Dedication to the emperor in the synagogue at Ostia (JIWE I, 13)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Unknown. Found re-used in the flooring of the vestibule of the synagogue at Ostia, Italy.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Ostia, Museo Lapidario, inventory no.: 8978. A cast of the inscription is also on display in the Museum of the Rome Synagogue.
151 CE to 250 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Inscribed marble plaque; some damage to the upper right corner. Lines 6-7 have been re-inscribed over an erasure.
Height: 36 cm  
Width: 54.3 cm 
Letter height: 2.5-3.5 cm
Latin, Greek
JIWE I, 13
AE 1967, 77 (= SEG 42, 916 = AE 2002, 288)
EDH: HD014122
This inscription was excavated from the Jewish synagogue at Ostia, close to the Roman port of Portus; although it had been cut into two pieces and reused in the floor of the vestibule and in ‘area G’ of the synagogue, it appears to record a dedication to the Roman emperors, as well as the commemoration of a private benefaction in the form of rebuilding and a Torah ark. Although debates remain concerning exactly what was rebuilt and when, and what the nature of the Jewish dedication to the Roman emperors might have entailed, the inscription details important evidence for the presence of a Jewish community in Ostia and its relationship to imperial power.
The inscription was first published by Maria Floriani Squarciapino following her excavation of the synagogue in 1961 (see “La sinagoga di Ostia. Seconda campagna di scavo,” p. 299-315 for full details of the discovery). The plaque was discovered in two pieces having been reused as building material in the re-laying of the floor of the vestibule and in a room known as ‘area G’. The inscription, which is seven lines long, is written in Latin and Greek with the final two lines of the text most likely inscribed by a second hand; there is visible erasure beneath the lettering and the letters themselves do not follow the style of those above them. Anders Runesson has stated that the characters of these two final lines are too different from those in lines 1-5 for them to represent the correction of a mistake in the original inscription, meaning that there were two different phases to the plaque’s construction; the first dedication, in lines 1-5, was made – according to Runesson’s reading – in the second half of the first century CE, with the final two lines dated to the second half of the third century CE (Runesson, “The Synagogue at Ancient Ostia,” p. 86).
Line 1 of the inscription contains a dedication for the health of the emperor (pro salute Augusti); David Noy has noted, however, that if the missing top right corner of the plaque was restored, there would be sufficient spacing for an additional letter, perhaps a second G for AVGG, or Augustorum. Given the proposed dating based on the style of lettering, the emperors might be Marcus Aurelius with either Lucius Verus or Commodus, or Severus and Caracalla (Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe I, p. 25). Such dedications expressing “loyalty” to the emperor were common in the provinces, and were not unknown amongst the Jewish communities within them; indeed, dedications asking for the continued health and safety of the emperor are known from Pannonia (see Dedication to Alexander Severus) and from Ptolemaic Egypt, where similar “loyalty formulae” were used with the names of rulers in proseuche dedications (Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe I, p. 25). A synagogue dedication from Palestine also records the names of Septimius Severus and his family, along with ὑπὲρ σωτηρίας (huper sōtērias) or – “for the salvation of” (CIJ II, 972; for further discussion of this formula, see Leon, Jews of Ancient Rome, p. 140-142). The fact that this is the only line of Latin text, and that the rest of the inscription is in Greek, has been understood by David Noy as evidence for the continued preference for Greek over Latin amongst the Jews of Ostia, which corresponds to similar evidence from the catacombs in Rome in the same later second century-third century CE period, which appears to be typical of the diaspora communities across the empire (Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe I, p. 25).
The dedicator of the inscription is given as Mindus Faustus and his family in lines 6-7; the first part of the name has been written, in Greek, as Μίνδις (Mindis), which was surely intended for the Latin Mindius, for which there is abundant epigraphic evidence at Ostia (see e.g. CIL XIV, 251; 1998; 5309). The cognomen, Faustus, is also relatively common there, with one Mindius Faustus named in an epitaph as the individual who gave permission for the use of a particular burial place, but David Noy has cautioned against identifying the donor to the synagogue as the same man (Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe I, p. 25). The addition of Mindius Faustus’s name followed the erasure of what was presumably an earlier dedicator’s name, allowing him to claim that the rebuilding of the synagogue, (οἰκοδόμησεν κὲποίησεν) and the dedication of the ark for the sacred Law (τὴν κειβωτὸν ἀνέθηκεν νόμῳ ἁγίῳ) came as result of his gifts to the community (εκ τῶν αὑτοῦ δομάτων). The suggestion of rebuilding the synagogue has thus generated much debate amongst archaeologists, who have sought both to confirm