This marble tombstone records the funerary inscription for Titus Flavius Euschemon, a freedman of the Flavian imperial household. It is an important text as it illustrates the centralisation of the Jewish poll tax in the aftermath of its institution, and provides context for the life of the Jewish community of Rome in the first century CE, particularly with regard to the history of financial relations between Rome and the Jewish people.
The inscription was dedicated by a freedwoman, Flavia Aphrodisia, to her husband and patron, Titus Flavius Euschemon. The Greek cognomen and their joint adoption of the gensFlavia is an indication of their servile origins, and both appear to have been manumitted under the Flavian dynasty. Titus Flavius Euschemon was freed directly by the imperial household that he served (Augusti liberto) but it would seem that Flavia Aphrodisia was his own slave, whom he manumitted through marriage, hence the double attribution in the inscription of ‘patron and husband’. Titus Flavius Euschemon enjoyed a particularly successful career in Rome; he was a member of the imperial household, and had been awarded two important roles in the administration of the Flavian empire. The first role described in the cursus here is the administrative grade of procurator ab epistulis; this was a senior administrative role in Rome that referred to the correspondence of the imperial household, over which Titus Flavius Euschemon presided. It was his responsibility to sort through and reply to the different letters, petitions and reports that arrived for the emperor in Rome, and which required his response. Paul Weaver has noted that there will have been many individuals engaged in this work on behalf of the ruling family, and especially so at Rome, it is likely that the role originated in the domestic terminology of small familiae, in which there was only one slave or freedman to fulfil each function or job (Weaver, Familia Caesaris, p. 262; for full discussion of the administrative grade of ab epistulis, see ibid, chapter 20; Boulvert, Esclaves et affrachis impériaux, p. 252-53 and 376-78). As there are at least seventeen attestations of the freedmen ab epistulis in the epigraphic record in the period between Augustus and Hadrian, Paul Weaver has suggested that the instances of slaves with this title cannot refer exclusively to a singular holder of that position, but rather a number of different individuals who all worked within a form of ‘department’ within the imperial administration (Familia Caesaris, p. 259-266). It is possible, however, to identify a rough date for the inscription from the description of this office as under Domitian, two important reforms were made to the role: firstly, men of the equestrian order became eligible for the position, and secondly, the role itself was split into two, to focus on Greek or Latin correspondence (ab epistulis graecis and ab epistulis latinis). As Titus Flavius was a freedman, and the role is not specified as pertaining to either language, Cecilia Ricci has suggested that his period of service and eventual manumission must have fallen under Vespasian or Titus, not Domitian (Ricci, “T. Flavius Euschemon,” p. 90).
The second office that Titus Flavius Euschemon held was as procurator in charge of the tax lists (procurator / ad capitularia) in Rome, and especially that of the fiscus Iudaicus, the administrative body established to collect the ‘Jewish poll-tax’ by Vespasian following the destruction of the Great Temple of Jerusaleum in 70 CE (for the history of the fiscus Iudaicus, see Suetonius, Domitian, XII.2; Williams, Jews in a Graeco Roman environment, p. 95-110; Heemstra, Fiscus Judaicus, p. 7-23). As Cecilia Ricci has demonstrated, this inscription, and its attestation of Titus Flavius’ role in this respect, is especially interesting because it reveals the centralisation of the tax once it had been formally instituted; rather than simply being interpreted as a penalty intended to punish the Jews, the administration of the tax in the city of Rome shows that it had also become a centrally consolidated fund. The levying of taxes in the different parts of the Empire was probably entrusted to tax agents of indigenous origin on the ground, but the money collected through the Jewish tax (and other ethnic taxes e.g. fiscus Alexandrinus and the fiscus Asiaticus) was amassed in Rome where the general ‘accounting’ took place (Ricci, “T. Flavius Euschemon,” p. 90). The obligation to pay an annual tax to the government of Rome made the Jewish people a “substantial taxable asset” in the eyes of the Flavian emperors (Williams, Jews in a Graeco Roman environment, p. 96). The sheer number of Jews affected by this tax – there were, by this point, tens of thousands of Jews resident in the city of Rome, as well as the far greater numbers across the Eastern empire – meant that the tax was, above all, a fiscal opportunity that the Flavian emperors could not afford to pass by, especially given the terrible state the empire’s finances had been left in following Nero’s reign.
This inscription therefore bears witness not to the experience or treatment of an individual Jewish citizen under Roman rule, but rather to the experience of the entire Jewish community of the empire in the first century CE; their religious difference from the Romans became, under the Flavians, a fiscal resource that was exploited both to control an ‘other’ people, but also to assist in fixing the financial emergency that Vespasian inherited in 69 CE. It is worth noting that the creation of this ‘Jewish tax’ did not replace the tributum capitis (provincial tribute) that had already been imposed upon the inhabitants of the provinces, including Judea, but rather served as an extra representation of the authority and supremacy of Roman imperial power (Ricci, “T. Flavius Euschemon,” p. 92). The fact that the tax is presented in the literary sources as replacing the half-sheqel tax previously paid by the Jews to the temple of Jerusalem adds a further dimension, of “replacement” or “substitution”; the revenue that had once served to fund the temple of the Jewish God in Jerusalem was now being used by the Flavian emperors to fund the Roman empire - a dimension that must have been resented bitterly by the Jews.