Early Settlement of Jews.

A district of southern Italy, the limits of which have varied. It is usually regarded as the region bounded by the Frentani on the north, Samnium on the west, Calabria and Lucania on the south, and the Adriatic on the east. Apulia is now one of the poorest provinces of Italy, but in the Middle Ages, by reason of its several excellent seaports, it was of considerable commercial importance. This probably accounts for its early attractiveness to Jewish immigrants; for in northern Italy commerce had been monopolized by a number of native Christian families. It is impossible to determine the exact date of the settlement of Jews in Apulia, though it must have been early. In Pozzuoli, in the neighboring province of Naples, which was the chief Italian seaport for Oriental commerce, there were Jewish inhabitants about the year 4 B.C., directly after the death of Herod (Josephus, "Ant." xvii. 12, § 1; "B. J." ii. 7, § 1). For such an early arrival of Jews in other parts of southern Italy all positive proof is lacking. On the death of Theodosius I., and the division of the Roman empire, in the year 395, Apulia was allotted to Honorius, the emperor of the West. In his days the Jewish population in Apulia and its adjunct Calabria must already have been considerable, for he abolished in those provinces the curial freedom of the Jews and interdicted the exportation of the patriarchal taxes; and, besides this, he complained in one of his edicts (of the year 398) that in numerous cities of Apulia and Calabria the communal offices could not be regularly filled, because of the refusal of the Jewish population to accept them—an attitude toward government appointments characteristic of the medieval Jews.

The catacombs of Venosa, in Apulia, the birthplace of Horace, have yielded to recent excavators a great deal of epigraphic material, consisting of inscriptions in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, dating, according to the conclusions of Mommsen, from the sixth century. Seven Hebrew epitaphs of the ninth century, likewise, have been unearthed at Venosa, and their contents indicate the existence of a flourishingcommunal life among the contemporary Jews of Apulia, seeing that in one of them a certain R. Nathan b. Ephraim is eulogized as "an honored man, master of wisdom, chief of an academy, and leader of his generation "(Ascoli, "Iscrizione," p. 71).

"Chronicle" of Ahimaaz.

The commencement of the settlement of Jews in Apulia is surrounded by legends. Yosippon, for example, traces them back to the five thousand captives transplanted by Titus from Palestine to Taranto, Otranto, and similar places. The most important contribution, however, to the early annals of the Apulian Jews has been obtained in recent years from the unique "Chronicle" of Ahimaaz ben Paltiel. The attention of Ahimaaz, as regards Apulia, was almost entirely confined to the community of Oria, to which his family had belonged, and the members of which he also regarded as the descendants of the captives of Titus. It was in Oria that the patriarch of the family, Amittai, became known about the middle of the ninth century, both as scholar and liturgical poet. In the age of his two sons, Shephatiah and Hananeel, the former of whom became particularly distinguished for his literary and communal activity, there appeared on the scene of Italian Jewish life the figure of Aaron the Babylonian. Under his influence the academies of Oria are alleged to have sprouted forth in unprecedented vitality, and the various branches of Jewish law and life to have burst into new activity.

Eastern scholars probably were in the habit of visiting the flourishing communities of the Occident for the purpose of transplanting thither the traditions of scholarship and religion. Such a scholar is reported by Ahimaaz to have come to Venosa. He made it his practise to deliver public lectures every Sabbath, basing his expositions on the Midrashic interpretations of the weekly Scriptural sections. His lectures were given in Hebrew probably, as the services of an interpreter were needed to render them intelligible to the audience.

Thaumaturgy and Poetry.

Poetic and thaumaturgic talents were the favorite attributes bestowed by tradition on the Jews of medieval Apulia. Both are ascribed by Ahimaaz in a great measure to R. Shephatiah b. Amittai, whom illinformed commentators had regarded as one of the captives of Titus and one of the authors of "We-hu RaḦum," a liturgic piece, but who probably flourished in the second half of the ninth century in Oria. According to the testimony of Ahimaaz, it was Shephatiah's argumentative ability and miracle-working power that had saved the Jews of Oria from a serious religious persecution.

Synchronously with this persecution occurred a disastrous Arabian invasion of Calabria and Apulia. In the year 872 Saudan, an Arabian conqueror, entered Bari, where he usurped the government and established a court, in which, as legend has it, Aaron the Babylonian was accorded boundless honors as counselor and oracle just prior to his departure for the East. From Bari, Saudan advanced upon Oria, to which he made the proposal of a siegeless settlement on condition of a certain voluntary tribute from the population. Here, again, Shephatiah, whom legend presents as the disciple of the wondrous Aaron, and who probably was familiar with the Arabic language, was delegated to negotiate with the invader. The Saracen terror, however was frustrated by the confederacy of the emperor Basil I. with Louis II., the emperor of Germany.

