Abram Leon


The Jewish Question



From antiquity to the Carolingian epoch:
The period of commercial prosperity of the Jews


C. Judaism and Christianity

The situation which the Jews had acquired for themselves in the Hellenistic epoch appears to have undergone no fundamental transformation after the Roman conquest. The privileges conferred upon the Jews by Hellenistic laws were confirmed by the Roman emperors. “The Jews enjoyed a privileged position in the Roman Empire.” [68] The fact that nearly a million Jews lived in Alexandria alone is sufficient evidence of their primarily commercial role in the Dispersion, which embraced three and a half million Jews several centuries before the seizure of Jerusalem, whereas hardly a million continued to live in Palestine. “Alexandria in Egypt, under the Roman Emperors, was what Tyre had been in the epoch of Phoenician commercial glory ... Under the reign of the Ptolemies, a direct trade between Egypt and India had been established. From Thebes, caravans went to Merowe in Upper Nubia, whose markets were also frequented by caravans from the interior of Africa .... A Roman fleet went to the mouth of the Nile to receive the precious objects and distribute them in the Empire.” [69] Two out of the five sections of Alexandria were inhabited by Jews. [70] The role of the Jews at Alexandria was so important that a Jew, Tiberius Julius Alexander, was appointed Roman governor of this city.

From the cultural standpoint, these Alexandrine Jews were completely assimilated and no longer spoke anything but Greek. It was on their account tat the Hebrew religious books had to be translated into that language. Communities similar to that of Alexandria were located in all the commercial centers of the Empire. The Jews spread over Italy, Gaul, and Spain. Jerusalem continued to be the religious center of Diaspora Judaism. “The successors of David and Solomon were of hardly more significance for the Jews of that age than Jerusalem for those of the present day; the nation found doubtless for its religious and intellectual unity a visible rallying point in the petty kingdom of Jerusalem, but the nation itself consisted not merely of the subjects of the Hasmonaeans, but of the innumerable bodies of Jews scattered through the whole Parthian and the whole Roman Empire. Within the cities of Alexandria especially and of Cyrene, the Jews formed special communities administratively and even locally distinct, not unlike the ‘Jews’ quarters’ of our towns, but with a freer position and superintended by a ‘master of the people’ as superior judge and administrator .... Even at this time the predominant business of the Jews was trade.” [71]

In the Sibylline books of the Maccabean period, it is stated that “all the seas are overflowing with Jews.” “According to Strabo it was not easy to discover a place in the entire world where Jews were not to be found and which was not ruled (financially) by them .... Students of national economy have no doubt that the majority of these [Jews in antiquity] depended on commerce and industry for their livelihood.” [72]

Jerusalem was a great and wealthy city of two hundred thousand inhabitants. Its importance lay above all in the temple of Jerusalem. The inhabitants of the city and of its suburbs lived primarily from the mass of pilgrims who flocked to the holy city. “The Jews of Palestine regarded their God as the means by which they lived.” [73] It was not alone the priests who lived from the service of Jehovah but also innumerable grocers, money changers, and artisans. Even the laborers and fishermen of Galilee certainly found markets for their products in Jerusalem. It would be erroneous to think of Palestine as entirely inhabited by Jews. In the north, there were several Greek cities; almost all the rest was “inhabited generally, as each place in particular, by mixed tribes of Egyptians, Arabians, and Phoenicians,” Strabo tells us. [74]

Jewish proselytism took on increasingly imposing proportions toward the beginning of the Christian era. “To be members of so widely ramified and prosperous a commercial organization was a prospect that must have been enticing to not a few.” [75] As early as 139 B.C., the Jews were banished from Rome for recruiting proselytes. At Antioch, the larger part of the Jewish community consisted of converts.

It was solely the economic and social position of the Jews in the Diaspora which, even before the fall of Jerusalem, made possible their religious and national cohesion. But while it is obvious that the majority of Jews played a commercial role in the Roman Empire, we must not think that all the Jews were rich traders or entrepreneurs. On the contrary the majority was certainly made up of small people, some of them making their living directly or indirectly from trade: peddlers, stevedores, petty artisans, etc. It is this mass of small people which was first hit by the decline of the Roman Empire and suffered most from Roman extortion. Concentrated in great masses in the cities, they were capable of greater resistance than peasant peoples dispersed in the country They were also more conscious of their interests. Consequently, the Jewish mass in the great cities will prove to be a continuous hotbed of unrest and uprisings, directed simultaneously against Rome and against the rich.

