publican Among the Romans usually a man of equestrian rank. In the Gospels the word means a "tax-gatherer" employed by these wealthy Roman knights. They were universally detested by the Jews because they enriched themselves at the expense of their brethren, and hence in the New Testament they were regarded as traitors and classed with sinners (Matthew 9), harlots (Matthew 21), and the heathen (Matthew 18). No publican was admitted as a witness in court. A true Jew could not ask nor accept an alms from them. Some of this despised class were among the earliest disciples of John the Baptist and of Christ. The most illustrious of all the publicans was Matthew, or Levi, called by Christ to be an Apostle (Matthew 9).