Saturday, August 1, 2015

Italy's Long Jewish History; From Slaves to Citizens

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                 

Titus, the Roman emperor from 79 to 81 CE, son of Vespasian.  He took command of the Roman army in Judea from his father in 70 CE when he destroyed Jerusalem after a 5 month siege.  His mistress was Berenice, a Judean princess.  He marched 20,000 Jews away from Judah and took them to Rome.  There they were used to build the coliseum.   "Proof of this lies in the Arch of Titus, which depicts a menorah as part of the bounty from Jerusalem. To this day, the Talmud forbids Jews from walking under the Arch.. 

UpdateA groundbreaking paper published in 2000 by Harry Ostrer, a professor of genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and University of Arizona geneticist Michael Hammer showed that most modern Jews are descended on their male side from a core population of approximately 20,000 Jews who migrated from Italy over the first millennium and eventually settled in Eastern Europe.
“All European [Ashkenazi] Jews seem connected on the order of fourth or fifth cousins,” Ostrer has said.

The arch at Rome was erected by the Senate in honor of Vespasian and Titus.  The original was destroyed.  This one dates from the reign of Domitian (81-96 CE.  The relief shows the goddess of victory crowning Titus.  You see the march of Jewish captives bearing the Temple vessels, the shewbread table, the 7-branched candlesticks and the trumpet, the Jordan and the sacrificial procession.
The sacking  of Jerusalem, same as above only more distinct

Judah Maccabee
Did he realize that " individual Jews had visited Italy as traders, and that a Jewish embassy was dispatched to Rome in 161 B.C.E. by Judah Maccabee to conclude a political treaty with the Roman senate?  Other Jews living in Rome after Judah  were apparently accused of conducting religious propaganda among the Roman population and were expelled from the city.  Jewish prisoners taken by the Roman General Pompey during his invasion of Eretz Israel, 63–61 B.C.E. when he captured Jerusalem and the Temple from Aristobulus' supporters and Judea was made a tributary and stripped her of the territories that the Hasmoneans had acquired, and the captured Jews were brought to Italy, but most were probably freed after a short time.  "During the reign of Tiberius, his minister, Sejanus,  deported 4,000 Jewish youths to Sardinia to fight banditry, ostensibly to punish the Jews for having tried to defraud a woman of the Roman nobility. In fact, this was part of the policy to suppress the Oriental cults, and an edict was also issued ordering the Jews to leave Italy unless they abandoned their religious practices. Tiberius ended  the measures. 

After Titus had destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE, Babylonia arose as the new Jewish center."
Ancient Greek culture's Parthenon 
"History records that the first Jewish settlers arrived in southern-Italy from Judea (part of modern day Israel) long before Christianity was established as the official religion of the Roman empire."

Jews settled in Italy in the 2nd century BCE, first in Rome most likely from being slaves and thereafter in the southern ports and along the trade routes.  Jews are known to have had settlements in Italy in at least 40 places  before the end of the "Classical Period" of between the 8th and 7th centuries BCE to the 5th century CE.
Much history is discovered from the catacombs in that they give us graphic evidence of the way of life and the high degree of cultural assimilation.  The Jews' life was seriously deteriorated with the Christianization of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.  However, they were protected by the Popes against the worst and their fundamental rights were maintained.

A well-known Jewish family was the Kalonymus family.  They migrated from Italy to Germany from the 9th  to the 13th century.  Kalonymos or Kalonymus (Hebrewקלונימוס‎) is a prominent Jewish family originally from Tuscany's LuccaItaly, which, after the settlement at Mainz and Speyer, Germany  of several of its members, took during many generations a leading part in the development of Jewish learning in Germany."  Lucca had a Jewish community in the 9th century and was among the most important in northern Italy, being associated with scholars such as Rabbi Kalonymos and later, Abraham Ibn Ezra.   Moses I. (ben Meshullam) Kalonymos was one of the first in the family who was a liturgical poet; lived at Rome or at Lucca about 850. 

