The name of Pontius Pilate has been deciphered on a ring that was found near Bethlehem 50 years ago. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the ring was discovered during a dig led by Professor Gideon Forster of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in 1968-69.
Thousands of items were found at the Herodion site during the dig, which was being carried out in preparation for the site to be opened to visitors.
After thorough cleansing, the ring has been photographed using a special camera at the Israeli Antiquities Authority laboratories. The photos revealed an image of a wine vessel surrounded by Greek writing that translates as “Pilatus”.
Pontius Pilate was the fifth of the Roman leaders in Judah, ruling from 26 to 36 AD, and the name was relatively unusual. Hebrew University Professor Danny Schwartz said he did not know of any other “Pilatus” from the period and the ring shows this Pilatus was a person of stature and wealth.
The ring is quite simple, so researchers believe it was used by the governor in day-to-day work, or belonged to one of his officials or someone in his court, who would use it to sign in his name.
The findings have been handed over to the current team that works at the Herodian site, led by Dr Roee Porath, also from Hebrew University.
The Herodion fortress was built by King Herod, who gave it its name. Following his death it became a huge burial site, but part of the complex continued to be used by Roman officials. It is likely that Pilate used the Herodion as an administrative headquarters.
“You can see he had a natural link to the Herodion,” Dr Porath said. “Even for Herod it was more than just a tomb site with a palace. It was also a significant site of government. You can see the unusual significance this site had.”
Pilate is a well-known historical figure. The historian Josephus tells the story of his moving statues bearing the imperial bust of Caesar into Jerusalem, in contravention of Jewish law forbidding idolatry. The outcry was so great that Pilate first of all threatened the Jewish protesters with mass slaughter, but when they said they were all willing to be sacrificed for the sake of the Torah, he backed down and ordered the statues to be taken out of Jerusalem.
There has been one other find in Israeli archaeology with the name Pilatus on it, which is also attributed to Pontius Pilate. In the 1960s, Professor Forster found a stone with the name inscribed on it.