It has become traditional to portray the Jewish insurrection in 70 as a great “national uprising.” However, while this insurrection was directed against the unbearable exactions of the Roman procurators, it was just as resolutely hostile to the native wealthy classes. All the aristocrats took a stand against the revolt. King Agrippa and other members of the wealthy classes strove mightily to put it down. The Zealots first had to massacre the “men of property” before they could get at the Romans. King Agrippa and Berenice, after the failure of their efforts at “conciliation” were to be found not alongside the insurgents but side by side with the Romans. The members of the ruling classes who, like Flavius Josephus, had assumed the guise of wishing to aid the revolutionists, rushed to betray them shamefully. On the other hand, the revolt in Judea was not the only one of its kind. Several revolts broke out in the Greek cities during the reign of Vespasian. An intense social agitation was conducted by the “cynic philosophers” whom Vespasian had to drive out of the cities. The Alexandrines also showed their hostile feelings to Vespasian. “The example of Bithynia and the disturbances in Alexandria under Trajan show that the social antagonism of which we have spoken never subsided in Asia Minor or in Egypt.” [76]

But social unrest was not confined to the urban masses, even though they were the most affected by the growing decay in economic life. The peasant masses also began to move. The condition of the peasants was already very bad in the first and second centuries. “The situation of the latter grew steadily worse. The conditions under which the masses of the Egyptian population lived were far from normal. Taxation was oppressive, the mode of collection was brutal and unfair ....” [77]

Under Marcus Aurelius, the discontent spread to all the provinces. Spain refused to supply soldiers; Gaul was full of deserters. The revolts spread in Spain, in Gaul, in Africa. In a petition to Emperor Commodius, the small African farmers declared: “We shall fly to a place where we will be able to live like free men. During the reign of Septimus Severus, banditry took on unheard of proportions. Bands of homeless ravaged various parts of the Empire. In a petition, a copy of which has been found recently, the small farmers of Lydia in Asia Minor addressed Septimus Severus in these terms: “ When the tax collectors of the Emperor appear in the villages, they bring nothing good; they torment the inhabitants with unbearable levies and with fines ....” Other petitions speak of the brutality and arbitrariness of these same tax officials.

The poverty of the urban and rural masses offered a fertile soil for the propagation of Christianity. Rostovtzev correctly sees a link between the Jewish revolts and the popular revolts in Egypt and in Cyrenaica under the reigns ofTrajan and of Hadrian. [78] It was among the poor layers of the great cities of the Diaspora that Christianity spread. “The first communistic congregation of the Messiah was formed in Jerusalem .... But congregations soon arose in other cities having a Jewish proletariat.” [79] “The oldest ... stations of Phoenician land and sea commerce ... were also the most ancient seats of Christianity ....” [80] Just as the Jewish insurrections were followed by insurrections of the non-Jewish popular masses, so did the Jewish communist religion rapidly find its extension among these pagan masses.

The primitive Christian community was not born on the terrain of orthodox Judaism; it was tightly bound up with heretical sects. [81] It was under the influence of the Essenes, a Jewish communist sect “which,” according to Philo, “possessed neither property, houses, slaves, lands, nor flocks.” They tilled the soil and were forbidden to engage in trade.

