Judean diasporas: Philo on conflicts with Greeks at Alexandria and on rebellious Egyptians (mid-first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judean diasporas: Philo on conflicts with Greeks at Alexandria and on rebellious Egyptians (mid-first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 14, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=10187.

Ancient author: Philo of Alexandria, Against Flaccus, extensive portions, except the conclusion detailing justice for Flaccus (link).

Comments: While epigraphic and papyrological evidence gives us insight into Judeans or other immigrants living alongside others in the day to day (link), sometimes literary evidence sheds light on ethnic clashes in particular diaspora contexts. Philo of Alexandria’s biographical writing about Avillius Flaccus, the Roman prefect or governor of Egypt (ca. 33-38 CE), is pertinent to ethnic relations from several angles. First of all, Philo provides a glimpse into how negative stereotypes and discrimination against a particular people (Judeans / Jews in this case) could play a role in actual clashes between different peoples, in this case violent clashes between Judeans and other inhabitants of Alexandria, mostly Greek Alexandrians (who nonetheless are dismissed as lowly “Egyptians” by Philo). Because we seldom have extensive evidence of ethnic conflicts, this is an important piece of evidence from a partisan participant or observer. (Philo himself was an ambassador to the emperor Gaius Caligula on behalf of Judeans, as we know from Philo’s Embassy to Gaius). The causes of this violent situation are complicated and include the somewhat recent Roman reorganization of the population of Egypt into especially privileged Romans, poll-tax-free citizens of Greek cities with special privileges, and taxed and underprivileged “Egyptians” placed at the bottom. Judeans and other immigrants that did not readily fit into the categories faced uncertain conditions and, potentially, loss of previous standing in the Alexandrian setting. But clearly ongoing negative attitudes between ethnic groups plays an important role.

Second, Philo’s work sheds light on how a highly educated Judean in the dispersion might negatively stereotype other peoples, in this case Egyptians. In the process of narrating the terrible treatment faced by Judeans, on several occasions Philo characterizes Egyptians specifically. (The Judean option of bifurcating humanity into Judeans, on the one hand, and “the peoples” [ethnē] or gentiles, on the other, is not really the main approach in this writing). The image of Egyptians is of an inferior people deserving of the worst treatment, as the case of Philo’s description of whippings shows. Philo objects to the fact that respected Judean elders were treated as if they were “Egyptians” (rather than people of high status with a privilege equivalent to that of Greeks) when they were whipped. But Philo’s overall characterization of Egyptians is as a particularly rebellious people prone to irrational, violent outbursts, as the discussion of weapon confiscation underlines further. In this respect, Philo is reflecting a common set of stereotypes about Egyptians that were shared by elite Greeks and Romans.

Third, then, Philo’s treatment of Egyptians has this highly educated and relatively wealthy Judean alligning himself in some cases with more widely shared ethnic hierarchies constructed by the Greek and Roman elites. In such hierarchies, often Egyptians were considered at the very bottom of the barrel of humanity. Judeans were often placed low in such hierarchies too (on which see the many posts in category two on the right that involve Judeans). So this is a case of subordinated and sometimes mistreated populations (Judeans and Egyptians) competing with one another for a higher place on lower rungs of the ethnic ladder. You can read much more about this in Harland’s article comparing the approaches of Philo, Paul and Josephos: “Climbing the Ethnic Ladder: Ethnic Hierarchies and Judean Responses” (link).

This writing is also noteworthy as it contains Philo’s aside on the Judean diaspora more generally, in which he sketches out where Judeans are to be found throughout the Mediterranean and claims their importance overall and their participation in honours for the imperial household.

Source of the translation: F.H. Colson, G. Whitaker, and R. Marcus, Philo, 12 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1929-41), public domain (Colson passed away in 1943; Whitaker passed away in 1929; Marcus passed away in 1956), adapted by Harland. Flaccus is in volume 9.


