Judeans: Valerius Maximus on the 139 BCE expulsion with “Chaldeans” (early first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judeans: Valerius Maximus on the 139 BCE expulsion with “Chaldeans” (early first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 2, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9291.

Ancient authors: Valerius Maximus (early first century CE), On Superstition as summarized by the later Epitomes of Nepotianus (link) and Paris (link).

Comments: Valerius Maximus’ work On Superstition does not survive, but there are two later epitomists who summarize his account of an expulsion from Rome of both “Chaldeans” (here with the sense of astrologers) and Judeans (Jews) in the year 139 BCE. It is unclear how Jupiter Sabazius (the Roman god Jupiter identified with the Phrygian deity Sabazios) figures into the Judean expulsion, and this may well be just a mix-up about what foreign deity these people worshipped. One foreign god may be as good as another for someone like Valerius Maximus.

This is among several reports of sporadic incidents involving the (temporary) expulsion of foreigners or perceived trouble-makers from Rome in connection with the Roman authorities’ perception of civic disturbance. Another report of an expulsion of Judeans involves their ejection along with certain Egyptians in the time of Tiberius, ca. 17-19 CE (link). In the time of Claudius, once again we hear about Judeans being ejected from Rome (link). Such intermittent expulsions provide a momentary glimpse into the Roman elites’ perception of foreign peoples, as well as a potential glimpse into the actual treatment of foreigners. It is important to remember that this also had a sort of class dimension, in that many of the immigrants in Rome would be slaves or ex-slaves. From such a Roman elite perspective, the practices of foreigners and the lower strata of the population would generally be stereotyped as “superstition” (superstitio) in contrast to an upper-class Roman sense of obligation (religio) to behave in keeping with particular ancestral ways.

Works to consult: Heidi Wendt, “Iudaica Romana: A Rereading of Judean Expulsions from Rome,” Journal of Ancient Judaism 6 (2015): 97–126.

This post is part of the Romans and Roman authorities on foreigners from the east series:

  • Babylonian and Persian wisdom: Various authors on reception and expulsion of Chaldeans, Magians, and other foreign experts at Rome (first century CE on) (link)
  • Judeans: Valerius Maximus on the 139 BCE expulsion with “Chaldeans” (current post)
  • Judeans, Egyptians, and Magians: Various authors on Tiberius’ actions against foreign practices 17-19 CE (link)
  • Judeans and Celts: Various authors on Claudius’ actions against foreigners in the 40s CE (link)

Source of the translation: Translation by Harland.


Epitome of Nepotianus (fourth-fifth century CE [?])

Cornelius Hispalus expelled from the city [Rome] the Chaldeans and ordered them to leave Italy within ten days and not to attempt to sell their foreign knowledge. The same Hispalus banished the Judeans, because they attempted to transmit their sacred rites to the Romans, and he abolished their individual and communal altars.


Epitome of Paris (fourth century CE [?])

Cn. Cornelius Hispalus, praetor peregrinus when M. Popilius Laenas and L. Calpurnius were consuls, ordered the Chaldeans by an edict to leave the city and Italy within ten days, since by a false interpretation of the stars they perturbed petty and foolish minds, making profit from their lies. The same praetor forced the Judeans, who attempted to infect the customs [of Romans] with the cult of Jupiter Sabazius, to return to their homes.

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