Rome, found via Pixlr

Clau­dia Aster, cap­tive from Jerusalem. Tiberius Claudius Mas­cu­lus, freed­man of the Emper­or, took care (to set up the epi­taph). I ask you, make sure that you take care that no one casts down my inscrip­tion con­trary to the law. She lived 25 years.”

Epi­taph for Clau­dia Aster

The inspi­ra­tion for my his­tor­i­cal nov­el, Rebel Daugh­ter, was the two-thou­sand-year-old grave­stone of a Jew­ish woman named Clau­dia Aster. Pre­sum­ably, she was cap­tured after the fall of the Sec­ond Tem­ple in 70 CE and brought to Rome as a slave. Dis­cov­ered in south­ern Italy, her grave­stone was a major archae­o­log­i­cal find, pro­vid­ing con­crete evi­dence of both the exis­tence of Jew­ish cap­tives in Rome and a very unlike­ly romance.

In this ancient inscrip­tion, the Roman freed­man Tiberius begs the read­er to take care of the remains of the woman he loved. Although only a few Latin words are chis­eled on the mar­ble slab, his­to­ri­ans and archae­ol­o­gists have been able to piece togeth­er their remark­able sto­ry. They assume that Aster, or Esther in Hebrew, was sold in Rome after the failed Jew­ish rebel­lion against Rome, a time when the sur­vival of the Jew­ish nation was at stake.

When I learned about the stone, I had to know more. How did a Jew­ish woman and a Roman man — whose peo­ples were fierce ene­mies — find each oth­er? And how did they fall in love?

On the stone, the Latin word cap­ti­va” con­firms that Aster was cap­tured in war, mean­ing she became a slave regard­less of her pre­vi­ous sta­tion in life. Her first name, Clau­dia, is cer­tain proof that Tiberius Claudius Mas­cu­lus lib­er­at­ed her, since freed slaves were giv­en the mid­dle names of their for­mer mas­ters. Romans were not in the habit of com­mem­o­rat­ing their lib­er­at­ed slaves; this grave­stone, which Tiberius erect­ed, indi­cates a spe­cial con­nec­tion between the two of them. Inter­est­ing­ly, from Tiberius’s mid­dle name, we also know that he him­self had been a slave at one time, and had been lib­er­at­ed by the emper­or Claudius.

How did a Jew­ish woman and a Roman man — whose peo­ples were fierce ene­mies — find each oth­er? And how did they fall in love?

From the epi­taph, we also know that Aster died at the age of twen­ty-five, which was below the legal age for man­u­mis­sion. Accord­ing to Roman law, it was ille­gal to free slaves under the age of thir­ty, except in very spe­cif­ic cir­cum­stances. The only excep­tion that could con­ceiv­ably have applied in this case was mar­riage, and the only plau­si­ble rea­son for their mar­riage was love. As her own­er, Tiberius would legal­ly have been enti­tled to have Aster per­form any kind of work for him. For exam­ple, he could have had chil­dren with her as his con­cu­bine. Of course, Tiberius could have freed her just out of kind­ness. But it seems like­ly that he loved her and want­ed to have legit­i­mate Roman chil­dren with her. That, accord­ing to schol­ars, is the most log­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of these two-thou­sand-year-old words.

I spent more than ten years research­ing the peri­od in which Aster’s sto­ry — and that of the trag­ic fall of Jerusalem — unfold­ed, con­sult­ing with some of the world’s lead­ing schol­ars and archae­ol­o­gists along the way. I felt an oblig­a­tion to the real-life indi­vid­u­als to bring their sto­ry to life as accu­rate­ly as pos­si­ble. Aster, Tiberius, and Jose­phus (an ancient Jew­ish Roman his­to­ri­an, and also a char­ac­ter in the nov­el) were eye­wit­ness­es to, and par­tic­i­pat­ed in, events that per­ma­nent­ly altered the course of his­to­ry. They sur­vived the destruc­tion of Jerusalem, which for­ev­er changed Judaism from a Tem­ple-based to a com­mu­ni­ty-based reli­gion cen­tered in the syn­a­gogue and beth midrash, or house of study. Their strug­gle for sur­vival, free­dom, and love is still rel­e­vant today, as so many peo­ple around the world are caught in war zones. And unfor­tu­nate­ly, the civ­il dis­cord and reli­gious fanati­cism of the first cen­tu­ry are issues we’re still facing.

In many ways, I didn’t find Esther’s sto­ry. Her sto­ry found me. Rebel Daugh­ter is my attempt to tell it. But even after years of research, we can nev­er real­ly know what hap­pened. What we do know for sure is that Esther and Tiberius were two peo­ple who weren’t sup­posed to find each oth­er, but did. I hope you find their sto­ry as com­pelling as I did.

As soon as she learned of the first-cen­tu­ry tomb­stone that inspired Rebel Daugh­ter, Lori Banov Kauf­mann want­ed to know more. She resolved to bring this ancient love sto­ry to life. Before becom­ing a full-time writer, Lori was a strat­e­gy con­sul­tant for high-tech com­pa­nies. She has a BA from Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty and an MBA from Har­vard Busi­ness School. She lives in Israel with her family.