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Fiscus Judaicus

Coin of Vespasian, showing a personification of Judaea mourning the loss of her independence. Legend: JUDAEA CAPTA, 'Judaea conquered'. Valkhof Museum, Nijmegen (Holland). Photo Marco Prins.
Coin of Vespasian, showing 
a personification of Judaea 
mourning the loss of her
independence. Legend:
conquered'. (Valkhof Museum,
Fiscus Judaicus ("Jewish tax"): a tax that the Jews had to pay to the temple of the Roman supreme god Jupiter Capitolinus after the destruction of their own temple in 70 CE.

In 70, the Roman general Titus captured the holy city of Judaism, Jerusalem. The temple was destroyed by fire and many Jews were taken captive; some of them had to build a canal in Seleucia, others were deported to Italy and forced to build the Colosseum in Rome. The fabulous treasure of the temple was also transported to the capital of the Roman empire, where it was used to solve the financial problems that had been caused by the fire of Rome (64), mismanagement by the emperor Nero, and the civil war of the year 69. The new emperor, Titus' father Vespasian, badly needed all money he could get, including the temple treasure of Jerusalem.

One of his financial measures was the creation of tax that had to be paid by those Jews who were still free: the fiscus Judaicus. In fact, this was not a completely novel tax: every Jewish man between 20 and 50 had paid a sum of two drachms -or eight sesterces- to the temple (cf. Matthew 17.24-27). Now, this tax flow was redirected to Rome, where it was spent at the reconstruction of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus at the Capitol, which had been destroyed during the civil war.

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Bust of Vespasian from Narona. Archaeological museum of Vid (Croatia). Photo Marco Prins.Bust of Vespasian from Narona (Archaeological museum of Vid)
For the Jews, it must have been a psychological humiliation to pay to a deity they believed not to exist, especially because the fiscus Judaicus was continued after the Capitoline temple had been restored. The reason for this continuation was that the measure was not only meant as improvement of Rome's finances, but also to deter people from converting to Judaism (proselytizing).

Vespasian's son Domitian (emperor 81-96) went to extremes to receive the money. The Roman author Suetonius records that he once saw how an old man's penis was controlled by tax gatherers to see whether it had been circumcised. In Egypt, several tens of papyrus receipts have been found, from which we learn that even boys and girls were forced to pay the two drachms. As there were about five million Jews in the Roman empire, the fiscus Judaicus offered the government some 40 million sesterces, enough to pay for three legions

The emperor Nerva (96-98) softened the measure, but the fiscus Judaicus was still in existence in the mid-third century.

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