A team of archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has discovered a rare inscription dating back to the Second Temple period in Israel. The inscription, written in Greek, mentions the name of a Roman ruler who was involved in the suppression of the Jewish revolt in the first century CE. The discovery sheds new light on the history and culture of ancient Jerusalem and its relations with the Roman Empire.
The inscription and its context
The inscription was found on a stone fragment that was part of a monumental arch that spanned the main street of Jerusalem in antiquity. The arch was built by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who is best known for his role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The arch was one of several structures that Pilate erected in Jerusalem to assert his authority and to honor the emperor Tiberius.
The inscription reads: “To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum … Pontius Pilate … prefect of Judea … has dedicated [this]”. The name of Tiberius, the emperor at the time, is missing from the fragment, but can be reconstructed based on other similar inscriptions. The term “Tiberieum” refers to a building or a complex that was dedicated to the cult of the emperor, a common practice in the Roman provinces.
The inscription is remarkable for several reasons. First, it is one of only two inscriptions that mention Pontius Pilate by name, and the only one that specifies his title as “prefect of Judea”. This confirms the historical accuracy of the New Testament and other ancient sources that describe Pilate’s position and his involvement in the events that led to the outbreak of the Jewish revolt in 66 CE.
Second, it is one of the few inscriptions that attest to the presence and activities of Roman officials in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. Most of the archaeological evidence from this period comes from Jewish sources, such as coins, seals, ossuaries, and ritual objects. The inscription provides a rare glimpse into how the Romans perceived and portrayed themselves and their role in governing Jerusalem and Judea.
Third, it is one of the earliest examples of Greek inscriptions in Jerusalem, which reflect the cultural diversity and complexity of the city under Roman rule. Although Jerusalem was predominantly a Jewish city, it also had a significant population of Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Egyptians, and others who spoke different languages and followed different religions. The use of Greek as the official language of administration and communication by the Romans indicates their attempt to impose their culture and ideology on the local population.
Questions and answers
Q: When and where was the inscription found?
A: The inscription was found in 1961 during an excavation near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. It was originally part of an arch that spanned the main street of Jerusalem in antiquity.
Q: Who was Pontius Pilate and what did he do?
A: Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor or prefect of Judea from 26 to 36 CE. He was responsible for maintaining law and order and collecting taxes in the province. He also had the authority to appoint and depose high priests, to control the Temple treasury, and to decide on matters of life and death. He is best known for his role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, as well as for his harsh treatment of the Jews, which provoked several riots and rebellions.
Q: What is a Tiberieum and why did Pilate build one?
A: A Tiberieum is a building or a complex that was dedicated to the cult of the emperor Tiberius, who ruled from 14 to 37 CE. Pilate built one in Jerusalem to honor his patron and to demonstrate his loyalty and gratitude. He also built it to assert his authority and to impress or intimidate the local population with his power and magnificence.Israeli Archaeologists Find 2,000-year-old Financial Record in Jerusalem – Archaeology – Haaretz.com