SO LONG AS neither side tried to impose their views on the other, the contrast between Jewish and Roman perspectives on the world was unlikely to create friction, but more difficult to ignore was the way that people lived every day. Small divergences in dress or cuisine can sometimes mark a major divide between communities. How different were the lifestyles of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Rome?
It would be too crude to characterize the contrast between Jews and Romans as a comparison between libertarianism and puritanism, but neither would the caricature be wholly wide of the mark, even at the basic level of the way that they treated their bodies and bodily functions, and especially in attitudes to nudity, male and female.
In Greek cities in the classical period fit young male citizens had been idealized as the defenders of the state, and gymnasiums were instituted as places of exercise to prepare them for military service, but the profession-alization of the Roman army in the early empire allowed most Roman men to avoid such exertions. As a result, body images for men could evolve in quite different ways. Both literary texts and portrait conventions sometimes harked back to an ideal of the peasant farmer's tough body in archaic times—hence the stern features of the emperor Nerva—but weather-beaten features and strong muscle could also easily be taken as evidence of rustic or servile occupation, and some emperors opted instead for a softer image. Nero presented himself as a plump epicure, smooth-skinned and hairless, the unashamed product of pampered leisure, although trying to maintain a youthful look might be construed as dangerous evidence of pathic homosexual leanings, and such rumours did indeed circulate about Nero. Among those who favoured the pampered look in imitation of the effete luxury believed to have been normal in the courts of the Ptolemies in Alexandria, there was no shame in being overweight. As in eighteenth-century Britain, corpulence could be flaunted as a sign of social prestige, or at least of wealth.1
Romans were unselfconscious about male nudity, displayed most conspicuously at the communal baths, a form of recreation which attracted all sections of society. It was possible to honour an emperor by depicting him nude in heroic pose, although some emperors, notably Commodus at the end of the second century CE, seem to have encouraged depictions of their unclothed form more than others (in his case, he wanted to be seen as Hercules). Surviving wall paintings, mosaics and statues from Pompeii reveal a society unabashed in the portrayal of phalluses and sexual intercourse: anyone entering the home of one wealthy family was confronted by a statue of a youth whose erect phallus operated as a fountain. There is no way to be certain how Roman women reacted to this overt celebration of male sexuality, but they showed sexual interest in male gladiators, whose athletic, muscled bodies attracted their admiration. Roman images of ideal female bodies are known only from a male perspective: statues of nude women generally depict them as young and slim, that is, as nubile. Notions of feminine beauty seem to have been adopted wholesale from the Hellenistic world, along with conventions in its depiction, such as the absence of body hair—in the third century CE a tombstone of a freedwoman from Perugia, in praising her (perhaps not wholly seriously) for her perfect appearance, noted that, “beautiful with her kindly body, she bore her limbs smooth; everywhere she had a hair, it was sought out.” Erotic wall paintings in Pompeii give an idea of the ideal female form in the sexual imaginations of men. If women themselves would have preferred to become more muscled, there is no evidence for it. What is clear is that many Roman women were as unabashed in displaying themselves naked as men. It was possible to go to women-only baths, but mixed establishments, in which men and women stripped together, became increasingly common from the early first century CE. As the Christian author Clement of Alexandria complains in the late second century: “The baths are open for men and women; there they strip for lust.”2
All in all, the Roman attitude to the body was exceptionally relaxed. There were indeed sexual activities which might be deemed to demean one or other of the participants, but nothing was wholly ruled out. Romans did have very clear notions of sexual boundaries, but these were boundaries that could be transgressed, particularly for sexual pleasure (as by Nero, who was alleged both to have castrated a boy and tried to “transfigure him into a woman's nature” in order to marry him “with all the usual ceremonies,” and to have himself taken the woman's role in a second “marriage” with one of his freedmen), even if such behaviour elicited disapproval from the more conservative: accusations of acting like a woman were part of the common currency of invective among the male Roman elite, and Seneca complained that in his day women were suffering from hair loss and gout, “male diseases,” because they behaved like men, staying up too late, drinking too much, wrestling with men and taking an active role in sexual intercourse. Such intercourse was at least normally indulged in private. Other natural functions took place quite publicly. Bath houses commonly housed latrines—benches with holes over drains—for customers to use. Large urinal pots stood at the street corners; their contents were used in textile production. Romans show no trace of any notion that excrement, urine, menstrual blood, semen or any other bodily effluent might in any way pollute.3
The attitudes of Jews to their bodies could not have been more different. The concept of pollution was much discussed already in the Pentateuch. There and in some other parts of the Hebrew Bible, purity was considered important primarily as a requirement for those, especially priests, entering the sanctuary for worship, a concept found also in the sacred laws of many Greek temples in the classical period. But by late Second Temple times the laws of purity and their significance had been much elaborated by those Jews who came to see physical purity as a powerful metaphor for spiritual purity. In the first century CE purity was an issue of major significance for Jews of many different backgrounds and religious persuasions.4
Among the main potential sources of pollution were the emission of some bodily fluids (semen or menstrual blood) or, as we have seen, contact with a human corpse, which was the most severe source of impurity. The significance of suffering pollution varied both from case to case and in the eyes of different Jews. In the biblical purity system it is generally assumed that there is nothing wrong or worrying about being impure. Such a state is both natural and unavoidable. Its only consequence is temporary exclusion from the sanctuary until appropriate purification has been undergone. However, in some postbiblical texts pollution was sometimes treated as intrinsically undesirable and avoidance of pollution as a moral act. It is hard to distinguish clearly in all such cases between metaphorical and practical uses of pollution language. References to purity and pollution permeate the sectarian texts found among the Dead Sea scrolls. Early rabbinic texts incorporate a complex and coherent purity system evolved in discussion and debate about minutiae whose details can be traced from one generation to the next over nearly two centuries. According to Josephus, emphasis on this aspect of Judaism was a particular characteristic of the Essenes: “They consider oil defiling, and anyone who accidentally comes in contact with it scours his person, for they make a point of keeping a dry skin and of always being dressed in white …” As we have seen in Chapter 4, they even treated excrement as a form of ritual pollution, unlike other Jews.5
The laws governing restrictions on food are enunciated in the Bible in contexts quite separate from the laws about bodily emissions and corpse pollution, but they enshrine the same view of the body as a fragile vessel to be preserved free of taint. The prohibited foodstuffs listed in Leviticus include camels, horses, pigs, eagles, owls, mice, lizards, snails and moles. There has been much scholarly discussion of the underlying rationale of these specific prohibitions, and the categories into which they are placed by the biblical authors: animals that are not cloven-footed or do not chew the cud, fish without fins and scales, most fowls “that creep, going on all four.” Whatever the rationale of such taboos, there can be no doubt of their power, nor of their tendency, as a result, to expand far beyond the restrictions envisioned in the Bible.
At some point in the Second Temple period the often repeated biblical prohibition on seething a kid in its mother's milk was extended by many Jews to require avoidance of any mixture of meat with dairy products, with a few exceptions. The Mishnah says: “No flesh may be cooked in milk excepting the flesh of fish and locusts … It might be inferred that a bird, which is forbidden under the law of carrion, is forbidden to be seethed in milk, but the Bible says, ‘In its mother's milk,’ so a bird is excluded since it has no mother's milk.” But, whatever doubts there may have been in the early third century, later rabbis were to rule clearly that mixtures of the flesh of fowls with milk were also forbidden.