Christianity, in its beginnings, must be considered as a reaction of the laboring masses of the Jewish people against the domination of the wealthy commercial classes. Jesus, driving the merchants out of the Temple, expresses the hatred of the Jewish popular masses against their oppressors, their hostility to the leading role of the wealthy businesspeople. At the start, the Christians formed only small communities of no great importance. But in the second century; an era of great poverty in the Roman Empire, they succeeded in becoming an extremely powerful party “In the third century, the Christian church acquired enormous strength.” [82] “In the third century evidence of Christianity greatly increased in Alexandria.” [83]

The popular, antiplutocratic character of primitive Christianity is incontestable. “Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now; for ye shall be filled .... But woe unto you that are rich! ... Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger,” states the Gospel according to Luke (6:20, 6:21, 6:24, 6:25).The Epistle of James is equally positive: “Come now, ye rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver are rusted; and their rust shall be for a testimony against you, and shall eat your flesh as fire .... Behold, the hire of the laborers who mowed your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth out: and the cries of them that reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth”. (James, 5:1, 5:4).

But with the rapid development of Christianity, its leaders labored to blunt its trenchant antiplutocratic spirit. The Gospel according to Matthew shows the change which has taken place. There it is stated: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven .... Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled” (Matthew, 5:3, 5:6). The poor have become the poor in spirit; the kingdom of God is now only the kingdom of heaven; the famished now only hunger for righteousness. The revolutionary religion of the popular masses is changed into a religion of consolation for these same masses. Kautsky compares this phenomenon to social democratic revisionism. It would be more accurate to compare this evolution to the fascist phenomenon which we are experiencing at the present time. Fascism also attempts to make use of “socialism” in order to strengthen the rule of finance capital. It unhesitatingly uses the most brazen falsehoods to deceive the masses, to represent the rule of the tycoons of heavy industry as the “rule of labor.” Nevertheless the “fascist revolution” also has a certain economic and social content. It definitely closes the liberal epoch and inaugurates the epoch of the complete domination of monopoly capitalism, the antithesis of free competitive capitalism. Similarly, it is inadequate merely to say that Christianity became an instrument for deceiving the poor classes. It also became the ideology of the class of landed proprietors who seized absolute power under Constantine. Its triumph coincided with the complete triumph of a natural economy. Simultaneously with Christianity, feudal economy spread all over Europe.

It is certainly false to hold Christianity responsible for the fall of the Empire. But it furnished the ideological armament for the classes which arose on its ruins. “The most simple interest was condemned by the clergy of the East and West.” [84] It thus took in hand the interests of the new possessing class whose entire wealth came solely from the land. The primary reason for the failure of “proletarian” Christianity and the triumph of “fascist” Christianity must be sought in the backward state of the mode of production of this epoch. Economic conditions were not as yet ripe for the triumph of communism. The class struggles of the second and third century resulted in no gain whatever for the popular masses. [85]

This does not mean that the poor classes accepted the triumph of Catholicism without resistance. The lush growth of heresies furnishes the best proof that the contrary was true. If the official Church persecuted these heresies with such great fury it was because they represented, at least in part, the interests of the poor classes. An author of the fourth century writes of Constantinople: “This city,” he says, “is flail of slaves and craftsmen who are all of them profound theologians and preach in the shops and in the streets. Ask a man to change a piece of money for you and he will tell you wherein the Son is different from the Father. Ask another the price of a loaf of bread; he will reply that the Son is lower than the Father. Should you inquire if your bath is ready, you will be told that the Son was created out of nothing.”

As we have seen, Christianity was originally the ideology of the poor Jewish masses. The first churches were formed around the synagogues. The Judo-Christians had their own Gospel which was called the Gospel according to the Hebrews. But probably the Judo-Christians disappeared quite rapidly in the great Christian community. They were assimilated into the great mass of converts. After the third century, epoch of the great expansion of Christianity, we hear no more of the Jewish community of Alexandria. It is probable that the majority of Alexandrian Jews entered the bosom of the Church. [86] The Alexandrian church for a certain time acquired hegemony within the new religion. At the Nicean Council, it played a leading role relative to the other Christian communities.

But while the poor layers of Judaism ardently embraced the teachings of Jesus, the same was not true of the ruling and commercial classes. On the contrary, they vigorously persecuted the primitive communist religion. Later, when Christianity became the religion of the great proprietors, when its initial antiplutocratic tendencies were limited to trade and usury, obviously even then opposition to it by the well-to-do Jewish classes could have lost none of its sharpness. On the contrary, Judaism became more and more conscious of its own role. Despite the decline of the Empire, the role of trade was far from ended. The ruling classes still needed luxury products from the East. If the Jews played an important role in trade in preceding epochs, they now became practically the sole intermediaries between the East and the West. “Jew” became more and more the synonym for “merchant.”

