The Multiethnic Modernity. Coexistence of Jews and Christians in Renaissance Oria.

Contribute by: dr. Benedetto Ligorio, Ph.D., Post-Doc Early Modern History, dep. of Philosophy in Villa Mirafiori, Sapienza University of Rome

Full member of Società di Storia Patria per la Puglia – Palazzo Ateneo.

Benedetto Ligorio, Una seconda presenza ebraica a Oria nel XV secolo, «Archivio Storico Pugliese» a.67, 2014, pp. 143-152.

Certain traces of a new Jewish presence were visible only in the second half of the fifteenth century when Mata and Menaca of Muscato, in 1463, presented themselves to the Aragonese Chancery for a sudden and ferocious incursion with robbery into Oria by some Christians.

The agreement of 1482, between to the city Oria and the king Ferrante I, to send to the city Fifteen family of Jews, freed from taxes, on the model of those who were in the city of Brindisi, is an example of an evident economic expansion trend, with the consequent need for an efficient and modern credit network system. 

The hight Representatives of the city, in fact, in the petition affirm that ” dall’habbitare de le dette casate de giudei ne risulterà utilità et acconcio gradissimo all’università et homini”. The request received the placet of Ferrante I but still in 1491 it was not implemented, in fact a new request was sent to Ferrante I from the city of Oria, who should have confirmed the privilege granted in 1482, of being able to bring 15 Jewish families, free from each tax payment. This privilege, in fact, due to the war and other inconveniences, was not implemented. Finally, the city acquired an efficient credit system, but the economic trend has destined to change direction: the war with the French and the plague irremediably incriminated the local economy and debtors were not able to face the payments. 

The wealthy citizens of Oria passed from a problem of access to credit to one of insolvency: therefore, the accusation of usury against the creditors makes room. The City of Oria denounces to Ferrante II the grave poverty of the indebted citizens. The City therefore request that debtors, unable to meet their obligations, be granted the grace of exemption from debt payment. The request does not find the approval of the sovereign, who grants, in mediation, given the economic contingency, a debt freeze, and the possibility for debtors to meet their obligations as soon as they will be able to do so.

The second Jewish presence in Oria allows an overview of the roles of the Jews in southern Italy and of how this minority is closely interconnected with the rest of the social fabric: if the early medieval community is distinguished by its literary and philosophical relevance, the fifteenth-century was relevant for its socio-economic role.

The two communities have totally different socio-cultural paradigms, not only for the time margin that separates them. The first Jewish group in Oria, which reached its apogee in the 9th-10th centuries, is similar to the models of Palestinian Judaism, and is a center known throughout the Mediterranean and Northern Europe for the prestige of its schools, where the Oritan payyetanim elaborate extremely sophisticated liturgical songs. This, due to the war events, disappeared just when the Babylonian Jewish academies asserted their cultural hegemony on the international scene. The second community, in the fifteenth century, did not transmit particular elements of intellectual elaboration, but played a great role, as in many centers of southern Italy, in economic activity, a fundamental element for the development of a dynamic Modern society.

* In Oria some monuments produced between the late XX century and beginning XXI century remembers the multicultural texture who characterized the history of the city, a good way of education to the multiculturalism (a menorah in remembrance of the ancient Jewish community and epigraphh dedicated to the Jewish physician Donnolo). Furthermore in the Castle is preserved a Jewish epigraph (with many greek-byzantine ephygraphs of the same period) and another one is exposed in the Municipal Library the both under the monitoring activity of the Soprintendenza Beni Culturali.