Pontius Pilate

Coins of the Judaean prefects and procurators are relatively plentiful, making sets fairly easy to assemble

By Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……
 

Among the most collectible of all Judaean coins are small bronzes issued by the local Roman authorities on behalf of the emperors in Rome. These prutot (prutah for singular) bear a variety of designs and constitute a distinct series that can be completed by collectors of most every means.

A prutah of Coponius from the time of the Roman census in Judaea. Images courtesy NGC

A prutah of Coponius from the time of the Roman census in Judaea. All images courtesy Classical Numismatic Group (CNG) and NGC

In 6 CE Rome’s first emperor, Augustus (reigned 27 BCE to 14 CE), had his governor of Syria, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, conduct a census in the newly-established Roman province of Judaea. While this action served the administrative interests of Rome, it met resistance and resentment from the locals.

Even so, the census was taken and Judaea became just another province of the Roman Empire. Judaea’s governor initially was called a prefect, though later, starting with the emperor Claudius (41-54), he was referred to as a procurator.

A prutah of Pontius Pilate. Images courtesy NGC

Prutah of Pontius Pilate, second type

During the first 60 years of the Province of Judaea (except 41 to 44, when Agrippa I was king), 13 men served as prefect or procurator. They were:

  • Coponius (6-9 CE)
  • Marcus Ambibulus (9-12)
  • Annius Rufus (12-15)
  • Valerius Gratus (15-26)
  • Pontius Pilate (26-36)
  • Marullus (37-41)
  • Cuspius Dadus (44-46)
  • Tiberius Alexander (46-48)
  • Ventidius Cumanus (48-54)
  • Antonius Felix (52-60)
  • Porcius Festus (60-62)
  • Albinus (62-64)
  • Gessius Florus (64-66)

Six of these men – Coponius, Ambibulus, Gratus, Pilate, Felix and Festus – issued coins before the era of the Judaean prefect and procurator came to a sudden end in 66 CE with the outbreak of the Jewish War (66-70).

A prutah of Valerius Gratus. Images courtesy NGC

A prutah of Valerius Gratus

Unlike most other Roman provincial issues, which typically feature a portrait of a member of the ruling family (and often the name of the local governor or a magistrate), the coins of the Judaean prefects and procurators issues have no imperial portraits and do not bear the names of the local governor.

Thankfully, it’s easy to determine when these prutot were struck because they bear their year of issue expressed as a ‘regnal year’ of the ruling emperor, whose reign is identified by an accompanying inscription.

A prutah of Valerius Gratus. Images courtesy NGC

Prutah of Valerius Gratus

Today, coins of the prefects and procurators are relatively plentiful, and they can be found in acceptable condition at modest prices. A short set of six coins (one of each procurator) is easy to assemble, and a set with every design type, comprising 13 coins, is not difficult to build. More advanced collectors, however, will find it challenging to acquire the many varieties and ‘irregular’ issues in this series.

Now, let’s look at the coins with fair warning that scholars sometimes have expressed different opinions about which sides constitute the obverse and the reverse.

Coponius

All of this prefect’s coins feature an ear of grain and the inscription KAIPOC on the obverse and a palm tree on the reverse. These were issued only in year 36 (5-6 CE) of the emperor Augustus.

prutah of Marcus Ambibulus. Images courtesy NGC

A prutah of Marcus Ambibulus

Marcus Ambibulus

Ambibulus copied the grain ear/palm tree types of his predecessor Coponius. His prutot are distinguishable, though, because they were issued in years 39 (8-9 CE), 40 (9-10) and 41 (10-11) of Augustus.

Another example of the prutot of Valerius Gratus. Images courtesy NGC

Tiberius year 2 prutah of Valerius Gratus

Valerius Gratus

The issues of this prefect were the most varied of all, with seven distinct types being introduced within a three-year period.

In year 2 (15-16 CE) of the emperor Tiberius (reigned 14-37), two new types were introduced. The first features KAICAP in two lines within a wreath on the obverse and TIB and crossed cornucopias on the reverse. The second type of the year has IOYΛIA in two lines within a wreath on the obverse and a palm branch on the reverse. The first of these coins references Tiberius, the second names his mother Livia (Julia Augusta).

A prutah of Valerius Gratus. Images courtesy NGC

A prutah of Valerius Gratus. Images courtesy NGC

Tiberius year 3 prutot of Valerius Gratus

In year 3 (16-17 CE) of Tiberius two other new types were introduced. The first has KAICAP in two lines within a wreath on the obverse while the reverse has the inscription TIBERIOY above a caduceus flanked by crossed cornucopias. The second type has IOYΛIA in two lines within a wreath on the obverse and three lilies on the reverse.

Tiberius year 4 prutah of Valerius Gratus. Images courtesy NGC

Tiberius year 4 prutah of Valerius Gratus. Images courtesy NGC

Tiberius year 4 prutot of Valerius Gratus

Finally, year 4 (17-18 CE) of Tiberius saw three new types introduced. The first features a vine leaf with a grape cluster and IOYΛIA on the obverse, while the reverse has an amphora. The second type has a vine with a single leaf and TIBERIOY on the obverse, and on the reverse an amphora and KAICAP. The final type of the year has TIB KAICAP in three lines within a wreath on the obverse, and a palm branch and IOYΛIA on the reverse. This last type was also used in years 5 (18-19) and 11 (24-25) of Tiberius.

Tiberius year 16 prutah of Valerius Gratus. Images courtesy NGC

Tiberius year 16 prutah of Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate

The prutot of this prefect – well-known for his association with the crucifixion of Jesus – are the most eagerly sought. There are two distinct types. The first, dated year 16 (29-30) of Tiberius, has IOYΛIA KAICAPOC and three grain ears on the obverse, and on its reverse TIBERIOY KAICAPOC and a simpulum (priest’s ladle).

Pilate’s second type, dated to years 17 (30-31) and 18 (31-32) of Tiberius, has on the obverse TIBERIOY KAICAPOC and a lituus (augurs’ wand), and on the reverse the date within a wreath. There are many varieties of these with retrograde letters, barbarous styles (and even some hybrid issues), some of which command strong premiums.

First type prutah of Antonius Felix. Images courtesy NGC

Second type prutah of Antonius Felix. Images courtesy NGC

First (above) and second type prutot of Antonius Felix

Antonius Felix

This procurator had two distinct types struck under the emperor Claudius (reigned 41-54 CE). His first issue was dated to Claudius’ 14th year (54). Its obverse has TI KLAYDIOC KAICAP GERM and two crossed palm branches, and its reverse has IOYΛIA AGRIPPINA in four lines within a wreath.

In this case the obverse names the emperor and the reverse his wife Agrippina Junior (Julia Agrippina). Felix’s second issue, also struck in year 14 of Claudius, is dedicated to the imperial heirs, Nero and Britannicus. Nero was Claudius’ adopted son (who would succeed him as emperor), and Britannicus was his natural son, who soon would perish in a dynastic struggle.

The second issue has on its obverse NEPW KLAY KAICAP around crossed shields and spears, while the reverse has BPIT KAI and a palm tree. Just as with Pontius Pilate, there are hybrid issues and crude irregular issues of Antonius Felix’s coins.

Prutah of Porcius Festus. Images courtesy NGC

Prutah of Porcius Festus

Porcius Festus

Being the last of the Judaean procurators to issue coins, Festus had just one type, which he struck in year 5 (58-59) of the emperor Nero (reigned 54-68). The obverse has NEPWNOC in three lines within a wreath, and the reverse has KAICAPOC and a palm branch. Collectively, these two inscriptions refer to the emperor Nero.
 


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