The Mishnah refers to further prohibited foods: “These things of the gentiles are forbidden … milk which a gentile milked when no Israelite watched him; their bread and their oil … stewed or pickled vegetables into which it is their custom to put wine or vinegar; minced fish, or brine containing no fish.” The prohibition of gentile olive oil is particularly significant because it was unrelated either to any biblical text or to any known pagan custom, and yet it seems to have been a taboo widely observed. According to Josephus, the Hellenistic king Seleucus Nicator gave a special privilege to the Jews in his kingdom “that those Jews who were unwilling to use foreign oil should receive a fixed sum of money from the gym-nasiarchs to pay for their own kind of oil; and when in the present war [66—70] the people of Antioch proposed to revoke this privilege, Mucianus, who was then governor of Syria, maintained it.” Josephus' attribution of this privilege to Seleucus Nicator, who ruled from 312 to 281 BCE, is suspect, because the historian liked to claim the earliest possible origin of all Jewish privileges, and in fact a later Hellenistic king may have been responsible; but it is clear at the least that Jewish objections to “foreign” oil were common in the Syrian diaspora by the mid-first century CE. Indeed, knowledge of the taboo provided an opportunity for John of Gis-chala to make a fortune for himself:
With the avowed object of protecting all the Jews of Syria from the use of oil not supplied by their own countrymen, he sought and obtained permission to deliver it to them at the frontier. He then bought up that commodity, paying Tyrian coin of the value of four Attic drachms for four amphorae, and proceeded to sell half an amphora at the same price. As Galilee is a special home of the olive and the crop had been plentiful, John, enjoying a monopoly, by sending large quantities to districts in want of it, amassed an immense sum of money.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this particular taboo is the fact that it came to an end in the early third century CE. According to the passage in the Mishnah cited above, “Rabbi [Judah haNasi] and his court permitted the oil.” The Mishnah provides reasons neither for the original taboo nor for its abrogation, and the rabbinic discussions in the following generations, recorded in the two Talmuds, express bafflement. The prohibition on using gentile oil had serious consequences, since oil was widely used for soap and lighting as well as for food, but it seems to have originated not in a religious ordinance but in shared instincts. Jews defined who they were partly by the way that they treated their bodies.6
Thus, although in the course of the Roman imperial period Jews were to develop a taste for baths in the Roman style, more important than such bathing for pleasure, and indeed for cleanliness, was bathing for purity. The surface of the body had to be cleansed of pollution. The Bible required those who were impure to immerse themselves in “living waters,” a phrase that was taken by rabbis in the time of the Mishnah to mean either a river or sea or a bathing installation whose water supply came at least in part from rainwater. These same rabbinic texts reveal some debate about the precise size and design required for such purification to be deemed valid. The discovery of many stepped pools in Jerusalem close to the Temple, in Qumran, in Masada, and in many other sites where Jews lived in the first century CE, suggests that the rabbis were attempting, as often, to lay down rules for existing practices, determining to their own satisfaction and that of their followers when customary behaviour should be endorsed and when not. How much ritual washing was customary among diaspora Jews is more difficult to pin down, and may well have varied even more. According to the Letter of Aristeas, the pious Jews who produced the Septu-agint “following the custom of all the Jews, washed their hands in the sea in the course of their prayers to God … as witness that they have done no evil, for all activity takes place by means of the hands.” Such an explanation would make sense to gentile pagans: Pilate is said to have washed his hands to demonstrate his innocence of the death of Jesus.7
The Mishnah contains a story of a discussion between the great rabbinic sage Rabban Gamaliel, who lived in the late first century CE, and a gentile philosopher Proklos after they met accidentally in the baths of Aphrodite in Akko. In the baths both were naked, but before Gamaliel answered the philosopher's question he insisted that they went outside, presumably clothed, for “one does not make answer in the bath.” Jews were self-conscious about nudity in a way that differentiated them strikingly from both Greeks and Romans. This kind of modesty (or prudery) was a characteristic common to much of the Near East, where in extant sculptures both males and females were typically portrayed wearing clothing. A number of rabbis are praised in the Talmuds for never having even looked at their own circumcised penises; it is a curious fact that male Jews assumed that the physical characteristic which most marked them out as Jews, circumcision, should be hidden from public view once the public performance of the operation on the baby boy was complete. On the other hand, the early rabbis had plenty to say about sex in the sense of the physical differences between men and women, because it was important to determine the sex of any Jewish individual in order to know which set of religious duties he or she should carry out. Hence detailed discussions about the nature and status of eunuchs, androgynes and persons of dubious sex: “The androgyne is in some things like to men and in some things like to women, and in some things like both to men and to women, and in some things like neither to men nor to women …”8
Provided that the purity of the body was protected, what the body was like does not seem to have been a matter of great concern to Jews. The defenders of Jerusalem in 70 CE presumably included some impressive-looking youths, for Josephus reports that in the disposal of prisoners after the fall of Jerusalem the “tallest and most handsome of the youth” were reserved for the triumphal procession in Rome, and he makes reference to other fighters of impressive strength, but there is no evidence that Jews believed in physical exercise for its own sake. Among the cultural traits adopted from the Hellenistic world, the gymnasium seems to have been assiduously avoided by Judaean Jews after it had become a symbol of alien culture in the propaganda surrounding the revolt of the Maccabees. In early rabbinic texts the ideal male is depicted as subservient to God, reliant on divine help for success and prepared to suffer martyrdom rather than fight like a warrior. Whether this passive male figure was a standard ideal in non-rabbinic Jewish circles is less clear, since it can hardly have been the image projected by the military commander Shimon bar Kosiba, whose tough qualities as the leader of the Judaean revolt of 132—5 made him a hero to many. In the three descriptions of individual physiques to which spiritual characteristics are attributed in the physiognomical fragments found among the Dead Sea scrolls, thick fingers, hairy thighs, fat cheeks, short toes and uneven teeth are associated with the “House of Darkness” (the forces of evil); black glowing eyes, gentle voice, long thin fingers, toes in alignment, smooth thighs and medium stature are associated with the “House of Light” (the forces of good).9
On Jewish notions of the perfect female body the sources are almost silent. The Mishnah presupposes that a woman's hair and breasts may be sexually alluring to men: when a suspected adulteress underwent the rite laid down in the book of Numbers to establish or refute her guilt, “a priest lays hold on her garments … so that he lays bare her bosom. And he loosens her hair. R. Judah says: ‘If her bosom was comely, he did not lay it bare; if her hair was comely, he did not loosen it.’” How comeliness was defined, whether it was thought better for a woman to be fat or thin, and whether it would be thought a good thing for her to develop a muscular body, are quite unknown. The interest of the extant sources lies entirely in her function as marriage partner and bearer of children, and as the regular source, through menstruation, of a pollution which she had a religious duty to control in such a way that others did not become impure through contact with it.10
These contrasting attitudes to their bodies underlie the very different approach of Jews and Romans to the enjoyment of life. Among the primary pleasures in any culture are eating, drinking, sex and shopping (or, at least, expenditure on self-gratification and display), but cultures differ in the way these are experienced and the social restrictions on such enjoyment. Due allowance must be made for the shades of opinion within both societies and shifts in fashion over time—the Roman elite in particular underwent occasional bouts of self-disgust and self-imposed moderation, so that it may be wrong to take as typical the lurid stories about the aristocracy which found their way into the narratives of Tacitus and Suetonius, and the culture of the Roman plebs, manifested in entertainments such as popular games and songs and transmitted orally or through traditional practices passed down the generations, can only occasionally be glimpsed in the evidence which survives. But there does seem to have been a general acceptance of ostentatious consumerism in Rome which cannot be paralleled in Jerusalem outside the households of the Herodian family.