[Introduction on the mistreatment of Judeans by Flaccus]

(1) Flaccus Avilius succeeded Sejanus [prefect of the praetorian guard at Rome ca. 14-31 CE] in his attacks on the Judeans [perhaps referring to a now lost work of Philo that dealt with Sejanus’ actions]. Unlike his predecessor in such attacks, he did not have the power to completely mistreat the whole people (ethnos), for he had less opportunities for doing so. But those whom he did reach suffered the worst misery from the stabbings he delivered to everyone. In fact, even though his assault appeared to be only partial, by employing skill rather than power he brought all of them within the scope of his hostility no matter where they were. For persons who are naturally tyrannical but lack the strength achieve their harmful designs through cunning.

[Flaccus’ early governorship promising, setting up for a fall]

This Flaccus then, who had been given a place among the associates of Tiberius Caesar, was made prefect of Alexandria and the country around it after the death of Iberus, who had been prefect of Egypt. He was a man who at first seemed to display a multitude of proofs of high excellence. He was smart and careful and quick to think out and execute his plans. He was very ready at speaking and at understanding what was left unspoken better even than what was said. So he quickly became thoroughly familiar with Egyptian affairs, complicated and diverse as they are and hardly grasped even by those who have made a business of studying them from their earliest years. . . [sections omitted]

(6) Possibly someone may say “My dear sir, after deciding to accuse a man you have stated no charge but come out with a long string of praises. Are you out of your senses and gone mad?” “No, my friend, I have not gone mad and I am not a stupid person who cannot see what the sequence of an argu­ment demands. I praise Flaccus not because I thought it right to speak positively about an enemy but to show his villainy in a clearer light. For to one who sins through ignorance of a better course pardon may be given, but a wrongdoer who has knowledge has no defence but stands already convicted at the bar of his conscience.” . . . [Sections omitted, including explanation of the context of emperor Tiberius’ death in 37 CE and the negative impact of Gaius Caligula’s reign on Cordus Sutorius Macro (prefect of the praetorian guard until his death in 38 CE), Flaccus and other supporters of Tiberius].

[Rebellious “Egyptians” of Alexandria and their influence on Flaccus]

. . . (16) So when Flaccus learned that Macro too had been put to death he completely lost any hope that he still had and could no longer keep any grip on affairs, so utterly enfeebled was he and incapable of solid judgment. And when the ruler despairs of keeping control, the subjects necessarily at once become rebellious, particularly those who are naturally excited by quite small and ordinary occurrences. Among such the Egyptian people holds the first place, accustomed as it is to blow up the tiniest spark into serious rebellions.

Left without help or resources, Flaccus was very agitated and at the same time as his reasoning powers deteriorated made changes in all his recent policy, beginning with his treatment of his closest companions. For he sus­pected and repelled those who were well disposed and particularly friendly to him, while he allied himself to those who from the first had been his avowed enemies and took them for his counsellors in every matter. But their resentment was still there. The apparent reconciliation was a counterfeit, existing only in words. In real fact they cherished an im­placable vindictiveness. As if acting in a theatre the part of genuine friends, they carried him off into complete captivity.

The ruler became the subject, the subjects leaders, who put forward very pernicious proposals and straightway set on them the seal of reality. (20) They proceeded to confirm all their plans, and took Flaccus like a masked dummy on the stage with the title of government inscribed upon him merely for show, to be an instrument in the hands of a popularity-hunter Dionysios, a paper-pusher Lampo, and an Isidoros who was a rebellion-leader, meddler, trouble-finder, and (a name which has gained special currency) city-disturber.

Combining together, they all planned a plot of the most dama­ging kind against the Judeans. Coming to Flaccus privately, they said: “Your prospects from the boy Tiberius Nero are lost, the hope that you had next to him in your comrade Macro are also lost, and your ex­pectations from the emperor are anything but favourable. We must find you a really powerful intercessor to propitiate Gaius. Such an intercessor is the city of the Alexandrians which has been honoured from the first by all the Augustan household and especially by our present master. The city of the Alexandrians will intercede if it receives from you some benefit, and you can give it no greater benefaction than by surrendering and sacrificing the Judeans.” Though on hearing these words it was Flaccus’ duty to repulse and disapprove of the speakers as sedition-makers and enemies of the community, he subscribed to their suggestions. At first Flaccus showed his hostile intentions in a somewhat less obvious way by refusing to give a fair and im­partial hearing to the parties in disputes and leaning to one side only, while in all other matters he gave them no right to speak. Instead, he turned away whenever any Judean approached, while to everyone else he made himself easily accessible. But later he also showed his negative feelings openly.

