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Assimilation — Up to a Point


[image ALT: A square stone about 75 cm on a side, very neatly cut with a Roman inscription. The text of the inscription is given and translated on this webpage. It is an ancient Roman tombstone on the Via Appia near Rome.]
Transcribed and expanded:

 
1



5

LVCIVS · VALERIVS · LVCII · LIBERTVS
BARICHA
L
VCIVS · VALERIVS · LVCII · LIBERTVS
ZABDA
L
VCIVS · VALERIVS · LVCII · LIBERTVS
ACHIBA

Who says you have to know Latin to read a Roman inscription; well, at least not very much Latin for this one, in the fifth mile of the Via Appia southeast of Rome. Each one of these three men was the freedman of a man named Lucius; I'd even be willing to bet his name was Lucius Valerius, wouldn't you?

Their surnames are the interesting item here: three very un-Roman names, their former names as slaves: Semitic names in fact, and most likely Hebrew: Baricha (could that rather have been Baruch?), Zabda (a common Hebrew name), and Achiba. It seems fair to guess that these were three slaves in the same household, maybe even brothers; from the style of the lettering, 1c A.D.; what is there to prevent us from surmising they were taken prisoner in the Jewish War of A.D. 69‑70?

At any rate, they did well for themselves. They are not buried as freedmen often were, with the family of their former master (now their patronus), but have a tomb of their own, of which this very handsomely carved, expensive stone remains. It couldn't be more Roman. The only thing missing is D·M: the traditional formula that so many Roman tombstones start with. Our three Valerii have remained Jews, and although they choose not to broadcast it by adding a Magen David, a Hebrew inscription, or a menorah (as for example in this Romano-Jewish tombstone in Milan), they are certainly not about to invoke the Dii Manes, the gods of the Roman underworld.


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Page updated: 24 Apr 03