Pontius Pilate   [suicide (?) ca. 38 CE]

The best known Roman governor of Judea to later history because of his role in the accounts of Jesus' execution. Pilate probably came from the ranks of cavalry officers [equites] from which Rome regularly drew the prefects of smaller occupied provinces like Judea. His appointment as prefect of Judea in the latter half of the reign of Tiberius---when the brutal Praetorian captain Sejanus was de facto ruler of Rome---is confirmed by reports in Josephus & a stone found in 1962 at Caesarea Maritima [the capitol of the Roman province of Palestine], inscribed: "[Thi]s Tiberieum [Pon]tius Pilatus, Prefect of Judea, [mad]e."

The Pilate described by Josephus & the Roman historian Tacitus was a strong willed, inflexible military governor who was insensitive to the religious scruples of his Jewish & Samaritan subjects & relentless in suppressing any potential disturbance. This stands in sharp contrast to the impression conveyed in the Christian gospels which, for apologetic reasons, portray him as reluctant to execute Jesus. Pilate's decade long tenure (26-36 CE) testifies to both his relative effectiveness in maintaining order & to the aging emperor's lack of personal attention to administrative affairs. The ruthless slaughter of thousands of Samaritan pilgrims by Pilate's cavalry (ca. 36 CE), however, led to such a strong Palestinian protest that Pilate was eventually recalled to Rome. Tiberius died before his return; but the new emperor [Caligula] relieved Pilate of his command & exiled him to Gaul [Vienne-on-Rhone]. Later rumors reported by Eusebius (4th c. CE) claim he committed suicide.

References: Josephus, Antiquities 18.35, 55-64, 85-89, 177; 
                   _____, War
                   Philo, Embassy to Gaius 38.
                   Tacitus, Annals 15.44.
                   Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.7.1.
                   Luke 3:1, 13:1.
                   Mark 15:1-15 // Matt 27:1-26 // Luke 23:1-25 // John 18:28-19:16.
                   John 19:19-22.
                   Mark 15:42-45 // Matt 27:57-58 // Luke 23:50-52 // John 19:38.
                   Matt 27:62-66.
                    Acts 3:13, 4:27, 13:28.
                   1 Tim 6:13.

Other resources on line:

Judean bronze coin issued by Pilate in 30 CE. The Greek inscription reads (clockwise from the bottom left: Tiberiou [Ka]isaros ["of Tiberius Caesar"]. At the center is a lituus, a curved crook used by Roman augurs. Though this pagan religious symbol was used frequently on Roman coins minted outside Palestine, Pilate was the only Roman prefect to have put it on money issued for commerce among Jews. His use of a pagan religion symbol on Judean coinage is another of Pilate's acts that demonstrates his deliberate disregard for Jewish religious scruples.

For more images & detailed analysis of the symbols used on The Coins of Pontius Pilate see article by Jean-Philippe Fontanille.

Limestone block dedicating a monument at Caesarea to the Roman emperor Tiberius [TIBERIEUM = "house of Tiberius" (top line)]. The Latin inscription is fragmentary since the block was broken by ancient construction workers to use in making repairs to the theater built by Herod. But enough has survived to identify the donor [(Pon)TIUS PILATUS (second line)] and his office  [(Praef)ECTUS IUDA(ea)E  = "governor of Judea" (third line)]. The rest is illegible. For full pictures of this stone, which is on display at the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem, see:


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