[Judean client king Agrippa I, the Karabas farce, and Egyptian jealousy]

(25) The infatuation due to instruction from others rather than to his own nature, which demonstrated in his behaviour, was further strengthened by the following incident [ca. 37 CE]. Gaius Caesar gave to Agrippa [II], the grandson of king Herod, the kingship over that third part of his grandfather’s territory [Gaulanitis, Auranitis, Batanaea, and Trachonitis], the revenues of which were taken by Philip the tetrarch, Agrippa’s paternal uncle. When he was about to set out there, Gaius advised him not to undertake the voyage from Brundisium to Syria which was long and tiring but wait for the etesian winds and take the short route through Alexandria. He told him that, from there, he could travel with swift-sailing merchant vessels and highly skilled pilots who manage them as a charioteer manages race-horses and provide a straightforward passage along the direct route. Agrippa did as he was told, partly out of deference to his lord and master, and also because the course he enjoined seemed to be advisable. He went down to Dikaiarchia [Puteoli / modern Pozzuoli], and seeing there some ships of Alexandria lying at anchor and ready to sail he embarked with his retinue. After a good voyage, he came to land at Alexandria a few days later without being expected or his purposes detected. He had ordered the pilots when they sighted Pharos in the late afternoon to furl the sails and lie outside round about it and not far off until the evening had well set in, and then by night to put in at the harbour, so that he might disembark when everyone had settled down to sleep and reach the house of his host without anyone seeing him. His reason for making his visit in such an unassuming way was that he wished if possible to slip out of the city quietly and unobserved by the whole population. For he had not come to see Alexandria as he had stayed there before on his voyage to Rome to join Tiberius, and he only wanted to get a short route for his journey home.

But jealousy is part of the Egyptian nature, and the citizens [Alexandrians are being cast as “Egyptians”] were bursting with envy and considered that any good luck to others was misfortune to themselves, and in their ancient, and we might say innate hostility to the Judeans, they resented a Judean having been made a king just as much as if each of them had thereby been deprived of an ancestral throne.

(30) The unhappy Flaccus was again stirred up by his companions with incite­ments and appeals calculated to make him as envious as themselves. They said: “Agrippa’s stay here is your deposition. The dignity of the honour and prestige which invest him surpasses yours. Agrippa is attracting all men to him by the sight of his bodyguard of spearmen, decked in armour overlaid with gold and silver. Was it right for him to come to another ruler’s domain when a fair wind could have carried him safely by sea to his own? For if Gaius gave him permission or rather put compulsion on him to do so, he should have earnestly entreated to be excused from coming here, so that the governor of the country would not be thrown into the background and lose prestige.”

Such words made Flaccus more angry, and while in public he played the part of friend and comrade to Agrippa through fear of him who had sent him there, in private he vented his jealousy and gave full expression to his hatred by insulting him indirectly since he did not have the courage to do so directly. For the lazy and unoccupied mob in the city, a multitude well practised in idle talk, who devote their leisure to slandering and evil speaking, was permitted by him to vilify the king. This was the case whether the abuse was actually begun by himself or caused by his incitement and provocation addressed to those who were his regular ministers in such matters.

Thus started on their course they [non-Judean Alexandrians] spent their days in the gymnasium jeering at the king and bringing out a succession of insults against him. In fact they took the authors of farces and jests for their instructors and thereby showed their natural ability in things of shame, slow to be schooled in anything good but exceedingly quick and ready in learning the opposite.