Lucca  was one of the 3 northern Italian communities mentioned by Benjamin of Tudela in 1165.  In the 15th century, it had a community of loan-bankers.  Lucca is a city on the Serchio river in Italy’s Tuscany region. It’s renowned for the well-preserved Renaissance walls encircling its historic city center and its cobblestone streets

 The father of Onkelos, the great translator of the Bible, was, according to Avodah Zarah 11a, called Kalonymus,   Onkelos was born in the 1st century CE.  He was a Palestinian proselyte. He was a pupil of Rabbi Akiva and is responsible for the best-known Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch.  The best and most complete tradition regarding the history of the family is given in a small polemical work written probably around 1220 by *Eleazar b. Judah (b. Kalonymus) of Worms, the author of the Roke'aḥ

Born in Rome in 1030 was Shabbethai ben Kalonymus  AKA Kalonymus of Rome.  He was a halakist, exegete and liturgical poet.  His father was the president of the Jewish community and had a reputation as a Talmudic authority.   Halakic questions were submitted to Shabbethai from Worms, Germany and Arles, France and other places far away.  When Jacob bar Yakar died in 1070, Kalonymus was called to the rabbinate of Worms and held that position
until the fateful year of 1096 when he was a victim of the Crusaders.  Kalonymus had been director of the rabbinical school of Worms, Germany and had some famous pupils, such as Yakar ben Samuel ha-Levi and Joseph Kara, the French exegete.  Rashi quoted his commentaries on the Talmud.

Later in 1286 a descendant living in Rome was Kalonymos ben Kalonymos, called Maestro Calo who was a French author and translator living in France and Rome.  He translated many philosophical and scientific papers from Arabic into Hebrew and Latin for King Robert of Naples.  He died after 1328.

Among the prominent members of the Kalonymus family in Italy and Germany were KALONYMUS OF LUCCA, paytan, who lived in Italy probably in the ninth century; *MOSES BEN KALONYMUS, a paytan, who lived in Italy but who moved to Mainz, Germany,  There was "Meshullam b. Kalonymus of Rome of the tenth century, a paytan and halakhist who had contact with Gershom b. Judah, Me'or ha-Golah.
Bari, Italy where trade could start from ships sailing on Adriatic Sea
In the Dark Ages,also referred to as the Middle Ages, " that occurred in Western Europe following the decline of the Roman Empire," meaning the 6th to 13th centuries,  the great center of Jewish life was in the south, in Bari, and Italy played a great part in the transmission of Talmudic scholarship to northern Europe.  "Bari is a port city on the Adriatic Sea, and the capital of southern Italy’s Puglia region."
In the Middle Ages, Rome's Jews started to prosper as permission to trade and run businesses was given them. The majority of Rome's Jews lived in the Trastevere neighborhood during this period, a district found on the west bank of the river Tiber, south of Vatican City.

 Despite the increasing anti-Semitism from the Church at this time,  towns such as Venice, Florence, and Genoa realized that their commercial interests were of more importance than politics of the Church and accordingly the Jews found their condition better than ever before.

During the Dark Ages there were pockets of Jews in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Palermo and Messina in Sicily.   When Milan came under the control of the Lombards, Jews were left to live in peace in the territories under their rule. Although the Lombard families embraced Catholicism, Jews were not persecuted and Pope Gregory I showed them respect and consideration. Although anti-Semitism began increasing throughout Europe from the 8th century, leading to great migrations of Jews from other European nations to Italy, Italian Jews enjoyed  comparably high standards of living.
The southern Italian communities were mainly involved in wholesale trade from which they were later chased out of by the Venetians who took the trade over.  They were also into handicrafts, particularly in dyeing and silkweaving.  "As the Jews had been masters of the techniques of the craft from ancient times, in some districts, especially in the Mediterranean region, the preparation of dyes and dyeing of cloth was considered mainly a Jewish occupation. Such occupations were generally despised and their practice by Jews was seen as part of the general humiliation of the Jewish people. However, some sources indicate that dyeing was a highly respectable profession. The apparent contradiction points to a difference in social and economic standing between the artisan engaged in the craft and the merchant who dealt in the ingredients (though this distinction was not always clearly expressed in the sources). During this period, Jewish trade in dyestuffs expanded extensively. Jewish merchants imported reseda,  a fragrant herbaceous plants native to the Mediterranean region and from eastern India, via Egypt and Tunisia, to Italy and Spain, and exported saffron from Tunisia to southern Europe." 
Corsica is French, but Sardinian and Sicily are Italian islands.  

