- Jews comprised one of the most sizeable and important minorities in Byzantium (q.v.). Benjamin of Tudela (q.v.) describes Jewish communities in numerous cities, including many cities in Greece (q.v.). He mentions 2,000 Jews living in Thebes (q.v.), the largest Jewish community outside Constantinople (q.v.). Jews engaged chiefly in manufacturing and commerce, and they lived under various legal restrictions. For example, they were prohibited from holding slaves, proselytizing, holding governmental office, and attending public ceremonies. No wonder that they openly supported the empire's enemies on occasion. They supported the Vandals and Ostrogoths against Justinian I (qq.v.), also the rebels in the Nika Revolt (q.v.). When the Persians invaded Asia Minor and Palestine (qq.v.) in the early seventh century, Jews took the Persian side. When Jerusalem (q.v.) fell to the Persians in 614, the Jews of the city attacked Christians and their churches. The Arab conquests changed the situation dramatically by placing most of the empire's Jews under the caliphate (q.v.). For those who remained in Byzantine territory, intermittent imperial edicts (e.g., by Herakleios, Leo III, and Basil I [qq.v.]) ordered the baptism of Jews; these edicts failed. The general impression is that the Jews were mostly left to themselves, though segregated in their own urban quarters. Persecutions were infrequent, and some emperors (q.v.), such as Michael VIII and his son Andronikos II (qq.v.), were remarkably tolerant.
Historical Dictionary of Byzantium . John H. Rosser .
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