(35) Why did Flaccus show no righteous anger? Why did he not arrest them? Why did he not punish them for their presumptuous evil-speaking? Even if Agrippa had not been a king, yet as a member of Caesar’s household, did he not deserve to have some precedence and marks of honour? These are clear proofs that Flaccus was a party to the defamation. For it is evident that if he (who could have punished or at the very least stopped them) did nothing to prevent them from acting in this way they did it with his full permission and consent. And if the undisciplined mob get a starting point for their misconduct in any direction, they do not stop there but pass on from one thing to another, always engaging in some fresh form of violence.

There was a certain lunatic named Karabas, whose madness was not of the fierce and savage kind, which is dangerous both to the madmen themselves and those who approach them, but of the easy-going, gentler style. He spent day and night in the streets naked without avoiding the heat and the cold and was made fun of by the children and the boys who were around. The rioters drove the poor fellow into the gymnasium and set him up on high to be seen by all and put on his head a sheet of papyrus spread out wide for a diadem, clothed the rest of his body with a rug for a royal robe, while someone who had noticed a piece of the native papyrus plant thrown away in the road gave it to him for his sceptre. And when as in some theatrical farce he had received the insignia of kingship and had been dressed up as a king, young men carrying rods on their shoulders as spearmen stood on either side of him in imitation of a bodyguard. Then others approached him, some pretending to salute him, others to sue for justice, others to consult him on civic affairs. Then from the crowds standing around him there rang out a tremendous shout hailing him as Marin, which is said to be the name for “lord” in Syria. For they knew that Agrippa was both a Syrian by birth and had a great piece of Syria over which he was king.

[Mistreatment of Judeans: Prayer-houses and images]

(40) When Flaccus heard, or rather saw all this, it was his duty to take and keep the mad­man in charge, to prevent him from providing an occasion to the railers for insulting their betters and then to punish those who had arrayed him thus, because they had dared both in word and deed both openly and indirectly to insult a king, a friend of Caesar’s, a person who had received praetorian honours from the Roman senate. Instead of this not merely did he refrain from chastising them but even shrank from restraining them, thereby giving immunity and free-play to those who displayed evil intentions and hostile feeling by pretending not to see what he saw nor hear what he heard. When the crowd perceived this – not the peaceful, public-spirited crowd, but the crowd which regularly fills everything with confusion and turmoil, which by its love of meddling, its eager pursuit of the worthless life, its habitual laziness and idling, is a thing that means mischief – they streamed into the theatre at early dawn, and they called out together for installing images in the prayer-houses. They had bought Flaccus for a miserable price which he – crazy for fame and ever-ready to be sold – accepted, resulting in the destruction not only of himself but of the communal safety.

What they proposed was a breach of the law entirely novel and unprecedented. Knowing this was the case and being quick-witted as they are for evil actions, they cunningly disguised it by using the name of Caesar as a screen, that name with which no guilty action can lawfully be associated. What then did the governor of the country do? Flaccus knew that both Alexandria and the whole of Egypt had two kinds of inhabitants, us and them, and that there were no less than a million Judeans resident in Alexandria and the country from the slope into Libya to the boundaries of Ethiopia. He also knew that this was an attack against them all, and that ancestral customs cannot be disturbed without harm. Nonetheless, he disregarded all these facts and permitted the installation of the images, even though there were a host of considerations all tending to caution which he might have set before them either as orders from a ruler or advice from a friend.

[Aside on the Judean diaspora and honours for the emperors]

But since he worked hand in hand with them in all their misdeeds, he did not hesitate to use his superior power to fan the flames of sedition perpetu­ally by still more novel additions of evil, and as far as lay in his power filled, one may also say, the whole habitable world with tribal conflict. (45) For it was perfectly clear that the rumour of the overthrowing of the prayer-houses (proseuchai) beginning at Alexandria would spread at once to the districts of Egypt and speed from Egypt to the east and the peoples of the east and from the Hypotainia and Marea, which are the out­skirts of Libya, to the west and the peoples of the west. For so populous are the Judeans that no one country can hold them, and therefore they settle in very many of the most prosperous countries in Europe and Asia both in the islands and on the mainland. They hold the Holy City where the sacred Temple of the most high God stands to be their mother city [Jerusalem]. Yet they also consider their homeland those places which are theirs by inheritance from their fathers, grandfathers, and ancestors even farther back, the places in which they were born and reared. In some cases, they have come to these places at the time of their foundation as immigrants, pleasing the founders. It was to be feared that people everywhere might take their cue from Alexandria and abuse their Judean fellow-citizens by rioting against their prayer-houses and ancestral customs.

