Exterior of the North WallRebuilding Walls of Jerusalem, Schmita, Lydda, Jaffa, Turkey, Greece, Marc Antony

Ant., XIV 202 – 210

Gaius Caesar, Imperator for the second time, has ruled that they shall pay a tax for the city of Jerusalem, Joppa excluded, every year except in the seventh year, which they call sabbatical year, because in this time they neither take fruit from the trees nor do they sow. And that in the second year they shall pay the tribute at Sidon, consisting of the fourth of the produced sown, and in addition, they shall also pay the same tithes to Hyrcanus and his sons, just as they paid to their forefathers. And that no one, whether magistrate or pro-magistrate, praetor or legate, shall rise auxiliary troops in the territories of the Jews, nor shall soldiers be allowed to exact money from them, whether for winter-quarters or on any other pretext, but they shall be free from all molestation. And whatever they may hereafter acquire or buy or possess or have assigned to them, all these they shall keep. It is also our pleasure that the city Joppa, which the Jews had held from ancient times when they made a treaty of friendship with the Romans, shall belong to them as at first; And for this city, Hyrcanus, son of Alexander, and his sons, shall pay tribute, collected from those who inhabit the territory, as a tax on the land, the harbour and exports, payable at Sidon in the amount of twenty thousand six hundred and seventy-five modii every year except in the seventh year, which they call the Sabbatical year, wherein they neither plow nor take fruit from the trees. As for the villages in the Great Plain which Hyrcanus and his forefathers before him possessed, it is the pleasure of the Senate that Hyrcanus and the Jews shall retain them with the same rights as they formerly had, and that the ancient rights which the Jews and their high priests and priest had in relation to each other should continue and also the privileges which they received by vote of the people and the Senate. And that they be permitted to enjoy these rights at Lydda also. As for the places, lands and farms, the fruit of which the kings of Syria and Phoenicia, as allies of the Romans, were permitted to enjoy by their gift, these the Senate decrees that the ethnarch Hyrcanus and the Jews shall have. And that to Hyrcanus and to his children granted and to the envoys sent by him shall be given the right to sit with the members of the senatorial order as spectators of the contests of gladiators and wild beasts; and that when they request permission of the Dictator or Master of the horse to enter the Senate chamber, they shall admit them and shall give them an answer within ten days at the latest from the time when a decree is passed.

The decree begins with Caesar’s resolution concerning the payment of an annual tribute, which the Jews would be paying “for the city of Jerusalem, Joppa excluded” (§ 202). Ginsburg is definitely right when remarking that the exception of Joppa from a tribute makes sense only if the payment of this tribute concerned many cities, or even the whole of Judaea and not only Jerusalem (Ginsburg, 1928, 100; Pucci-Ben Zeev, 1998, 84-85). Therefore, Judaea remains subject to tribute but it is exempted from this obligation every seventh year, called sabbatical.

Paragraphs 203-204 are more explicit: first of all it is ordered that the Jews, on the second year, should pay to Sidon – where there were the Roman central granaries (Ginsburg, 1928, 101; Kasher, 1990, 182-183) – “the fourth part of what was sown” as a tribute; we conclude that the payment of the tribute was done in cash every year and every two years by the quarter of the harvest. At the same time, the right of Hyrcanus and his sons to receive the same tithes, which the Jews had been paying to their precursors, is once more confirmed. Furthermore, the decree, confirming the exemption of the Jews from military service, makes sure to exempt them from the contribution applied on auxiliary troupes, which was paid by the rest of the populations of the area (Ginsburg, 1928, 172; Momigliano, 1934, 203).

In the last two paragraphs (205-206), Caesar’s decisions meet Hyrcanus’ financial obligations: Hyrcanus and his sons become subjects to a tax of 20,675 modii payable each year –apart from the seventh year– to Sidon, for the city of Joppa (§ 206), which was annexed to Syria by Pompeius in 63 (Bellum, I, 156-157; Ant., XIV, 76) and was now rendered to the Jews (§ 205). Thus, is explained the exemption of Joppa from the payment of the tribute “for the city of Jerusalem” (§ 202), since Joppa’s financial obligations were to be treated separately (Momigliano, 1934, 204-205). The economic importance of this city was certainly known to Caesar. His decision to render it to the Jews under the condition that Hyrcanus and his descendants would pay an annual contribution to Rome, as well as the fact that Judaea would continue to be subject to a tribute (the same tribute imposed on Judaea by Pompey) reveal a fundamental aspect of Caesar’s Jewish policy: although it was his constant practice throughout his dictatorship to present himself as the benefactor of the Jews and protector of their rights, contrasting this way Pompey’s policy, the economic and political status quo created by Pompey was fully maintained, while roman control over the country was emphasized on every occasion.

The second part of the document –i.e. from paragraph 207 to the end– constitutes probably extracts from a Senate decree concerning the Jews of Judaea. The Senate restores to Hyrcanus and the Jews their territorial possessions, as well as all the rights that they used to enjoy in earlier times (§ 207) and confirms the traditional rights of the priests (§ 208). In regard to the “places, countries, and villages, which belonged to the kings of Syria and Phoenicia, the confederates of the Romans, and which they had bestowed on them as their free gifts” (§ 209) –it concerned, as far as we know, the Syrian and Phoenician territories conquered by Alexander Jannaeus, which Jews were deprived of by Pompey in 63– they are now restored to Hyrcanus and the Jews. Finally, the senate confers to Hyrcanus, his descendants and the Jewish ambassadors the privilege reserved for representatives of free states only to have a senatorial seat in the Roman circus (§ 210). Apart from the honour entailed in such a privilege and its ideological significance, its importance resided also in the restitution to the Jews of the ius legationis, from which Judaea had been deprived, probably after Pompey’s reforms. Normally a state subject to Rome had no right to send embassies (Ginsburg, 1928, 102). Needless to say that this was nothing more than a diplomatic gesture of Caesar, which defined, however, the juridical situation of Judaea in the Roman Empire.

According to Flavius Josephus, Hyrcanus was given permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 47 B.C.E., during Caesar’s passage from Syria (supra). Therefore, the decree, dated to Caesar’s fifth consulate, i.e. the beginning of year 44, which is reproduced in the Caesar file, cannot but represent the official confirmation of this authorization (Momigliano, 1934, 198). In the same document, Caesar, evidently resolved to facilitate even more the situation for the Jews, announces also a provisional tax reduction:

Ant. XIV, 200-201

Gaius Caesar, Consul for the fifth time, has decreed that these men shall receive and fortify the city of Jerusalem, and that Hyrcanus, son of Alexander, the high priest and ethnarch of the Jews, shall occupy it as he himself choose. And that in the second year of the rent-term one kor shall be deducted from the tax paid by the Jews, and no one shall make profit out of them, nor shall they pay the same tribute.

The Roman recognition of the Jewish right “to live according to their ancestral laws” was part of the religious toleration policy, expressed in the right of free attendance of religious rites, which was conferred on all people residing within the limits of the Roman Empire. In the case of the Jews this right entailed a number of additional privileges concerning respect of the Shabbat and other religious feasts of the Jews, dietary laws, collection of sacred money etc.; privileges which in certain cases involved roman legislation; like, for instance, the case of Jewish exemption from Caesar’ general interdiction of the collegia and the exemption of the Jewish cives Romani from military service.