that this inscription came from the synagogue originally, as well as the date at which the building in question became a synagogue, and the different phases of its rebuilding. The archaeology of the synagogue complex indicates that there were successive phases of rebuilding before it reached its final state; Maria Floriani Squarciapino, the excavator of the site in the early 1960s, believed that the building was always planned as a synagogue and that it dated to the second half of the first century CE, due to the opus reticulatum stonework, and that it was later adapted and expanded in the fourth century, in opus lisatum stone work (Floriani Squarciapino, “La sinagoga di Ostia. Seconda campagna di scavo,” p. 299-315). Few challenged her interpretation of the architecture, until the publication of an article in 1997 by L. Michael White, who suggested a later date (early second century CE, in the reign of Trajan or Hadrian) for the synagogue’s construction, as well as proposing that the building was not originally intended as a synagogue, but rather was a private insula block (domestic housing) that was given over to the community in mid-late second century CE. White’s re-reading of the archaeology suggested four phases of building at the synagogue complex, beginning in the late first century CE, with remodelling in the late second-third centuries CE, and two phases of renovation – the first of which was substantial – in the fourth century CE  (for these arguments, see White, “Synagogue and Society in Imperial Ostia,” p. 23-58, esp. p. 34). If this was the case, then the inscription dedicated by Mindius Faustus must date to the second phase of building, in the late second-third centuries CE, meaning that he was responsible for the remodelling of the existing first-century building, as well as the donation and dedication of the κιβοτός, or “ark” for the scrolls of sacred Jewish Law (White, “Synagogue and Society in Imperial Ostia,” p. 39-42).
However, Anders Runesson has confidently argued against White’s interpretation, asserting that the building that housed the synagogue was always intended to do so. He has noted that the present inscription must date to the second half of the second century, based on the probability of reconstructing the plural Augustorum, rather than the singular Augusti, when a private – now unknown – benefactor donated the ark for the Torah and some other object, the name of which has been erased from the inscription, to an existing community of Jews in Ostia. Later possibly during the second half of the third century CE, a man called Mindius Faustus arranged for the final two lines of the inscription to be re-inscribed with his own name, taking ownership of the dedication for himself and his family, and before the major phase of remodelling that took place in the early fourth-century (Rasmussen, “The Synagogue at Ostia,” p. 87; for detailed analysis of the possible dating and arguments contra White, see Rasmussen “The Oldest Original Synagogue Building in the Diaspora,” p. 409-433). Rasmussen suggests that Mindius Faustus may also have dedicated a new ark for the Torah, as well as an additional podium on which for it to stand, which replaced the original structure but which did not necessitate the construction of an entirely new inscription; it was simply enough to change the name of the donor. By the late fourth century, however, by which point the synagogue had undergone substantial remodelling, the gift had ceased to be relevant or significant, and so the inscription plaque was reused for repair work to the floor that that had been laid during the major works at the beginning of the century (Rasmussen, “The Synagogue at Ostia,” p. 87). Why the inscription had ceased to be significant is an interesting question, particularly given its inclusion of a dedication to the health of the Roman emperors; at a time when the Jewish communities of the empire were facing further challenges from Christianity, we might expect that an inscription that advertised a good relationship with the Roman authorities would remain visible. Although it is possible that the inscription plaque was moved to repair the vestibule flooring from another site, the epigraphic evidence for a well-established Jewish community at Ostia would suggest that it likely did come from the complex in which it was found. The synagogue and this inscription both attest to the presence of a Jewish community that was well-integrated in a non-Jewish society, which offered prayers and dedications to the Roman authorities in demonstrations of loyalty and respect whilst at the same time ensuring the maintenance and development of their own community’s religious space.
Bibliographical references: 

La sinagoga di Ostia. Seconda campagna di scavo

Floriani Squarciapino, Mariaarticle-in-a-bookAtti del VI congresso internazionale di archeologia christiana. Ravenna 23-30 settembre 1962299-315 La sinagoga di Ostia. Seconda campagna di scavoStudi di antichità christiana pubblicati a cura del Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Christiana, 26Città del Vaticano1965
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Dedication to the emperor in the synagogue at Ostia (JIWE I, 13)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Sat, 08/18/2018 - 21:12
Visited: Fri, 04/19/2024 - 17:58

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