Now the Judeans though naturally well-disposed for peace could not be ex­pected to remain quiet whatever happened. This was not only because with all men the determination to fight for their institutions outweighs even the danger to life. Rather it was also because they are the only people under the sun who by losing their prayer-houses were losing also what they would have valued as worth dying many thousand deaths: namely, their means of show­ing reverence to their benefactors.

For now they no longer had the sacred buildings where they could set up their thankfulness. And they might have said to their enemies “You have failed to see that you are not adding to but taking from the honour given to our masters. You do not understand that – every­where in the habitable world – the veneration of the Judeans for the Augustan house has its basis in the prayer-houses. And if we have these destroyed there is no place or method left for us pay honours. (50) If we neglect to pay honours when our customs allow, we might deserve the utmost penalty for not offering our re-payment with all due fullness. But if we fall short because it is forbidden by our own laws, which Augustus also was happy to confirm, I do not see what charge, either small or great, can be laid against us. The only thing for which we might be blamed would be that we transgressed, though involuntarily, by not defending ourselves against the defections from our customs, which even if originally due to others’ actions often ultimately affect those who are responsible for them.” . . . [sections omitted].

[Mistreatment of Judeans: Civic rights, ejection from districts, and violence]

. . . (53) When Flaccus’ attack against our laws by seizing the prayer-houses without even leaving them their name appeared to be successful, he pro­ceeded to another scheme, namely, the destruction of our civic organization (politeia). The purpose of this was that when our ancestral customs and our participation in civic rights, the sole moor­ing on which our life was secured, had been cut away, we might undergo the worst misfortunes with no rope to cling to for safety. For a few days afterwards Flaccus issued a proclamation in which he denounced us as foreigners (xenoi) and aliens (epēludai) and gave us no right of plead­ing our case but condemned us without a trial. What stronger profession of tyranny could we have than this? He became everything himself, accuser, enemy, witness, judge and the agent of punishment, and then to the two first wrongs he added a third by permitting those who wished to pillage the Judeans as at the sack­ing of a city.

(55) Having secured this immunity what did they do? The city has five quarters named after the first letters of the alphabet, two of these are called Judean because most of the Judeans inhabit them, though in the other quarters there are also some Judeans scattered around. So then what did they do? From the four of the quarters they ejected the Judeans and drove them to herd in a very small part of one quarter. The Judeans were so numerous that they poured out over beaches, dunghills and tombs, robbed of all their belongings. Their enemies overran the houses now left empty and turned to pillaging them, distributing the contents like spoil of war. Since no one prevented them, they broke open the workshops of the Judeans (which had been closed as a sign of mourning for Drusilla [sister of Caligula]), car­ried out all the articles they found, which were very numerous, and carried them through the middle of the market-place, dealing with other people’s property as if it was their own.

The unemployment was an even more serious evil than the pillaging. The tradespeople had lost their supplies, and no one – whether farmer, shipper, merchant, or artisan – was allowed to practise his usual business. So poverty was established in two ways: first, the pillaging, by which in the course of a single day they had lost all their valuables, completely stripped of what they had, and secondly, their inability to make a living from their regular employments.

Unbearable though these things were, compared with subsequent actions they were toler­able. Poverty, in fact, is grievous, particularly when it is caused by enemies. Yet it is less grievous than bodily injuries if suffered through brutal violence, even the slightest. But so excessive were the sufferings of our people that anyone who spoke of them as undergoing brutal violence or abuse would be using words not properly applicable. I think they would be at a loss for adequate terms to express the magnitude of cruelty so unprecedented that the actions of conquerors in war, who are also naturally merciless to the conquered, would seem kindness itself in comparison. . . [section comparing actions to war omitted].

