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Philo's in Flaccum: Ethnicity and Social Space in Roman Alexandria*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 September 2009


Philo's famous account of anti-semitic rioting in Alexandria in A.D. 38, the InFlaccum, has frequently been exploited by scholars interested in the legal status of the Jewish community within the city and the issue of the constitution of Alexandria. This legalissue lies near the heart of the dispute which leads to some ancient and most modern accounts tracing the roots of the dispute to the Ptolemaic period. It is notable, however, that the first major attested outbreaks of anti-Jewish feeling considerably post-date the Roman conquest, suggestingthat this is a problem of Roman Alexandria with its roots in the Roman administration of the city. Philo also places comparatively little emphasis on legality in the InFlaccum. The account of the persecution concentrates rather on the topography of the dispute. The centrality of spatial factors in the In Flaccum can be illustrated by comparing the persecution of the Jews and the fall of Flaccus. Flaccus was publicly humiliated through a show trial, through the sale of his property at public action, and on his journey into exile, by the crowds in Italy and Greece who flocked to watch him pass. He was excluded from public space, both from his city by decree of the emperor and from the urban spaces of his island exile, prompted in the latter case by his conscience. Finally, while in isolation, he was attacked and murdered. The Jews were robbed and driven from the streets of their city into exile and deprived of access to the theatre and market. Their leaders were humiliated in the most public places in the city and finally they were attacked in their own homes. Although the parallels are not exact, as can be seen in Table 1, they are explicit and thiselaborate structure demonstrates for Philo the justice of God in His persecution of the persecutors.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1997

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1. The argument is summarized by Smallwood, E. M., The Jews under Roman Rule: from Pompey to Diocletian (Leiden, 1976), 224–50Google Scholar.

2. Bell, H. I., ‘Anti-semitism in Alexandria’, JRS 31 (1941), 113Google Scholar, Turner, E. G., ‘Tiberius Iulius Alexander’, JRS 44 (1954), 5475Google Scholar, Smallwood, op. cit., 224–50 stress possible Late Ptolemaic antecedents for anti-semitism in Alexandria.

3. Huzar, E. G., ‘Alexandria ad Aegyptum in the Julio-Claudian Age’, ANRWU. 10.1 (Berlin and New York, 1988), 619–68Google Scholar stresses rightly that the city of Alexandria was not central to Philo's work (621). The In Flaccum is, however, an important exception.

4. In Flaccum 172–4.

5. Lewis, N., Life in Egypt under Roman Rule (Oxford1, 1983), 1819Google Scholar.

6. This may reflect an awareness on the part of Agrippa that his presence might ignite preexisting tensions or a defence against the accusation that Agrippa's actions in the city somehow dishonoured Flaccus.

7. The demonstration in the gymnasium and the ‘evil counsel’ given to Flaccus would seem only to make sense if Agrippa was received, and unless we envisage that the complaints of the Jewish community against Flaccus were transmitted to Agrippa while his boat was moored in the harbour (In Flaccum 103), then we must assume that he landed.

8. Philo claims that the demonstration disturbed Flaccus’ equanimity (In Flaccum 29–32) which possibly increased his dislike or distrust of the Jewish community.

9. It is possible, though perhaps unlikely, that the ekklesia is to be identified with the gymnasium since the ‘Donations of Alexandria’ was located by Plutarch in the gymnasium (Plut. Ant. 54.6) and Dio (49.41) placed it in the ekklesia, but I would prefer to associate the ekklesia with the theatre.

10. Delia, D., Alexandrian Citizenship during the Roman Principate (Atlanta, 1991), 71Google Scholar is probably right to point out that performing the ephebeia in Alexandria was not a necessary qualification for becoming an Alexandrian citizen.

11. Delia, op. cit, 63; Fraser, P. M., Ptolemaic Alexandria (Oxford, 1972), 3846Google Scholar.

12. Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah V 55s in Kasher, A., The Jews in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt: the Struggle for Equal Rights (Tubingen, 1985), 350Google Scholar. The same passage is quoted by Sly, D. I., Philo's Alexandria (London and New York, 1996), 43–4Google Scholar. The description of the seating arrangements in the synagogue parallels arrangements in Late Roman theatres. The organization of the workforce into guilds must have paralleled the organization of the pagan population into similar bodies, perhaps associated with temples.

13. Much discussion has centred on a petition from Helenos to the prefect Turranius complaining that he had been registered to pay poll tax (BGUTV 1140 = CPJM 151). Kasher, , op. cit., 204Google Scholar n. 59 argues convincingly both that we have a draft petition and that an amendment to the petition to make clear that he was a Jew of Alexandria was probably made by Helenos or his scribe. Helenos was, therefore, not trying to conceal his Jewish identity which suggests that being an Alexandrian Jew did not automatically mean he would have to pay the poll tax. Kasher also dismisses a restoration of the text that provided evidence for Jews performing the ephebeia.

14. This seems to be broadly the modern view: Kasher, op. cit., 356–7, cf. 197–204; Delia, , op. cit., 27Google Scholar; Bell, , Jews and Christians in Egypt: the Jewish Troubles in Alexandria and the Athanasian Controversy (London, 1924), 1021Google Scholar.

