by Evropa Soberana
In 38, Caligula, the successor of Tiberius, sends his friend Herod Agrippa to the troubled city of Alexandria, to watch over Aulus Avilius Flaccus, the prefect of Egypt, who did not enjoy precisely the confidence of the emperor and who—according to the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (Contra Flaccus)—was an authentic villain.
The arrival of Agrippa to Alexandria was greeted with great protests by the Greek community, as they thought he was coming to proclaim himself king of the Jews. Agrippa was insulted by a crowd, and Flaccus did nothing to punish the offenders, despite the fact that the victim was an envoy of the emperor. This encouraged the Greeks to demand that statues of Caligula be placed in the synagogues, as a provocation to Jewry.
Caligula, Roman Emperor reviled
This simple act seemed to be the sign of an uprising: the Greeks and Egyptians attacked the synagogues and set them on fire. The Jews were expelled from their homes, which were looted, and thereafter segregated in a ghetto from which they could not leave: since they were stoned, beaten or burned alive, while others ended up in the sand to serve as food to the beasts in those macabre circus shows so common in the Roman world. According to Philo, Flaccus did nothing to prevent these riots and murders, and even supported them, as did the Egyptian Apion, whom we have seen criticising the Jewish quarter in the section devoted to Hellenistic anti-Semitism.
To celebrate the emperor’s birthday (August 31, a Shabbat), members of the Jewish council were arrested and flogged in the theatre; others were crucified. When the Jewish community reacted, the Roman soldiers retaliated by looting and burning down thousands of Jewish houses, desecrating the synagogues and killing 50,000 Jews.
When they were ordered to cease the killing, the local Greek population, inflamed by Apion (not surprisingly, Flavius Josephus has a work called Contra Apion) continued the riots. Desperate, the Jews sent Philo of Alexandria to reason with the Roman authorities. The Jewish philosopher wrote a text entitled Contra Flaccus and, along with the surely negative report that Agrippa had given to Caligula, the governor was executed.
After these events, things calmed down and the Jews did not suffer violence as long as they stayed within the confines of their ghetto. However, although Flaccus’ successor allowed the Alexandrian Jewry to give their version of the events, in the year 40 there were again riots among the Jews (who were outraged by the construction of an altar) and among the Greeks, who accused the Jews of refusing to worship the emperor.
The religious Jews ordered to destroy the altar and, in retaliation, Caligula made a decision that really showed how little he knew the Jewish quarter: he ordered to place a statue of himself in the Temple of Jerusalem. According to Philo, Caligula ‘considered the majority of Jews suspects, as if they were the only people who wished to oppose him’ (On the Embassy to Gaius and Flaccus). Publius Petronius, governor of Syria, who knew the Jews well and feared the possibility of a civil war, tried to delay as long as possible the placement of the statue, until Agrippa convinced Caligula that it was a bad decision.
In 41, Caligula, who already promised to be an anti-Jewish emperor, was assassinated in Rome, which unleashed the violence of his German bodyguards, who had not been able to prevent his death and who, because of their peculiar sense of fidelity, tried to avenge him by killing many conspirators, senators and even innocent bystanders who had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Claudius, the uncle of Caligula, would become the master of the situation and, after being appointed emperor by the Praetorian Guard, ordered the execution of the assassins of his nephew, many of whom were political magistrates who wanted to reinstate the Republic.
Here is the probable cause of the unprecedented historical defamation of this emperor: The texts of Roman history would eventually fall into the hands of the Christians, who were mostly of Jewish origin and viscerally detested the emperors. Since, according to Orwell, ‘he who controls the past controls the present’, Christians adulterated Roman historiography, turning the emperors who had opposed them and their Jewish ancestors into disturbed monsters.
In this way, we do not have a single Roman emperor who has participated in harsh Jewish reprisals who has not been defamed by accusations of homosexuality, cruelty or perversion. The historian José Manuel Roldán Hervás has dismantled many of the false accusations against the historical figure of Caligula.