The political situation in 26 A.D. - Publius Pontius Pilatus.
March 25th, 2002
Received by H.
Hello, my brother. You are already getting tired of these “political themes of the first century.” But I want to deliver a clarification on the reigning conditions in the Roman Empire during Jesus’ public life. Today we will speak of Pilate.
I believe that the easiest way of writing this message will be if you write down what you know about Pilate, since you have studied him, and I will add my comments. Is this OK with you?
[H.: It’s OK.
Well, Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Judea when Jesus was condemned to death. The “Pontii” were a Samnitan clan, that is to say, they came from a region southeast of Rome, integrated very early into the Roman state. The Samnitans were Roman citizens. But the Pontii were even more, they were members of the equestrian rank, that is to say, noblemen from low nobility, knights.]
Here a slight correction. Not all Pontii were knights, that is to say, there were families in this clan that even occupied senatorial honors, which they had achieved through their excellent services in the army, ascending in the social scale of nobility. But you are right, Pilate’s family had not reached these “superior honors.”
[H.: As to the province of Judea, it was formally a third category imperial province. There were few provinces of this kind, that is, those of little importance. Often they were territories, where the native population caused problems. The governors of these provinces came from the lines of the knights, and they only commanded auxiliary troops, not regular Roman legionaries. In the case of Judea, there were five infantry cohorts and one cavalry regiment stationed. A cohort was stationed permanently in Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem.]
That is only partially correct. Reading the Bible you should know that Cornelius was a centurion of the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum of the second Italian cohort of Roman citizens, also known as the “Italian Band.” It consisted, consequently, of regular troops stationed in Judea, at Caesarea. Later we will also speak of Cornelius, but for the time being you will see that Judea constituted an exception: there were regular, well trained troops, under Pilate’s direct command, courtesy of Sejanus, who did not spare any effort in ensuring that Pilate could maintain absolute control of a province, that was vital for him. We will also see how Pilate’s troops took their insignia to Jerusalem, causing the people’s rage. They were regular troops.
[H.: The province was technically independent, but in reality it was under the supervision of the administration of the powerful neighboring province, Syria. The governor of Syria, a man of consular rank, that is to say, from high nobility, commanded 3 legions, and after the year 18, up to 4 legions. In the event of a crisis, the prefect of Judea could call on him for help.]
This is correct. And it would happen so in the future. I want to add that the administrator of Judea had the title prefect, not procurator. Prefect was a military title, thus expressing an effective military administration, due to the tensions in the territory. But, what more can you tell me of Pilate?
[H.: Almost nothing is known about him. Historians suppose that he enjoyed an education characteristic of the high strata of society, and that he had some military experience.]
This is correct. He participated in several wars, also in the Pannonian campaign at Sejanus’ side, who was his friend.
[H.: Usually, the position of provincial administrator was much desired by the Romans, because it meant revenues, huge revenues, depending on the kind of province. Syria and Egypt surely figured amongst the most solicited. Evil tongues said that an administrator used to occupy his position during three years: Stealing and diverting as much as he could during one year, in order to recover all the money he had spent in bribes to obtain the position. They had to pay back the money to their “friends and relatives” who had lent it to them, at a “good interest”, of course. Then they stole during the next year, in order to bribe the judges later on in all the trials for the cruelties and robberies committed during their administration. And during the third year, they stole in order to accumulate sufficient funds for retiring from the public life, and to enjoy some luxury.]
So it was. It is true. Pilate was not an exception. He diverted money for Sejanus’ vaults, but he retained enough in his sticky hands for his own purposes.
[H.: There were two very important factors that characterized Pilate’s administration: First, the position of the governor of Syria was vacant during Pilate’s first six years. Tiberius had named a legate for this country, but he kept him back in Rome. This meant that Pilate could not count on quick help from Syria in case of problems. He had to act with much caution.]
This is wrong. Of course, the position of the governor of Syria was vacant, but not so the military commander. Pilate could obtain help quickly from Syria in case of emergency. Secondly, he had, apart from his auxiliary troops, his own regular troops that Sejanus had provided him. So, his situation was quite safe.
[H.: The other characteristic feature of Pilate’s administration was that he never changed the Jewish high priest. His predecessor, Valerius Gratus, had changed them four times, but Pilate did not.]
Yes, that is important. Gratus’ last choice, Yosef Cayafa, called Caiaphas in the Bible, the same one who condemned Jesus, would continue as the high priest during Pilate’s period. That means that both had come to a “financial” agreement benefiting both.
This message is already very long; I would like to continue with it tomorrow. I will talk about Pilate’s activity in Judea. Then, I promise you, we will come back to the story of Jesus’ life.
Have a nice day, full with blessings,
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013