In the ancient Roman Empire, usually a man of equestrian rank. In the Gospels a publican was a Jewish "tax gatherer" employed by these wealthy Roman knights. Universally detested by the Jews, publicans were regarded as traitors to their people and classes as sinners. No publican was admitted as a witness in court. Yet some of these despised men were among the earliest disciples of John the Baptist, and the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew had been the publican Levi.