Richer Romans enjoyed eating exotic foods: Marcus Gavius Apicius, a resident of Minturnae on the southern edge of the Latian plain to the south of Rome, created in the early first century CE a “science of the eating house” and became so celebrated that his name was attached to later collections of recipes, like the extant cookery book, On Cooking Matters, composed some three centuries or more after his death. Apicius' specialty, and a major concern of Roman cookery, was the invention of powerful sauces to disguise the taste of the primary ingredients—luxury foods, brought into Rome from a distance, can rarely have been eaten fresh. The popularity of haute cuisine emerges from the complaints of moralists and satirists about excesses. In a letter to his friend Septicius, who had failed to turn up to a dinner party when invited, the younger Pliny contrasts his, evidently modest, dinner with the luxury that Septicius has enjoyed elsewhere. Pliny has dined off lettuce, snails, eggs, barley soup, sweet wine mixed with snow to cool it, with olives, beets, cucumbers, onions, “and a thousand other items no less sumptuous.” But, writes Pliny, “you preferred the oysters, sows' wombs, and sea urchins … at someone else's house.” Pliny's own meal—mainly vegetables of different kinds—was presumably closer to what ordinary Romans could afford, although it may well be that those with a little money attempted sometimes to emulate the banquets of the very rich, albeit with cheaper ingredients and only on special occasions. At any rate the practice of disguising the taste of food was widespread. As we have seen, there is much archaeological evidence for extensive trade in fermented fish sauce, a preserved pickle somewhat like modern Worcestershire sauce, poured on all kinds of food. It is a peculiarity of Mediterranean culture that this condiment, whose use was very widespread throughout the Roman period, seems to have fallen out of production altogether in the Middle Ages.11
For parties, the most common beverage was wine, of which the Roman world produced many different kinds, whose qualities were appreciated and disputed by connoisseurs. The Roman convivium was a formal occasion for eating as well as drinking, an opportunity for a host to demonstrate his largesse to his friends, who reclined, men and women together, on benches arranged in a square, with places allotted according to rank. At such parties drunkenness was not formally the main aim, but by the late Republic Romans had taken up many of the practices of Greek symposia, in which aristocratic males drank together as a bonding exercise, and feasts could degenerate into alcoholic disorder. The extent of Roman concern about alcoholism, against which Lucretius, Seneca and the elder Pliny all wrote, is evidence of a real social problem. Accusations of over-indulgence were levelled at many prominent politicians, most notably, from this period, Mark Antony (who wrote a pamphlet in his defence, entitled “Concerning his Drunkenness”), and (among emperors) Tiberius, Claudius and Vitel-lius. Nor was this only a masculine vice. Stories were told of Julia, daughter of Augustus, as a notorious tippler, in contrast to her father, who was “by nature most sparing in his use of wine.”12
For adult male Romans, sex was another branch of physical recreation, aided by the uninhibited attitudes to the body and its natural functions graphically illustrated in the erotic pictures displayed in the public mixed baths at Pompeii. Romans did indeed have taboos against sexual relations with particular fellow citizens (of either sex), which could variously be branded as incest, adultery or stuprum, “debauchery” or “violation,” but so long as the sexual partner was a slave almost anything could be envisaged. Roman males showed no embarrassment about any forms of phallic penetration, nor indeed about masturbation. The general assumption was that a man could enjoy such pleasures as much as he liked provided that he did not infringe the dignity of a Roman woman married to someone else, or that of a son of a Roman citizen. Recourse to female prostitutes was so much taken for granted that their earnings were taxed by the state, which also legislated to ensure that investment in brothels was secure. Slave prostitutes were commodities, the property of the brothel owner, who was usually, but not always, male. Jottings about an innkeeper's bill inscribed on a hotel wall in Aesernia in central Italy illustrate the matter-of-fact attitude of ordinary Romans: “You have one sextarius of wine, one as worth of bread, two asses worth of relishes … a girl for eight asses.” Most prostitutes were slaves, although it was not unknown for a free citizen to prostitute his daughter or even his wife. A prostitute was not expected to arouse any feelings of affection, and all the literary sources take for granted that she was to be despised. Legally, she was characterized as infamis, “of ill repute.”13
Roman attitudes to male homosexuals were equally pragmatic, provided that the submissive partner was of low rank, preferably a slave, despite the general assumption that homosexual love was a Greek practice, not known in the more austere Rome of distant antiquity. Poets imitated from Greek originals the motif of the beautiful boy on the verge of manhood as the object of male erotic desire, and in some circles life imitated art, most notably in the very public liaison, noted above, of the emperor Nero with his slave and the passion of Hadrian for his lover Antinous, whose premature death was commemorated in the foundation of a city, Antin-oopolis, in Egypt. It is not incidental that both these emperors were phil-hellenes. Roman texts often assume that the best boys came from the province of Asia (modern Turkey), which was associated in the Roman mind with luxury and effeminacy. Romans had no notion of such sexual acts as sinful. Shame was possible only for an adult male citizen thought to have been the submissive partner in a homosexual relationship. The troops of Julius Caesar mocked the sex life of their commander, alleged to have been the paramour of King Nicomedes of Bithynia: “All the Gauls did Caesar vanquish, Nicomedes vanquished him; Lo! now Caesar rides in triumph, victor over all the Gauls; Nicomedes does not triumph, who subdued the conqueror.” Octavian, the future emperor Augustus, was also in his youth taunted with effeminacy by his political enemies, and his arch-opponent Mark Antony alleged that he had pandered himself to Caesar, his great-uncle, in order to be adopted by him. Lucius Antonius, Mark Antony's brother, scoffed that “after sacrificing his honour to Caesar he [Octavian] had given himself to Aulus Hirtius in Spain for three hundred thousand sesterces, and that he used to singe his legs with a nut heated till it glowed, to make the hair grow softer.”14
Almost all the evidence for sex as recreation comes from the point of view of adult males. All the more remarkable therefore is the poetry of Sulpicia, daughter of a senior senator and famous jurist of the late Republic. The surviving six short elegies composed by her to record her love affair with a certain “Cerinthus” of her own aristocratic background were preserved among the poems of Tibullus. They display both passion and sexual independence: “At last has come a love which, Rumour, it would shame me more to hide than to disclose to anyone. Won over by my Muse's prayers, the Cytherean goddess has brought and placed him in my bosom. What Venus promised she has fulfilled … Let all hear that I, who am worthy, have been with him, who is worthy.” The court gossip transmitted by Tacitus about the love affairs of female members of the imperial family suggests that these women sought sexual freedom parallel to their menfolk, but that their behaviour elicited not wry acceptance but scandal, and condemnation for adultery or fornication. When in 19 CE, under Tiberius, the Senate passed further stringent decrees against adultery, a woman called Vistilia, belonging to a family that had held the praetorship, was deported from Rome because she “had advertised her availability to the aediles, in accordance with the custom of our ancestors who believed that immoral women would be sufficiently punished by the declaration itself.” It may be that Vistilia needed the money from prostitution, but this seems unlikely, given her aristocratic background. Suetonius explicitly interprets such behaviour as a product of the sexual proclivities of the women involved: “Notorious women had begun to declare publicly that they were prostitutes, to avoid the punishment of the laws by giving up the privileges and rank of matrons.” It was (perhaps) worthwhile losing social dignity if it allowed sexual freedom. About lesbian relationships Romans had little to say. The philosopher Seneca wrote with strong dislike about strapping women and their use of dildoes to satisfy other women, but it is presumably a by-product of the private nature of female pleasures in the ancient world that no female same-sex relationship is known to have been paraded in the court gossip of the whole early imperial period.15