(62) After the pillaging and eviction and violent expulsion from most parts of the city, the Judeans were like besieged people with their enemies all around them. They were pressed by want and desperate lack of necessities. They saw their infant children and women perishing before their eyes through a famine artificially created, since elsewhere all else was teeming with plenty and abundance, the fields richly flooded by the overflow of the river and the wheat-bearing parts of the lowlands producing through their fertility the harvest of grain in liberal pro­fusion. Unable any longer to endure the deprivation, some of them contrary to their former habits went to the houses of their kinsmen and friends to ask for the mere necessities as a charity. While those, whose high-born spirit led them to avoid the beggar’s lot as fitter for slaves than for the free, went out into the market solely to buy sustenance for their families and themselves. (65) Poor wretches, they were at once seized by those who wielded the weapon of mob rule, treacherously stabbed, dragged through the whole city, and trampled on, and thus completely made away with till not a part of them was left which could receive the burial which is the right of all. Multitudes of others also were laid low and destroyed with manifold forms of maltreatment, put in practice to serve their bitter cruelty by those whom savagery had maddened and transformed into the nature of wild beasts.

For any Judeans who showed themselves anywhere, they stoned or knocked about with clubs, aiming their blows at first against the less vital parts for fear that a speedier death might give a speedier release from the consciousness of their anguish. Some, made rampant by the immunity and licence which accompanied these sufferings, discarded the weapons of slower action and took the most effective of all, fire and steel, and slew many with the sword, while not a few they destroyed with fire. In fact, whole families, husbands with their wives, infant children with their parents, were burned in the heart of the city by these supremely ruthless men who showed no pity for old age nor youth, nor the innocent years of childhood. And when they lacked wood for fire they would collect brushwood and dispatch them with smoke rather than fire, thus contriving a more pitiable and lingering death for the miserable victims whose bodies lay promiscuously half-burnt, a painful and most heart-rending spectacle. And if the persons enlisted to get brushwood were too slow, they would burn the owners with their own furniture taken out of the spoil. Costly articles, in fact, they appropriated but anything that was not very useful they put on the fire to serve instead of ordinary wood. (70) Many also while still alive they drew with one of the feet tied at the ankle and mean­while leaped upon them and pounded them to pieces. And when by the cruel death thus devised, their life ended, the rage of their enemies did not end, but continued all the same. They inflicted worse out­rages on the bodies, dragging them through almost every lane of the city until the corpses, their skin, flesh and muscles shattered by the unevenness and roughness of the ground, and all the parts which united to make the organism dissevered and dis­persed in different directions, were wasted to nothing.

While those who did these things, like actors in a farce, assumed the part of the sufferers, the friends and kinsmen of the true sufferers, simply because they grieved over the misfortunes of their relations, were arrested, scourged, tortured and after all these outrages, which were all their bodies could make room for, the final punishment kept in reserve was the cross.

[Attacks on elders]

