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(2/2019) Ring of Pilatus found in Herodium?

Herodion

A view of the acroplis of Herodium from the Lower city. (C) Danny Herman

In 1969 Prof. G. Foerester of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University conducted archaeological excavations at Herodium / Herodion, a fortified desert palace complex built by King Herod in the first century and named after him.

Among the hundreds of artifacts uncovered in these excavations was a copper alloy sealing ring left in a destruction layer of the site that dates to year 71 CE and attributed to the Roman conquest of the site.

Pilatus ring

Photo and a seal impression of the “Pilatus ring”. Photo: T. Rogovski. Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University and the expedition to Herodium. 

The finds were all stored at the Hebrew University, yet recently the ring was cleaned and re-examined, and proved to bear an image of a large wine vessel, with a Greek legend around it reading “PILATO” – “of Pilatus”.

A somewhat similar large wine vessel appears also on one of the ancient Jewish bronze coins minted during the Jewish Rebellion (66-70 CE), yet in both cases the meaning of jar is not certain. 

pilatus ring

Another photo and drawings of the “Piltus ring”. Drawing by J. Rodman. Photo by C. Amit, IAA photographic department. Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University and the expedition to Herodium. 

The name “Pilatus” is intriguing. It is not a known Hebrew or a Greek name, and seems to derive from the Latin word “Pilum” (a Javelin). It might be a nickname of the owner of the ring, yet although the ring is rather simple and crude in design it is tempting to associate it with Pontius Pilatus, the Roman governor who ruled Judea in the years 26-36 CE, and is mostly known in the Western world as the judge of Jesus.

A model of the royal tomb fround in Herodium and possibly relates to King Herod. (C) Danny Herman

Roi Porat, head of the current excavations at Herodium, does not rule out the possibility that Pilatus had a similar official gold ring for ceremonial events and uses, yet wore this simple bronze ring at other times. It might have also been owned by member of his family, or one of his freed slaves. I would also suggest that it may have been owned by one of Pilatus’ clerks who was positioned in Herodium.

The site of Herodium became famous in 2007 for the discovery of a royal tomb on its NE slopes, which is possibly the tomb of King Herod. I have led many tours to the site, and is one of my favorite destinations to those seeking a discover less known archaeological site in Israel.