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A Jewish tombstone from the Roman Empire with Greek writing and menorahs (Vatican Museum, Rome)

A Jewish tombstone from the Roman Empire with Greek writing and menorahs (Vatican Museum, Rome)

Jews in the Roman Empire

From the end of the Second Jewish Revolt and the Diaspora, around 130 AD, the Jews lived more or less quietly in the Roman Empire.

First Jewish Revolt
Second Revolt and Diaspora
All our Ancient Rome articles

Why did Jews become traders?

They settled in cities all around the Roman and the Parthian Empires. Many Jews also moved to the trading cities of the Arabian peninsula. Probably because of the Diaspora, many Jews now gave up farming and became traders.

The Roman economy
The Silk Road

Jewish families arranged to have brothers and sisters or cousins in different cities. That way they had trading partners they could trust. Many Jews learned Latin and Greek, and some Jews gave up speaking Aramaic or Hebrew.

What is Aramaic?

How did Roman Christians treat the Jews?

But a lot of people in the Roman Empire converted to Christianity in the 300s AD. That brought new problems to the Jews. The Roman emperors Constantine, Constantius, and Theodosius  encouraged or forced everyone to become Christians.

More about Constantine
And about Theodosius
Ambrose, a Christian bishop

Why did Christians want the Jews to convert?

Sometimes the Christian emperors tried to convert the Jews along with everybody else. Many Christians believed that if there was anyone near them who was not a good Christian, their own immortal souls were in danger of going to hell. So they had a duty to convert everybody. If they failed, they might go to hell.

Why did some Christians think Jews were okay?

But not everybody thought the Jews should become Christians. Some Christians believed that the Jews were special to God and should be left alone, as long as they kept to themselves and didn’t try to interfere with Christians. So the Jews were sometimes treated very badly, and other times less badly.

The Arabs and the Jews
Main Judaism page

Bibliography and further reading about the history of Judaism:


Being Jewish under Islamic rule
More about Judaism home