The triumph of a natural economy and of Christianity thus allowed the completion of the selective process which transformed the Jews into a commercial class. Toward the end of the Roman Empire, there certainly still existed groups of Jews whose primary occupation was agriculture or cattle raising: in Arabia, Babylonia, North Africa. The Jews had certainly not disappeared in Palestine, far from it. Contrary to the opinion of idealist historians and ideologists, the Palestinian Jews were not dispersed to the four corners of the earth by the Romans. We have seen that the Diaspora had other roots. In 484, the emperors had a great deal of difficulty in suppressing a violent revolt of Samaritan peasants. At the beginning of the seventh century, “the Jews attacked Tyre, devastating its environs.” [87] In 614, the Jewish battalions of Tiberiad, Nazareth, and Galilee assisted the Persian king in conquering Jerusalem where a host of the inhabitants were slaughtered. Even in the time of the Mohammedan invasion, the Jews, according to Caro, constituted the bulk of the Palestinian population. [88]

The Mohammedan conquest produced the same effects there that it did in all conquered countries. The subjugated population was progressively assimilated by the conquerors. Just as Egypt completely lost its own character under Mohammedan rule, so Palestine was definitively despoiled of its Jewish character. Even today certain rites of Arab peasants in Palestine recall their Jewish origin. In other countries as well, the Jewish agricultural or pastoral groups were subjected to strong assimilationist pressure and succumbed sooner or later; and that is the essential phenomenon more and more discernible through historical evolution. Only the Jewish communities with a clearly defined commercial character, numerous in Italy, in Gaul, in Germany, etc., proved capable of resisting all attempts at assimilation. What remains of the pastoral Jewish tribes of Arabia or the Jewish farmers of North Africa? Nothing but legends. As against this, the Jewish commercial colonies of Gaul, Spain, and Germany developed and flourished.

One can only say, therefore, that if the Jews have been preserved, it was not despite their dispersion but because of it. If there had been no Diaspora prior to the fall of Jerusalem, if the Jews had remained in Palestine, there is no reason to believe that their fate would have been different from that of all the other nations of antiquity. The Jews, like the Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians, would have been mixed up with the conquering nations, would have adopted their religion and their customs. Even if the present inhabitants of Palestine would have continued to bear the name of Jews, they would have had as little in common with the ancient Hebrews as the inhabitants of Egypt, Syria, and Greece have with theft ancestors of antiquity. All the peoples of the Roman Empire were carried away in its fall. Only the Jews have been preserved because they brought into the barbarian world, which followed upon the Roman, vestiges of the commercial development which had characterized the ancient world. After the Mediterranean world was dismembered, they continued, among themselves, to link its scattered parts together.



D. The Jews after the fall of the Roman Empire

It is consequently the transformation of the Jewish nation into a class which is at the bottom of the “preservation of Judaism.” In the epoch of the ruin of the Roman Empire, their commercial role continued to gain in importance. “While the Jews had already participated in world commerce prior to the fall of the Roman Empire, they attained even greater prosperity after its end.” [89] It is probable that the Syrian merchants referred to in the same period were also Jews. Such a confusion was common m antiquity Ovid, for example, speaks of the “day unsuited to business, on which every week falls the festival celebrated by the Syrians of Palestine.” [90]

“In the fourth century; the Jews belonged to the well-to-do and wealthy layers of the population .... Chrysostom states that the Jews possessed large sums of money and that their Patriarchs assembled immense treasures. He speaks of the wealth of the Jews as if it were a fact well known to his contemporaries.” [91]

For many centuries, the Jews continued to be the sole commercial intermediaries between the East and the West. Spain and France progressively became the centers of Jewish life. The Arab postmaster in Spain, “Ibn-Kordadbeh, in the Book of Routes (857-874), mentions the Radamite Jews who speak Persian, Roman, Arab, and the Frankish, Spanish and Slav languages. They voyage from the Occident to the Orient, and from the Orient to the Occident, now by land and now by sea. They bring from the Occident eunuchs, women slaves, boys, silk, furs and swords. They embark in the land of the Franks, on the Western sea and sail to Farama (Pelustum) .... They proceed to Sind, India and China. On returning they are laden with musk, aloes, camphor, cinnamon and other products of Eastern lands. Some set sail for Constantinople in order to sell their merchanclise there; others repair to the country of the Frank.” [92]

“Theodolf’s verses relating to the wealth of the Orient doubtless referred to the goods imported by the Jews. Spain is further mentioned in the text of a Formula of Louis the Pious, with reference to the Jew Abraham of Saragossa .... The Jews therefore, were the purveyors of spices and costly fabrics. But we see from Agobard’s texts that they also dealt in wine. And on the banks of the Danube they traded in salt. In the tenth century, the Jews possessed salt mines near Nuremberg. They also traded in arms, and exploited the treasuries of the churches. But their great specialty ... was their trade in slaves. Some of these slaves were sold in the country but the majority were exported to Spain .... ‘Jew’ and ‘merchant’ become synonymous terms.” [93]

Thus it is stated in an edict of King Louis: “Merchants, that is to say Jews and other merchants, from wherever they come, from this country or other countries, must pay a just tax both for slaves and for other merchandise, just as has been the custom under other kings.” [94] According to Brutzkus, the name Radamites, which a section of the Jewish merchants had, comes from the river Rhodan [Rhone], from which their ships sailed. In various chronicles the designation of “nautae rhodanici” is also to be found. [95]

There can be no doubt that in the Carolingian period, the Jews were the principal intermediaries between the East and the West. Their already dominant position in trade in the epoch of the decline of the Roman Empire was excellent preparation for this role. Then “they were treated as equals of the Roman citizens .... The poet Rutilius complained that the vanquished nation was oppressing the conquerors.” [96]

In the middle of the fourth century Jewish traders had located themselves at Tongres and Tournai. The bishops had the best relations with them and strongly encouraged their trade. In 470 Apollinaris Sidonius requested the Bishop of Toumai to receive a certain Jew favorably, in view of the fact that “these people generally did a very fine business. [97]

In the sixth century; Gregory of Tours speaks of colonies of Jews at Clermont-Ferrand and at Orleans. Lyons similarly had a large population of Jewish traders at this time. [98] The Archbishop of Lyons, Agobard, complains in De Insolentia Judaeorum that the Jews were selling Christian slaves in Spain. A monk of St. Gallen in the eighth century mentions aJew living in the country of the Franks who brought precious things from Palestine. [99]

It is consequently obvious that in the first centuries of the Middle Ages the Jews in France were primarily traders. [100] In Flanders, where the Jews lived from the Norman invasions up to the first Crusade, trade was lodged in their hands. [101] “Towards the end of the ninth century, there was a large Jewish community at Huy. The Jews occupied an important position there and had a flourishing trade .... In 1040, at Liège, trade was in their hands.” [102] In Spain, “all foreign trade was exploited by them. This trade extended over all the country’s provisions: wine, oil, minerals. Cloth and spices reached them from the Levant. The same was true in Gaul.” [103]

The Jews of Poland and Little Russia also came to Western Europe in order to sell slaves, furs, and salt there, and to buy all kinds of cloth. We read in a Hebraic source of the twelfth century that the Jews purchased large quantities of Flemish cloth on the Rhenish markets in order to trade them in Russia for firs. Jewish trade between Mainz and Kiev, according to Pirenne, “the most important tradepost of the Southern plain,” was very intensive. [104]

There was certainly an important trading colony of Jews at Kiev in this period, since we read in a chronicle of 1113 that “in order to prevail upon Monmaque [Constantine IX, Emperor of the Orient] to come to Kiev as soon as possible, the inhabitants of this city let him know that the population was prepared to pillage the Boyars [feudal lords] and the Jews.” [105]

