• Date of Birth: (né Harry Zucker) 26 April 1925
  • Born City: Czernowitz (Boukovina)
  • Born State/Country: Romania (now Ukraine)
  • Parents: Leo (Aryeh) & Amalia Zucker (Yavetz)
  • Date of Death: 7 January 2013
  • Death City: Tel Aviv
  • Death State/Country: Israel
  • Married: Dvora (Deborah) Markus, June 24, 1949
  • Education:

    M.A., Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 1950;  Ph.D., 1955;  study at  Oxford University, 1956; Lund University, University of London.

  • Dissertation:

    "The Plebs Urbana in Republican Rome" (in Hebrew) (Hebrew U.,, 1958).

  • Professional Experience:

    Lectr., Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 1954-8; prof. ancient history, 1969-94; training of secondary school teachers; School teacher for the deaf and speech-impaired in Israel; Professor and Chair of History Department, and a founder of Tel Aviv University, 1954-1994; Dean, Fcty Humanities, 1964-6; seconded to Haile Selassie U., Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; vis. prof. , Cornell, 1966-7; CUNY, 1989-2010; visiting appointments: London, Lund,  Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, 1974; CUNY, 1975; vis. fell., Queens College, Oxford, 1960. 1969. 1872; Munich, Florence, Paris; Loeb Lectures at Harvard University; Italian cultural award; Romanian cultural award.

  • Publications:

    “The Living Conditions of the Urban plebs in Republican Rome,” Latomus 17 (1958) 500-517; “The Policy of C. Flaminius and the plebiscitum Claudianum,” Athenaeum 40 (1962) 325-344; “The Failure of Catiline's Conspiracy,” Historia 12 (1963) 485-499

    Plebs sordida,” Athenaeum 43 (1965) 295-311; “Levitas popularis,” A&R 10 (1965) 97-110; “Vitellius and the Fickleness of the Mob,” Historia 18 (1969) 557-569; Plebs and princeps (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969; repr. New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1988). REVS: CW LXIII 1969 95 Moeller | TLS LXVIII 1969 780 | Latomus XXVIII 1969 799-800 Defosse | RFIC XCVII 1969 477-479 Gabba | Athenaeum XLVIII 1970 175-179 Bernardi | REA LXXI 1969 553-555 Jal | ZRG LXXXVII 1970 510-513 Bleicken | AC XXXIX 1970 313-314 Petit | Phoenix XXIV 1970 93-94 Badian | AJPh XCI 1970 487-489 Gruen | AHR LXXV 1970 827-828 Starr | REL XLVIII 1970 627-629 Richard | RPh XLV 1971 182-184 Hellegouarc'h | CPh LXVI 1971 137-138 Oost | EHR LXXXVI 1971 378-379 Jones | CJ LXVI 1971 264-266 Scarborough | CR XXI 1971 427-429 Colledge | Paideia XXV 1970 377-379 Bellincioni | SDHI XXXV 1969 46 | P&I XI 1969 353-356 Bandelli | HZ CCXI 1970 652-653 Wickert | AAHG XXVI 1973 88-90 Diesner; “Hadrianus the ‘Wanderer’,” in Commentationes ad antiquitatem classicam pertinentes in memoriam B. Katz, ed. M. Rozelaar & B. Shimron (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1970) 67-77; “Existimatiofama, and the Ides of March,” HSCP 78 (1974) 35-65; “Rome and Carthage. A Gesture towards Peace,” HT 24 (1974) 874-877; “Reflections on Titus and Josephus,” GRBS 16 (1975) 411-432; “Forte an dolo principis (Tac. Ann. 15.38),” in The Ancient Historian and His Materials. Essays in Honour of C. E. Stevens, ed. B. Levick (Farnborough, Hants. : Gregg International, 1975) 181-197; “Why Rome? Zeitgeist and Ancient Historians in Early 19th- Century Germany,” AJP 97 (1976) 276-296; Caesar in der öffentlichen Meinung, Schriftenr. des Inst. für Dt. Gesch. Univ. Tel Aviv III (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1979). REVS: HZ CCXXXIII 1981 146-148 Albert; Julius Caesar and His Public Image, Aspects of Greek & Roman Life (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983). REVS:  G&R XXXI 1984 92 Paterson | CR XXXIV 1984 142 Rawson | AHR LXXXIX 1984 741-742 Boren | Helios XI 1984 151-165 Morgan | CO LXII 1984-1985 70-71 Broughton | EMC XXX 1986 80-83 Treggiari; “The Res Gestae and Augustus' Public Image,” in Caesar Augustus. Seven Aspects, ed. F. Millar & E. Segal E.  (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984) 1-36; La plèbe et le prince. Foule et vie politique sous le haut empire romain [trans. of Plebs and Princeps], trans M. Sissung, preface by C. Nicolet, Coll. Textes à l'appui Sér. Hist. class., (Paris: Éd. La découverte, 1984). REVS: LEC LII 1984 384 Wankenne | CH XXX 1985 no. 1 73-75 Roman | AC LV 1986 527 Raepsaet-Charlier; “The Urban Plebs in the Days of the Flavians, Nerva and Trajan,” in Opposition et résistances à l'Empire d'Auguste à Trajan: neuf exposés suivis de discussions, ed. Giovanni Adalberto, Entretiens sur l'ant. class.  XXXIII (Vandœuvres-Genève: Fondation Hardt, 1986) 135-186; Slaves and Slavery in Ancient Rome (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1988). REVS: CW LXXXIV 1990-1991 58 Linderski; César et son image: des limites du charisme en politique, trans. É. Barnavi, Coll. Histoire (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1990; “The Personality of Augustus: Reflections on Syme's Roman Revolution,” in Between Republic and Empire: Interpretations of Augustus and His Principate, ed. Kurt A. Raaflaub & Mark Toher (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1990) 21-41; “Towards a Further Step into the Study of Roman Imperialism,” CEA no. 26 (1991) 3-22;  Tiberius and Caligula: from Make-Believe to Insanity (Tel Aviv: Devir, 1995); “Caligula, Imperial Madness and Modern Historiography,” Klio 78, 1 (1996) 105-129; “Seianus and the plebs: a Note,” Chiron 28 (1998) 187-191;  “Latin Authors on Jews and Dacians,” Historia 47,1 (1998) 77-107; Tiberio: dalla finzione alla pazzia: con un'appendice su Tacito: Il trauma della tirannia (Bari: Edipuglia, 1999) REVS: BStudLat 2000 30 (1) : 304-306 Antonella Borgo | AC 2001 70 : 468-471 Stéphane Benoist | Athenaeum 2002 90 (1): 312-314 Maria Domitilla Campanile | Latomus 2003 62 (1): 236 Catherine Salles; David Ajchenrand, Tiberius: der traurige Kaiser: Biographie(trans.) (Munich: Beck, 1999); Claudius and Nero: from Systematization to Dilettantism (Tel Aviv: Devir, 1999); “Cicero: a Man of Letters in Politics,” in Philosophy and Power in the Graeco-Roman World: Essays in Honour of Miriam Griffin, ed. Gillian Clark and Tessa Rajak (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) 173-180; Kaiser Augustus: eine Biographie (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2010). REVS: HZ 2011 292 (3): 743-751 Uwe Walter; Judenfeindschaft in der Antike (Munich: Beck 1997); Erinnerungen an CzernowitzWo Menschen and Bücher lebten (Munich: Beck 2007).