Having broken into everything like a burglar and left no side of Judean life untouched by a hos­tility carried to the highest level, Flaccus devised another monstrous and unparalleled line of attack worthy of this perpetrator of enormities and inventor of novel unjust acts. Our council of elders (gerousia) had been appointed to take charge of Judean affairs by our saviour and benefactor Augustus, after the death of the leader of the council, orders to that effect having been given to Magius Maximus when he was about to take office for the second time as governor of Alexandria and the country. Of this council of elders the members who were found in their houses, thirty-eight in number, were arrested by Flaccus, who having ordered them to be straightway put in bonds marshalled a fine procession through the middle of the market of these elderly men trussed and pinioned, some with thongs and others with iron chains, and then taken into the theatre, a spectacle most pitiable and incongruous with the occasion. (75) Then as they stood with their enemies seated in front to signal their disgrace, he ordered them all to be stripped and lacerated with scourges which are commonly used for the degradation of the vilest malefactors, so that in consequence of the flogging some had to be carried out on stretchers and died at once, while others lay sick for a long time despairing of recovery. The great lengths of malevolence to which the plan was carried have been fully proved in other ways, but all the same they will be shown still more clearly by the following statement. Three members of the council of elders – Euodus, Trypho and Andro – had become penniless, having been robbed in a single incident of everything that they had in their houses. The fact that they had been treated this way was known to Flaccus, who had been so informed when on an earlier occasion he sent for our leaders (archontes), ostensibly to reconcile them with the rest of the city. Nevertheless, though he knew quite well that they had been deprived of their property, he beat them before the eyes of their despoilers. Thus, while they suffered a twofold misfortune, poverty and the outrage to their persons, the others had a twofold pleasure, enjoying the possession of the wealth which was not their own and sating them­selves with gloating on the dishonour of those from whom that wealth was taken.

[Judean elders treated like Egyptians]

One aspect of the actions done at this time I mention only with hesitation, in case by being considered an insignificant matter it may detract from the magni­tude of these horrors. Yet even if it is a relatively small thing, it is a sign of major evil intentions. There are differences between the types of whipping used in the city, and these differences are regulated by the status of the persons to be beaten. The Egyptians actually are whipped with a different kind of lash and by a different set of people. The Alexandrians are whipped with a flat blade and the persons who do the whipping are also Alexandrians. This custom [of being whipped by Greek Alexandrians] was also observed in the case of our people [Judeans] by the predecessors of Flaccus and by Flaccus himself in his first years of office. For it is certainly possible to find some little thing to sustain their honour when inflicting dishonourable punishment on others, or to find some accompaniment to counteract the violence when violently mistreating them. This is true if one allows the nature of the case to be determined on its own merits and does not import some personal feeling of malice which removes and dislodges all ingredients of the milder type.

(80) Surely then it was the height of harshness that when common people among the Alexandrian Judeans, if they appeared to have done things worthy of whipping, were beaten with whips more suggestive of freemen and citizens. The leaders and the council of elders, whose very name implies age and honour, in this respect fared worse than their inferiors. They were treated like Egyptians of the lowest rank and guilty of the greatest offences. . . . [section sentences omitted].

. . . (85) The show had been arranged in parts. The first spectacle lasting from dawn till the third or fourth hour consisted of Judeans being whipped, hung up, bound to the wheel, brutally mauled and haled for their death march through the middle of the orchestra. After this “splendid” exhibi­tion came dancers, mimes, flute players, and all the other amusements of theatrical competitions.

[Accusations about Judeans’ weapons and reality of the “rebellious” Egyptians’ weapons]

But why dwell on these things, for Flaccus had a second plunderous plan. He wanted to use the large body of soldiers serving under him as a weapon against us. In order to do this, he invented a strange charge to the effect that the Judeans had stockpiles of every kind of weapons in their houses. Accord­ingly having sent for a centurion named Castus, whom he especially trusted, he ordered him to take the most intrepid soldiers in the company under him and without loss of time and without giving notice enter and search the houses of the Judeans to see whether they had any weapons stored there. Castus hurried off to do what he was told. The Judeans as they knew nothing of the scheme at first stood speechless in consterna­tion, while their women and children clung to them while crying in the fear of being taken into cap­tivity.

For they lived in expectation of this which was the one thing left to complete the spoliation. When they heard one of the searching party say “Where do you store your weapons?” they revived somewhat and opened everything up, even the con­tents of the recesses. In one way they felt pleased, in another deeply pained. They were pleased that the refutation of the charge would be self-evident. However, first of all they were indignant that such grave slanders that were fabricated against them by their enemies were so readily be­lieved. Secondly, they were indignant that their women who were kept in seclusion, never even approaching the outer doors, and their maidens confined to the inner chambers, who for modesty’s sake avoided the sight of men even if they were their closest relations, were displayed to the eyes of the soldiers who were not merely unfamiliar but terrorizing through the fear of military violence.