A pleasure for women that was less subjected to moralizing censure was expenditure on fashion: clothes, hairstyles, cosmetics, were in Rome a feminine preserve, but men generally had other ways to pamper themselves. Petronius, described by Tacitus as “arbiter of elegance” at the court of Nero, was a specialist in refined hedonism in eating, drinking and sex: “To the emperor, nothing was smart and delicate unless Petronius had given it his approval …,” but (so far as is known) experimenting with dress was not for him an issue. In general, male dress changed little: the unwieldy toga, a semicircular piece of cloth wrapped like a blanket and held by a pin at the shoulder, was standard uniform for public affairs, a simple tunic for relaxation, with a cloak for warmth, although the satirist Martial could imagine a precocious teenager being berated by his slave paedagogus for his “Tyrian” clothes (presumably of a purple colour) and for putting ointment on his hair. Men did not usually use perfume or makeup; only at the risk of accusations of effeminacy did they depilate their legs or apply face masks to keep the skin looking young (according to Suetonius, the emperor Otho, who ruled briefly in 69 CE, applied moist bread to his face every day in order to keep his skin smooth and soft). More respectable, and more common, was the standard method of ensuring cleanliness in the baths. An attendant applied olive oil to the skin and then scraped off the oil and dirt with a strigil, a thin metal instrument of which many specimens have been found in excavations all over the Roman world. But a visit to the baths was not simply to get clean, or fit—no one did lengths of the pool. Bathing was self-pampering, a luxury frankly enjoyed throughout Roman society. Under the principate, entry to the public baths was free, so everyone could go, although purchase of the oils, perfumes and refreshments that completed the bathing experience could be expensive.16
Women, too, might suffer disapproval if they showed excessive concern for perfumes, cosmetics or dress, but they had far greater latitude in such matters than men. Female clothing evolved almost as little as male, but hairstyles for rich and fashionable women became in the early empire an area of innovation and sometimes rather bizarre experimentation. The standard female hairstyle, with braids drawn into a knot behind, was replaced by elaborate structures of hair piled on top of the head in varied fashions which evolved sufficiently rapidly to constitute a reliable criterion for modern scholars analysing the date of production of ancient statues. Women also spent much effort on cosmetics and jewellery. Ovid even contrived to compose a didactic poem on “Cosmetics for the Female Face,” a catalogue of recipes: “Learn now how, when sleep has let go your tender limbs, your face can shine bright and fair … Whoever shall treat her face with such a prescription will shine smoother than her own mirror.”17
Moralists' complaints about the luxurious prodigality of wastrel aristocrats illustrate the numerous other pleasures fashionable among the rich, and especially those in their youth. Cicero accused the debt-ridden aristocrat Catiline of seeking support for revolution in 63 BCE from among those who had wasted their ancestral fortunes on sex, gluttony and gambling, although gambling was technically illegal in Rome except during the Saturnalia in December. But the most effective way to spend a fortune was on property. Horace lamented in the time of Augustus: “Soon regal residences will leave only a few acres for the plough.” Huge sums were spent on villas and their gardens, although literary texts that praise such expenditure rather than express disapproval are not to be found before the late first century CE, when the poet Statius praises the decorative use of exotic marbles and, a little later, the younger Pliny describes with pride the appointments of his own villas: his Laurentine place by the sea, close enough to Rome to reach after a day's business, had a particularly fine dining room jutting out into the spray and suites of rooms carefully designed to make the best of summer weather but to be cosy in winter; his house in the Tuscan hills was designed to make the best of a spectacular view and catch the sun in its south-facing colonnade. The commissioning of architects and interior designers seems generally to have been an expression of male taste rather than female. The ultimate in such conspicuous expenditure was built by Nero in the centre of Rome following the great fire of 64, when
he made a palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which at first he called the House of Passage, but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House … Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl. There were dining rooms with fretted ceilings of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes.18
Even moderately rich Romans expended effort and money on painting and sculpture in the early imperial period. The centre of Rome was full of statues commemorating the great figures of Rome's past: the erection of such a statue was widely recognized as an honourable reward for public service. Sculptures were produced in a wide variety of materials, and the fact that most sculpture still extant is marble reflects mainly the ease with which cast metal can be melted down by later generations and used for other purposes, leaving behind as testimony to their former existence only the inscribed stone bases. Under Augustus, Roman artists developed a particular taste for reproducing from Greek originals restrained classical images of the human body, particularly the male nude, and narrative reliefs with figures in formal poses, like the dignified processions depicted on the walls of the Altar of Peace. Distinctively Roman, and in contrast to these idealized classicizing figures, was a concern for realistic, or apparently realistic, portraiture. The portraits of aristocratic Romans, both on busts (a popular form of art) and on coins, are sometimes, to the modern eye, extraordinarily ugly. Whether this reflected the simple representative truth or (less likely) changing ideas of beauty or an attempt to depict worldly wisdom, experience, or some other such quality, is uncertain.
Sculpture of this kind was found both in public and in private houses as architectural embellishment or for ownership, but most effort in the interior decoration of private houses was expended on mosaics and paintings. Floor mosaics in the early empire were most often simple geometric or floral designs in black and white, but luxury mosaics imitating the effects of painting in a style perfected in the Greek world in the third and second centuries BCE were occasionally to be found, sometimes to magnificent effect, like the outstanding Nile mosaic found at Praeneste (modern Pales-trina). Mosaic was used on walls and vaults, with many fountains in first-century Rome and Pompeii decorated with shells, small stones and pieces of glass, using patterns related to wall painting. For the contemporary developments in Roman wall painting, the evidence from Pompeii and neighbouring Herculaneum, where the interiors of houses were preserved by layers of volcanic ash following the eruption of Vesuvius, enables much more to be known than would be possible from the fragments which survive from Rome itself. It is clear that painting directly onto the wall was preferred to portable works of art such as were popular in the Hellenistic world, and that Italian wall painting underwent a gradual development of styles in the century following the mid-first century BCE. The so-called Second Style at Pompeii in the late Republic favoured panels in which depictions of buildings in rich colours, especially red and black, give an illusion of solid architecture. Towards the end of the first century BCE taste veered towards more delicate, flatter pictures, with a greater focus on large central pictures of groups of figures set against a landscape, often depicted in miniaturist detail. Then, in the course of the first century CE, artists began again to seek to give a feeling of depth to the paintings, and the central pictures in each panel became smaller. Fashion in art clearly matured, for house owners paid to have pictures painted in the new styles over those in the old. Presumably an old painting grated on the eye much as wallpaper from other eras can sometimes look incongruous in a modern house.
Other pleasures were less expensive, at least for the individual consumer. For the erudite, there was the cerebral pleasure of hearing readings, not just of the classics, learned as a child, but of new literature. Public readings of new works were popular occasions in certain elite circles, although the younger Pliny records, with disapproval, a reading attended by the great general Iavolenus Priscus that went wrong: “Paulus was giving a public reading and began by saying ‘Priscus, thou dost command—’ at which Iavolenus Priscus, who was present as a great friend of Paulus, exclaimed ‘Indeed I don't command!’ You can imagine the laughter and witticisms which greeted this remark.”19 Rome under Augustus witnessed a remarkable literary efflorescence, most especially in poetry: Vergil's epic Aeneid, the gentle satires of Horace, escapist bucolic and clever didactic verse, the love elegies of Cornelius Gallus, Tibullus, Propertius and Ovid. Appreciation of new literature was fashionable: poets, as recognized repositories of inspired creativity, were fêted like novelists in the modern world. The writings of the Augustan age were themselves rapidly conceived as classic, for poets during the following century to emulate, outdo or subvert. Thus there was a rash of epic poems, by Statius, Valerius Flaccus and Silius Italicus, all trying in the Flavian period to produce a work worthy of Vergil, and attempts by Persius under Nero, and by Martial and Juvenal at the end of the first century and beginning of the second, to restore to the genre of satire something of the satirical bite it had lost in the poems of Horace. Such literary productivity owed much to the generosity of patrons, especially emperors, and the open ambition of Augustan poets to produce a Latin literature to rival that of Greece, but it owed even more to the public recognition accorded such artistic creativity. Before he wrote about emperors, the biographer Suetonius composed a set of lives entitled On Illustrious Men. All were celebrated literary figures, arranged by category: grammarians and rhetoricians, poets, orators, historians, philosophers (although Suetonius, himself a man of letters, perhaps exaggerated their importance).
No other high art achieved quite the social respect of literature. Music was a necessary part of the education of high-class children, girls as well as boys. Playing an instrument and singing competently were desirable accomplishments for women. Music was a common accompaniment to religious rituals and provided background entertainment at dinner parties. Seneca records a large-scale orchestral concert: specifically comparing current to ancient custom, Seneca notes that “we have a larger number of singers than there used to be spectators in the theatres of old. All the aisles are filled with rows of singers; brass instruments surround the auditorium; the stage resounds with flutes and instruments of every description; and yet from the discordant sounds a harmony is produced.” More common were solo recitals on the pipe or lyre. A few musicians, like the Sardinian Tigellius, who was believed to have much influence with Julius Caesar towards the end of Caesar's life, became socially prominent and a friend of Augustus, but most were content to perform as professionals, within one or other of the musicians' guilds. Tigellius, the exception, is described by Horace as a male prima donna: “All singers have this fault: if they are begged to sing among friends they can never persuade themselves to do it; if they are not asked they never leave off. That Sardinian Tigellius was of this sort.”20
There is much evidence that amateur singing was a common feature of the everyday life of ordinary Romans of all classes, and that the same was true of dancing. Ancient dances were used in the religious ceremonies of the Salii and the Arval Brethren, but professional dancers, and especially the girls who provided entertainment at dinner parties, were generally slaves. The closest in Roman society to classical ballet dancers as exponents of high art were the pantomime artists, who represented mythological themes on stage simply through dance, with the support of a chorus and instrumental backing: the art was introduced to Rome from Greece in 22 BCE and rapidly became popular, and literary figures such as the poets Lucan and Statius wrote pantomime libretti, presumably for a chorus. Tragic subjects were preferred, and performances provided essentially a serious form of entertainment, but this did not prevent the younger Pliny expressing disapproval of the elderly Ummidia Quadratilla, who in her seventies owned a company of pantomime dancers “and enjoyed their performances with more enthusiasm than was proper for a woman of her social rank.” Performances of more sober Latin tragedy, on the model set by the tragedians of classical Athens, had begun in Rome in the mid-third century BCE, and tragedies were still being written and performed for public religious festivals down to the first century CE; but they seem not to have been considered by later generations as great works of literature worthy of preservation. The poet Lucius Varius Rufus wrote a tragedy about Thyestes for the games held by Octavian in 29 BCE to celebrate his victory at the battle of Actium, and Ovid composed a tragedy about Medea, but it is probable that the tragedies of the younger Seneca, of which a number survive, were primarily intended to be recited or read rather than staged: there was no great audience for such wordy drama. By contrast, a description in Apuleius' The Golden Ass of a pantomime about the mythical choice of Venus by Paris suggests that depiction of myth could be a cover for displays of erotic dancing: “Then came a young man representing Paris as a Phrygian shepherd, gorgeously costumed in a cloak of foreign design which flowed down from his shoulders … Then Venus appeared, displaying her perfect beauty, naked, unclothed, except for a thin silk piece of material which shaded her remarkable pubic region so that the inquisitive wind amorously now blew aside the fringe … now lasciviously blew it back to press it clingingly against her to show clearly the delights of her members …”21
Less pretentious and even more exploitative of sexual innuendo was the mime, in which the actors and actresses spoke as well as danced. Mime companies performed standard scenarios of dramatic events, like the escape of an adulterer or the pursuit of tricksters. Some literary mime scripts were composed, although none survives, but the script for mimes was less important than the spectacle. In this respect they differed from the Latin comedies, many based originally on Greek prototypes, which were staged, and still occasionally composed, from the mid-second century BCE until the first century CE, or the improvised masked Atellan farces with their stock characters, such as Maccus, “the clown.” Atellan farces were thought by the emperor significant enough for the author of one to be burned alive by the emperor Gaius in the middle of the arena of the amphitheatre for composing a humorous line of double meaning. The mimes were the main draw for mass audiences. The first permanent theatre in Rome was built only in 55 BCE, but it held ten thousand spectators, and more were soon built to the same design. In theatres of such size it must have been hard for all the audience to hear every word: the attraction lay in the realism of the representation on the stage and the emotions aroused among those watching.22
But the audiences for all such entertainments were dwarfed by the huge crowds at the amphitheatre and the circus. Gladiatorial games were staged only to mark special occasions, although some emperors, such as Gaius, could invent more such occasions if they wanted to please the populace by providing more performances. No permanent home was provided for them in Rome until the erection of a small amphitheatre by Statilius Taurus in the Campus Martius in 27 BCE, but a much larger wooden structure was erected there by Nero and, after that was burned down in the great fire of 64 CE, the vast stone Colosseum was built by Vespasian and Titus in the 70s. The attraction for the spectators was only in part the witnessing of bloodshed and death (although it was important for everyone to be able to witness the kill). Gladiators were highly trained, impressively fit, athletes, whose public displays of courage gave them a certain glamour. Thus, although many gladiators were condemned criminals or slaves, some free volunteers took up fighting as a profession, and both Augustus and Tiberius were impelled to prevent more aristocratic members of society from seeking glory in the arena; the emperors considered that their participation demeaned the dignity of the upper class as a whole. Adoption of the career was not wholly suicidal, since inscriptions attest to the honourable retirement enjoyed by some former gladiators—presumably, by definition, the best. The fate of exotic animals—lions, bears, elephants, panthers and many others—imported to Rome for display in wild beast hunts was more certain. At the inauguration of the Colosseum in 80, nine thousand animals died. The sense of danger could be increased by ensuring that some humans also died in the course of the proceedings, for which purpose criminals could be provided. Christian martyrdom narratives give a rare glimpse of the attitude of some victims, but the spectators can rarely have felt much empathy with those whose suffering they watched. As St. Augustine wrote much later, at the end of the fourth century, the sight of violence in action exercises a horrible fascination. He wrote of his friend Alypius who, originally reluctant to go to the games, tried when he got there to keep his eyes shut, but was finally tempted by the roars of the crowd to look—and then “he was charmed by the barbarity of the combat and he became drunk on bloody pleasure.” In earlier centuries a dash of intellectual or aesthetic sophistication might occasionally be added in the form of re-enactments of stories ending in the expected violence. In the third century the Christian Tertullian recorded in disgust that he had seen one criminal being burned to death in the role of Hercules and another being castrated as Attis, the mythological consort of the goddess Cybele. In an epigram composed probably by the poet Martial in a collection commemorating the opening of the Colosseum by Titus, the magnificent spectacle is described of an “Orpheus,” surrounded by a marvellous wood, every kind of wild beast, a flock of sheep and many birds—only to be torn apart “by an ungrateful bear,” presumably to the delight of the audience. Such “fatal charades” evidently exercised a particular charm.23
Compared to all this the Roman passion for chariot racing seems to us rather innocent. The city boasted a number of huge circuits—the size necessary both to enable the competitors to race safely and to seat the many thousands of spectators. The Circus Maximus, right in the centre of the city between the Palatine and Aventine hills, was fitted with permanent seating by Julius Caesar and rebuilt in even more spectacular style by Trajan. Chariot teams were managed by factions distinguished by colours. Blue and green were the favourite teams in the early empire, although red and white also competed, and Domitian at the end of the first century CE tried to introduce a new “imperial” faction with purple and gold as its colour. The enthusiasm shown by the emperor Gaius only carried to notorious extremes the passion of ordinary fans. As Suetonius recalls:
He was so passionately devoted to the green faction that he constantly dined and spent the night in their stable … He used to send his soldiers on the day before the games and order silence in the neighbourhood, to prevent the horse Incitatus from being disturbed. Besides a stall of marble, a manger of ivory, purple blankets and a collar of precious stones, he even gave this horse a house, a troop of slaves and furniture, for the more elegant entertainment of the guests invited in his name; and it is also said that he planned to make him consul.24
The excitement lay in the skill of the drivers and allegiance to faction: gamblers in Rome staked their chances, not on the outcome of races, but on the fall of dice.
