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"Asher Hararia Barzel" - the economy of metals in the second century AD under the rule of the Romans

The Roman emperors found a great need for the ores and metal mines in the province of Judea, mainly in the Arava region and during the era of the empire of Hadrian, who took care to develop the maximum utilization of the metal deposits in the province, thereby encouraging groups of employees or those who owned land to develop the mines in places where slaves or prisoners were employed there in general who were condemned to hard labor, and so did the emperors after him

Reconstruction of a Roman soldier's helmet. Axes for metals. Illustration: shutterstock
Reconstruction of a Roman soldier's helmet. Axes for metals. Illustration: shutterstock

The Roman emperors found a great need for the ores and metal mines in the province of Judea, mainly in the Arava region and during the era of the empire of Hadrian, who took care to develop the maximum utilization of the metal deposits in the province, thereby encouraging groups of employees or those who owned land to develop the mines in places where slaves or prisoners were employed there in general who were condemned to hard labor, and so did the emperors after him.

However, the state of the metal stockpile was in a bad state, partly due to the multiple wars, internal and external, that took place during the times of the emperors Marcus Aurelius, Commodus and the House of Severus, that is, from the second half of the second century AD onwards. Along with the extensive mining of the metals for the production of weapons and the decommissioning of mines adjacent to the killing fields such as in Dekia, Spain, Gallia, etc., the export of silver coins as a result of international trade, the negative trade balance during the Syrian Empire led to the flight of precious metals from it, including the numerous and unprecedented imperial expenditures. All this forced the emperors to encourage and develop the existing mines and look for new options. In addition, existing mines, mainly iron and lead, were given to the supervision of the Roman militia, which we witnessed a similar phenomenon in agricultural areas, in what is called the fixation of military units, including veterans (discharged soldiers) in certain areas, especially in border areas, such as in the Roman "Limas" lines, on In order to obtain security on the one hand and economic activity on the other hand.

Also, land was allocated for agricultural cultivation to the lead miners in order to increase their food supply, along with expanding the copper mines and leasing them to private contractors.

Metal mining was usually a Roman monopoly and a midrashic source confirms this as follows: "... this ore was not discovered for mining ... but for the kingdom of this conviction" (Midrash Esther Rabbah 6:XNUMX), regarding a cry of protest in the face of an imperial enterprise in the province of Judah. These mining enterprises were managed by special officials, Roman procurators under whom Kev and Tzots operated in the category of laborers. Confirmation of this was found in Spain, in the Province of Hispania, in the form of a special law (lex metalica) when the Romans encouraged the Aris to work in the mines. Another proof that the factories were in the imperial category and in the possession of a Roman monopoly, was found in the Talmudic term "metalon" (derived from the Latin - metallum) and in the text: "A flesh-and-blood king has Tirodin's coat of mail" (in the Midbar Rabbah - "and sent us out of the camp." Perhaps there is a spelling "Tyronin" under "Tirodin", that is, an army in charge of mining the metal, and perhaps "Tirodin" are nothing but workers (Arisim), or Slaves. Another midrash relates that "a king said: If she had broken (the king's icon - statue) in his favor, he would have been killed (killed) now (now that) if she had broken it not in his favor, he would be tormented" (Deuteronomy Rabbah XNUMX). That is, he would be sent to Bin Mine workers serving their sentence with hard labor.

Roman coins from the second century AD. From Wikipedia
Roman coins from the second century AD. From Wikipedia

Another reason that guided the trend of Roman emperors, especially from the second half of the second century AD, to reexamine the issue of minting coins, when monetary inflation began to give its signals throughout the empire. During this period, the emperors began to add copper to the silver coins to turn them into an alloy and thus the great demand for this metal probably increased.

The metal deposits in the Land of Israel have always been in the Arabah region and past the eastern Jordan. In these places they mined the copper mentioned by the early church father Eusebius.

Most of the operations in the copper industry were carried out by the Roman army, when units were stationed in the area, from this it is possible to reject the claim that slaves or captives were employed in the mines, quite similar to the employment of the army in operating the various siege devices and setting them up. The required operations relied on expertise and experience much more than on physical strength, which required that units with mining and production skills be assigned to the military frameworks. It is also possible to find a connection between the army and the organization of the mines and their management, what's more the army served as a significant consumer of the metal products.

