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Pontius Pilate’s Tiberium Inscription, 26-36 CE

Pilate Dedicates a Temple to the Emperor

Date- 26-36 CE

Current Location- Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

Language and Script- Latin, alphabetic

Pontius Pilate Inscription. Photo courtesy of the Israel Museum.

General Information-

• In 6 CE, Archelaus, King Herod’s son and principal successor, was deposed and Judea was reorganized as a Roman province with its administrative capital at Caesarea, the Mediterranean seaport Herod had built a short time earlier in honor of Caesar Augustus. Judea was now ruled by a Roman officer, who was under the jurisdiction of the governor of Syria and whose official residence was in Caesarea. This was the office Pontius Pilate held for ten years (26-36 CE), a long enough term to suggest that the Romans approved of his performance. But in Christian and Jewish sources he is portrayed in a wholly negative light. His role in the trial and execution of Jesus as described in the Gospels is well known, and first-century CE Jewish writers, including the soldier-historian Flavius Josephus and the philosopher-historian Philo of Alexandria, present him as incompetent, venal, and insensitive to Jewish customs.

• This stone was discovered at Caesarea. Its inscription commemorates Pilate’s erection and dedication of a Tiberium, a temple to the divine genius of Tiberius, the Roman Emperor during Pilate’s tenure in office. It reveals the extent to which Romanization had advanced in Caesarea and replaced Jewish worship. Ironically, Tiberius himself forbade his worship in Rome but allowed it in the eastern parts of the empire. The fact that the inscription is written in Latin is also a sign of Romanization since Greek was still the language of international affairs, and the locals in Judea spoke Aramaic or Hebrew.

• This short inscription also supplies an important historical detail- it informs us of the official title held by Pilate and the other Roman governors of Judea during this period- “Prefect of Judea,” not “Procurator,” as was assumed by modern historians based on the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus (c. 56 CE – c. 120 CE); Tacitus may have been influenced by his greater familiarity with later times and titles.

Circumstances of Discovery and Acquisition- Since the 1950s, Caesarea Maritima has been the subject of extensive archaeological work carried out by Israeli, Italian, American, and Canadian teams. The Missione Archeologica Italiana discovered the inscription shown here in 1961 while excavating Caesarea’s theater, which was built by Herod and extensively renovated in the fourth century CE. During the remodeling this stone was reused as a building block in the construction of a small staircase, where it lay until its discovery.

Posted in: Roman Period I

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