Perutah of Pontius Pilatus depicting a lituus (30 CE)



30 CE



Caesarea Maritima

Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 

Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Name of Ruler: 

Tiberius (praefectus Pontius Pilatus)

Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Lituus

Inscription: Greek: TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC - of Tiberius Caesar

Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Wreath around inscription

Inscription: Greek: L IZ - year 17

Diameter (mm): 
Weight (g): 

This perutah, minted at Caesarea Maritima by Pontius Pilatus, prefect of Judea, in 30 CE, depicts on the obverse a lituus, or a crooked wand, and on the reverse a wreath surrounding an inscription. The inscriptions are in Greek. The inscription on the obverse refers to Tiberius as Tiberius Caesar. The inscription on the reverse records the year in which the coin was minted, the seventeenth year of the reign of Tiberius. Once Archelaus had been exiled in 6 CE, Augustus decided to rule Judea not as an autonomous province, because it was a relatively small territory, but as part of the province of Syria, ruled by a senatorial governor (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XVII.354-355). Judea was set under the authority of an equestrian magistrate with the title of praefectus. Pontius Pilatus was the fifth praefectus of Judea from 25 to 36 CE. The relationship between Pontius Pilatus and the Jews was a negative one, according to Josephus in both Antiquities and War. Josephus narrates that Pontius Pilatus was wholly indifferent to Jewish religious sensitivity, and mentions two incidents in particular. First, Pontius Pilatus introduced standards bearing the image of the emperor in Jerusalem, an act which was against the tenants of Jewish religion. Tiberius himself rebuked the praefectus of Judea. Later on, Pontius Pilatus decided to erect an aqueduct using funds from the Temple. This time, the Jews rose against him (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XVIII.55-62).
According to Ya‘akov Meshorer, the lituus, or crooked wand, depicted on the obverse, represents yet another piece of evidence of Pontius Pilatus's inconsiderateness (Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage 2, p. 180). The lituus was a crooked wand peculiar to the augures, and thus a cultic instrument of the Roman priesthood. The lituus was used to delimit the celestial ritual space. Thus, it is clear that the lituus had no equivalent in Jewish cultic practices. It is possible that in this case, Pontius Pilatus's choice was a deliberate provocation. The previous year, he had minted an issue depicting a simpulum, another cultic instrument peculiar to the Roman cult (see Perutah of Pontius Pilatus depicting a simpulum and three ears of wheat (29 CE)). However, while the issue minted the previous year depicted on the reverse an iconographic motive, three ears of barley, which had an equivalent in Jewish culture, this time a similar motif is lacking. Yet, Pontius Pilatus, after the affair of the shields, was aware that the Jews were particularly sensitive to the depiction of human characters. Therefore, the imperial portrait is not depicted on this coin. On the other hand, the perutah was such a small denomination that probably the depiction of the emperor's head would not have been possible anyway.
A last accident reported by Josephus in another passage of the Antiquities (XVIII.4.2) cost Pilatus his appointment. A group of Samaritan notables complained to Vitellius, the governor of Syria, that Pilatus had the population of a village near the Mount Garizim slaughtered by his soldiers. Vitellius removed Pilatus and sent him back to Rome. This time the emperor took into account the provincials' complaint and intervened to restore order. 

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Perutah of Pontius Pilatus depicting a lituus (30 CE)
Author(s) of this publication: Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Mon, 08/07/2017 - 15:38
Visited: Sat, 02/04/2023 - 07:58

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