Friday, 2 April 2010

Pontius McPilate

Pontius Pilate inscriptionIt is Easter again, so (following the tradition set in previous years) it is time for an Easter post, and what better subject for a Roman emperor to select than the infamous governor of Judaea himself, Pontius Pilate.

Prefect of Judaea

The only inscription to name Pilate (pictured on left) was discovered during Italian excavations at Caesarea-on-Sea in 1961.* It was of immediate interest, not only for its rarity, but also because it confirmed Pilate's title as Praefectus Judaeae, "Prefect of Judaea". (Owing to ancient damage, only ECTVS IVDAE can be read on line 3.) This was exciting news, because the later historians Tacitus and Josephus had named him "Procurator of Judaea", a title that only came in with Claudius, whereas Pilate was governor under Tiberius. (Wisely, the New Testament writers simply called him "governor".)

The Scottish Connection

Long before 1961, Scottish antiquarians had laid claim to Pontius Pilate. The story is an amusing one, originating in a nineteenth century book entitled Historic Scenes in Perthshire. Its author, William Marshall, writes:

Fortingall was the birthplace of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea in the days of our Saviour! It is said that, a short time before our Saviour's birth, Caesar Augustus sent an embassy to Scotland, as he did to other countries ...; that his ambassadors found Metellanus, the Scottish king, in this Grampian region; that one of those ambassadors was the father of Pontius Pilate, whose famous son was born as he and his associates sojourned there fulfilling their mission; and that it was at Fortingall that the son first saw the light.

The prehistoric homestead of Dun Geal was even suggested as Pilate's retirement home!

The obviously fictitious story was further reinforced by the reported discovery, during the construction of the church in 1900, of a slab incised with the letters P P. Besides the famous yew tree, thought to be 2,000 years old, the area is known for its prehistoric cup-marked stones and Christian cross slabs. But there is currently no sign of the P P stone.

Pontius McPilate

His surname, often a descriptive knickname adopted by a Roman family, perhaps means "thick-haired", which is ironic given the predilection for crew-cut individuals (e.g. James Nesbitt in The Passion) to play the part in movies.

In reality, Pilate probably hailed from Italy, specifically from Campania where several other individuals named Pontius are known. But wherever he was born, it certainly wasn't Scotland.

* A. Frova, "L'inscrizione di Ponzio Pilato a Cesarea", Rendiconti 95 (1961), 419-434 (whence AE 1963,104).

1 comment:

  1. And here I am trying to build caligae on the Mainz pattern, and onagers on who knows WHAT patterns. Did your armies use gears, rachets and pawls to tighten their horsehair powered onagers?