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Ostia/Rome, synagogue, 1st century, Lazio

The fate of the Jews in Rome and Italy fluctuated, with partial expulsions being carried out under the emperors Tiberius and Claudius. After the Jewish revolts of 66 and 132 AD, many Judean Jews were brought to Rome as slaves. These revolts caused increasing official hostility from the reign of Vespasian onwards. The most serious measure was the Fiscus Judaicus, a tax imposed on all Jews in the Roman Empire. The new tax replaced the levy that had formerly been sent to the temple in Jerusalem (destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD). In addition to Rome, during this period there were a significant number of Jewish communities in southern Italy. Sicily, Calabria, and Apulia all had wellestablished Jewish populations.

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Bova Marina, synagogue, 4th century, Calabria

 

With the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Emperor by Constantine in 313, the position of Jews in Italy and throughout the empire declined rapidly and dramatically. Constantine established oppressive laws against the Jews. These were in turn abolished by Julian the Apostate, who showed his favor toward the Jews to the extent of permitting them to resume their plan for the reconstruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. This concession was withdrawn under his successor. Periods of persecution alternated with periods of quiescence, until the fall of the Roman Empire.

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Venosa, catacombs, 4rd-6th century, Basilicata

 

During the Ostrogothic rule under Theodoric, there were flourishing communities of Jews in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Palermo, Messina, Agrigentum, and in Sardinia. The popes of this period were not opposed to the Jews. After the failure of the various attempts to make Italy a province of the Byzantine empire, the Jews suffered oppression from the Exarch of Ravenna. When the greater part of Italy came under the rule of the Lombards, they lived in a situation of relative stability.