Countermarked Coins of Pontius Pilate by Peter E. Lewis .Countermarked Coins of the Roman Prefects
Countermarked Coins of Pontius Pilate by Peter E. Lewis .Countermarked Coins of the Roman Prefects
Countermarked Coins of Pontius Pilate by Peter E. Lewis .Countermarked Coins of the Roman Prefects

Countermarked Coins of Pontius Pilate by Peter E. Lewis .Countermarked Coins of the Roman Prefects

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Text of Countermarked Coins of Pontius Pilate by Peter E. Lewis .Countermarked Coins of the Roman Prefects

  • FIGURE 1 is a wonderful paintingmade in 1881 by the Hungarianartist, Mihly Munkcsy. It shows Jesusstanding before Pontius Pilate while aRoman soldier controls the crowd. Theartist has created a realistic pictureof an event that occurred almost twothousand years ago but is well knownin Christian imagination because itis described in the New Testament.Some modern readers, however, ques-tion whether the events described inthe New Testament really happened. Most people, and even some coin coll-

    ectors, do not know that a number ofthe coins issued by Pontius Pilate andhis predecessor, Valerius Gratus, have acountermark that relates to names inthe New Testament. The countermarkis a palm branch in a circle, and thebranch is either alone or between theGreek letters C and . is the GreekP, and in inscriptions at this time Cwas often used for the Greek S. So Cstands for SP. Kenneth Lnnqvist inan article entitled New Vistas on theCountermarked Coins of the RomanPrefects of Judaea and published in theIsrael Numismatic Journal 12: 56-60(1992-3) produced evidence that SPwas an abbreviation for SPEIRA (GreekCEIPA), which means a cohort. He citeda second-century stone inscription foundin Egypt, which has C as an abbrevi-ation for cohort. In the first century a cohort in the

    Roman army consisted of 480 soldiers.Ten cohorts made a legion, and a cohort

    was divided into six centuries, each with80 soldiers. The Latin word, centuria,means a hundred, which suggests thatoriginally there were a hundred sol-diers in a century. Each century wasled by a centurion and each cohort wasled by a tribune. There was also a specialcohort, a cohors miliaria, which consis-ted of about a thousand soldiers. TheLatin word miliaria means containinga thousand. The Italian Cohort, whichwas stationed in Judaea, was a cohorsmiliaria. The New Testament was orig-inally written in Greek and the title ofthe officer who led a cohors miliaria istranslated in the New Revised StandardVersion of the New Testament as thetribune of the cohort. A literal andmore accurate translation would bethe chiliarch of the cohort. Chiliarch isa word in the Shorter Oxford English

    Dictionary and it means commanderof a thousand. The role of these Romansoldiers was to keep order in Judaeajust as the Roman soldier is doing inMunkcsys painting. In the book of Acts in the New Test-

    ament a centurion of the Italian Cohortis mentioned in chapter 10, verse 1: InCaesarea there was a man named Cor-nelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort,as it was called. A tribune of the cohortis mentioned in chapter 21, verse 31:While they were trying to kill Paul, wordcame to the tribune of the cohort that allJerusalem was in an uproar.Althoughthe tribune was in Jerusalem and thecenturion in Caesarea, it is very likelythat they were both in the Italian Co-hort. This cohort was not part of aRoman legion because there were nolegionary troops in Judaea between 6

    Countermarked Coins ofPontius Pilate by Peter E. Lewis

    Figure 2 Countermarked coin of Valerius Gratus. (Collection of St Johns Cathedral, Brisbane)

    Figure 1 Jesus before Pilate by Mihly Munkcsy. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

  • and 66 AD. The Italian Cohort was anauxiliary cohort and its tribune tookhis orders from the Roman governor ofJudaea. It was called Italian presum-ably because it was originally raisedin Italy. According to Lnnqvist theItalian Cohort was divided into smallerdetachments that were stationed inCaesarea, Jerusalem, and possibly otherplaces. Jean-Philippe Fontanille, who lives

    in Canada, has made a particular studyof the countermarked coins of ValeriusGratus and Pontius Pilate, which are allvery rare. In a personal communica-tion he said that countermarked coinsof Valerius Gratus, who was governorof Judaea from 15 to 26 AD, are evenrarer than those of Pontius Pilate, whowas governor from 26 to 36. The coun-termarked coin of Valerius Gratus thatis in the collection of St Johns Cathed-ral in Brisbane (Figure 2) was found inSamaria in November 2011. It wascleaned by a professional coin restorerwho works for the Israel Museum, andFontanille considers it to be among thebest two or three specimens known. Onit the looks like I because part of theletter is obscured by encrusted earth.Figure 3 shows an ordinary coin of Val-erius Gratus without the countermark.Also in the collection of St Johns

