Pontius Pilate Crucifixion Coins
1. THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE
Regardless of whether you are a Christian believer, or simply one who is fascinated with history or of numismatics, you will find in these coins minted by Pontius Pilate direct evidence of and witness to an episode in history which has reshaped to a great extent the world we know.
Many of these coins are not really beautiful and were originally not of any real monetary value. Yet these modest coins are closely associated with three basic factors which saw the foundation of Christianity:
1 – Same Year of Christ’s Crucifixion:Most modern experts agree in recognizing that the year now designated 30 A.D. marked the trial and the death of Jesus. Given that time-frame, Pilate's coins were minted in 29, 30 and 31 C.E.
2 – Same City of Christ’s Crucifixion:The most credible hypothesis indicates that these particular coins where struck in Jerusalem, the city in which the significant events took place.
3 – Same Governor who Authorized Christ’s Crucifixion:Pontius Pilate himself designed and put the coins into circulation, and of course he was the man who conducted the trial and ordered the crucifixion of Jesus.
Pilate's coins are Roman coins, the words on them are Greek, they were circulated in Judea.
2. THE COIN’S IMAGES AND TEXTS
THE SIMPULUM ON THE 29AD COIN
The simpulum, a symbol that looks like a ladle, was a fairly frequent symbol from the Roman religion of the time. Actually, the simpulum was a utensil used by the priests during their religious ceremonies. This little ladle, provided with shaft and a handle, allowed the priests to taste the wine which they poured onto the head of an animal destined for sacrifice, after which the soothsayer was empowered to examine the animal's entrails for signs and portents sent to men by the Gods through the medium of the interpreter. As I pointed, none of this would have been obvious at first sight of the motif except perhaps to a Roman citizen. This wasn't the first time that the simpulum appeared on Roman coins, but it is the first time it figured alone. This fact gives an additional specificity to Pilate's coins, not only in the context of Judea but also in comparison with all the other coins of the Empire.
THE THREE EARS OF BARLEY
The three ears or barley are featured on the opposing face of the simpulum. Unlike the simpulum, these ears of barley are not in contravention of the Jewish Law. The motif is nevertheless distinctive because it is the first time it appears on a Judean coin. The motif would reappear twelve years later on one of Herod Agrippa's coin, then on another, much rarer, of Agrippa II (ears of barley held in a hand). After that, the motif disappeared altogether from ancient Jewish coins.
THE LITUUS ON THE 30-31AD COINS
The lituus, a symbol that looked like a cane, was the wooden staff which the augurs held in the right hand; it symbolized their authority and their pastoral vocation. It was raised toward heavens while the priests invoked the gods and made their predictions. Legend records that Romulus used it at the time of Rome's foundation in 753 B.C.
The laurel wreath is a symbol of power and victory, and figures on various ancient Greek and Roman coins. In Judea it can be found during the reign of John Hyrcanus I (134 to 104 B.C.). After that, Herod Antipas, speaker for Pilate, used it on all his coins. On Pilate's coins, the laurel wreath figures on the reverse side of the lituus, framing the date.
The notation of dates uses a code invented by the Greeks whereby each letter of the alphabet was assigned a number. This code would be used again in Judaism under the name of Guematria. The system is simple : the first ten letters of the alphabet are linked to units (1,2,3...), the following ten letters to tens (10,20,30...) and the four remaining letters to the first four hundreds. The "L" is an abbreviation meaning "year". Tiberius became emperor on September 17 of year 14 A.D., so we have :
LIS = Year 29 A.D. * LIZ = Year 30 A.D. * LIH = Year 31 A.D.
The legends on Pontius Pilate's coins are written in Greek. Apart from the dates, the texts on Pilate's coinage consisted of only three different words : - TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC (Of Tiberius Emperor) on all three coins; - IOYLIA KAICAPOC (Empress Julia) added to the coin of year 29.
3. MINT LOCATION AND CIRCULATION
LOCATION OF MINTS
Although the prefects had their residencies in Cesarea, the administrative capital of the province, it seems that their money was minted in Jerusalem. Indeed, a specimen dated year 31 has been found in this town in an incomplete state of manufacture.
DURATION OF USE
It would seem that Pilate's money was in current use for at least 35 years. Indeed, some of it has been discovered among other coins during the excavation of remains of dwellings destroyed by the Romans during the first Jewish revolt, which is evidence that they were still in use at that time.
AREA OF CIRCULATION
These coins circulated far beyond the frontiers of Judea. Some samples have been discovered as far away as Antioch in present-day Turkey, nearly 500 kilometres from Jerusalem where they were minted. Others have also been found in Jordan. These limits represent a circulation area of at least 100.000 square kilometres, that is five times larger than the size of the state of Israel. Taking into account that it was a time when distances were expressed in terms of days of march, one begins to see the important influence of these coins.