and Simonides.” Who this Simonides was, no one now knows.68
Other Jewish voluntary associations brought together those who shared not just a language, like the Greek-speaking synagogue communities of Jerusalem, but specific and idiosyncratic ideas and emphases in the interpretation of the Torah. Of these, much the best known group was that of the Essenes, who were described in considerable detail by both Philo and Josephus. Philo, who called the group “Essaeans,” a name he associated with the Greek word hosiotes, “piety,” put forward the Essenes as examples of virtue in support of his argument “that every good man is free,” and described their communal life at length:
Fleeing the cities because of the ungodliness customary among town-dwellers, they live in villages; for they know that, as noxious air breeds epidemics there, so does the social life afflict the soul with incurable ills … Almost alone among all mankind, they live without goods and without property; and this by preference, and not as a result of a reverse of fortune … No house belongs to any one man; indeed, there is no house which does not belong to them all, for as well as living in communities, their homes are open to members of the sect arriving from elsewhere. Secondly, there is but one purse for them all, and a common expenditure.
Philo's description is of course idealized, not least to bring the Essenes into line with his own notions about piety—he asserts, for instance, that “instruction is given to them by means of symbols,” the method he himself advocates—and he produces a rather different account of them in an apologetic treatise apparently intended for gentile readers, in which, for instance, he asserts that “Essaeans” in fact lived in towns, rather than fleeing them as hotbeds of moral diseases. But much in both Philo's accounts is found also in the apparently independent description provided by Josephus (at considerable length) in the second book of his Jewish War. Josephus shared Philo's admiration for the communal asceticism of the Essenes, but he also portrayed them as involved in the affairs of the wider Jewish world. A certain John the Essaean was given authority in the north and west of Judaea when commands were allocated by the provisional government in Jerusalem in autumn 66 CE, near the beginning of the war against Rome.69
By contrast, some of the Dead Sea sectarians, with whom the Essenes have frequently, but probably wrongly, been conflated, viewed their community as the true Israel, to be preserved separate from the rest of the Jewish nation, who had gone astray. Of these sectarians, one group (which produced the so-called Damascus Document, a text combining moral exhortation with a systematic presentation of legal statutes, which was found in two manuscripts of the tenth to twelfth centuries in the Cairo Genizah and in a number of fragmentary copies among the Dead Sea scrolls) lived in towns within the wider society of Judaea, envisaged the marriage of its members, and was separated from other Jews not so much physically as by way of life and mental attitude. The more monastic enthusiasts who produced the Community Rule, known only from copies found at Qumran, organized themselves as a mirror of wider Jewish society as imagined in the Bible. Divided into priests and laity, they separated themselves further, at least notionally, into units of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens: “The priests shall enter first, ranked one after another according to the perfection of their spirit; then the levites; and thirdly all the people one after another in their thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, that every Israelite may know his place in the community of God according to the everlasting design. No man shall move down from his place nor move up from his allotted position.” These monastic sectarians called themselves “the men of holiness.” They were to keep themselves “separate from the habitation of unjust men.” Their virtuous lifestyle, directed by a just council, would atone for the wickedness of others:
In the council of the community there shall be twelve men and three priests, perfectly versed in all that is revealed of the law, whose works shall be truth, righteousness, justice, loving-kindness and humility. They shall preserve the faith in the land with steadfastness and meekness and shall atone for sin by the practice of justice and by suffering the sorrows of affliction. They shall walk with all men according to the standard of truth and the rule of the time. When these are in Israel, the council of the community shall be established in truth … They shall be witnesses to the truth at the Judgement, and shall be the elect of goodwill who shall atone for the land and pay to the wicked their reward.
Inevitably, life in such a community had to be strictly regulated:
If he has spoken in anger against one of the priests inscribed in the book, he shall do penance for one year and shall be excluded for his soul's sake from the pure meal of the congregation. But if he has spoken unwittingly, he shall do penance for six months. Whoever has lied shall do penance for six months. Whoever has deliberately insulted his companion unjustly shall do penance for one year and shall be excluded. Whoever has deliberately deceived his companion by word or by deed shall do penance for six months. If he has failed to care for his companion, he shall do penance for three months. But if he has failed to care for the property of the community, thereby causing its loss, he shall restore it in full. And if he be unable to restore it, he shall do penance for sixty days … Whoever has interrupted his companion whilst speaking: ten days. Whoever has lain down to sleep during an assembly of the congregation: thirty days. And likewise, whoever has left, without reason, an assembly of the congregation as many as three times during the assembly, shall do penance for ten days … Whoever has muttered against the authority of the community shall be expelled and shall not return. But if he has murmured against his companion unjustly, he shall do penance for six months.70
There is no reason to suppose that such opting out of wider Jewish society was common, but attachment to a group of like-minded enthusiasts within the Jewish community may well have been. The communal lifestyle of early Jewish Christians was thus not exceptional in first-century Jerusalem: “And the multitude of those that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any that any of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.”71