TO MANY, and probably to most, Jews in first-century-ce Jerusalem, many of these pleasures to which contemporary Romans aspired were sinful or disgusting, but at least a few Jews will have been less easy to shock. Herod and many of his descendants through the first century visited Rome and saw and participated in the hedonism of the imperial capital, and some of the practices of the imperial court were replicated in their households at home in Judaea. Josephus' narrative of the sexual intrigues and scandals in Herod's own court and in that of Agrippa II, accused of incest with his sister, matches closely the atmosphere of the Julio-Claudian palace. The birthday party of “Herod the Tetrarch,” Herod Antipas, at which, according to the account in the Gospels, his stepdaughter's dance so pleased him that he offered her whatever she wished and she asked for John the Baptist's head on a charger, would have suited the macabre mentality of the most despotic of the Caesars. But the very fact that this was a birthday party takes Antipas' celebration out of the normal run of Jewish behaviour, since, as we have seen, Jews generally did not celebrate their birthdays.
Jews did of course indulge in feasting, as Romans did, both as part of religious rites and on family occasions, such as at the circumcision of a boy eight days after birth. For some ritual meals there was a set menu, notably the barbecued lamb eaten on the first evening of the Passover festival, at least so long as the Temple still stood, and the eating offish for the Sabbath evening meal was highly prized. But in other respects Jews do not seem to have developed a distinctive cuisine, except in the avoidance of specific foods which contravened the law as elaborated from the original lists in Leviticus. The detailed discussions preserved in rabbinic texts of the ingredients and manufacture of many foodstuffs reflect not so much the value of the act of eating as the importance attributed to avoiding transgression of these taboos. They also, incidentally, provide particularly good information about food preparation techniques, but they do not suggest any particular cultural fascination in late antiquity with eating as a means of establishing Jewish identity—the cultural phenomenon later known among assimilated Jews in the Hapsburg empire as Fressfroemmigkeit.
The liturgy of the Passover eve meal owed much to the format of the standard Roman dinner, with the participants all reclining on their left side, men and women at the same table, and the proceedings punctuated by the formal drinking of four glasses of wine. “Even the poorest in Israel must not eat unless he sits down to table, and they must not give them less than four cups of wine to drink, even if it is from the [Paupers'] Dish.” Wine was also integral to other celebrations, on the Sabbath, at weddings and at circumcisions. Moderate consumption was deemed good for health. “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” The Babylonian Talmud records a tradition that some rabbis wanted to prohibit altogether the drinking of wine after the destruction of the Temple, but that such a demonstration of mourning would have proved insupportable for ordinary people. Jews believed that wine brought joy, and that abstention by those who chose to mark their devotion to God by taking a vow of self-denial was a product of supererogatory piety. On the other hand, attitudes to excessive inebriation were ambivalent. Intoxication in worship in the Temple was prohibited already in the Pentateuch, and Josephus notes that “the law does not allow the birth of our children to be made occasions for festivity and an excuse for drinking to excess.” Habitual drunkenness was one of the charges that might be brought by his parents against a rebellious son. Nonetheless, there was a positive injunction, according to the fourth-century Babylonian rabbi Rava cited in the Talmud, to become so drunk on the festival of Purim that it became impossible to distinguish which of the leading characters of the story, Haman and Mordechai, was virtuous, and which the villain.25
The contrast with Roman notions of pleasure is more stark in attitudes to sex. Most Jews, apart from those like Philo influenced by Platonic philosophy, discussed marital sex as an enjoyable and desirable activity for both husband and wife; this was one area of life which sharply distinguished rabbinic Jews from Christians in later antiquity. But sex within marriage was the only sort they could envisage without qualms. For Jose-phus, “the law recognizes no sexual connections, except the natural union of man and wife, and that only for the procreation of children.” Jewish men might commit adultery or have recourse to gentile prostitutes, but they assumed that all such behaviour was sinful. Both Josephus, in his paraphrase of biblical history, and the authors of the Targum, the Aramaic translation of the Bible, rendered the profession of Rahab, the heroine who saved the Jewish scouts sent by Joshua to spy out the land, as innkeeper rather than harlot. Where Jews differed even more from Romans in sexual mores was in a taboo against male masturbation and an abhorrence of male homosexuality. The prohibition against masturbation was based loosely on the biblical narrative of Onan, who “spilled” his seed “on the ground” to avoid making Tamar pregnant and thereby producing progeny for his dead brother Er, the general principle being that seed should not be wasted from its primary purpose of procreation. Male homosexual relations were condemned much more explicitly in the Pentateuch: “You shall not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination,” totally forbidden alongside bestiality. In Josephus' formulation: “Sexual relations of males to males [the law] abhors, and death is the punishment if anyone should attempt it.” It is significant that the only reference by Josephus to homosexuality as a real issue among Jews involved a Roman. When Mark Antony saw a portrait of the young Hasmonaean prince Aristobulus III, he asked Herod for the boy to be sent to him in Egypt, but Herod declined: “He decided that it would not be safe for him to send Aristobulus, who was then most handsome—being just sixteen— and of a distinguished family, to Antony, who was more powerful than any Roman of his time, and was ready to use him for erotic pleasures and was able to indulge in undisguised pleasures because of his power.” According to the Mishnah, one rabbi, worried about sexual temptation, taught that “an unmarried man may not herd cattle, nor may two unmarried men sleep under the same cloak.” But, adds the Mishnah, “the sages permit it.” It is probable that such leniency reflected a view, not that homosexuality did not matter, but that “Israelites are not suspected of pederasty or bestiality.” Lesbian sex, not specifically outlawed in the Bible, unconnected to the prohibition of “wasting seed,” and rarely mentioned, was treated as deplorable licentiousness but not as wicked on the level of male homosexuality or female prostitution.26
According to the Babylonian Talmud, it was a religious duty for all Jews, men as well as women, to wear special clothes on the Sabbath: “your Sabbath garments should not be like your weekday garments… .” In general, however, expenditure on personal appearance was assumed by Jews to be a characteristic of women rather than men. Jewish clothing, apart from the uniforms of the priests and Levites, seems generally to have been the same as that of others in the eastern Mediterranean. It would be wrong to imagine the Jewish tallit as an identity marker similar to the distinctively Roman toga; tallit in Hebrew means simply “cloak” and the use of such a garment as a dedicated prayer shawl did not begin until after late antiquity. The biblical prohibition on wearing garments manufactured from wool and linen, stated simply as a general law in Deuteronomy, was explained by Josephus as a way to preserve the unique status of the priesthood: such raiment “is reserved for the priests alone.” That priests did indeed wear clothes made from such materials is confirmed in the Mishnah. When the Pharisees chose to “make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments,” they did this in order “to be seen of men”; but such ostentation must have been unusual for it to be alleged that it attracted Jesus' criticism, and it is probably significant that no gentile pagan source betrays any knowledge of this distinctive Jewish custom. The Jewish figures in the frescoes from the synagogue at Dura-Europus have fringes on the corners of some of their cloaks, but if this reflected standard male Jewish practice, the fringes must generally have been discreet. Jewish men did not specially cover their heads. The dress of Jewish women also seems to have been much the same as that of gentile contemporaries; the Christian Ter-tullian remarked in Carthage at the end of the second century CE that Jewish women could be recognized as Jews by the fact that they wore veils in public, but it seems likely that such veils, common in the eastern Mediterranean, marked them out less as specifically Jewish than as simply oriental in the Roman West, where women were generally unveiled. According to the Mishnah it was regarded as immodest and shaming for a married woman to wear her hair loose. The Mishnah refers to types of jewellery that a woman should not carry on a Sabbath: “She may not go out … with forehead-band or head-bangles if they are not sewn, or with a hairnet … or a necklace or nose-rings …”27
