Rome’s Ancient Jewish Catacombs

July 13 2016

First discovered in 1859, the Jewish catacombs located under Rome’s Appian Way and dating to the 3rd or 4th century CE are still being studied by archaeologists. Rossella Tercatin writes:

[T]he Catacombe di Vigna Randanini, [as they are called], are unique compared to the dozens of Christian catacombs in the city: only a few meters into the site, in a cramped, painted chamber, a large brick-red menorah is silhouetted against the upper part of the wall in stark contrast to the stone and earth surroundings.

To reach the menorah’s chamber, visitors must descend into the ground. With flashlights as the only source of illumination, the small staircase that separates the bright summer day from the dark, cold gallery is like a time machine to ancient Rome. . . .

“The chamber with the painted menorah was the private chapel of a prominent family. There used to be a sarcophagus for the head of the family,” the caretaker Alberto Marcocci, [who has dedicated much of his life to studying the catacombs, said].

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More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Rome, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Jewish cemeteries

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey