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Gratus & Pilate

Coins of Valerius Gratus and Pontius Pilate

The Roman Prefects of Judea under Tiberius were:

Dates on coins minted by Gratus and Pilate reconcile with Years of Tiberius when reckoned factually from November of A.D. 12 (subsequent to his joint governance with Augustus), then further reckoned factually from September of A.D. 14 (subsequent to being named head of state after Augustus' death) through to Tiberius' death in March of A.D. 37. These dates also synchronize with the baptism of Jesus Christ in A.D. 26 ("the fifteenth year of Tiberius when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea" as recorded by Luke) and Julia Augusta's death in A.D. 29.

It must be noted, there exist two double-dated coins which contradict the analysis below, and date Tiberius' reign as beginning A.D. 14 with Augustus' death. At present, these double dated coins aren't reconciled with the analysis below, and further research is being done on them and how Actian years are reckoned and synchronizations with other eras. These coins are:

The reconcilation and synchronisms of coins minted by Gratus and Pilate are summarized in the following table, and further analyzed and developed below.

Augustus' death ↓ 
Jesus' baptism ↓ 
 ↓ crucifixion
Minted 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Tiberius 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Gratus             LΙΑ              
Pilate                               LΙϚ LΙΖ LΙΗ
 ↑ Julia's death

Valerius Gratus was Prefect of Judea for 11 years having been appointed by Tiberius immediately after Augustus' death. He minted several coins in Judea honoring Tiberius and Julia Augusta (Tiberius' mother and Augustus' wife and formerly known as Livia Drusilla).

Pontius Pilate was Prefect of Judea for 10 years having been appointed by Tiberius to replace Gratus. It was Pontius Pilate who conducted the Roman trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Pilate minted three coins in Judea honoring Tiberius, but the last two coins eliminated the honorific for Julia Augusta subsequent to her death. Pilate was ordered home by Vitellius to answer to Tiberius for accusations of murder brought by Samaritans, but Pilate arrived in Rome just after Tiberius' death on March 16th of A.D. 37.

The numismatic evidence of Pilate's coins is more informative and is covered first, then the chronological evidence of coins minted by both Gratus and Pilate is summarized and analyzed.

Greek date inscriptions and numismatic evidence:

At the numismatist web site, NumismaLink, is linked a four-part article by Professor Jean-Philippe Fontanille The Coins of Pontius Pilate wherein he states:

"1 - The temporal proximity : Most modern experts agree in recognizing that the year now designated 30 C.E. marked the trial and the death of Jesus. Given that time-frame, Pilate's coins were minted in 29, 30 and 31 C.E."

Professor Jean-Philippe Fontanille, "The Coins of Pontius Pilate", www.numismalink.com

However, while there is agreement the year of crucifixion is A.D. 30, the dates on the coin faces are relative to "Years of Tiberius". Citing again from Fontanille, The Coins of Pontius Pilate:

"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 C.E, so we have :

LIS = Year 29 CE * LIZ = Year 30 CE * LIH = Year 31 CE

The legends on Pontius Pilate's coins are written in Greek. Judea, governed by the Ptolemy dynasty (301 to 198 B.C.E) then by the Syrians until 63 B.C.E, came under the same powerful influence of the Hellenic culture which touched the other territories of the ancient Persian Empire won by Alexander the Great. In spite of a certain amount of resistance, this Hellenistic heritage eventually crept into every aspect of daily life. 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."

ibid.

Professor Fontanille alludes to a Greek date encoding algorithm using the 'first ten, following ten and four remaining letters' (sum of 24 letters total), but doesn't actually provide enough detail to verify how dates on Pilate's coins actually correspond. In fact, the classic Greek alphabet with 24 letters cannot be mapped as Fontanille seems to imply.

However, the ancient Greek alphabet had 27 letters (not 24 as Fontanille implies). The Greek number system used the first nine letters as symbols for numbers 1-9; the second nine letters as symbols for tens (e.g. 10, 20, 30, etc. through 90); and the last nine letters as symbols for hundreds (e.g. 100, 200, 300, etc. through 900). Note that "zero" did not have a letter correspondence. Here then is a table mapping the 27 ancient Greek letters to numbers, reading left-to-right and then next row down:

units
alpha
beta
gamma
delta
epsilon
digamma
zeta
eta
theta
Α
Β
Γ
Δ
Ε
Ϝ
Ζ
Η
Θ
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
tens
iota
kappa
lambda
mu
nu
ksi
omicron
pi
koppa
Ι
Κ
Λ
Μ
Ν
Ξ
Ο
Π
Ϟ
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
hundreds
rho
sigma
tau
upsilon
phi
chi
psi
omega
san
Ρ
Σ
Τ
Υ
Φ
Χ
Ψ
Ω
Ϡ
100
200
300
400
500
600
700
800
900

Note, the letters "digamma", "koppa", and "san" are archaic, and when removed yield the classic Greek alphabet of 24 letters.

Regarding dates, contrary to what the above table would dictate when encoding the number "6", the Greek letter "Ϛ" (stigma) which takes on the shape of an "S" was actually struck on coins instead of the the archaic Greek letter "Ϝ" (digamma).