Too much pride by males in their long hair was dangerously immoral, as the story of Absalom showed: he gloried in his hair, so he was hanged by it. A few male hairstyles were specially forbidden by the rabbis in the Tosefta on the grounds that they looked too gentile and therefore smacked of idolatry or magic: “What are matters which constitute ‘the ways of the Amorites?’ He who trims the front of his hair, and he who makes his locks grow long, and he who makes a baldness in front for a particular star …” But these restrictions are the exception that prove the rule, that Jews generally looked like non-Jews. Romans often noted that foreign peoples looked different from themselves, but (apart from male circumcision) they never noted this of the Jews. One passing remark by a Roman author does, however, suggest that some Romans thought Jews had a distinctive smell: the historian Ammianus Marcellinus recorded in the fourth century CE a comment of the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius in the second century CE about the Jews as malodorous. This was not a standard form of abuse of other people in the Roman world. It may even have some basis in a real difference. If modesty requires more clothing, in a hot climate old sweaty clothes may become smelly. If everyone smells equally, no one notices, and the issue of body odour (except of tanners) fails to surface in the Jewish texts.28
Could the Jews of Jerusalem imagine public entertainments like those enjoyed in Rome without travelling to the capital itself? Yes, without doubt, for, so Josephus writes, Herod built a theatre in Jerusalem, and a very large amphitheatre nearby, and celebrated quadrennial contests in honour of Augustus, with athletes, actors and musicians. There was also a hippodrome near the city, in which Herod mounted races both of horses and of chariots, and in the amphitheatre he staged fights between wild beasts and exhibited the public execution of condemned criminals by being torn apart by lions and other animals.29 But such entertainments do not seem to have continued in Jerusalem after Herod died. In the inscriptions which record the achievements of great athletes and other competitors in the cities of the eastern Roman empire, including places such as Tyre and Sidon and Caesarea on the coast of Judaea, the Jerusalem games are not included. And whereas, as we have seen in Chapter 2, gladiatorial games were one Roman innovation that became popular very quickly in much of the Greek world in the early imperial period, they never became fashionable in the Jewish city. Josephus states explicitly that the theatre and amphitheatre built by Herod, and the athletic contests, were contrary to Jewish custom; that the native Jews believed it to be a “glaring impiety” to “throw men to wild beasts for the pleasure of other men as spectators”; and that they aroused much popular hostility, including indeed a conspiracy to kill the king for forcibly introducing practices “not in accord with custom, by which their way of life would be totally altered.” It is possible that rabbinic dicta in opposition to Jews going to such spectacles in the third and fourth centuries CE presuppose that a proportion of the Jewish population in Palestine in later centuries did in time acquire a taste for them, but they had not done so yet in the first century. Nor should one imagine the theatre in Jerusalem being used for the production of Greek plays, let alone the mimes and pantomimes popular in Rome. Philo wrote that he went once to a performance in Alexandria of a play by Euripides—the audience got carried away when they heard the line “the name ‘free’ is worth everything”—but no one staged such dramas in his time in Jerusalem.30
Jerusalem Jews did have their own entertainments, but these seem to have been comparatively tame, although the impression from the surviving evidence that Jews thought and wrote only about religious themes may reflect primarily the transmission of this evidence through later religious traditions. Jews can be shown to have written a literature in Hebrew and Aramaic in a variety of genres—history, law, psalms and hymns, wisdom texts, Bible interpretation, apocalyptic visions, didactic stories like the books of Judith and Tobit—but none of these, except historiography, seems to owe its form to the Greek background which had such a decisive impact on the development of contemporary Latin literature, although Greek ideas may have occasionally had some effect on the ideas these texts expressed. On the other hand, some Jews did write in Greek for their fellow Jews, although how common this was in Jerusalem, rather than the diaspora, is debated. The author of 2 Maccabees wrote about the revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes in the dramatic and emotional style popular in contemporary Greek historiography, but he stated explicitly his reliance on a longer account composed by a certain Jason of Cyrene, whose name (if it is not a literary fiction) indicates his origins in the Jewish community of North Africa. Philo of Alexandria wrote works of serious philosophy and was at least known as a philosopher to the Jerusalem Jew Josephus, even if no Jew in first-century Jerusalem is attested as having developed either such philosophical expertise or, indeed, such philosophical interests. A stilted epic poem written in Greek before the mid-first century BCE by a certain Philo (not the philosopher), with the title “About Jerusalem,” enthused about a fountain that it is dry in winter and full in summer, but this Philo could have written anywhere. The same is true of the Ezekiel whose rather fine version of the Exodus story was rendered in the form of an Aeschylean tragedy. If some, or many, Jerusalemites were bilingual or trilingual in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, as Josephus was, a Jerusalem audience too might have appreciated Ezekiel's efforts, but if Jews in Jerusalem attended public readings of epic poetry or public performances of tragic plays, even with such impeccably Jewish themes, there is no surviving evidence of it.31
Even more difficult to pin down is Jewish appreciation of comedy, or, indeed, a Jewish sense of humour. No Jewish literary text announces itself as humorous, and nothing like a public performance of comedy or mime is known. Mockery in biblical texts tends to be polemical, aimed especially at idolaters for the foolishness of their beliefs. Some have seen humour also in the pathetic efforts of the priests of Bel to pretend that their god ate their offerings, their deception revealed, according to the author of the Greek additions to the biblical book of Daniel, by the marks of their footsteps in the morning light. The overturning of expectations in the story of Susanna—the two old men lusting after the beautiful girl and coming to grief as a result of their own wicked schemes—may seem droll from a certain perspective. Polemical irony was the main ingredient of the disastrous joke played by a group of young Jews in Jerusalem in 66 CE when, according to Josephus, they mocked the Roman governor, who had been demanding payment of unpaid taxes, by handing round a begging bowl for his benefit; the ensuing retaliation by the governor was an important step in the preliminaries to the outbreak of war. There is little evidence of the self-deprecating wit characteristic of more recent Jewish humour, or of the robust, often obscene humour of the jests favoured in contemporary Rome (although learned discussions preserved in the Babylonian Talmud about the varying sizes of the phalluses of different rabbis may reflect a tradition of Jewish appreciation of the grotesque).32
