Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities

By John R. Bartlett | Go to book overview

12

ASPECTS OF EVERYDAY LIFE IN ROMAN PALESTINE WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO PRIVATE DOMICILES AND RITUAL BATHS 1

Eric M. Meyers


Introduction

The subject of everyday life in Roman-period Palestine would seem, on the face of it, to be a topic of genuine interest to all sorts of scholars and laypeople: to archaeologists, New Testament scholars, to scholars in classical studies or in rabbinics or Jewish studies. Ancient lifeways conjured up all sorts of thoughts about breaking down the barriers between yesterday and today, while at the same time suggesting a hopeful avenue of investigation that might make the distant past more palatable to the present. But the high-technological present, so long after the dawn of the industrial era in the mid-nineteenth century, in fact makes it more difficult than ever before to come to grips with some of the harsher realities of the Roman-period past, whether in Palestine or elsewhere. But whether we want to accept it or not, ancient Palestine was at a further remove than many of us would want to accept when it came to many of the technological advances we know of further west or in some of the great eastern cities like Aphrodisias or Ephesus.

So for example, while we have a very sophisticated water system in Israel at Roman Sepphoris, 1 we have thus far found only one toilet in a city that c. 200 CE must have had a population of 15,000-18,000. 2 One possible inference to be drawn is that families used chamber pots; another possibility would be that outhouses or latrines were wooden and have not survived. While the great mansion with the Dionysos mosaic resembles the great villas

1 This paper was originally delivered as a special conference lecture to a combined audience of laypeople, faculty, students, and conference participants at Trinity College, Dublin. I have attempted to keep the general outline of that presentation in this written form.

2 For a convenient and up-to-date summary see Tsuk 1996:45-51 and the final report on the water system in, Tsuk et al. 1996 (in Hebrew).

-193-

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