An important connection was created between the ceramics industry and the production of copper, for example in the area of ​​the need for large furnaces to perfect the product. These furnaces needed burning materials on a large scale, and that is why those areas with rich vegetation such as Pinan developed (and maybe the "pinon locks" which in the books of the Sages (from Klai'im 7) are surrounded by Ben?!) Wadi es-Sabra. Also, the concentration of a stable and permanent population around the mines was required, and from this there was a great demand for water and, similarly, ceramics were harnessed in the development of clay pipes for the passage of water.

The artisans who lent their hand to the production of the metal tools were called "coals" and sometimes "coppersmiths", and it is interesting to note that according to certain traditions, the smith is not mentioned in the Mishnah, but rather a "copper cutter" in essence. The coppersmiths knew all the basic operations accepted in making tools, and this according to the findings of the "Cave of Tolls" in the Judean desert, a place considered to be a Roman imperial estate. In light of the findings that have been revealed, it is possible to get to know the highest quality copper products.

Next to the copper, lead deposits were exposed. We distinguish three large production centers - Tire and Sidon (from where, apparently, the coffins were brought in their raw state to Beit Shaarim - the central burial place in the valley of Rabbi Yehuda the Hanasi. The coffins were finished there and prepared for burial). The third place was in Ashkelon and maybe even in Akhziv. From the third century CE, lead cabinets were also made in Jerusalem.

The iron and its processing is mentioned by Yosef ben Matthieu in his writings and Rabbi Yehuda tells about the "iron mountain" which stretched from the area of ​​Sodom to Moab, where the imperial estates were also found.

The iron was produced by heating the ore with the coal and after a viscous mass was formed from this compound and after it hardened it was put back into the furnace. In connection with this, Sage sources tell about a "blacksmith's furnace" and the many metal tools and various aids that participated in the production process, such as a special balance wire for metal scales, corns, zerfit, kaffa-ksia and more.


In the field of metals, an important point must be clarified, and it is that from the second half of the second century CE onwards we find many testimonies about various metal tools and the many craftsmen who were involved in their production. This is, in part, due to the increased urbanization process in the country, when with it the standard of living increased and the demand for metals in general increased and decreased. Through the branching network of roads in Israel, the result of the initiative of the Romans, relevant raw materials were transported relatively quickly and relatively cheaply to craft-industrial production centers, where their work was processed and completed. Thus, for example, there was evidence regarding "eighty chests of metal in Shekhin". Because it is known that the metal was used as a by-product for other industries such as ceramics and vice versa as it is written: "Mud to make the mouth of a goldsmith's furnace" (Tosefta Shabbat 16:XNUMX), weaving including the weights of the loom and the combing combs and more The wick is wrapped, the kush - the pole of the palkh and the terror - the reed on which the wool or linen is wrapped during spinning. as well as "buy scales of linen scanners" as well as "scorpion of the cloth house" - a metal stake fixed in the cloth house, building weights, weaving needle, builders' tools and more.

In those industrial centers such as Beit Shaarim, Kfar Hanania, Shichin, Acre, Tiberias, Beit Shan and more, they purchased the raw metal from its production centers, near or far such as Lod, Ono - the "Deaf Grove" mentioned in Sage sources regarding the third century AD . And there, with the help of sophisticated furnaces and improved tools, the artisans processed the raw metal for the various uses. This is undoubtedly how we will understand the many testimonies about the artisans dealing with silver and gold metals such as "goldsmiths", and "goldsmiths" found for example in inscriptions such as Beit Shaarim, also mentioning "goldsmiths' furnace" and "goldsmiths' bottom". The raw material was brought to Eretz Israel and the delicate and complex work was completed in the local workshops. It should be noted that although the raw material is not found in the country, trust the delicate skill of the local goldsmiths.

