Archaeologists claim that they have resolved a more than 50-year mystery after a ring found in the 1960’s finally had its insignia deciphered. It was assumed to belong to Pontius Pilate – Jerusalem’s infamous governor during the time of Jesus – and it was only recently that the ring’s provenance has been confirmed.
The bronze ring was cleaned and subjected to a new form of photographic imaging that revealed the inscription. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers found two distinct markers, helping to identify the ring’s original owner. The first is a clear imprint of the name “Pilato” in Greek script, meaning “belonging to Pilatus.” It was written backward, implying that it was used as a seal for official documents, standard at the time for Roman officials. The cleaning also showed a simple inscription of the name written around an image of a Jewish-style wine flask.
The ring was originally found during a dig led by Prof. Gideon Forster from the Hebrew University in the 1968-69 season. It was a short time after Israel’s success in the Six-Day War, and Herodium would previously have been inaccessible as it lay in Jordanian territory. The current dig and cleaning is being led by Dr. Roi Porath, also from Hebrew University.
The Herodium or Herodion fortress was built by another infamous Judean ruler, King Herod – after whom the site is named. Initially used as Herod’s palace and administrative center, it subsequently became a huge mausoleum – one of the largest in the ancient world – on his death. The upper part of the complex, however, remained in use by Roman officials, ruling over Judea. It is thought likely that Pilate too, used Herodium as governmental administrative headquarters.
When the Roman emperor Augustus deposed Herod’s son Archelaus in 6 C.E., Judea was reorganized as a sub-province of the province of Syria and was ruled by a governor called a prefect. Pilate held the office of Prefect of Judea from 26 to 36 C.E. and his official residence was in Caesarea. An inscription with Pilate’s name was previously discovered on a massive inscribed block at the theater in the coastal city – which would make the ring the second contemporary finding to testify to Pilate’s historicity.
The ring was found with hundreds of other artifacts in an eastern garden at the site. These included, glass, pottery and ostraca (pottery sherds inscribed with writing or symbols). Stratigraphic research – a layer-by-layer approach, which makes identifying time periods more reliable – revealed that the ring could not have dated to later than the midpoint of the second half of the 1st century CE.