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Judaism in the Greco-Roman Period: The Jews in Roman Alexandria


Admission requirements

Students will need a good knowledge of Greek.


In the Roman era, something happened to the social status of Jews living in Alexandria. Their status was lowered considerably, despite their protests, and they seemed to have become a target of inimical other ethnicities in the city. Eventually, the situation grew into a civil war, which in the second century ended the Jewish presence in Egypt for centuries to follow. The initial outbreak of violence, which called for the intervention of various Roman emperors, was in the year 38 CE, when the so-called First Pogrom took place. Modern scholars have offered reconstructions of the events that vary greatly among them, especially due to unclarity of the status of the Jews in Alexandria prior to the Roman era. We shall read one of the crucial ancient documents concerning Alexandria in the year 38, namely Philo’s In Flaccum, as well as a number of recent studies, and see how far we can get to formulate some hypotheses and reconstructions of our own.

Course objectives

After following this course, students will be able to get an intricate and difficult ancient document under their control, and have a good idea of how to use and appreciate sources of various kinds to solve complex historical questions. They are able to weigh arguments brought forward in the academic debate, refute them, and come up with new ones.


In each session, all students will read a portion of Philo’s In Flaccum. One of them will give an outline of that particular portion, and relate it to previously read parts. In addition, another student will present and compare various views on the problems under discussion, taken from a number of recent monographs on the subject. When appropriate, other ancient sources, such as papyri and the Acts of the Alexandrian Martyrs, will also be taken into account.

Mode of instruction

All work will be done by the students themselves; they will receive instructions and guidelines from the teacher, and feedback from their co-students and the teacher.

Assessment method

All students will present their assignments both orally and in writing. They will receive a grade for both their oral presentations (30% + 30%) and for their paper (40%).


The written presentations by the students will be uploaded on Blackboard, which will also serve as the main medium for communication outside class.

Reading list

  • J.M.G. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora. From Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE – 117 CE), Edinburgh 1996

  • S. Gambetti, The Alexandrian Riots of 38 C.E. and the Persecution of the Jews: A Historical Reconstruction, Leiden 2009;

  • P.W. van der Horst, Philo’s Flaccus. The First Pogrom, Leiden 2003;

  • J. Mélèze Modrzejewski, The Jews of Egypt. From Ramses II to Emperor Hadrian, Princeton 1997;

  • E.M. Smallwood, The Jews under Roman Rule, Leiden 1970


Via uSis.
Students interested in taking this course, should also enroll themselves in the Blackboard module.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

For more info, mail to the studycordinator.