An economic outcome of metalworking in Israel was the production of weapons. The Mishnah specifically instructs that "in every place no rough animal shall be sold to them (to foreigners)" (Tract Avoda Zerah 6:XNUMX) and Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi testifies according to the Jerusalem Talmud in this context and says: "... I say that it is forbidden (to sell to foreigners) for two reasons (reasons ): because it is a penis vessel and because it is a thin animal" (Jerusalem Talmud, Abode Zerah, Chapter XNUMX. M. p. XNUMX). It is about an economic motive on the one hand and a professional-religious motive, when the Jews were employed by the Romans in the production of weapons and their use.

Since when did the Jews make weapons? Probably from before, but in the chronological context close to the period in question, the Roman historian Dio Cassius testifies near the revolt of Ben Kusaba (prior to 132 AD), that the Jews were employed in the manufacture and use of weapons for the Romans, which indicates the degree of their professionalism and the trust shown in relation to those who do the craft. And although Dio Cassius wants to blacken the face of those engaged in the craft, that is, the Jews, who, in his opinion, deliberately damaged the manufacturing process of some of the weapons so that they would be discarded, thrown away and collected by the Jewish workers for the purpose of preparing the Ben Kusva Rebellion. right or wrong? Full or partial blame? It does not matter what the position of Dio Cassius was, and perhaps even to emphasize the high standard to which the Romans strived in the professional field. It is enough for us to content ourselves with the summary of the testimony of Dio Cassius to bring out the degree of professionalism of the Jews in this matter and the use that the Romans found in them.

In the Tanait treatise "Yad Ma'asad of legions" is mentioned as a reinforcement of the last assumption. And perhaps a certain responsibility for the issuance of weapons acted here on behalf of the Presidency, and therefore the President, mainly because of his extensive ties with the Roman Empire, made sure to direct the production of weapons to elements in the Roman Empire and not to foreigners such as the Hellenistic diaspora in the province of Judaea.

Into this category can be brought the saying of the Jerusalemite along the lines of "Tani, they are not sold to them (foreigners), neither a cock nor a cock tool, and they do not sharpen their cocks." It will be resolved (except) in a city full of Gentiles." That is, there is a separation, not in the least hidden, between the casual phrase "foreigners" or "Gentiles" and a reference to the Roman rule, usually in one way or another referring to the Roman ruler/emperor. Moreover, it is possible that the reference of the aforementioned Jerusalemite relates to the case of the internal Roman rebellion, one that unfolded in the province of Judea, and refers to the rebellion of Pascanius Niger in Rome under the emperorship of Septimius Severus towards the end of the second century CE. And the Jerusalem text seems to ask not to join the forces of Mary.

It should be noted that the demand for weapons on behalf of the Romans may have called for the establishment of the fortified border line between the province of Judaea and the southern border area, which is somewhat desert, and which was nicknamed "Limas Palaistinai", and which was manned by many Roman troops.


The terminological nomenclature for the types of Roman weapons as they appear in Sage literature, such as "ascuta" (from the Latin scutum), "esprita" (from the Latin sparus) and more, may well confirm the above theories.


Due to the process of urbanization, and sometimes somewhat accelerated, the development of trade, the formation of the "city" (Villa Rustica and Villa Urbana) and its territory as a stable and strong unit and even due to the large number of Roman military units in the province of Judaea, we witness the phenomenon of a proliferation of coins on the market such as imperial coins, urban coins such as coins Jaffa, Susita, Caesarea, Nicopolis, Ptolemais and more, the coins of the legions and more. And this is not far from the reality that in some of the best places Jews worked both as hired laborers and as Roman obligations such as "Angria".


2 תגובות

  1. Very interesting article. also shows a certain knowledge of the sources.

    I couldn't help but notice that she is not controversial and I hope that there was no order from the managers to be more relaxed. It is the more sensational articles that send me to do my homework. We live in an age that does not like enlightenment, because of ethnic conflicts around the world, and attempts to integrate democracy in non-democratic places that have not succeeded. In addition, the strengthening of religious factions among the population. And disappointment with left-wing opinions (not left-wing - that's a slight insult) that are sometimes associated with those who are seen as the most extreme in such dictatorial and religious views.
    It is a challenge to express more liberal views, and to survive as a columnist.

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