The Decrees of Julius Caesar Favoring the Jews

Josephus Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews XIV 10.1-8, translated by William Whiston.

1. Now when Caesar was come to Rome, he was ready to sail into Africa to fight against Scipio and Cato, when Hyrcanus sent ambassadors to him, and by them desired that he would ratify that league of friendship and mutual alliance which was between them, And it seems to me to be necessary here to give an account of all the honors that the Romans and their emperor paid to our nation, and of the leagues of mutual assistance they have made with it, that all the rest of mankind may know what regard the kings of Asia and Europe have had to us, and that they have been abundantly satisfied of our courage and fidelity; for whereas many will not believe what hath been written about us by the Persians and Macedonians, because those writings are not every where to be met with, nor do lie in public places, but among us ourselves, and certain other barbarous nations, while there is no contradiction to be made against the decrees of the Romans, for they are laid up in the public places of the cities, and are extant still in the capitol, and engraven upon pillars of brass; nay, besides this, Julius Caesar made a pillar of brass for the Jews at Alexandria, and declared publicly that they were citizens of Alexandria. Out of these evidences will I demonstrate what I say; and will now set down the decrees made both by the senate and by Julius Caesar, which relate to Hyrcanus and to our nation.

2. "Caius Julius Caesar, imperator and high priest, and dictator the second time, to the magistrates, senate, and people of Sidon, sendeth greeting. If you be in health, it is well. I also and the army are well. I have sent you a copy of that decree, registered on the tables, which concerns Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, the high priest and ethnarch of the Jews, that it may be laid up among the public records; and I will that it be openly proposed in a table of brass, both in Greek and in Latin. It is as follows: I Julius Caesar, imperator the second time, and high priest, have made this decree, with the approbation of the senate. Whereas Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander the Jew, hath demonstrated his fidelity and diligence about our affairs, and this both now and in former times, both in peace and in war, as many of our generals have borne witness, and came to our assistance in the last Alexandrian war, with fifteen hundred soldiers; and when he was sent by me to Mithridates, showed himself superior in valor to all the rest of that army; - for these reasons I will that Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, and his children, be ethnarchs of the Jews, and have the high priesthood of the Jews for ever, according to the customs of their forefathers, and that he and his sons be our confederates; and that besides this, everyone of them be reckoned among our particular friends. I also ordain that he and his children retain whatsoever privileges belong to the office of high priest, or whatsoever favors have been hitherto granted them; and if at any time hereafter there arise any questions about the Jewish customs, I will that he determine the same. And I think it not proper that they should be obliged to find us winter quarters, or that any money should be required of them."

3. "The decrees of Caius Caesar, consul, containing what hath been granted and determined, are as follows: That Hyrcanus and his children bear rule over the nation of the Jews, and have the profits of the places to them bequeathed; and that he, as himself the high priest and ethnarch of the Jews, defend those that are injured; and that ambassadors be sent to Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, the high priest of the Jews, that may discourse with him about a league of friendship and mutual assistance; and that a table of brass, containing the premises, be openly proposed in the capitol, and at Sidon, and Tyre, and Askelon, and in the temple, engraven in Roman and Greek letters: that this decree may also be communicated to the quaestors and praetors of the several cities, and to the friends of the Jews; and that the ambassadors may have presents made them; and that these decrees be sent every where."

4. "Caius Caesar, imperator, dictator, consul, hath granted, That out of regard to the honor, and virtue, and kindness of the man, and for the advantage of the senate, and of the people of Rome, Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, both he and his children, be high priests and priests of Jerusalem, and of the Jewish nation, by the same right, and according to the same laws, by which their progenitors have held the priesthood."

5. "Caius Caesar, consul the fifth time, hath decreed, That the Jews shall possess Jerusalem, and may encompass that city with walls; and that Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, the high priest and ethnarch of the Jews, retain it in the manner he himself pleases; and that the Jews be allowed to deduct out of their tribute, every second year the land is let [in the Sabbatic period], a corus of that tribute; and that the tribute they pay be not let to farm, nor that they pay always the same tribute."

