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The Episode of the Golden Roman Shields at Jerusalem

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 June 2011

Paul L. Maier
Western Michigan UniversityKalamazoo, Michigan 49001


Although Pontius Pilate is known primarily because of one episode —his sentencing Jesus of Nazareth to the cross —and from one source — the New Testament, there are five discrete incidents involving him which are reported in extra-Biblical sources. They are: the so-called “affair of the standards” at Jerusalem, his construction of an aqueduct in the same city, the episode of the golden shields in Jerusalem, his repression of armed Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim, and, finally, his citation to Rome by the proconsul of Syria, Vitellius, and his arrival there after the emperor Tiberius died in 37 A.D. Josephus is our source for all these incidents except for the golden shields affair, which is reported only by Philo in his Embassy to Gaius.

Notes & Observations
Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 1969

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1 Harvard Theological Review 35 (1942), 263–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 , Josephus, Antiq., xviii, 3, 1Google Scholar; Wars, ii, 9, 2–3. , Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, ii, 5, 7ff.,Google Scholar is just a reflection of Josephus.

3 , Josephus, Antiq., xviii, 3, 2Google Scholar; Wars, ii, 9, 4.

4 , Josephus, Antiq., xviii, 4, 1-2Google Scholar.

5Praefectus Iudaeae” was Pilate's official title rather than “procurator.” The latter common ascription is based on what has now proven to be anachronisms in , Josephus (Wars, ii, 9, 2)Google Scholar and , Tacitus (Annals, xv, 44).Google Scholar In the summer of 1961, an Italian archaeological expedition found a two-by-three-foot stone at Caesarea in Palestine with the following significant inscription, as partially reconstructed by Antonio Frova: “Caesariens. Tiberiévm Pontivs Pilatvs praefectvs Ivdaeae Dèdit.” See Frova, Antonio, L'Iscrizione di Ponzio Pilato a Cesarea, Rendiconti Istituto Lombardo (Accademia di Scienze e Lettere) 95 (1961), 419–34.Google Scholar —Clearly, then, governors of Judea were called prefects during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. Claudius first changed their title to procurator. The NT very accurately refrains from calling Pilate procurator, using instead governor (ήγεμών).

6 See Maier, Paul L., Pontius Pilate (New York: Doubleday, 1968), chapters 6ffGoogle Scholar.

7 , Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium, xxxviii, 299305;Google ScholarColson's, F. H. translation in Loeb Classical Library, X, 151–55.Google Scholar All subsequent citations from Philo are from this translation.

8 , Eusebius, Demonstratio Evangelica, viii, 2, 122–23Google Scholar.

9 Schürer considers it the latter. See Schurer, Emil, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1896ff.), II, 84; HI, 349Google Scholar.

10 Colson, F. H. in Loeb Classical Library, Philo, X, xix–xx.Google Scholar See also his equation of the incidents in the footnote on page 151. A similar view is expressed in Graetz, Heinrich H., Geschichte der Juden, III (1878), 285–86Google Scholar.

11 See , Josephus, Wars, vi, 6, 1,Google Scholar for an instance of Roman soldiers sacrificing to their ensigns at the Temple in Jerusalem after the fall of the city. For further discussion, see Nock, Arthur D., The Roman Army and the Roman Religious Year, Harvard Theological Review 45 (1952), 239; andCrossRefGoogle ScholarRoth, C., An Ordinance against Images in Jerusalem, A.D. 66, Harvard Theological Review 49 (1956), 169–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 , Josephus, Wars, ii, 9, 2Google Scholar.

13 , Josephus, Antiq., xviii, 3, 1Google Scholar.

14 , Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium, xxxviii, 299Google Scholar.

15 , Philo, op. cit., xxxix, 306Google Scholar.

16 So also one of the recent commentators on Philo, , Smaixwood, E. Mary, ed., Philo Judaeus, Legatio ad Gaium (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1961), 302Google Scholar.

17 , Kraeling, op. cit., 283Google Scholar.

18 , Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium, xxiv, 159–61Google Scholar.

19 Philo, loc. cit. On Tiberius and the Jews, see also , Suetonius, Tiberius, xxxviGoogle Scholar.

20 Doyle, A. D., Pilate's Career and the Date of the Crucifixion, The Journal of Theological Studies 42 (1941), 190–93Google Scholar.

21 , Tacitus, Annals, iv, 41, 57Google Scholar; , Suetonius, Tiberius, xliGoogle Scholar.

22 , Philo, op. cit., xxxviii, 299Google Scholar.

23 See Maier, Paul L., Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of the Crucifixion, Church History 37 (1968), 313CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 , Josephus, Antiq., xv, 9, 3Google Scholar; Wars, i, 21, 1.

25 So Perowne, Stewart, The Later Herods (New York: Abingdon Press, 1958), 52Google Scholar.

26 For a discussion of other Herodian descendants who may have been present on this occasion, see , Smallwood, op. cit., 303Google Scholar.

27 , Plutarch, Numa, xiiiGoogle Scholar; , Horace, Carmina, i, 37, 2Google Scholar; , Quintilian, Institutio Oratorio, i, 6, 40Google Scholar; , Ovid, Fasti, iii, 2598Google Scholar.

28 In his Res Gestae, Augustus could remark with pride that “a golden shield [clipeusque aureus, ỏπλον τε χρυσο] was set up in the Curia Julia whose inscription testified that the Senate and the Roman People awarded me this in recognition of my valor, clemency, justice, and piety.” This occurred in 27 B.C. (Res Gestae Divi Augusti, xxxiv.) A similar golden shield (clipeus auro) of remarkable size was voted the newly deceased Germanicus in 19 A.D. to honor his memory as a leader among orators. (, Tacitus, Annals, ii, 83)Google Scholar

29 On extraordinary occasions, even the clipeus (not just the ancile) might be carried by Roman priests. Suetonius records that among the honors awarded Caligula, before his mental breakdown, was a “golden shield [clipeus aureus], which was to be carried every year to the Capitol by the Colleges of Priests on an appointed day” (, Suetonius, Gains Caligula, xvi)Google Scholar.

30 , Philo, op. cit., xx, 133Google Scholar.

31 , Josephus, Vita, xiiGoogle Scholar.

32 , Perowne, op. cit., 50Google Scholar.

33 , Colson, op. cit., xxiii.Google Scholar

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