The Fiscus Iudaicus (Latin: "Jewish tax") or Fiscus Judaicus was a tax-collecting agency instituted to collect the tax imposed on Jews in the Roman Empire after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in AD 70. Revenues were directed to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in Rome.
Modern knowledge of the Fiscus Judaicus is found in four primary sources:
- A small number of tax receipts from Roman Egypt
- A passage from The Jewish War
- A passage The Twelve Caesars
- A passge from Cassius Dio's Roman History
The tax was initially imposed by Roman Emperor Vespasian as one of the measures against Jews as a result of the First Roman-Jewish War of 66–73 AD. Vespasian imposed the tax in the aftermath of the Jewish revolt (Josephus BJ 7. 218; Dio Cassius 66.7.2). The tax was imposed on all Jews throughout the empire, not just on those who took part in the revolt against Rome. The tax was imposed after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD in place of the levy (or Tithe) payable by Jews towards the upkeep of the Temple. The amount levied was two denarii, equivalent to the one-half of a shekel that observant Jews had previously paid for the upkeep of the Temple of Jerusalem (Exodus 30:13). The tax was to go instead to the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter, the major center of ancient Roman religion. The fiscus Iudaicus was a humiliation for the Jews. In Rome, a special procurator known as procurator ad capitularia Iudaeorum was responsible for the collection of the tax. Only those who had abandoned Judaism were exempt from paying it.
While the tax paid for the Temple of Jerusalem was payable only by adult men between the ages of 20 and 50, the fiscus Iudaicus was imposed on all Jews, including women, children, and elderly - and even Jewish slaves. In Egypt, the documentary evidence (in the form of receipts) confirms the payment of the tax by women and children. The oldest person known from these receipts to have paid the fiscus Iudaicus was a 61-year-old woman, which led Sherman LeRoy Wallace to conjecture that the tax was levied only until the age of 62, as was the regular Roman poll tax paid by individuals throughout the Empire.
The tax was continued even after the completion of the reconstruction of the Capitoline temple for its upkeep.
Domitian, who ruled between 81 and 96 AD, expanded the fiscus Iudaicus to include not only born Jews and converts to Judaism, but also on those who concealed the fact that they were Jews or observed Jewish customs. Suetonius relates that when he was young an old man of 90 was examined to see whether he was circumcised, which shows that during this period the tax was levied even on those above the age of 62. Louis Feldman argues that the increased harshness was caused by the success of the Jewish (and possibly Christian) proselytism.
Domitian applied the tax even to those who merely "lived like Jews":
- XII: "Besides other taxes, that on the Jews [A tax of two drachmas a head, imposed by Vespasian; see Josephus, Bell. Jud. 7.218] was levied with the utmost rigor, and those were prosecuted who, without publicly acknowledging that faith, yet lived as Jews, as well as those who concealed their origin and did not pay the tribute levied upon their people [These may have been Christians, whom the Romans commonly assumed were Jews]. I recall being present in my youth when the person of a man ninety years old was examined before the procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was circumcised.", c 90.
Domitian's ruling opened the door to possibilities of blackmail in Rome and in all Italy. Charges of following Judaism were easily made, but difficult to disprove, not least because the practices of certain philosophical sects resembled some Jewish customs. As a result, many people chose to settle with the accusers out of court rather than risk the uncertainties of judicial hearings, thus effectively encouraging the blackmailers. Titus Flavius Clemens was put to death for "living a Jewish life" or "drifting into Jewish ways" in the year 95 AD, which may well have been related to the administration of the fiscus Judaicus under Domitian.
Schism between Judaism and Christianity
The fiscus Iudaicus was originally imposed on Jews. At the time neither the Romans nor, probably, the Early Christians considered Christianity to be a separate religion from Judaism. If anything they would have considered themselves as a sect within Judaism, which historians refer to as Jewish Christianity. However, whether that was the intention or not, it did not take long for Christians to petition the Emperor to distinguish the Christians for the purpose of the payment of the fiscus Iudaicus. As the tax only applied to practising Jews, if they could be recognised as a separate religion, they would escape the impost.
After the murder of Domitian in 96 AD, Nerva relaxed the rules of collection, limiting the tax to those who openly practised Judaism. By this measure, the Christians (and perhaps Jewish Christians) escaped the tax [unreliable source?], but they were not officially recognized as a legal religion until the Edict of Milan. The coins of Nerva bear the legend fisci Iudaici calumnia sublata "abolition of malicious prosecution in connection with the Jewish tax," in reference to his reform of the harsh policies of Domitian
It remains unclear when exactly the fiscus Iudaicus was abolished. Documentary evidence confirms the collection of the tax in the middle of the 2nd century, and literary sources indicate that the tax was still in existence in the early 3rd century. It is not known when the tax was formally abolished. Some historians credit the emperor Julian the Apostate with its abolition in about 361 or 362.
The tax was revived in the Middle Ages in 1342 under the name of Opferpfennig by the Holy Roman Emperors. The Opferpfennig (originally Guldenpfennig) tax was introduced in 1342 by Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian, who ordered all Jews above the age of 12 and possessing 20 gulden to pay one gulden annually for protection. The practice was justified on the grounds that the emperor, as the legal successor of the Roman emperors, was the rightful recipient of the Temple tax which Jews paid to the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple. The Opferpfennig was collected on Christmas day.
- As translated by Molly Whittaker, Jews and Christians: Graeco-Roman Views, (Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 105.
- The Fiscus Judaicus and the Parting of the Ways, Reviewed by Shaye J.D. Cohen, 10/10/2012
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Fiscus Judaicus: "This was an affront to Jewish religious feeling."
- "Fiscus Judaicus", Encyclopedia Judaica
- Schäfer (1998), pp. 113–114
- Heemstra, p. 14
- Heemstra, p. 14 (footnote n. 30)
- Feldman (1993), p. 100
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Fiscus Iudaicus, Suetonius's Domitian
- Rodin (1915), p. 333
- Dio Cassius 67.14.1–2, 68.1.2; History of the Jewish People, H.H. Ben-Sasson editor, page 322: "...Domitian ordered the execution of Flavius Clemens ... for Judaizing tendencies..."
- Edwards (1996), p. 69
- "Fiscus Judaicus", Encyclopedia Judaica; Rodin (1915), p. 334
- Translated by Molly Whittaker, Jews and Christians: Graeco-Roman Views, (Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 105.
- Martin Goodman, "Nerva, the Fiscus Judaicus and Jewish Identity," Journal of Roman Studies 79 (1989) 40–44.
- OPFERPFENNIG. Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2008.
- Edwards, Douglas R. (1996). Religion & Power: Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greek East. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508263-X
- Feldman, Louis H. (1993). Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World: Attitudes and Interactions from Alexander to Justinian. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-07416-X
- Radin, Max (1915). The Jews among the Greeks and Romans. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America
- Schäfer, Peter (1998). Judeophobia: Attitudes toward the Jews in the Ancient World. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-48778-8
- Stern, Menachem (1997). "Fiscus Judaicus". Encyclopedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0). Ed. Cecil Roth. Keter Publishing House. ISBN 965-07-0665-8
- O'Quin, Chris (2009). "The Fiscus Judaicus".
- Heemstra, Marius (2010). "". The Fiscus Judaicus and the Parting of the Ways. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN 978-3-16-150383-2
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Fiscus Judaicus
- Livius.org: Fiscus Judaicus
- "The 'New Cleopatra' and the Jewish Tax" Biblical Archaeology Society
- Austin Simmons, The Cipherment of the Franks Casket (PDF) The Fiscus Judaicus is depicted on the back side of the Franks Casket.