A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Though some Jews seem to have arrived in Morocco with the Phoenicians shortly after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, the earliest hard evidence of a Jewish presence dates to the Roman period.  Volubilis, near present day Meknes, was a very large city that followed the typical Roman layout, and dates to the first century.  It allowed the Romans to control the fertile valleys between the coast and the Middle Atlas mountains which helped make North Africa a breadbasket for the empire.  In the ancient cemetery, archaeologists have found a Jewish gravestone, which may mark the burial site of one of the many Jewish refugees exiled to the far reaches of the empire after the unsuccessful Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE.

On a totally separate note, neighboring Meknes became an important imperial city under Moulay Ismail, whose reign began in 1672.  Driven in part by deep paranoia, his building program was extremely ambitious, and included tremendous city walls, a huge granary and reservoir to defend against lengthy siege, and a stable for 12,000 Arabian horses.  This is the breed that enabled the Muslims to conquer so much territory so quickly.  Today, the descendants of those proud horses can be found giving rides to tourists in the town market.  The owner of the horse in the picture below gave him the fine Arabic name of Mario.

Author: Rabbi