Reconfiguring Diaspora: The Transformation of the Jewish Diaspora in Antiquity

Abstract: Linda Safran

Remembering the Jewish Dead in Medieval Apulia (and Basilicata)

Linda Safran

Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto


Rashi’s grandson, the Tosafist Rabbenu Tam, remarked in the twelfth century that “from Bari comes forth the Law, and the word of God from Otranto.” Jews lived and died in these towns (and others) in the heel of the Italian boot (modern Apulia) for fifteen centuries, until their forced conversion or expulsion in 1541.

The region’s earliest extant tombstone, from the third or fourth century, is in Greek and Hebrew; later examples are also bilingual, but in Latin and Hebrew; and from about the ninth century onward they are exclusively in Hebrew.

Most of the epitaphs are inscribed on small square plaques or larger upright stelae, whereas some late examples are hemispherical sarcophagus lids. Many stones include imagery, mostly menorot and shofarot, although a six-pointed star, concentric circles, and a family crest are also represented.

Few of the medieval funerary markers were found in situ; nevertheless, they reveal valuable information about onomastics, gender, kinship, life-span, and funerary ritual. Several tombstones also yield evidence of chronology: exceptionally, they give the date of death in years since the destruction of the Temple rather than since the creation of the world.

At the Utrecht workshop I will present the material evidence for Jewish death in medieval Apulia with reference to both contemporary textual sources and local Christian practices.