Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library Shopping Mall of Zion AHAVA Hero Products 250x250

בס"ד

The Jews in Spain Under the Visigoths.

From the Orient.

By Dr. Julius Furst.

1. It was in the year 411, Ch. Era, when the German barbaric tribes, the Suevi, Vandals, Alans, and Silingi, finally took possession of the Pyrenean peninsula, after plundering and devastating it for a space of two years, and settled themselves in the once paradise-like, but now desolate country, having become tired of a nomadic life. The quiet which this peninsula had enjoyed since the reign of Augustus, as a Roman province, was disturbed by the irruption of the barbarians about the year 409; the prosperity and wealth consequent on the long peace, were annihilated through the outrages of the savage immigrants <<420>>and in this desolate condition, the peninsula ceased to be a Roman province in the year 411. The Suevi settled in Gallicia, in the north‑western portion of the Peninsula, the Vandals in the centre of the country, the Alans in Lusitania and Carthagena, and the Silingi in Andalusia (Boetica); and the Romans maintained themselves only in the present Catalonia, Arragon, and Navarre.* In the latter part of the year 414 these barbarians were yet farther joined by Ataulph, King of the Visigoths, who came to Spain from Narbonne, in Gaul, with a large army of Goths, and this one was the first Visigothic King on Iberian soil who brought the Goths to Spain and founded a kingdom in that country which lasted nearly three hundred years.†

* Idatius in his Chronicon, in Du Chesne’s “Script. rer. Galliear.” I. p. 186.
† Orosiis VII., 43.

This new swarm of barbarians already professed Christianity. But the Gothic dominion lasted, in the first instance, but five years, (414-19,) since Wallia, the second in secession after Ataulph, surrendered nearly the whole of conquered Spain to the Romans, and was content to select as the residence of his hosts the country of Septimania (a territory of seven districts on the Garonne extending to the sea), which he had received as a present from the Roman Emperor. It was in Septimania that the Visigothic state of Tolosa sprung up, whilst the Roman dominion maintained its existence in Spain under many trials and contests till 481; and the first King of the Visigoths with whom commenced the uninterrupted rule of the Goths in Spain, was Eurich, who already gave written laws. The Jews were then already in the country. From the year 481 till 531, was the Visigothic kingdom at Spain united with that of Tolosa; the centre of the Visigothic power was in Gaul, and the laws which may have been made in respect to the Jews must therefore be sought for in the older history of the Visigoths in Gaul. It was only as late as in the reign of Theudas (531), that Spain was separated from Gaul as a special kingdom, and he chose Barcelona as the seat of his government.

2. The Spanish histories and the ancient chronicles furnish fabulous accounts concerning the immigration of the Jews; it is said that in the time of the first, in the time of the second temple, previous and subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem, Jews in numerous bodies should have sought a new home in Iberia. But all these reports which we prefer to pass by here with entire silence, are only disjointed legends put in circulation at a late period, and the only result which we can adduce in the entire absence of any positive data, is that the Palestine <<421>>refugees must have travelled with the Romans to Spain, since they experienced, together with the Romans, the weight of the iron hand of barbarism, at the irruption of the barbarians, about the year 409. The Jewish historian, Josephus,* has a report of Jews in Spain through the Romans; Suetonius† and Tacitus,‡ speak of a transportation of Jews to that country; and though we cannot absolutely maintain the literal historical truth of the report of the Spanish historian Juan Vasaeus,§ that Hadrian had in the first half of the second century sent to Spain numerous Jewish prisoners of war on the occasion of his terrible war against the Jews, it nevertheless must be admitted to bear the stamp of probability.

* Book xviii. † Chap. xxxvi. ‡ Ann. ii., c. viii. § Chronicon Hispaniae, 517.

At all events, the Jews were in Spain together with the Romans before 409; and about a century later, when there was but one Visigothic kingdom in Spain, the Jews were there, distributed through the country in numerous congregations, as an antithesis to the Christian barbarians, celebrating their own Sabbaths and festivals, circumcising their children, solemnizing marriage after the Jewish custom, and strictly observing the dietetic laws, and even occasionally converting heathen slaves to Judaism. In such a state of Jewish isolation, towards which heathen Rome was perfectly indifferent, were they found by the Christian Visigothic barbarians; and what history has omitted to record, we now, for the first time, learn from the tenor of the bloody laws which were enacted at the time of which we are speaking.

In the contests with the Romans, which lasted seventy-two years (409-481), it was but natural that the Visigoths could not think of the Jews, and they hence suffered only from the inflictions of the devastating war. In the succeeding fifty years (481-531), in which Spain appears more as an appendage of the Tolosanian kingdom in Gaul, they were, so to say, outside the enemy’s horizon; and it is well known that the Jews at Arles, when it already belonged to the Visigoths, at the commencement of the sixth century, still possessed the right of Roman citizenship. But scarcely had the Spanish Visigothic kingdom acquired an independent position and organization (531), when religious hatred was sufficiently strong and violent to inflict such deep wounds on the congregations of Spain, that their existence after three centuries so full of horrors (411-711) must fill the coldest and the simple severe historian with shuddering and admiration.

