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Fiscus Judaicus

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The Fiscus Iudaicus (Latin: "Jewish tax") or Fiscus Judaicus was a tax imposed on Jews in the Roman Empire after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE in favor of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome.

Nerva Fiscus Iudaicus coin

Coin of Nerva "The blackmail of the Jewish tax lifted"


The tax was initially imposed by Roman Emperor Vespasian as one of the measures against Jews as a result of the First Roman-Jewish War of 67-73 CE. The tax was imposed on all Jews throughout the empire, not just on those who took part in the revolt against Rome. The tax was imposed after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE in place of the levy payable by Jews towards the upkeep of the Temple. The amount levied was two denarii, which was the equivalent of the one half of a shekel that observant Jews had previously paid for the upkeep of the Temple of Jerusalem (Exodus 30:13). Vespasian imposed the tax in the aftermath of the Jewish revolt (Josephus BJ 7. 218; Dion Cassius 66.7.2). Paying the tax for a pagan shrine instead of the Temple (the tax was to go to the Jupiter Capitolinus temple in Rome), the fiscus Iudaicus was a humiliation for the Jews. In Rome, a special procurator known as procurator ad capitularia Iudaeorum was responsible for the collection of the tax.[1] Only those who had abandoned Judaism were exempt from paying it.

While the tax paid for the Temple of Jerusalem was payable only by adult men between the ages of 20 and 50 only, the fiscus Iudaicus was imposed on all Jews, including women, children, and elderly.[2] In Egypt, the documentary evidence confirms the payment of the tax by women and children; however, the fiscus Iudaicus was levied only until the age of 62.[1]

The tax was continued even after the completion of the reconstruction of the Capitoline temple, to improve Rome's finances and to deter others from converting to Judaism. Titus Flavius Clemens (consul) was condemned to death by the Roman Senate in 95 for conversion to Judaism.

Fiscus Iudaicus under Domitian

Domitian, who ruled between 81 and 96 CE, expanded the fiscus Iudaicus to include not only born Jews and converts to Judaism, but also on those who concealed the fact that they were Jews or observed Jewish customs. Suetonius relates that when he was young an old man of 90 was examined to see whether he was circumcised, which shows that during this period the tax was levied even on those above the age of 62.[1] Louis Feldman argues that the increased harshness was caused by the success of the Jewish (and possibly Christian) proselytism.[3]

Domitian applied the tax even to those who merely "lived like Jews":

XII: "Besides other taxes, that on the Jews [A tax of two drachmas a head, imposed by Titus in return for free permission to practice their religion; see Josephus, Bell. Jud. 7.6.6] was levied with the utmost rigor, and those were prosecuted who, without publicly acknowledging that faith, yet lived as Jews, as well as those who concealed their origin and did not pay the tribute levied upon their people [These may have been Christians, whom the Romans commonly assumed were Jews]. I recall being present in my youth when the person of a man ninety years old was examined before the procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was circumcised.", c 90. Jewish Encyclopedia: Fiscus Iudaicus, Suetonius's Domitian

Domitian's ruling opened the door to possibilities of blackmail in Rome and in all Italy. Charges of following Judaism were easily made, but difficult to disprove, not least because the practices of certain philosophical sects resembled some Jewish customs. As a result, many people chose to settle with the accusers out of court rather than risk the uncertainties of judicial hearings, thus effectively encouraging the blackmailers.[4]

Schism between Judaism and Christianity

See also: List of events marking changes in the relations between Christians and Jews in early Christianity

The fiscus Iudaicus was originally imposed on Jews. At the time neither the Romans nor, probably, the Early Christians considered Christianity to be a separate religion to Judaism. If anything they would have considered themselves as a sect within Judaism. However, whether that was the intention or not, it did not take long for Christians to petition the Emperor to distinguish the Christians for the purpose of the payment of the fiscus Iudaicus. As the tax only applied to practising Jews, if they could be recognised as a separate religion, they would escape the impost.

After the murder of Domitian in 96, Nerva relaxed the rules of collection, limiting the tax to those who openly practised Judaism.[5] By this measure, the Christians (and perhaps Jewish Christians) escaped the tax[1][unreliable source?], but they were not officially recognized as a legal religion till the Edict of Milan. The atmosphere changed further when the blackmail was ended. The coins of Nerva even bear the legend fisci Iudaici calumnia sublata ("The blackmail of the Jewish tax [has been] lifted").[6]


It remains unclear when exactly the fiscus Iudaicus was abolished. Documentary evidence confirms the collection of the tax in the middle of the second century, and literary sources indicate that the tax was still in existence in the early third century. It is not known when the tax was formally abolished. Some historians credit the emperor Julian the Apostate with its abolition in about 361 or 362.[1] [2]

The tax was revived in the Middle Ages in 1342 under the name of Opferpfennig by the Holy Roman Emperors. [3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Fiscus Judaicus", Encyclopedia Judaica
  2. Schäfer (1998), pp. 113–114
  3. Feldman (1993), p. 100
  4. Rodin (1915), p. 333
  5. Edwards (1996), p. 69
  6. "Fiscus Judaicus", Encyclopedia Judaica; Rodin (1915), p. 334


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