6. "Caius Caesar, imperator the second time, hath ordained, That all the country of the Jews, excepting Joppa, do pay a tribute yearly for the city Jerusalem, excepting the seventh, which they call the sabbatical year, because thereon they neither receive the fruits of their trees, nor do they sow their land; and that they pay their tribute in Sidon on the second year [of that sabbatical period], the fourth part of what was sown: and besides this, they are to pay the same tithes to Hyrcanus and his sons which they paid to their forefathers. And that no one, neither president, nor lieutenant, nor ambassador, raise auxiliaries within the bounds of Judea; nor may soldiers exact money of them for winter quarters, or under any other pretense; but that they be free from all sorts of injuries; and that whatsoever they shall hereafter have, and are in possession of, or have bought, they shall retain them all. It is also our pleasure that the city Joppa, which the Jews had originally, when they made a league of friendship with the Romans, shall belong to them, as it. formerly did; and that Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, and his sons, have as tribute of that city from those that occupy the land for the country, and for what they export every year to Sidon, twenty thousand six hundred and seventy-five modii every year, the seventh year, which they call the Sabbatic year, excepted, whereon they neither plough, nor receive the product of their trees. It is also the pleasure of the senate, that as to the villages which are in the great plain, which Hyrcanus and his forefathers formerly possessed, Hyrcanus and the Jews have them with the same privileges with which they formerly had them also; and that the same original ordinances remain still in force which concern the Jews with regard to their high priests; and that they enjoy the same benefits which they have had formerly by the concession of the people, and of the senate; and let them enjoy the like privileges in Lydda. It is the pleasure also of the senate that Hyrcanus the ethnarch, and the Jews, retain those places, countries, and villages which belonged to the kings of Syria and Phoenicia, the confederates of the Romans, and which they had bestowed on them as their free gifts. It is also granted to Hyrcanus, and to his sons, and to the ambassadors by them sent to us, that in the fights between single gladiators, and in those with beasts, they shall sit among the senators to see those shows; and that when they desire an audience, they shall be introduced into the senate by the dictator, or by the general of the horse; and when they have introduced them, their answers shall be returned them in ten days at the furthest, after the decree of the senate is made about their affairs."

7. "Caius Caesar, imperator, dictator the fourth time, and consul the fifth time, declared to be perpetual dictator, made this speech concerning the rights and privileges of Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, the high priest and ethnarch of the Jews. Since those imperators that have been in the provinces before me have borne witness to Hyrcanus, the high priest of the Jews, and to the Jews themselves, and this before the senate and people of Rome, when the people and senate returned their thanks to them, it is good that we now also remember the same, and provide that a requital be made to Hyrcanus, to the nation of the Jews, and to the sons of Hyrcanus, by the senate and people of Rome, and that suitably to what good-will they have shown us, and to the benefits they have bestowed upon us."

8. "Julius Caius, praetor [consul] of Rome, to the magistrates, senate, and people of the Parians, sendeth greeting. The Jews of Delos, and some other Jews that sojourn there, in the presence of your ambassadors, signified to us, that, by a decree of yours, you forbid them to make use of the customs of their forefathers, and their way of sacred worship. Now it does not please me that such decrees should be made against our friends and confederates, whereby they are forbidden to live according to their own customs, or to bring in contributions for common suppers and holy festivals, while they are not forbidden so to do even at Rome itself; for even Caius Caesar, our imperator and consul, in that decree wherein he forbade the Bacchanal rioters to meet in the city, did yet permit these Jews, and these only, both to bring in their contributions, and to make their common suppers.   Accordingly, when I forbid other Bacchanal rioters, I permit these Jews to gather themselves together, according to the customs and laws of their forefathers, and to persist therein. It will be therefore good for you, that if you have made any decree against these our friends and confederates, to abrogate the same, by reason of their virtue and kind disposition towards us."