Sensory Pageantry in Imperial Funerary Rituals as a Stimulus for the Violence in Alexandria in 38 CE

Four previous studies argued that the attacks on the Judean community in Alexandria in 38 CE erupted during Alexandria's iustitium (period of public mourning) for Caligula's sister Drusilla, who died in Rome on June 10. In this view, the Alexandrian crowds tried to install images of Drusilla and other members of the imperial household in the city's synagogues early in the iustitium. The Judean resistance insulted the imperial family. At the end of the iustitium, the Roman prefect Flaccus issued an edict to announce the Judean punishment. The subsequent violence was an official Roman response to the Judean crime. This paper suggests that the sensory pageantry in the funerary rituals for Drusilla helped stimulate both the initial installation of images and the ferocity of the violence that followed. The exhilarating fanfare during the parades of the Judean King Agrippa exacerbated the inversion later felt in the theatrical wails of grief that followed the news of Drusilla's death. This grief was intensified by ritual redecoration of local statues of Drusilla and other tangible confirmations of her death. Masks, shrouds, and costumes disguising ritual participants transformed them into embodied symbols of the Roman rulers celebrated in the funerary rites and insulted by the Judean resistance. Colorful military displays provoked increased heart rates and other physiological responses that heightened feelings of loyalty to the emperor and outrage at the Judean crime. Drusilla's deified presence seemed ubiquitous in the burning incense, smoke from the flaming pyre used in the "funeral of images," and the wafting sweetness of pools of flavored wine poured around her statues. Inhalation of these smells assured that the Alexandrian crowds would embody the revenge of Drusilla with the same diligence as predecessors acting out the wrath of Isis in tales of Egyptian oracles.