The history of Judaism in Roman Gaul began with back-to-back catastrophes in the home of the Hebrews. The first occurred in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and Herod's Temple by Titus. The second was the fall of the Zealot Citadel of Masada three years later, during the final revolt against their Roman occupiers.
These tragedies spawned a new exodus by the Jews from Palestine as they dispersed throughout the Mediterranean in all directions. The first Israelites to arrive in what is today the French province of Provence, were a mixed assortment of refugees, traders, and slaves.
Their primary gateway was Marseille, located on the northern coast of the Mediterranean. The port city was founded by Phoenician Greek mariners in the sixth-century B.C., and had been incorporated into the Roman Empire in 49 B.C. Besides being France's oldest town, Marseille would later become the country's first capital.
The Jewish population was well integrated into French society by the end of the fifth century, and had been afforded special privileges and protections by the time the French monarchy embraced Christianity with the baptism of Clovis as France's first Christian king.
The emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine the Great, had himself earlier become a convert to Christianity and promoted the formerly persecuted religion all throughout his reign until his death in A.D. 337.
As the kingdom of France expanded, incorporating southern regions such as Languedoc on the Mediterranean, the position of its Jewish inhabitants began to deteriorate, leading eventually to their banishment and expulsion, especially under the French kings Philip the Fair and Charles VI from 1306 to 1394. Still, the Jews had their champions, such as the twelfth-century French saint, Bernard of Clairvaux, who declared, "He who touches a Jew is as guilty as if he had set to the …