    Cathedral there is a countermarkedcoin of Pontius Pilate (Figure 4). Thecountermark on it is a palm branchwithout the letters C and , which is

    the rarer type of countermark. It wasfound in Jericho in the 1980s. Althoughthe countermarked coins of PontiusPilate are very rare, the ones of year 16(29/30 AD) with the simpulum (ladle)are even rarer than those of years 17and 18 (30/31 and 31/32 AD) with thelituus (augurs staff). Figure 5 shows anordinary coin of Pontius Pilate with thesimpulum and Figure 6 shows an ordin-ary coin of Pontius Pilate with the lituus.Lnnqvist considers that the counter-

    marks were applied during the period32 to 40 AD and that the work wasdone by the Italian Cohort in Jerusalem.The headquarters of the cohort inJerusalem was the Antonia Fortress(Figure 7), which was built by Herodthe Great and named in honour of hisfriend, Mark Antony. It was just northof the Temple and the soldiers couldoverlook the Temple court. Lnnqvistsays that it can be assumed that thecountermarks are to be connected withmilitary finance, to make the coinsacceptable to the soldiers as pay-money.If Jesus was crucified in 30 AD, whichis the date favoured by scholars today,the Roman soldiers who crucified himwould not have been paid with thesecountermarked coins, nor would thesoldiers who were on duty when Jesusappeared before Pontius Pilate. The centurion at Caesarea, whose

    name was Cornelius, was the firstgentile to convert to Christianity. Thismomentous event is described in chap-ter 10 of Acts, and it probably occurredabout 40 AD. The countermarked coin

    of Valerius Gratus that is in St JohnsCathedral was found in Samaria, whichis the area around Caesarea, and itcould well have been in the pay ofCornelius and his men.Similarly, the tribune of the cohort

    in Jerusalem is of great significancefor Christians because it was he who

    Figure 3 Coin of Valerius Gratus withouta countermark. (Authors collection)

    Figure 4 Countermarked coin of PontiusPilate. (Collection of St Johns Cathedral,Brisbane)

    Figure 5 Simpulum coin of Pontius Pilatewithout a countermark. (Authors collection)

    Figure 6 Lituus coin of Pontius Pilatewithout a countermark. (Authors collection)

  • ran down from the Antonia Fortress tosave Paul when he was being beatenby the crowd in the Temple court. Thisevent is described in Acts, chapter 21,verses 27 to 36. It probably occurred in57 AD but the countermarked coinswould have circulated for many yearsafter being issued. The countermarkedcoin of Pontius Pilate in St JohnsCathedral was found in Jericho, whichis only 15 miles from Jerusalem, and

    it could well have been in the pay ofthe tribune and his soldiers who werestationed in the Antonia Fortress. It isamazing to think that these specialcoins could have been handled by menwho played vital roles in the early his-tory of Christianity. More importantlythese coins tend to confirm that theevents described in the New Testamentreally did happen.

    Figure 7 The Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem as it was in the 1st century AD. This is themodel in the Israel Museum. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)



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    Imust be getting old. It seems just afew years ago I was sitting in primaryschool learning about that intrepidadventurer, Thor Heyerdahl, and hiscompanions traversing the easternPacific on the Kon-Tiki raft. In fact thisyear is the 65th anniversary of that4.300 mile, 101 day, epic voyage fromPeru to Raroia in French Polynesia.To mark the anniversary Pobjoy Minthas released three coins on behalf ofSouth Georgia and South SandwichIslands Government. The reverse design of a proof 38.60mm, 12gm .999 fine silver 1 depictsthe Kon-Tiki craft under full sail acc-

    ompanied by the legend, 1947 65THANNIVERSARY OF THE KON-TIKIEXPEDITION 2012. The same designis used on a 38.60 mm, 28.28 g BUcupro-nickel 2. A second silver 1 shows the samelegend along with the mask of the IncanSun King, that decorated the sail ofthe Kon-Tiki, taken from that seen onstone statues at Lake Titicaca. This des-ign also features on a proof 22.00 mm,6.22 g 1/5oz .9999 fine gold 20.The obverse of all coins shows thedouble effigy of the Queen used earlierthis year on Diamond Jubilee issues.The coins are being marketed exclus-

    ively by Samlerhuset Group of Norway.Mintage of the silver 1s is 10,000with 2000 of the gold 20.

    Dr K.A. Rodgers


    Thor Heyerdahls Kon-Tiki. Image: Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, courtesy of Wikipedia. Images courtesy of Pobjoy Mint