(90) And after this careful investigation, what enormous amount of defensive weapons was discovered? What helmets, breastplates, shields, daggers, pikes, outfits of armour, piles of which were produced? In terms of missiles, what javelins, slings, bows and arrows did they have? In fact, absolutely nothing, not even the knives that cooks use! This showed clearly the simplicity of the life led by people who discarded the expensive habits and luxury, which naturally breed that excessive fullness whose child is outrageous behaviour which is the source of all evils.

And yet not long before, the Egyptians in the country districts had their weapons collected by one Bassus, on whom Flaccus had laid this task. Then there was a great array of ships to be seen which had sailed to the bank and moored in the harbours of the river completely full with all kinds of weapons. Also there was a great number of beasts of burden with spears tied in bundles hung on each side to balance equally. Also there was a procession of wagons sent from the camp, nearly all full of outfits of armour, moving regularly one after the other so as to form a single ordered line, all visible at once. The space between the harbours and the armoury in the palace where the weapons had to be deposited was, taken altogether, about ten stadia long.

Those who procured this military equipment rightly had their houses searched because they had often revolted and were suspected of favouring sedition. In fact, the authorities should have copied the sacred contests by instituting new triennial celebrations for the collection of weapons, so that the Egyptians would not have time to provide them or at least only a few instead of this great quantity, as they had no opportunity for replacing them.

But why should we [the Judeans] have been subject to anything of the kind? When were we suspected of revolting? When were we not thought to be peacefully inclined towards everyone? Were not our ways of living which we follow day by day blameless and conducive to good order and stability in the city?

In fact, if the Judeans did have weapons in their possession, they had been dispossessed from over four hundred houses from which they were driven to wander by those who seized their property. Why then did not the plunderers have their property searched, since they would have, if not weapons of their own, at any rate those which they had seized?

[Attacks on women]

(95) But the whole proceeding was as I have said a malicious plot, due to the ruthlessness of Flaccus and the turbulent outbreaks. The effect of this was felt by women as well. For they were seized like captives not only in the market-place but also in the middle of the theatre and taken on to the stage on no matter what false charge, meanwhile being subjected to violence of an intolerable and most barbarous kind. Then, if they were recognized to be of another descent group (genos), since many were arrested as Judeans without any careful investigation of the truth, they were released. But if they were found to be of our people then these onlookers at a show turned into despotic tyrants and gave orders to bring pig’s meat and give it to the women. Then all the women who in fear of punishment tasted the meat were dismissed and did not have to bear any further terrible mistreatment. But the more resolute were delivered to the tormentors to suffer desperate torture, which is the clearest proof of their entire innocence of wrongdoing. . . [omitted incident in which Flaccus promised to deliver the Judeans’ honours for Caligula but secretly planned not to until it was discovered by Agrippa, who communicated the honours].

(146) I have described these events at length, not in order to recall long-past unjust treatments but to praise the justice which watches over human affairs, because, to those who had been hostile to him from the first and his most bitter enemies it also came to con­duct his arraignment and so magnify his afflictions to the highest level. For arraignment is not by itself so grievous as when it is brought by admitted foes. Not only was he accused, a ruler by his subjects, a potentate who only now had the life of both in his hands by inveterate enemies. But he was also con­demned, suffering by this a major twofold blow in that his fall was coupled with the laughter of gloat­ing enemies, which to men of good sense is worse even than death. Then there came to him a rich harvest of misfortunes. . . [extensive discussion of Flaccus’ exile and death mirroring Flaccus actions against the Judeans]. For it was the will of justice that the butcheries which she delivered to his single body should be as numerous as the number of the Judeans whom he unlawfully put to death.

(190) The whole place of his death was flooded with the blood which poured out like a fountain from the many veins which one after the other were severed, while as his corpse was dragged into the pit which had been dug, most of the parts fell asunder as the ligaments which bind the whole body together in one had been rent. That was the fate of Flaccus who thereby became very clear proof that the help which God can give was not withdrawn from the people of the Judeans.

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *