Long-lost Medieval Jewish Cemetery Clues Uncovered in Rome

Photo Courtesy of Rome's Archeological Superintendency via The New York Times

Evidence of persecution in Rome’s “Field of Jews” has been uncovered recently in a long-long Jewish cemetery. This cemetery dates back more than 500 years ago and was loosely referred to in Latin as “Campus Iudeorum,” or “Field of Jews.”

This site has been recorded in literary sources for decades; however, it has been physically lost until the recent excavation exposed the remains in Rome under Palazzo Leonori in the Trastevere district. The discovered graves may date back to 1300-1600, late in Rome’s medieval period. These findings support the idea that the history of Roman Jews extended from ancient times and continued past the late middle ages.

While living in medieval Rome, Jewish people had their own communities, such as neighborhoods within the city as well as their own synagogues. It took until nearly the end of the 14th century, however, for the community to hold official judicial status as “Universitas Iudeorum Urbis,” or a corporation.

The bodies were buried following traditional Jewish practices of the time. The skeletons were found in wooden caskets with no markings and no objects. However, two of the bodies were found with jewelery.

The 38 well-preserved skeletons were found by archaeologists who were “monitoring a building restoration,” according to New York Times (NYT). Two female bodies uncovered were wearing gold rings, and the rest of the bodies were male.

Even though the number of uncovered bodies is certainly not close to the millions buried in the city, this unveiling of evidence is crucial to unlocking more information about the persecution the Jewish communities suffered from under papal rule.

“I am very happy we have found important information about this cemetery, perhaps for the first time ever,” Daniela Rossi, the project’s head archaeologist, explained in USA Today. “It is testimony to the important presence of the Jewish community in earlier times.”

Archaeologists dug more than 26 feet below the ground’s surface in order to recover the remains. Even though the the cemetery was well-documented within maps and written documents, the site had been physically missing for centuries.

Additional evidence found was a fragment of marble with “here lies” written in Hebrew. “Here lies” has been associated with the cemetery, says Alessio De Cristofaro, an archaeologist with the excavation. “All the elements converged to identify this [site] as the Campus Iudeorum.”

In addition to the cemetery, archaeologists also uncovered remains of a tannery dating back to the third century. When the work is completed for both the cemetery and the ancient tannery, both sites will be converted to a museum. According to NYT, “the excavation was documented and the skeletons will be entrusted to Rome’s Jewish community.” The bodies will be buried in the correct form and with respect.


About Miranda McLain 38 Articles
Editor-in-Chief at The Point News. Class of 2017. Political Science and English double major; Educational Studies minor.

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