Judeans and Celts: Various authors on Claudius’ actions against foreigners in the 40s CE (second / third centuries CE

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judeans and Celts: Various authors on Claudius’ actions against foreigners in the 40s CE (second / third centuries CE,' Last modified October 13, 2022, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9639.

Authors: Acts of the Apostles 18:2-4 (link); Suetonius, Claudius 25.4 (link); Dio Cassius, Roman History 60.6 (link).

Comments: As with the narratives concerning Tiberius actions (link), both Suetonius (ca. 110 CE) and (about a century later) Dio Cassius list the emperor Claudius’ supposed reforms in the late 40s CE. Both these Roman authors refer to some action taken against Judeans, but with conflicting stories.  Suetonius (writing about 70 years after Claudius) claims (specific [?]) Judeans / Jews were expelled from Rome due to disturbances related to “Chrestus” (not necessarily though perhaps involving followers of “Christ”, since “Chrestos,” or “Good”, was a common Greek name, especially for slaves or freedpersons).

In the early third century, Dio Cassius claims that Judeans were not expelled from Rome due to logistics but were instead required not to assemble, which aligns with other supposed actions against gatherings of associations (in his account).

The Acts of the Apostles (writing about 40 years after the incidents) incidentally refers to a Judean couple (Aquila from Pontos and Priscilla) who were among those expelled from Rome along with “all Judeans.” Such intermittent expulsions (whether small or large) for particular purposes were by no means long-lasting and such immigrants would readily return again to Rome after some time.

Suetonius lists several other incidents under Claudius involving peoples in conquered territories. Claudius supposedly eliminated the “inhuman” ceremony of the Druids among the Celts, which had previously been outlawed by Augustus for Roman citizens specifically, according to the account. On the other hand, Claudius apparently raised the profile of German ambassadors at Rome itself.

Regardless of what exactly took place (and we will never know for sure), the basic theme remains consistent. These authors take for granted the suspicion of the imperial elites (senators and equestrians) at Rome in relation to the potential dangers of foreign practices and the need to maintain proper upper-class expectations about Roman ancestral obligations.

Source of the translations: J. Jackson, Tacitus: The Annals, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1931); J.C. Rolfe, Suetonius, volume 1, LCL, volume 1 (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1914); William Whiston, The Whole Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, 4 volumes (Glasgow: Blackie, Fullerton and Co, 1829), all public domain, adapted by Harland.

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Acts 18:2-4

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Judean named Aquila, who was Pontic by descent (genos) and had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Judeans to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together. They were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Judeans and Greeks. . .

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Suetonius, Claudius 25.4

[Context of Claudius’ various actions]

25 . . . (3) Claudius forbade men of foreign birth from using the Roman names so far as those of the clans were concerned. Those who usurped the privileges of Roman citizenship he executed in the Esquiline field. He restored to the senate the provinces of Achaia and Macedonia, which Tiberius had taken into his own charge. He deprived the Lykians of their independence because of deadly intestine feuds, and restored independence to the Rhodians, since they had given up their former faults. He allowed the people of Ilion perpetual exemption from tribute, on the ground that they were the founders of the Roman descent group, reading an ancient letter of the senate and people of Rome written in Greek to king Seleukos. In the letter they promised him their friendship and alliance only on condition that he should keep their kinsfolk of Ilion free from every burden.

[Actions against foreign customs, including Judeans and Gauls / Celts]

(4) Since the Judeans constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, Claudius expelled them from Rome. He allowed the envoys of the Germans to sit in the orchestra, led by their naive self-confidence. For when the envoys had been taken to the seats occupied by the common people and saw the Parthian and Armenian envoys sitting with the senate, they moved of their own accord to the same part of the theatre, protesting that their merits and rank were in no way inferior. (5) Claudius utterly abolished the cruel and inhuman ceremony (religio) of the Druids among the Gauls (or: Celts), which under Augustus had merely been prohibited to Roman citizens. On the other hand, he even attempted to transfer the Eleusinian rites from Attica to Rome, and had the temple of Venus Erycina in Sicily, which had fallen to ruin through age, restored at the expense of the treasury of the Roman people. He struck his treaties with foreign princes in the Forum, sacrificing a pig and reciting the ancient formula of the fetial priests. But these and other acts, and in fact almost the whole conduct of his reign, were dictated not so much by his own judgment as that of his wives and freedmen, since he nearly always acted in accordance with their interests and desires.

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Dio Cassius, Roman History 60.6

Book 60

[Context of Claudius’ various actions]

6 (1) In all this, then, Claudius’ course was satisfactory. Furthermore, when in the senate the consuls once came down from their seats to talk with him, he rose in his turn and went to meet them. And, in fact, in Neapolis [Naples] he lived altogether like an ordinary citizen. (2) Both he and his associates adopted the Greek manner of life in all respects, wearing a cloak and high boots, for example, at the musical exhibitions, and a purple mantle and golden crown at the gymnastic contests. (3) Moreover, his attitude toward money was remarkable. For he forbade any one to bring him contributions, as had been the practice under Augustus and Gaius [Caligula], and ordered that no one who had any relatives at all should name him as his heir. He furthermore gave back the sums that had previously been confiscated under Tiberius and Gaius, either to the victims themselves, if they still survived, or otherwise to their children.

(4) It had been the custom that if any detail whatsoever in connection with the festivals was carried out contrary to precedent, they should be given over again, as I have stated. But such repetitions were frequent, occurring a third, fourth, fifth, and sometimes a tenth time, partly, to be sure, as the result of accident, but generally by deliberate intent on the part of those who were benefited by these repetitions. (5) So Claudius enacted a law that the equestrian contests in case of a second exhibition should occupy only one day, and in actual practice he usually prevented any repetition at all. For the schemers were not so ready to commit irregularities now that they gained very little by doing so.

[Actions against assemblies by Judeans and others]

(6) As for the Judeans, they had again increased so greatly that, because of their numbers, it would have been hard without raising a disturbance to ban them from the city. So he did not drive them out, but ordered them that they were not to assemble together while continuing their ancestral way of life. He also disbanded the clubs (hetaireiai), which had been reintroduced by Gaius. (7) Moreover, seeing that there was no use in forbidding the populace to do certain things unless their daily life should be reformed, he abolished the taverns where they were accustomed to gather and drink, and commanded that no boiled meat or hot water should be sold. He punished some who disobeyed this.

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