chapter
Ghetto
Etymology, original definition, reality, and diffusion
ByBenjamin Ravid
Pages 17

Jewish quarters had existed in the Hellenistic pre-Christian Mediterranean world, and as they spread throughout Christian Europe during the Middle Ages, they were designated various names in diverse languages. The word "ghetto" came into being to designate the copper foundry of the Venetian government, il ghetto where bronze cannon balls were cast, from the root gettare, to cast or to throw, encountered in English words such as eject, jet, and trajectory. During the Middle Ages, the Venetian government acquiesced in the presence of a few individual Jews in the city of Venice, but except for the brief period from 1382 to 1397, never authorized Jews to settle as a group. Since the early modern Italian ghettos enclosed all Jews in the city or town, they really constituted "the city of the Jews," a self-governing entity supported by the authorities because of its economic utility.