 Sicily, which is an Italian island, was once an independent kingdom.   There was a large low social  community of manual laborers living there.  Jews had lived here in Roman times also, perhaps as early as the 1st century BCE.  Pope Gregory I protected them.  There was a large Jewish settlement there in the 6th century and continued during the Arab occupation in the 9th to 11th centuries which left an impression on the language and culture of Sicilian Jewry.  When the rulers were the Normans, the Jews had their highest times of prosperity in Sicily.  During the Middle Ages, Jews numbered about 40,000.

From 1282, Sicily was ruled by the House of Aragon and was influenced by Spanish ideas and events.  By 1391 there was a devastating wave of massacres of Jews and another in 1474.  The Spanish Inquisition came early on in 1479.  In 1492 of course Jews were expulsed.  The exiles managed to find their way to the Italian mainland and the Levant.  The Sicilians changed their minds and invited them back to Sicily in 1745, but Jews did not return.

Sardinia was another Italian  island in the Mediterranean, " the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily and before Cyprus) and an autonomous region of Italy,."  "Jews were exiled to Sardinia by the emperor Tiberius in 19 CE and some inscriptions of the Roman Period are preserved.  In 599, a convert led a riot against the synagogue at Cagliari.  Later in the Middle Ages under Aragonese rule, there were communities at Cagliari, Alghero, Sassari, etc.  Their position deteriorated as elsewhere in the Spanish dominions in the 15th century and Sardinian was included in the general edict of expulsion from Spain in 1492."  No Jews have since lived there.

At the end of the 13th century, persecution in the kingdom of Naples drove large numbers of Jews to Christianity.  During this time, Jewish loan-bankers began to be invited for the public convenience into the towns of central and northern Italy.  This was the origin of the famous communities of Florence, Venice, Mantua, Ferrara, etc.
Jewish Ghetto, or saying it nicely;  Jewish Venice
 Venice was a former Italian republic and Jews had lived there in the 12th century, but the commercial jealousy of the Venetians stopped any permanent settlement of Jews.  In 1509 the Germans invaded and drove Jewish refugees, mainly of German origin, into Venice.  Jews were segregated in 1516 into Ghettos.  Marranos or converted Jews to Christianity were permitted to settle in Venice after 1589.  5,000 Jews were placed in the Ghetto but had maintained a most vigorous intellectual life.
 The Venetian government forced them to wear the Jewish hat marking them as Jews, but would not allow forced sermons or child baptisms and kept the Inquisition in check.  The Venetians gave up overseas trade and this left it largely in Jewish hands.  By the 18th century, Venice decayed.  1797 and the French Revolution caused the GHETTO gates to come down, Jews were emancipated but their condition deteriorated. under Austrian rule.  In 1866 Venice became part of Italy.  WWII Jews suffered during German occupation from 1943-45.  5 synagogues survived the war, but only 1 is used today.  The GHETTO is now a showplace.  In 1990 there were 700 Jews living in Venice.

In 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Spanish authorities expelled the Jews from Sicily.  They expelled Jews in 1541 from the kingdom of Naples and they never returned there again.  During this period in other places Jews lived in affluent and comfortable conditions and were influenced by the Renaissance as well as adding their own influence to the period.

The Piedmont region is one of the 20 regions of Italy. It has an area of 25,402 square kilometres and a population of about 4.6 million. The capital of Piedmont is Turin, a city in northern Italy.  Jews first settled here in 1424.  As the capital of Piedmont, the community, styling itself "the Commonalty of the Jews of the Estates of His Most Serene Highness, dominated the others of the region, reaching a population of 1,500 in the 18th century.  " Since the 15th century, Piemonte had been home to a unique Jewish community rooted simultaneously in the Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Italian traditions".

A GHETTO was established in 1679.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, the community became one of the most important in Italy.  It suffered greatly in WWII, of course.  their beautiful synagogue was destroyed but recovered and now has a rabbinical seminary and communal institutions.  In 1990 the Jewish population was 1,200.  