The Arabian traveler Ibrahim Al Tartuahi similarly attests to the scope of Jewish trade between Europe and the Orient. He writes, in 973, on visiting Mainz: “It is marvelous to find, at such a distant point in the West, spices originating in the most remote East.” In accounts of the travels of the Spanish Jews des Gorionides, Quasvini, and Abraham Ibn Jakov, of the tenth century, mention is made of the price of wheat at Krakow and Prague; also of salt mines belonging to Jews. [106] According to Gumplowicz, the Jews were the sole intermediaries between the shores of the Baltic and Asia. An old document thus characterizes the Khazars, a Mongol tribe of the Caspian Sea which became converted to Judaism: “They have no slaves to the land because they buy everything by means of money.” [107] Itil, the capital of the Khazars, was a great commercial center, the starting point for the transport of goods eventually ending up at Mainz.

The convert Herman relates, in an autobiographical work, that while he was still a Jew, he traveled regularly when he was twenty years old (about 1127) between Cologne and Mainz in the pursuit of commercial matters, for “all Jews are engaged in trade” (siquidem omnes judad negotiationi inserviunt).

The words of R. Elieser Ben Natan are also characteristic of the period: “trade – but that is our principal means of subsistence.” [108]

The Jews constituted “the only class to make its living by trading. At the same time, thanks to the contacts which they maintained among themselves, they constituted the only economic link which survived ... between East and West.” [109]

The situation of the Jews in the first half of the Middle Ages was therefore extremely favorable. The Jews were considered as being a part of the upper classes in society and their juridical position was not perceptibly different from that of the nobility Under Charles the Bald, the Pistensian Edict punished the sale of impure gold or silver by the whip when serfs or those liable to forced labor were involved and by a money fine when the culprits were Jews or free men.. [110] “The Jews of the earlier period filled a great need in the general economy which for a long time could not be filled by anybody else, namely, the need for carrying on a professional trade in goods.” [111]

Bourgeois historians generally do not see any great difference between ancient or medieval trade and usury and the capitalism of our epoch. Nevertheless, there is at least as great a difference between capitalism and medieval business (and the usury to which the latter is linked) as there is between the great capitalist proprietor working for the market and the feudal lord; between the modern proletarian and the serf or slave. In the epoch of the commercial prosperity of the Jews the prevailing mode of production was feudal. Essentially it was use values that were produced and not exchange values. Each domain was self-sufficient. Only certain luxury products: spices, precious goods, etc., were objects of exchange. The lords yielded a portion of the gross products of their lands for the rare merchandise coming from the Orient.

Feudal society based on the production of use values, and “capitalism,” in its commercial and usurious primitive form, do not exclude one another but complement each other. “An independent and prevailing development of capital in the shape of merchants’ capital signifies that production is not subject to capital .... The independent development of merchant’ capital stands therefore in an inverse ratio to the general economic development of society.[112]

“So long as merchants’ capital promotes the exchange of products between undeveloped societies, commercial profit does not only assume the shape of outbargaining and cheating, but also arises largely from these methods. Leaving aside the fact that it exploits the difference in prices of production of the various countries (and in this respect it tends to level and fix the values of commodities), those modes of production bring it about that merchants’ capital appropriates to itself the overwhelming portion of the surplus product, either in its capacity as a mediator between societies, which are yet largely engaged in production of use-values and for whose economic organization the sale of that portion of its product which is transferred to the circulation, or any sale of products at their value, is of minor importance; or, because under those former modes of production, the principle owners of the surplus-product, with whom the merchant has to deal, are the slave holöder, the feudal landlord, the state (for instance, the Oriental despot), and they represent the wealth and luxury which the merchant tries to trap ...” [113]

Whereas modern commercial or bank capital is, from an economic standpoint, only an appendage to industrial capital and appropriates only a part of the surplus value created in the process of capitalist production, commercial and usury capital realizes its profits by exploiting differences in the costs of production of various countries and by taking for itself a portion of the surplus value extorted by the feudal lords from their serfs. “It is always the same goods into which money is converted in the first phase and which, in the second phase, is converted into more money.” [114]

The Jewish merchant did not invest money in production as the merchant of the great medieval cities does several centuries later. He does not purchase raw materials; nor finance the draper artisans. His “merchants’ capital is ... merely the intervening movement between extremes not controlled by it and between premises not created by it.” [115]

