Festus inherited all of the problems of his predecessor in regard to the Roman practice of creating civic privileges for Jews. Only one other issue bedeviled his administration, the controversy between Agrippa II and the priests in Jerusalem regarding the wall erected at the temple to break the view of the new wing of Agrippa's palace.


What were the civic privileges in question?

  • 1
    I suspect the civic privileges had to do with the right to maintain monotheism. Monotheism undermines the state religion, and borders on treason.
    – MCW
    Nov 6 '13 at 12:56
  • @YannisRizos From the article: "During his administration, Jewish hostility to Rome was greatly inflamed by the civic privileges issue." Nov 6 '13 at 23:09
  • And jews were angry because now they can be monotheists?
    – user4951
    Nov 7 '13 at 0:37
  • 2
    Looks like the wikipedia article is deficient in this instance - the bit you quoted is not sourced and could mean anything. I don't think trying to parse it as if it were gospel is worthwhile in this case. Plus, whoever wrote it probably meant not that each procurator had/could create privileges but rather that the general Roman policy towards Jews, since Caesar, was to grant them certain privileges, like exemption from conscription (since service in the Roman army forced one to participate in pagan rites all the time). Nov 12 '13 at 11:27

I think @FelixGoldberg has the core of it; the source is not reliable or useful. Somewhere in one of Asimov's robot novels he has a comment about reasoning based on flawed sources & assumptions, and I think the wikipedia quote in question falls into that category.

The best I could find is the following: Apparently Porcius Festus was the least offensive of a series of procurators.

It is fair to assert that the procurators were either openly hostile or, at best, indifferent to the needs of the Jewish populace. They were notorious for their rapacity. Their relatively short tenure, coupled with hostility toward Jews as a whole, may have impelled them to amass quick profits. Whatever the case, the last two procurators before the Jewish War (66 C.E.), *Albinus and Gessius Florus, as a consequence of their monetary extortions and generally provocative acts, were indubitably instrumental in hastening the outbreak of hostilities. The only exception appears to have been Porcius *Festus (60–62 C.E.) who made vain attempts to improve conditions. Jewish Library

One commenter has pointed out that the source may have a bias. Most of the sources I consulted have similar facts, but most of them share the same underlying interest - Jewish history. I doubt that Festus was that important in Roman history as whole.

In my comment, I mentioned my hypothesis that monotheism might have been the cause of the dispute. OP indicated that I needed to clarify. In a polytheistic society such as Rome, monotheism is very suspicious. Rejection of societies shared gods implies a rejection of societies shared values and foundation. If the Jews reject Roman values, then implicitly they must not be far from rebellion. The issue wasn't that the Jews were upset by monotheism, but that the Romans were suspicious of people who rejected Gods, Virtue and laws (the concepts weren't entirely distinct).

Update - searching on the term "civic privileges" suggests that the term may be analogous to what we now term "civil rights". Viewed in this light, Festus didn't create civic privileges, but inherited the problems that are presented by the Romans granting civic privileges to Jews. If Jews had no civic privileges, but were viewed as an alien tribe, then they effectively had even less rights than slaves. Granting them civic privileges meant that some fraction of Roman legal and jurisprudential tradition applied to the Jews. The Jews on their part were perceived as not fully participating (they could not serve in the army without participating in forbidden rituals, they refused to worship the state gods, etc.)

References: * Rome, Regal and Republican (warning; links to google books have been sketchy in the past) discusses the civic privileges of the libertini.

  • Heritage History provides the following quote:

    It is also a remarkable instance of Roman respect for established usages that notwithstanding the rebellious disposition of the Jewish community in different parts of the empire, the Romans continued to allow the Jews to retain their civic privileges in all those cities where they originally possessed them.

  • A Companion to the Roman Republic contains the phrase:

    Assimilation to Roman ways sufficed to authorize the award of full civic privileges

  • The Roman Republic: A Very Short Introduction

    Capua and Rome's other Italian allies again had to provide men for military service in return for Roman protection and a share of the plunder, but also had to pay a set annual tribute and received fewer civic privileges.

  • Equally, it's worth noting you've picked out a particularly biased source. Many historians maintain that Roman treatment of the Jews and Jewish regions was nothing special, except that the Jews were particularly seditious and prone to rioting, and eventually the Roman position toughened until the sack of Jerusalem by Titus. Interestingly, it was only in the reign of Hadrian (I believe) that Judaea was abolished, reconstituted as (Syria) Palestina, and the Jews were fully demoted from their place of 1st class citizens to undesirables.
    – Noldorin
    Dec 18 '13 at 0:59
  • 1
    Could you substantiate the charge of bias? I'm not challenging it, but I want to make it clear what kind of bias filter people should use to analyze that source. I'll also modify the answer somewhat.
    – MCW
    Dec 18 '13 at 12:07
  • jewishvirtuallibrary.org is a distinctly pro-Jewish website, run by a pro-Jewish organisation, indeed mainly by Jews. The subjective and emotional words used in that extract do not represent historical consensus, if indeed one exists even. Certainly, I have seen many historians indicate how overwhelmingly reasonable the Romans were with the people of Judaea/Palestine for the most part, and I'm inclined to agree. They treated them at least as well as they did most other peoples they ruled over.
    – Noldorin
    Dec 18 '13 at 17:52
  • Indeed, the sacking of the temple is a long and complex story, but Titus certainly did not order it, and was angry to find out it happened. When you riot, kill lots of Romans, and then hold out for months in your walled city, the invading army is always going to go a bit wild though. As for their religion, the Romans were generally very tolerant, except when it came in direct conflict with Roman rule; unfortunately the Jews' view of themselves as the "chosen people" inevitably led to problems as time went by.
    – Noldorin
    Dec 18 '13 at 17:54

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