  • Notes:

    Zvi Yavetz (born Zucker) grew up in Czernowitz, a cosmopolitan town contested by the old Hapsburg Empire (its “Little Vienna”), Romania, and the Soviet Union--now in Ukraine. At home, his family spoke Hebrew and German. There was a thriving Jewish community, about one-third of the population. He survived a bout of polio at age five. He was taught Romanian in private schools in Czernowitz, the Ostmark of Western European culture. where Latin, Russian and Yiddish were also languages of instruction. When he was sixteen, the Third Reich invaded the Soviet Union and seized all surrounding territories. As he told his story, one day when he arrived at school his teacher told him to run away and not come back. When he asked why, he was told the German troops would arrive that day, and as a Jew, he must escape the Nazi takeover and hide.

    The Germans murdered nearly his entire family. He briefly experienced a concentration camp (1941), but he managed to escape from a train transport. He returned home and dug up a small treasure (https://en-humanities.tau.ac.il/history-school/about/zvi_yavetz). With 17 or so other fugitives, he managed to find a boat, bribe a customs official, sail down the Danube, and reach Turkey where their ship was wrecked. 

    Deported to British-ruled Cyprus rather than back to Nazi-controlled Romania, he went on a hunger strike. He managed somehow to make his way to Palestine, then under British mandate (1944). There he fought in the war of Israel’s independence (1948) with the elite Palmach unit, and later lived on a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley. He adopted his mother’s family name after learning that all her relatives were murdered. Two of his father’s brothers survived the war in the Soviet Union. He taught at a school for the deaf for a time. He was appointed a Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli Army Reserve.

