Bridge, Taranto

Few traces remain of the Jewish Community that flourished in Taranto during the Middle Ages. Much can be inferred from funereal epigraphs found here (as well as in Brindisi, Venosa and Bari). It is worth noting that these tombstones are all in Hebrew, which shows that the Jewish communities of Apulia were using their original language since ancient times. The Jews of Apulia had abandoned the use of Greek and Latin and returned to the use of Hebrew much earlier than in other Italian regions. This strengthens the hypothesis of more complex exchanges between Palestine and Apulia. During the anti-Jewish persecutions of 1290–94, 172 families of Taranto Jews converted to Christianity. In 1411, the people attacked the Jews, sacked their houses and killed the town captain when he came to their rescue.

In 1463, King Ferrante I approved the city’s demands, among them a request that the Jews should live separately from the Christians and that the New Christians be allowed to postpone the payment of their debts and not be persecuted by the Inquisition. In 1464, the king, again responding to the city’s demand, ordered that the Jews wear a distinctive sign, as they did in Lecce. But in 1465, the king approved the Jews’ request to renew their privileges, promised to refrain from inquisitorial procedures, pardoned past transgressions and forbade the painting of the images of saints in the Jewish quarter. The king also promised to prohibit New Christians (converted Jews) from exercising authority over Jews. In 1474, in response to the city’s requests, the king imposed restrictions on the Jews’ usury activities.

Among the privileges granted to the city council of Martina in 1495, King Frederick of Aragon forbade New Christians from pressing charges against those who robbed them (probably during the riots of 1494–1495 during the French invasion of the Kingdom of Naples) and prohibited their coming to live in that city. In 1510–11, Taranto’s Jews and New Christians were expelled together with those of the entire kingdom of Naples. A small number returned in 1520, but in 1540 they were expelled again.