That the conversion of the Jews was a prevalent ambition in Apulia in that age, is inferred, further, from what Ahimaaz records regarding Hananeel, the younger brother of Shephatiah. He says that Hananeel, too, was a noted miracle-worker and liturgical poet; that the archbishop of Oria summoned him to his palace on one occasion, and forced him into a religious dispute, in the course of which the archbishop impeached the correctness of the Jewish calendar with a view of inducing him to accept Christianity.


Astrology, also, was cultivated in Apulia. Palṭiel, the son of Cassia—the great-granddaughter of Hananeel b. Amittai—owing to his distinction in astrology, became the intimate friend and counselor of the calif Abu Tamim Maad (called Muizz lidin-Allah or Almuizz), the conqueror of Egypt and builder of Cairo. The friendship between the two, according to Ahimaaz, had begun in Italy on the occasion of one of the Apulian invasions led by Almuizz when Oria was besieged and taken. This emigrant from Apulia had certainly achieved communal distinction among the Jews of Egypt in the second half of the tenth century, since the title of "Naggid" is mentioned in connection with his name.

A cousin of Palṭiel, Samuel b. Hananeel (died 1008), settled in Capua, where both he and his son Palṭiel (988-1043) attained prominence as communal benefactors and leaders. It was Ahimaaz, the son of the latter, born in 1017, who not only returned to the ancestral dwelling-place in Oria, but also left a number of liturgic pieces, and rescued from oblivion the memory of his ancestors. His "Chronicle" mentioned above, being one of the very few literary monuments of that period, is of assistance in forming an idea of the literary fashions and influences of his age. Of course, the influence of the Apulian vernacular shows itself in many peculiarities of expression characteristic of the "Chronicle."

Shabbethai Donnolo.

Even prior to the discovery of the "Chronicle" of Ahimaaz, however, Apulia had the distinction of being considered the birthplace of the first Jewish scholar in Europe whose name had been inscribed in the history of literature, Shabbethai Donnolo. This noted physician and astronomer was born at Oria, in the district of Otranto, in the year 913. When he was twelve years old (925) an army of Fatimite Mohammedans, led by Ja'far ibn Ubaid, again invaded Calabria and Apulia, on which occasion, according to Donnolo's autobiographic note, the city of Oria was sacked, "ten wise and pious rabbis," whose names are given, and numerous other Jews, were killed, while a multitude of survivors, including himself, were taken captive. One of the victims was Ḥasadiah b. Hananeel, nephew of Shephatiah b. Amittai, to whom Donnolo refers as a relation of his grandfather ("Ḥakmoni,"ed. Castelli, Hebr. part, p. 3). Several details of Donnolo's life throw light on the condition of Jewish culture in his time and country. Donnolo, for example, like his contemporary Palṭiel, had become a devotee of astrology; but in all the surrounding provinces not a single Jewish scholar could be found able to interpret the astrological writings which avowedly had been copied by him from ancient Jewish works. It is interesting, however, to note that Donnolo had no hesitancy in seeking the instruction of Christian masters in matters of which the Jews were ignorant. This circumstance attests the early origin of that intimacy of relations for which Jewish and Christian scholars have been noted in Italy, and their frequent interchange of thought.

Intellectual Relations with Christians.

Donnolo, besides being private physician to the viceroy of southern Italy, was intimately acquainted with Nilus the Younger, the abbot of Rossana and Grotta Ferrata, to whom, on a certain occasion, he appears to have introduced another Jewish scholar. The latter attempted to draw the abbot into a religious controversy, which was, however, adroitly evaded by him. It is one of the first discussions of this character recorded in the European history of the Jews; and its significance lies in the aggressive part taken in it by the Jew, in contradistinction to the one into which, as stated above, Hananeel had been forced. Donnolo's allegorical method of exegesis adopted in his commentary on the mystic "Sefer Yeẓirah" (Book of Creation), as well as his knowledge of the Greek language displayed in it, also testifies to his intercourse with Christian scholars, among whom allegorism was highly popular, and whose spoken language, according to Mommsen, was very closely related to the Greek.

That there was an abundance of Jewish scholars in Apulia toward the end of the tenth century (according to Grätz, but in 750 according to Ibn Daud) is learned, furthermore, from a well-known legend alluding to that age. Four rabbis, as stated by Ibn Daud ("Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah," ed. Neubauer, in "Medieval Jew. Chronicles," i. 67 et seq.), were on a seavoyage from Bari to Sebasteia, when their ship was overtaken by an Andalusian pirate (the admiral Ibn Romahis), and the scholars were made captive, the latter being in the end sold in several cities of Africa and Spain, where each rabbi ultimately became the founder of a Talmudic academy. The real origin and purpose of these traveling rabbis have been variously interpreted, but the historicity of the incident narrated by Ibn Daud can scarcely be doubted. The legend points distinctly to the fact that toward the end of the tenth (?) century certain rabbis emigrated from southern Italy and established schools in various Jewish communities in Africa and Spain (compare Ḥushiel b. Elhanan).