    He studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem with Avigdor Tcherikover (1894-1958) and Chaim Wirszubski (1915-77). There he developed an interest in the sociology and politics of the Roman plebs—the common people, and their self-serving patrons. In 1954, he went to Oxford where he studied with C. E. Stevens (1905-76), Ronald Syme )1903-89), and G. E. M. de Ste. Croix (1910-2000). After he returned to Israel he obtained his PhD under Tcherikover (1958), he taught ancient history at the university in Jerusalem and became a founder of the brash Tel Aviv University (1956). He served as Department Chair of History for three decades and then Dean of the Humanities Division. Some regarded him as an “enlightened dictator.” He encouraged students without degrees to enroll and adults to pursue degrees. He ignored many regulations set up by the government. In 1962, still a young professor, he traveled to Africa and set up a Humanities faculty at the University of Addis Ababa on a two-year mission. There, unlike fellow ancient historians, he once lunched with an Emperor, Haile Selassie. In 1990, he was awarded the Israel Prize for the Humanities. He enjoyed visiting appointments in London, Lund, Cornell University, Princeton, Oxford, Munich (many times), Florence, and Paris. He was comfortable speaking many languages and fluent in sign language from his experience with the deaf. He published in Hebrew, English, German, and French.

    He served as Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York in 1989, and there he taught one semester each year for more than a decade. He also taught Jewish Studies at Queens University. He received honorary university degrees from Ben Gurion, Munich, and Osnabrück.

    Unlike his masters in Roman history, Wirszubski and Syme, Yavetz brought attention to commoners and slaves, and the former’s debts and calls for tabulae novae, as the earlier bibliography makes clear, e.g., Plebs Sordida 1969. In his later career, drawn by seminars and conversations with Syme and his research on Julius Caesar’s charisma and attention to the plebs, he pivoted to studies of the Empire, especially to the personalities and policies of the Julio-Claudian line. Always, however, he examined relations between rulers and ruled, especially the relatively voiceless underclasses and real and potential forms of resistance to power and oppression. He published more than fifty articles in addition to his many books. He compared the Israeli expansion into Palestinian territories to the Roman acquisition of a vast empire, to considerable controversy in his new country.

    He also published a memoir of his youth and hometown in 2007: Erinnerungen an Czernowitz. Wo Menschen and Bücher lebten. It deserves an English translation. Two of his many students (Irad Malkin, Zev Rubinsohn) edited a Festschrift: Leader and Masses in the Roman World. Studies in Honor of Zvi Yavetz (Leiden, Brill: 1995). It begins with a “Biographical Outline” of its honorand. A “Zvi Yavetz [Graduate] School of Historical Studies” now perpetually honors his achievements and memory at Tel Aviv University.

    Yavetz had a warm and overpowering personality. He was handsome and compact in build with a booming voice. He was unfailingly helpful to students, such as the undersigned for whom, then writing his MA thesis, Yavetz read monographs in German and summarized them—something he had done for his mentor Koebner when still a student of modern history. His turn from a narrow British model of the ruling classes’ political history to include the legitimate and other needs and demands of the lower Roman classes and Italian masses excited and inspired many younger historians. Yavetz saw consistent directions in the efforts of the urban plebs, however frustrated their sporadic attempts. He rejected the Optimates’ sneers directed at levitas popularis, although the evidence is sometimes exiguous or ambiguousYavetz’s studies of public opinion formation and popular images (republican and imperial) opened up new fields for students of crowd and mass control and manipulation.

    He was a mesmerizing teacher whose lectures attracted many adults as well as students otherwise immune to fascination with the ancient Romans, a “Pied Piper,” as one colleague noted. He was a charismatic wheeler-dealer at Tel Aviv, successful for his department, division, and young university. His obvious vanity was well earned and forgivable. He was never selfish and often humorous. He had a phenomenal memory for events of his own chequered life and extended passages from ancient texts. His imperiled youth, his exotic career, and his rich scholarly contributions benefitted the lives of many appreciative minds on at least three continents. He was a soldier, scholar, and Mensch.

    He suffered a debilitating stroke three years before his death. His wife Dvora and two sons, Ido and Ofer, survived him. Ido Yavetz teaches ancient science at Tel Aviv University. Yavetz is buried at Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak.

  • Sources:

    TAU informational page: https://en-humanities.tau.ac.il/history-school/about/zvi_yavetz; Ofer Aderet, Haaretz article 28 March 2013; Leader and Masses in the Roman World. Studies in Honour of Zvi Yavetz, edd. Irad Malkin and Zev Rubinsohn (Leiden 1995). Mnemosyne Suppl. 139, esp. “A Biographical Outline” (Malkin) and “Bibliography”: ix-xvii; TAU informational page: https://en-humanities.tau.ac.il/history-school/about/zvi_yavetzWho's Who in Israel (1978) 396;  WhWhWorld (1978-9) 1020.

  • Author: Donald Lateiner