The Romans Stomping on the Jews

18 Jul 2007 // places

In ancient ruins, one can see history carved into stone, sometimes in such forms that they startle, even after 2000 years. In Rome, the ruins of the former city center of the Roman Empire lie in the area now known as the Forum. Here, you can see the Coliseum, the Palatine palace, the temple of the Vestal Virgins, and other fabulous monuments.

But my favorite monument is something a little more obscure, and it is a particular relief on the Arc of Triumph. Bracketing the two ends of the Forum, are two Arcs of Triumph. On the northern end is the Arc of Titus.

Arcs of Triumphs were commissioned by victorious Roman generals, to commemorate a glorious campaign. They were expensive things, no doubt paid for by the spoils of war. On the inside wall, there is a relief of the victorious Titus marching in a procession, celebrating his triumph in Rome, not unlike a ticker-tape parade of an all-conquering sports team.

The Arc of Titus commemorates a particularly brutal campaign, where the roman general Titus crushed the uprising of the Jews in 70 AD.

Titus would later become the Roman emperor.

The relief that boggled my mind appears on the other side of the inner-wall of the Arc of Titus. After the victory, Titus sacked Jerusalem, killing up to a million Jews and enslaving a further 97,000. Those who fled remember this as the Second Diaspora of the Jews.

The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and here on this relief, we see a scene of the victorious Roman army hoisting the holy Menorah of the Temple of the Jews, back to Rome.

This relief is not often depicted in art books.