Lending at interest, usury, is closely linked to commerce. If accumulated wealth in the hands of the feudal class implies luxury and the trade which serves to procure it, luxury, in its turn, becomes the distinctive hallmark of wealth. In the beginning, accumulated surplus product allows the lord to acquire spices, Oriental cloths, silks; later, all these products become the attributes of the ruling class. The cloth begins to make the monk. And when regular income does not allow the proprietor class to lead the kind of life which has become habitual, it must borrow A second personage is added to the merchant: the usurer. Generally, in this period the second personage is identical with the first. Only the merchant has the necessary cash for the rich noble wastrel. But it is not alone the lord who has recourse to the usurer. When the king has to assemble an army immediately and the normal revenue from taxation is inadequate, he is compelled to go to the man with the cash. When the peasant, because of a bad harvest, an epidemic, or the overwhelming burden of taxes, forced contributions, and compulsory service, can no longer meet his obligations; when he has eaten up his seed, when he can no longer replace his worn-out tools, he must borrow his requirements from the usurer.

The treasury of the usurer is therefore indispensable to a society based on a natural economy; it constitutes the reserve on which society draws when various accidental circumstances intervene. “Interest-bearing capital, or usurer’s capital, as we may call it in its ancient form, belongs like its twin brother, commercial capital, to the antediluvian forms of capital, which long precede the capitalist mode of production and are found in the most diverse economic formations of society.” [116]

Often the kings and great lords pawned their tax revenues with the Jews. And it is in this way that we see Jews appearing in the role of tax farmers, tax collectors. [117] The finance ministers of the kings of the early Middle Ages were often Jews. In Spain, up to the end of the fourteenth century the great Jewish bankers were also tax farmers. In Poland, the “kings entrusted to the Jews the important functions of the financial administration of their domains .... Under Casimir the Great and Vladislav Jagiello, not only were the public taxes farmed out to the Jews, but also such important sources of revenue as the royal mint and salt mines. Thus, for example, we know that in the second half of the fourteenth century the ‘Rothschild’ of Krakow, Levko, the banker to three Polish kings, leased the famous salt mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia, and that he was also administrator of the mint at Kraków.” [118]

So long as a natural economy reigned, the Jews were indispensable to it. It is its decline which gives the signal for persecutions against the Jews and will for a long time exert an adverse influence on their situation.




68. Jacques Zeiller, L’Empire Romain et l’Église (Paris, 1928), p.23.

69. Georg Bernhard Depping, Histoire du Commerce entre le Levant et l’Europe (Paris, 1830), vol.1, pp.3-6.

70. Schubart, op. cit., p.8.

71. Mommsen, History of Rome, op. cit., vol.4, p.508.

72. W. Roscher, The Status of the Jews in the Middle Ages, Historia Judaica, April, 1944, p.17.

73. Kautsky, Foundations of Christianity, op. cit., p.272.

74. Strabo, op. cit., vol.3, p.177.

75. Kautsky Foundations of Christianity, op. cit., p.260.

76. Rostovtzev, op. cit., p.121. After the death of Trajan, “the Jews in Mesopotamia, Palestina, Egypt, and Cyrenaica started dangerous and bloody revolts, the last of which almost depopulated Cyrenaica.” Ibid., p.315.

77. Ibid., p.300.

78. Ibid., p.301.

79. Kautsky Foundations of Christianity, op. cit., p.382.

80. Movers, op. cit., vol.2, p.1.

81. See Gustav Holscher, Urgemeinde und Spätjudentum (Oslo, 1928), p.26.

82. Rostovtzev, op. cit., p.456.

83. Schubart, op. cit., p.97.

84. Gibbon, op. cit., vol.2, p.1469.

85. They were a manifestation of the decline of Roman economy But the oppressed classes were not equal to the task of taking power. A new possessing class utilized their ideology for imposing its rule. A change was necessary; it took place exclusively to the profit of this new class. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, for the “fascist revolution.”.