By contrast, dance was appreciated as an art form both to indulge in and to watch, particularly on the festival of the water libation that took place in the Temple on the last days of the festival of Tabernacles: “Men of piety and good works used to dance before them with burning torches in their hands, singing songs and praises, and countless Levites [played] on harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets and instruments of music, on the fifteen steps leading down from the Court of the Israelites to the Court of Women, corresponding to the fifteen songs of ascents in the Psalms; upon them the Levites used to stand with instruments of music and utter a song.” Such ritual dancing, akin to the dances of the Salii and other priests in Roman society, had a long tradition, reflected in numerous biblical stories, like the dance of David before the Ark. The book of Judith describes a victory dance of the women when Holofernes is dead and the Assyrians have fled: “Then all the women of Israel ran together to see her, and blessed her, and made a dance among them for her; and she took branches in her hands and gave them to the women who were with her. And they were garlanded with olive, she and those with her, and she went before all the people in the dance, leading all the women.” Girls would dance before the men on 15 Ab each year and hope to win a spouse: “The daughters of Jerusalem go forth and dance in the vineyards. And what did they used to say? ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself: set not your eyes on beauty, but set your eyes on family.’ ” But all of these practices differed greatly from Roman enjoyment of the art of skilled slave dancing girls after dinner, or the public performance of mime. The rabbis could imagine the erotic poetry of the Song of Songs being sung at or after dinner, so that Rabbi Akiva is said to have specifically objected, that “he who trills his voice in the chanting of the Song of Songs in the banquet halls and makes it like an ordinary song has no share in the world to come.” But despite the story of the after-dinner dance which led to the execution of John the Baptist, the rabbis do not seem to have envisaged this particular form of lewd-ness as a problem in their society.33
Jewish culture was more oral than visual: when Jews referred to themselves in Hebrew as understanding a truth or a command, they would say that they had heard it; by contrast, in Latin, as in Greek and in English, the metaphor for comprehension is to “see” the truth. The aural metaphor, however, cannot have been overwhelming in the Jewish mentality, for Philo, writing in Greek, refers repeatedly to a false etymology of the name “Israel” as derived from the Hebrew ish-ra'ah-el, taken to mean “he who sees God.” At any rate, Jews in Jerusalem certainly demonstrated an appreciation of visual aesthetics both in the Temple and in the interior decoration of their houses. Excavated houses from the time of the war against Rome in 66—70 are decorated with patterned mosaic floors and wall plaster painted in the Pompeian Second Style. These provincials imitated Italy as others did elsewhere in the empire, even if they were behind the times in the fashions they followed. The major difference, clearly deliberate, was that the paintings in Jerusalem were wholly devoid of images of humans and only rarely included images of animals. The architectural frames of the pictures painted direct onto the plaster, and the deep reds and blacks, are all in the Italian style, but the central interest in each picture in Roman as in Hellenistic art, the depiction of the interplay of living bodies, is wholly lacking. The taboo which precluded such depictions was by no means static or universal among Jews, since later in antiquity Jews in the land of Israel were to commission fine synagogue mosaics with detailed images of humans and animals, and in the mid-third century CE the Jews of Dura-Europus depicted in detail on the walls of their synagogue a series of biblical scenes. Even in the first century, when Herod completed his rebuilding of the Temple by erecting an image of an eagle over its entrance, he must have believed this to be permitted in Jewish law, since he had just spent years, and huge amounts of money, in ensuring that the building be seen by his subjects as both magnificent and kosher. However, the riots that greeted the eagle image suggest that other first-century Jews disagreed with Herod's interpretation. The “two sophists,” as Josephus describes the ringleaders of the crowd who tried to tear the eagle down, evidently saw the image as an affront, presumably in light of the commandment in Exodus, “You shall not make for yourself any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,” although the symbolism of the eagle as an image of Rome may also have aggravated their anger. Later Jews were to interpret the commandment in Exodus in the light of the following verse (“You shall not bow down yourself to them [the images], nor serve them”), thus permitting images of all kinds providing that they are not worshipped, but most first-century Jews seem to have taken a hard line: the iconography on Jewish coins minted during the revolt against Rome reveals a willingness to depict objects such as palm branches, pomegranates and a chalice, but neither people nor animals. Jewish homes thus lacked the riot of statues, reliefs and other images that enlivened the houses of their Roman contemporaries, and the public spaces of Jerusalem had no commemorative statues to link the citizens to the historic figures of the past.34
A Roman coming to Jerusalem would thus find not just a pale imitation of the culture in the metropolis, such as he would experience in many towns in the western provinces of the empire, but a society whose entire lifestyle seemed bound up in its idiosyncratic religion. Public spectacle was centred round the Temple, rather than entertainments in theatre or circus. Intellectual debate took place between religious enthusiasts rather than orators and philosophers. And the rhythms of the city followed the Temple calendar, the whole populace hushed at rest each Saturday, the pilgrims greeted in their many thousands each spring and autumn.
Thus Romans accustomed to asceticism as a counter-cultural statement (as by Cynics) or as evidence of self-control (as by Stoics) noted as remarkable the observance of self-denial by Jews infused by religious devotion: in describing the emperor's frugal eating habits, Suetonius records that Augustus once wrote to his stepson, the future emperor Tiberius, “Not even a Jew, my dear Tiberius, keeps a fast so scrupulously on Sabbaths as I have kept my fast today.” The practices of fasting and sexual abstinence followed in their own society by Pythagoreans, who avoided a long list of foodstuffs including both animal flesh and beans, were rarely adopted by ordinary Romans, who saw nothing moral or healthy in observance of such taboos. They would be taken aback by the crowds of nazirites in Jerusalem who dedicated themselves to avoid all grape products, including wine, for a specified period or (more rarely) for life, and to forswear cutting their hair during this time. The nazirite (from the Hebrew nazir, “one who abstains”) was a man or woman who took a vow to consecrate him- or herself to God by accepting these prohibitions, which went beyond those observed by other Jews. The value of such self-dedication was assumed in the rules governing the behaviour of nazirites laid down already in the Pentateuch. In the Bible the archetypical nazirite was Samson. By the first century CE the rationale for such self-abnegation veered between a forward-looking vow and gratitude for past favours, and crowds of nazirites could be identified in the Temple—presumably, in the case of men, from their long hair. The proselyte Helena of Adiabene became a nazirite, as did the Herodian princess Berenice. Evidently commitment to what the Septuagint called “the great vow” was attractive as a form of conspicuous piety for women: when it came to eating and drinking, the opportunities for exemplary virtue were not gender-specific.
More extreme asceticism, in the form of fasting, was one of the characteristics of Jews most noticed by gentiles: Tacitus claims that the Jews “even now bear witness by frequent fasts to the long hunger with which they were once distressed,” and Pompeius Trogus was one of many Romans who seem to have believed, wrongly, that the Sabbath was a fast day: “Moses … for all time consecrated the seventh day … for a fast day, because that day had ended at once their hunger and their wandering.”35 The great national fast to secure God's attention and confirm repentance for sin was on the Day of Atonement, but the Mishnah also describes periodic public fasts called in time of drought or other calamity: “If a city suffered from pestilence or if its houses fell, that city fasts and sounds the ram's horn, and the places around it fast but do not sound the ram's horn … The elders once went down from Jerusalem to their own towns and decreed a fast because in Ashkelon there appeared blight the extent of an oven's mouth. Moreover they decreed a fast because wolves devoured two children beyond the Jordan.”36