Centers of Learning.

Bari was particularly popular as a center of Jewish learning, as is witnessed by the fact that in the eleventh century, R. Nathan b. Jehiel, the author of the "'Aruk," made a pilgrimage thither to hear the lectures of R. Moses Kalfo (compare Kohut, "Aruch Completum," Introduction, p. 15), and that in the twelfth century the religious authority of the Apulian rabbis had been so firmly established even abroad, that in France the proverb came into vogue, in allusion to Isa. ii. 3: "Out of Bari goeth forth the law, and the word of God from Otranto" (Jacob Tam, "Sefer ha-Yashar," 74a). Benjamin of Tudela, who in the latter part of the same century traveled through Apulia, found flourishing Jewish communities throughout the province, Trani possessing 200, Taranto 300, and Otranto 500 Jewish families, while in the port of Brindisi ten Jews were engaged in the trade of dyeing.

During the renaissance of Talmudic learning in the thirteenth century, Apulia still had the good fortune of bringing forth one of the most noted Jewish savants of the age, in the person of R. Isaiah: b. Mali di Trani, who not only became one of the most prolific and weighty rabbis of the Middle Ages, but also maintained the Italian tradition of friendly intercourse with Christian scholars, in favor of whose astronomic learning he at times even made bold to discard traditional rabbinic views. Di Trani's family produced several other noted men, among whom Isaiah's grandson and namesake attained to considerable distinction. Moses di Trani, in the sixteenth century, was one of the most distinguished disciples of Jacob Berab.

Alleged Wholesale Conversion.

Fra Giordano da Rivalto, in one of his sermons preached in the year 1304, alludes to a general conversion of Apulian Jews that, it was alleged, had taken place about the year 1290, in consequence of a ritual murder with the commission of which they had been charged. The king, Charles I. (1284-1309), is alleged to have left them the choice between baptism and death, whereupon, it is said, about eight thousand embraced Christianity, while the rest fled from the country. The proportion of truth in this statement is not ascertainable. Güdemann denies the assertion altogether on the ground of the friendly disposition toward the Jews manifested by Charles I., though he admits that, in the year 1302, certain property in Trani that had formerly been used as a Jewish cemetery was usurped by the Dominican Order, and that about that time several Jewish synagogues in the same city were converted into churches.ertain, however, it is that in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries there were Jewish inhabitants in Trani as well as in the rest of Apulia; wherefore Giordano's statement concerning their wholesale apostasy or emigration must be regarded at least as exaggerated, unless, indeed, under improved circumstances, a return of the Jews had occurred.

In the sermons of another preacher from southern Italy, Roberto da Lecce, who flourished in the first half of the fifteenth century, there are allusions to friendly relations between Jews and Christians. That Apulia, however, had gradually lost its prominence as a center of Jewish learning, can not be gainsaid. In the early part of the sixteenth century, for example, there was in Constantinople a whole congregation consisting of Apulian immigrants, who exhibited, however, little of the Italian enlightenment, in that they were the leaders in an abortive attempt to exclude the children of the Karaites from the Rabbinite schools, and to build up a wallof separation between the two Jewish sects—a stroke of fanaticism thwarted by R. Elijah MizraḦi (compare Italy).

  • Ahimaaz, Sefer YuḦasin ("The Book of Genealogy"), in Neubauer's Mediev. Jew. Chron. ii. 111;
  • Ascoli, Iscrizione Inedite di Antichi Sepolcri Giudaici del Napolitano, etc.;
  • Lenormant, La Catacambe Juive de Venosa, in Rev. Et. Juives, vi. 200-207;
  • Neubauer, The Early Settlement of the Jews in Southern Italy, in Jew. Quart. Rev., 1892, iv. 606-625;
  • Güdemann, Gesch. des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der Juden in Italien, pp. 2, 16 et seq., 184 et seq., 260, 265 et seq.;
  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 3d ed. iv. 359, v. 292 et seq., vi. 239, ix. 30 et seq.;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 37;
  • Schechter, A Letter of Chushiel, in Jew. Quart. Rev. xi. 643 et seq.;
  • Zunz, G. V. 2d ed., pp. 375 et seq.;
  • Kaufmann, Die, Chronik des Ahimaaz von Oria, in Monatsschrift, 1896, xl. 462-473, 496-509, 529-554.
G. H. G. E.