86. Schubart, op. cit., p.46.

87. Samuel Krauss, Studien zur Byzantisch-Jüdischen Geschichte (Leipzig, 1914), p.29.

88. Georg Caro, Sozial- und Wirtschaftgeschichte der Juden im Mittelalter und der Neuzeit (Frankfurt, 1924), p.117.

89. Lujo Brentano, Eine Geschichte der Wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung Englands (Jena, 1927-29), vol.1, p.363.

90. Even if these Syrians were not Jews, it is a fact that they are no longer referred to in the Carolingian epoch. It is possible that they became assimilated with the Jewish commercial communities, if they did not completely disappear for other reasons. In the Carolingian epoch, “Jew” is a perfect synonym for “merchant.”

91. Rabbiner Dr. Leopold Lucas, Zur Geschichte der Juden im Vierten Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1910), pp.31-35. “At Antioch, St. John Chrysostom ... shows [the Jews] as occupying the highest commercial positions in the city; causing a cessation of all business when they celebrated their holidays.” Jannet, op. cit., p.137.

92. Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne, op. cit., p.258.

93. Ibid., pp.258-60.

94. Dr. Julius Brutzkus, Trade Relations of the West European Jews with Medieval Kiev, Writings on Economics and Statistics, J. Lestschinsky, ed. (Berlin, 1928), vol.1, p.70.

95. Ibid., p.69.

96. Georg Bernhard Depping, Les Juifs dans le Moyen Age (Paris, 1845), pp.17-18.

97. Salomon Ullmann, Histoire des Juifs en Belgique (Antwerp, 192-?), pp.9-10.

98. Pirenne, Les Villes au Moyen Age, op. cit., p.21.

99. Ignaz Schipper, Anfänge des Kapitalismus bei den Abendländischen Juden in Früheren Mittelalter (Vienna, 1907), pp.19-20.

100. Henri Sée, Esquisse d’une Histoire Économique et Sociale de la France (Paris, 1929), p.91.

101. Verhoeven, Algemeene Inleiding tot de Belgische Historie. Quoted by Ullmann, op. cit., p.8.

102. Ullmann, op. cit., pp.12-14.

103. Bédarride, op. cit., p.55.

104. Brutzkus, Trade Relations, op. cit., p.71.

105. Ibid., p.72.

106. Schipper, Anfänge des Kapitalismus bei den Abendländischen Juden in Früheren Mittelalter, op. cit., p.23.

107. Dr. J. Brutzkus, History of the Jewish Mountaineers in Dagestan (Caucasia), Yivo Studies in History (Wilno, 1937), vol.2.

108. Ignaz Schipper, Jewish History (Warsaw, 1930), vol.2, p.47.

109. Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne, op. cit., p.174.

110. The Jews were even better protected than the nobles by the Privilege of Speyer of Henry IV (1090).The Polish chronicler of the twelfth century Vincenti Kadlubek, informs us that the same penalty; the “septuaginta”, which was set for lèse-majesté or for blasphemy, was applied to assassins of Jews. In 966, the Bishop of Verona complained that in conflicts between clerics and Jews, the former were punished by fines that were triple those which the Jews had to pay

111. Roscher, op. cit., p.16.

112. Karl Marx, Capital, op. cit., vol.3, p.386. My emphasis.

113. Ibid., vol.3, p.389.

114. Ibid.

115. Ibid., vol.3, p.388.

116. Ibid., vol.3, p.696.

“That the German Jews made loans on security even before the first crusade is incontestable. When Bishop Herman of Prague, in 1107, pawned five magnificent church draperies for the sum of 500 silver marks with the Jews of Regensburg, it is hard to believe that this was the first credit operation of its .... Moreover, a Hebrew document bears out that loans against security were customary for the German Jews of this period. But at this time, credit did not as yet constitute an independent profession; it was tightly linked up with commerce.” Caro, op. cit., p.197.

117. “The bankers also took charge of collecting the income of large seigniorial estates; they acted, in a way, like stewards or comptrollers.” Georges d’Avenel, Histoire Économique de la Propriété, etc. (Paris, 1894), vol.1, p.109.

118. Schipper, Jewish History, op. cit., vol.4, p.224.


Last updated on 23.1.2002