26 March 2009

Austria: Early Jewish settlement evidence

Our people are nothing if not travelers. Interesting objects show up in the strangest of places, inscribed in unusual languages. Once again, we need to look back and see who our ancestors were and where they lived.

A gold amulet inscribed with an essential Jewish prayer was found in a 3rd-century CE grave in Halbturn, Austria. The grave was that of a Roman child.

This amulet shows that people of Jewish faith lived in what is today Austria since the Roman Empire. Up to now, the earliest evidence of a Jewish presence within the borders of Austria has been letters from the 9th century CE. In the areas of the Roman province of Pannonia that are now part of Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, gravestones and small finds attest to Jewish inhabitants even in antiquity.

Jews have been settling in all parts of the ancient world at the latest since the 3rd century BCE. Particularly following the second Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, the victorious Romans sold large numbers of Jews as slaves to all corners of the empire. This, coupled with voluntary migration, is how Jews also might have come to present-day Austria.
As described in this ScienceDaily.com article, the inscription was at first incomprehensible because it was in Hebrew, transcribed in Greek characters: ΣΥΜΑ ΙΣΤΡΑΗΛ ΑΔΩNΕ ΕΛΩΗ ΑΔΩN Α - Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.

The amulet (there's an image of it at the link above) was discovered in 2006 by Nives Doneus from the Institute for Prehistory and Early History of the University of Vienna.

The one or two year old child, which presumably wore the silver amulet capsule around its neck, was buried in one of around 300 graves in a Roman cemetery which dates back to the 2nd to 5th century CE and is situated next to a Roman estate ("villa rustica"). This estate was an agricultural enterprise that provided food for the surrounding Roman towns (Carnuntum, Györ, Sopron).

The gravesite, discovered in 1986, has yielded more than 10,000 finds, including glass, ceramic and metal.

Other amulets have been found. This one, according to the article, is different because of its Jewish relevance. Tthe others had magical texts and other wording to protect against such demons as Antaura, which causes migraines.

The amulet will be displayed in an exhibit at the Burgenland State Museum (Eisenstadt, Austria) from April 11.

Read the complete article at the link above.

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