Pope Paul IV Orders Jews of Rome Into a Ghetto

July 14, 1555

On July 14, 1555, Pope Paul IV issued the papal decree Cum Nimis Absurdum, which subjected Jews under his dominion to myriad restrictions and humiliations, most notably forcing them to live in ghettos.  Jews in Rome were confined to a ghetto, which sat next to the River Tiber. Rome’s Jewish population remained in the ghetto until the decree was abolished in the late nineteenth century.

Pope Paul IV (1476-1559) was an unusually rigid and anti-Jewish pontiff, and this decree was one of his first actions, issued just two months after becoming pope. In addition to relegating Jews to live in ghettos that were enclosed and locked at night, the pope also decreed that Jews were not allowed to own property and were required to identify themselves by wearing a yellow head covering. Professionally, Jews were limited to primarily low-level trade positions.  Jewish doctors were not allowed to have Christian patients.

Construction of the ghetto was funded by the Jews themselves.  It was built in an area notorious for flooding, and had only two gates through which Jews could enter and exit.  Buildings in the tightly packed ghetto reached up to seven stories, permitting very little natural light. It became common practice for other European notables to either confine Jews to certain urban and rural areas, isolating them from non-Jews and causing them to live as close but oppressed communities, or to expel them en masse.

Pope Paul IV is depicted in the picture.