The Counter-Reformation caused the Jewish position to deteriorate.  Pope Paul IV's bull cum nimis absurdum of 1555  was the beginning of the GHETTO and the oppression of Jews in Rome and the Papal States as this was imitated all over the country.  The Ghetto Period lasted till the end of the 18th century or until 1799.
A Jew in Renaissanace  Italy;  From the age of emperor Constantine the Great (312-337) to the Renaissance,(1485-1660) the Italian Jews were represented in legends, paintings, and theater.  
Emancipation for Jews came with the French Revolutionary Wars of 1796 and 1797 but were cancelled on the fall of Napoleon in 1814 and 1815..  They weren't reestablished until the consolidation of unified Italy which took place from 1840 to 1870.

The next generation saw Jewish emancipation more complete in Italy than in any other country of Europe.  their position was fairly well maintained in the early years of Fascism in 1922, but of course, by 1938 after Mussolini signed an alliance with Nazi Germany, a strong anti-Semitic policy was put in place.  Jews were removed from office and many emigrated out of Italy.
Here is Joseph Wald, member of the Jewish Brigade of the British Army holding an Artillery gift for Hitler saying in Hebrew, Italy 1944-1945.  "The Jewish Brigade fought bravely and German troops were amazed at being attacked by wholly Jewish units of troops. 
Italy did not imitate Nazi brutality,  but during the German occupation of northern Italy from 1943 to 1945, violent persecution began and thousands of Italian Jews were deported to the death-camps.  Some 3,000 Italian Jews settled in Israel. In 1990 there were 34,500  Jews living in Italy  of whom 15,000 lived in Rome and 10,000 in in Milan.

Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia tree
Update on DNA:


  1. thanks so much for this post also, nadene! it is so intriguing to me because i am reading words that are ringing a bell when i look at my origins map on my ftdna page and look at the oracle search feature on gedmatch. northern italy and genoa definitely come into play in my family history and on both sides of my family in my dna picture, so does switzerland, austria, poland, czechoslovakia as well as germany. my maternal side immigrated from turin italy in the mid 1850's. oh yeah, throw in some swedish. and from my daddy, a whole bunch of scottish in the mix too ;).......

    i had already told you about the coat of arms of my northern italian bassano family which is on my maternal side, whose coat of arms included a mulberry tree and silkworms on it. they were musicians and woodwind instrument makers (and exported to england for king henry the 8th court to serve him). have read that they were believed to be secret jews (of moorish blood also).

    how homogenized we all must be by now! and what influences and situations must have created such a slurry! blows my mind........and i love it!

  2. Yes, that was for you. I learned a lot, too in looking for these facts. I found lots of websites about Jews into making cloth and dying it. I didn't realize Jews were so involved in it. You do have quite a history! Amazing. It blows my mind, too. Wow!

  3. thank you for the article nadene because it is so in keeping with many things i am finding. my bassano/denazzi family were imported by the english king for the music of his court. only the best for the king ya know! so many jewish people have been brought in to enhance a kingdom or country for their many giftings, but often ended up being sent packing. your history and mine must have many of these instances and following these people around and seeing it show up in the dna and affirming history just makes me marvel.

  4. I'm very interested in the Italian connection as I have that, too. I tried to see if we have a match with each other, but we don't. I used all the people I've had tested in my family; brother, son, 1st paternal cousin, 1st maternal cousin. Have you tried working with the matrix on the home web page? It's a small word to click and you have to wait a few minutes for your matches to load in your rectangle on the left side. It's really great. To find out more, have the older person in your family tested. They will have more cMs than you that match your matches.


    found this on the jewish genealogy portal

    my bassanos are specifically mentioned. you'll like this article

    1. The Bassanos, all wind players, were soon followed by a group of six string players, also from Venice. With first names like Alberto, Vincenzo and Antonio, and family names denominating towns in northern Italy - Bassano, Vicenza and Milan - there was nothing about them identifying them as Jews. But according to Prior, the musicians had one set of names they used in official business, and another set of names which were revealed only in private or at rare documented moments, such as the witnessing of wills.
      A little confusing, but they might have been what was called Marranos, and now the Anusim, hidden Jews. They're coming out now from the shadows and many are Jewish once more.

    2. The Bassanos turned out wind instruments that, according to contemporary records, were "so beautiful and good they are suited for dignitaries and potentates." And it was the daughter of one of these, Emilia Bassano, who may have left the greatest mark of all on English culture as Shakespeare's Dark Lady. The inspiration behind his central sonnets, the poet immortalized her beauty, wit and cruelty - but not her name. After all, what's in a name?

      if you do a short check on amelia bassano you will be quite taken aback!
      if actually true this is amazing! ;)
      there are a good number of articles about her and opinions are split. she may well have had an influence at the least...or??? makes you wonder...
      bassano/denazzi and lanier are in my genealogy so this woman (amelia bassano) was a niece of my 12x grandfather anthony bassano. lots and lots of circumstantial bits but who knows???
      interesting for sure!!!


    check out the good article i found nadene. my bassanos are specifically mentioned



  7. sorry for the double post! did not think the first one took.
    so maybe sephardic and askenazic jewish strains in my dna? appears so to me. my youngest sister has a truly beautiful soprano voice and can make a piano sound like a symphony-entirely self taught. another sister is a professional artist who has also taught herself to play several different instruments, so maybe those jewish roots are showing???
    when my artist sister was in middle school art class her instructor told her he would not teach her anything of his methods. her talent was so obvious and good at that young age that he did not want to discourage her by imposing his way of teaching art upon her. that said a lot for him didn't it? and my youngest sister tried piano lessons and abandoned them because it only frustrated her. God knows how to give gifts, alright. we may have uncovered the source in the dna background. :)

  8. Sounds like you have a very talented family. I wouldn't be surprised if you were from the secret Jews. Exciting news for sure. I thought my children's father was like that unknowingly. Not sure. Henwood and Hen was a Jewish Sephardic prefix and wood-could be too from Holland. When you can, get your dna into Ged.match and play around in there and see what you can find out. It's free. It's just a chore to get your results transferred to there. I'm afraid to try by myself, but I think you're a lot younger and braver than I am with computers.

  9. Sounds like an Anusim (Marrano) to me: Church records show that Lanier was baptised Aemilia Bassano at the parish church of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate, on 27 January 1569. Her father, Baptiste Bassano, was a Venice-born musician at the court of Elizabeth I. Her mother was Margret Johnson (born ca. 1545–1550), possibly the aunt of court composer Robert Johnson. Lanier also had a sister, Angela Bassano, who married Joseph Hollande in 1576. There were also brothers Lewes and Phillip, both of whom died before they reached adulthood.[3] It has been suggested that Lanier's family were Jewish or of partial Jewish ancestry, though this is disputed. Susanne Woods says that evidence for Lanier's Jewish heritage is "circumstantial but cumulatively possible". Leeds Barroll says she was "probably a Jew", her baptism being "part of the vexed context of Jewish assimilation in Tudor England". This is quite a historic lady and family of Bassanos. Wow! 1492 was the Spanish Inquisition and people had to leave---well, you know the history. A Jew couldn't enter England after the expulsion decree until 1655, so to enter they had to be Christians.

  10. yes nadene. the bassanos were invited by king henry so they needed a cover if they were truly of jewish blood-their craft and many talents made them desirable to the king.
    when you read the influences that emilia bassano lanier may have had in shakespeare's writing-the knowledge of music and culture and hebrew and access to english court life, then she may well have been the dark lady of his sonnets. the bassano's were dark skinned-moorish blood as well as possibly jewish. so.......i went looking at my gedmatch and went to the admixture feature with oracle and typed in jew. i ran my kit # with sephardic jew selected and i was amazed at what showed up-spanish and also iraqi jew, kurd, and turkish plus some others. what a mutt i be ;) !!!
    i don't know what i'm looking at frankly but there sure are a lot of real possibles with these bassanos (their coat of arms had the silkworms too as i shared before so that is just more thing to point a jewish direction). anthony bassano was married to a denazzi and i read that that is a jewish name but need to check that out.

    i have really enjoyed the exploration of these topics nadene because of what you write in your many articles and my interest is stirred about subjects of jews and their history.....and wow what you can find when you go scratching around ;)
    and knowing the little bit i do about my own dna i am happy to go scratching around to find where the jewish roots in my heritage are. for each of us our dna and genealogy is so intriguing!!!

  11. It all makes your heritage more interesting. Now where is your comment? I pressed the publish button. Hmm.

  12. There you are! Thanks. Yes, I was just thinking today that we are walking history with bits so small you cannot see them with the naked eye of all our past ancestors. When we die, this line dies and just think how long it's been able to keep on going just by our appearance. We inherit so much. I know much is shaped by environment, but then a lot is shaped by our genes.