* * * * * * *

Recared I. (586-601). This Visigothic King of Spain promulgated a series of laws against the Jews (Leges Visigothorum xii. tit. 11, <<422>>Lex 4-12. Canciani iv. pp. 185-187). He prohibited baptized Jews, to offend against the Christian faith, through words or deeds, or to withdraw themselves from its confession through flight from the country. Those who remained Jews in despite of all their sufferings, he interdicted the celebration of the Passover, the Sabbaths, and other festivals in the customary manner; the solemnization of marriage, after the custom of the Jews; the circumcision of the children, and the making of any distinction between clean and unclean food. He deprived them of the right to testify against Christians in a court of justice, or to cite a Christian before a judge, and all this under penalty of being burnt at the stake or stoned to death. In case the king should grant their life to guilty Jews, they should still become slaves and lose their property. He further ordained that no Jew should have a Christian servant; and if a Jew should dare to circumcise his Christian slave, then should the servant be free, and the property of the Jew should be forfeited to the king’s exchequer; so also Jewish servants, whether male or female, should obtain their freedom if they would become converted.

Liuva (601-603). This son and successor of Recared did not ameliorate these laws. He was murdered by his successor, Witteric (603).

Witteric (603-610). Under this king, who was the enemy of the Catholic clergy, the Jews breathed more freely, as they were forgotten amidst the contest of Catholicism against the doctrines of Arius. He was murdered (610).

Gundemar (610-612). This king was again an instrument of the clergy, and the misfortune of the Jews would have already commenced at this period, had not his reign been so brief. The more sorrowful became their lot under his successor Sisebut.

Sisebut (612-620). Rendered fanatical through means of the clergy, and possessing an iron-like stubbornness of character, this king became the terror of the Spanish Jews. Sisebut confirmed the cruel ordinances of Recared,* and proceeded in this way with indescribable tyranny. He ordained (614), that every Jew who would abstain from having himself or his children and servants baptized for more than one year, should be punished with a hundred blows, be banished from the country and deprived of his possessions.† He went still farther. Through murder, the rack, and fearful severity, he compelled 90,000 to be bap<<423>>tized, and the most obstinate were maltreated in the most cruel manner, and deprived of their property; and with their bare life even they were not permitted to escape from the country, since the barbarian caused the frontiers to be strictly watched, so that not a Jew should escape him.‡

* Leges Visigothorum l. c. lex 13.
† Ibid. titul. iii. lex 3; Canciani, l. c. p. 191 b. Baronius has proved, ad annum 614, No. 46, from an old MS., that this law proceeded from Sisebut, although as usual, it has no name of a king in the beginning.
‡ See Aschbach, History of the Visigoths p. 259.

To enhance yet more these persecutions, he promulgated a law that all his successors should swear at the commencement of their reign, to maintain these measures against the Jews, and in his fanatic zeal he placed before his more humanely inclined successors the prospect of the flames of hell-fire at the last judgment.* The cruelty of Sisebut against the Jews excited such a horror, that even many among the fanatical clergy disapproved of it. The celebrated Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, although himself a fanatic, says in his history of the Goths,† “Sisebut had, in his persecution of the Jews, displayed, it is true, zeal for the Cause of God, but not a wise one, because he employed violence, whereas conviction could only be justified by good reasons.” But fanaticism paid no attention to this. It is true, that Isidore succeeded in the fourth Synod of Toledo, where he presided, to have a canon law passed‡ that in future no Jew should be any more compelled to be baptized; but the comparatively mild canon law was not regarded.

* Leges Visigothorom, tit iii. lex 14 to the end.
† Op. Isidori ed. Areval, vol. vii. p. 126. ‡ Canon 57, Manso x. 633.

Recared II. (620), Sisebut’s son, reigned but a few months, and could exercise no influence on the condition of the Jews. It was only under his successor that the rigour was relaxed.

Swinthila (620-631). Under this Visigothic king, who, in lessening the power of the clergy, had to contend against them as well as the nobles, the Jews could breathe again in some slight degree. When the clergy did not rule, the Jews had at least some little peace.

Sisenand (631-636). After the expulsion of Swinthila, Sisenand ascended the throne, protected and sustained by the clergy. The fate of the Jews would have been mournful indeed, had not the already Archbishop Isidore, of Seville, who was mildly disposed towards them, possessed the highest consideration and influence. He enforced a milder treatment of the Jews; and at the Synod, called at Toledo in the year 633, at which sixty-nine bishops appeared, the rights of the Jews were likewise regulated under the presiding of Isidore, among the seventy-four enactments there passed.|| It is true that Isidore was a zealous, fanatical Catholic, and even wrote a work concerning the conver<<424>>sion of the Jews;* but he only recommends mild measures. Isidore died in the same year with the king (636).

|| Manso x.
* The name of this work is: De fide catholica ex veteri et novo testamento contra Judaeos libri duo, in the Arevaloan edit. vol. vi. p. 3 et. seq.

Chinthila (636-640). The next successor, Chinthila, also a tool of the clergy, immediately promulgated a decree (637), that all the Jews, without exception, should quit the kingdom, because Isidore no longer lived to induce the clergy to adopt a milder course of proceedings. At a Synod held in 638, was this decree, together with all the prior resolves of the councils, solemnly confirmed, and yet farther extended, so that in future every king, before ascending the throne, should obligate himself by an oath to sustain, in full rigour, the decrees of Chinthila against the Jews.† The just-mentioned Synod also held up in prospect the curse of Heaven and everlasting hell-fire, should ever any one of the successors to the throne be bold enough to act contrary to this ordinance.

† Canon 3.

(To be continued.)