15. Bowman, A. K. and Rathbone, D. W., ‘Cities and Administration in Roman Egypt’, JRS 82 (1992),107–27Google Scholar.

16. Bowman and Rathbone, ibid.

17. Nelson, C. A., Status Declarations in Roman Egypt (ASP 19) (Amsterdam, 1979), 1025Google Scholar; Bowman and Rathbone, ibid.

18. Alston, , Soldier and Society in Roman Egypt: a Social History (London and New York, 1995), 54–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19. Burkhalter, F., ‘Le gymnase d'Alexandrie: centre administratif de la province romaine d'Egypte’, BCH 116 (1992), 345–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar; cf. Yegül, E K., The Bath-Gymnasium Complex at Sardis (Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, 3) (Cambridge, Mass, and London, 1986)Google Scholar.

20. Fraser, P. M., Ptolemaic Alexandria (Oxford, 1972), 798800Google Scholar.

21. Horbury, W. and Noy, D., Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt (Cambridge, 1992), xiiixviGoogle Scholar; inscriptions 1; 2; 3; 4; 6; 7; 8; 10 discuss the epigraphic evidence and give a brief summary of the archaeological excavations. See also Fraser, op. cit., 32–4.

22. Fraser, , op. cit., 35Google Scholar.

23. Alston, ‘Houses and Households in Roman Egypt’ in A. Wallace-Hadrill and R. Laurence (edd.), Domestic Space in the Roman World, JRS Suppl. (Ann Arbor, forthcoming) will discuss the Egyptian house. Unfortunately, the very few Roman houses excavated in Alexandria offer no evidence for the architectural arrangement described by Philo. The houses excavated by the Polish team at Kom el-Dikka date to the seventh century. It seems likely that the inhabitants were of a fairly low economic status. See Rodziewicz, M., Alexandrie III. Les habitations romaines tardives d'Alexandrie à la lumière desfouilles polonaises à Kom el-Dikka (Warsaw, 1984)Google Scholar.

24. Archer, L. J., Her Price is Beyond Rubies: the Jewish Woman in Graeco-Roman Palestine, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Suppl. 60 (Sheffield, 1990), 102Google Scholar shows that regulations governing movement of women differed according to social class and (114–17) that houses in Palestine had separate apartments for male and female members of the household. Actual behaviour probably differed from these prescriptions. For Philo's attitude and policy towards the women of Alexandria see Sly, , Philo's Perception of Women, Brown Judaic Studies, 209 (Atlanta, 1990), 195–8Google Scholar.

25. This ‘Roman view’ of Alexandria was given force by Germanicus during his visit to the city. He opened the granaries to alleviate a threatened famine but refused to feed the Jewish population of the city (Jos. C. Ap. 2.63).

26. In 66 the Jews entered the theatre soon after the outbreak of the revolt in Judaea. The Greek community responded by declaring them enemies and driving them from the theatre (Jos, . B.J. 2.491–8)Google Scholar. The attempt of the Jews to enter the theatre suggests that it was not seen as exclusively Greek and at least some of the community continued to see themselves as part of the wider community of Alexandrians. The ethnicity of civic space in Alexandria remained an issue beyond the first century. In 215 Caracalla, posing as the second Alexander, sacked the city and refounded it, having removed all non-Greeks (Dio 78.21–3; HA, Anton. Caracalla 6Google Scholar; Herodian 4.9; Lukaszewicz, A., ‘Alexandrie sous les Severes et rhistoriographie’ in Criscuolo, L. and Geraci, G. (edd.), Egitto e storia antica dell’ ellenismo all’ eta araba [Bologna, 1989], 491–6)Google Scholar.

27. This early treatment of Alexandria can be compared with developments in Egypt in later periods: Bell, , ‘Antinoopolis: a Hadrianic foundation in Egypt’, JRS 30 (1940), 133–49Google Scholar; Bowman, , ‘Public buildings in Roman Egypt’, JRA 5 (1992), 495503Google Scholar; Alston, , ‘Ritual and Power in the Romano-Egyptian city’ in Parkins, H. (ed.), The Ancient City: Beyond the Consumer Model (London and New YorkGoogle Scholar, forthcoming) and in other areas of the Empire: see Spawforth, A. J. and Walker, S., ‘The World of the Panhellion I. Athens and Eleusis’, JRS 75 (1985), 78104Google Scholar; Spawforth, and Walker, , ‘The World of the Panhellion II. Three Dorian Cities’, JRS 76 (1986), 88103Google Scholar; Rogers, G. M., The Sacred Identity of Ephesus (London and New York, 1991)Google Scholar.

28. Balconi, C., ‘Alessandria nell’ età Augustea’ in Egitto e Societd Antica: Atti del Convegno. Turino 8/9 vi–23/24 xi 1984 (Milan, 1985), 181–96Google Scholar and Schubart, W, ‘Alexandrinische Urkunden aus der Zeit des Augustus’, Archiv. 5 (1913), 35131Google Scholar; both point to the integration of the Jewish community.

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