Shackles for slaves
The solution to the 'Jewish problem' was enslavement. Photo by AP
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Egica, the Visigoth Catholic king of Hispania and Septimia, led the council. Photo by Wikicommons

On November 9, 694 C.E., the Seventeenth Council of Toledo, one of a series of ecclesiastical assemblies convened in that city by the Visigoth rulers of Spain, opened its proceedings. Led by Egica, the Visigoth Catholic king of Hispania (roughly what we think of as the Iberian peninsula) and Septimia (the southeastern corner of France), the records show that the council was largely focused on the punishment and persecution of the kingdom’s Jews. Indeed, between the 16th Toledo Council, held just a year earlier and the17th, the monarch’s approach toward the kingdom’s Jews seems to have gone from one that encouraged them to convert and integrate into society to an attitude of suspicion and fear. In his opening address to the council, Egica (who ruled from 687 to circa 701) accused the Jews of participating in an international plot to destroy the church; to this, the bishops added a resolution charging the Jews with planning to overthrow the king.

The solution to the Jewish problem was enslavement. According to the resolutions passed by the Council, any Christian slave who belonged to a Jew was freed of servitude, with the former owners now to be slaves themselves, the property of the crown. All of their property was also forfeited to the king, who was authorized to transfer it to the newly liberated slaves. The newly indentured Jews were then dispersed around the kingdom, and children over the age of 7 were to be taken from them and raised as Christians.

The only Jews who were excepted from these rules, at the king’s request, were those from the territory of Gallia Narbonensis, on the French side of the Pyrenees; this was apparently because of an plague epidemic in that region, and a desire to isolate it and its residents from the rest of the kingdom.

Historians are divided about the basis for Egica’s change of heart toward the Jews; what is clear is that the Visigoth kingdom was by then in decline, and that the invasion of the Moors that began in 711 C.E. led to its fall. There is little evidence that the measures legislated against the Jews were actually implemented much beyond the capital. Toledo so that when the Moors moved into the peninsula several decades later, they reported on encountering Jewish communities.