The point of the foregoing is simply to confirm the date encoding found on both Gratus' and Pilate's coins, that being:

"L" is an abbreviation always meaning "year"
"Α" is the 1st ancient Greek letter "alpha" which indicates "1"
"Β" is the 2nd ancient Greek letter "beta" which indicates "2"
"Γ" is the 3rd ancient Greek letter "gamma" which indicates "3"
"Δ" is the 4th ancient Greek letter "delta" which indicates "4"
"Ε" is the 5th ancient Greek letter "epsilon" which indicates "5"
"Ϛ" is "stigma" used in place of the 6th ancient Greek letter "digamma" which indicates "6"
"Ζ" is the 7th ancient Greek letter "zeta" which indicates "7"
"Η" is the 8th ancient Greek letter "eta" which indicates "8"
"Ι" is the 10th ancient Greek letter "iota" which indicates "10"

Hence, the various date encoding combinations are, literally:

"LΒ" (LΒ) means "year" two
"LΓ" (LΓ) means "year" three
"LΔ" (LD) means "year" four
"LΕ" (LE) means "year" five
"LΙΑ" (LIA) means "year" ten + one
"LΙϚ" (LIS) means "year" ten + six
"LΙΖ" (LIZ) means "year" ten + seven
"LΙΗ" (LIH) means "year" ten + eight

Numistmatists occasionally have difficulty recognizing which date was intended to be struck on degraded coins. For example, some varieties have a retrograde (backwards) "Z" for "zeta" meaning "7" which can sometimes be confused with "Ϛ" for "stigma" meaning "6". One would also expect that "Α" and "Δ" could be mistaken for each other, though perhaps the context prevents this (no "year one" coins issued, "Α" is only used for "year ten + one" coins). Other varietal differences include the inscription spellings for Tiberius, Emporer or Ceasar, and Julia, as well as different designs and placement of dates and descriptions. Then too are errors when any individual coin was struck resulting from the dies being off center or not level, and metal alloy composition inconsitencies causing different kinds and rates of degradation - quality control seemed to be quite a problem.

Here then are samples of descriptions used by numistmatists for the varieties of coins minted by Gratus and Pilate. These are composite descriptions collected over time from various web sites trading such coins, and as these sites describe their current inventory, links to specific coins then for sale would quickly become invalid. However, with the descriptions below are provided links to saved images wherein the Greek encoded date as discussed above is reasonably (or barely in some cases) legible: They are listed in order of their Hendin catalog number:

Coins of Valerius Gratus:

Hendin 639: Judaea, Procurators. Valerius Gratus. Year 2 (15 AD). Æ Prutah. KAI/CAP in two lines within wreath / Crossed cornucopias, TIB above, LB between.

Hendin 641: F, 1.252g, 15.5mm, 180o, Caesarea mint, obverse KAI/CAP within a wreath; reverse TIB (Tiberius), two crossed cornucopia with caduceus between them, L - G (= year 3) across fields; very scarce;

Hendin 641: Judaea, Valerius Gratus, Æ prutah, 2.01g, 16.9mm, 135o, Caesarea mint, 16 A.D.; obverse KAICAP (Caesar) within wreath; reverse TIBEIPOY, two crossed cornucopia with caduceus between them, L - G in outer fields; nice green patina; rare;

Hendin 642: Judaea, Valerius Gratus, Prefect Under Tiberius, AE Prutah. Year 3 = 16 AD. IOVLIA (referring to Julia Livia, mother of Tiberius) in wreath / three lilies in bloom flanked by date L-G.

Hendin 643: Judaea, Valerius Gratus, Æ prutah. IOYLIA, Vine leaf and small bunch of grapes / Narrow-necked amphora with scroll handles, [L D] at sides.

Hendin 644: Valerius Gratus, procurator of Judea under Tiberius AE Prutah. Struck 17 AD. Vine leaf on tendril / Kantharos.

Hendin 645, Valerius Gratus - Prefect under Tiberius 15-26 C.E., Caesarea mint, 17 A.D.; obverse TIB / KAI/CAP (Tiberius Caesar) in wreath tied at base with an X; reverse palm branch flanked by IOU-LIA (Julia) and date L - D (= year 4 = 17 A.D.);

Hendin 646: Judaea, Valerius Gratus, AE Prutah. Year 5 = 18 AD. TIB KAI CAP in a wreath / Palm branch curves to right, IOY-LIA and date L-E at sides.

Hendin 646v: Valerius Gratus, Prefect Under Tiberius, AE Prutah. TIB KAI CAP (Tiberius Caesar) in wreath tied at base with an X / Palm branch curved to r., flanked by inscription & date (LE = Year 5 = 18 C.E.).

Hendin 647: Judaea, under Roman Procurator Valerius Gratus, under Tiberius, Æ Prutah. Year 11 (24 AD). IOV-LIA (for Julia Livia) L-IA (the date) either side of palm branch / TIB KAI CAP, three lines in wreath.

Note that all Gratus' coins designate Tiberius as "TIB" or "TIBEPIOY" and "KAICAP" and a few include the honorific for Julia Augusta including the last coin dated as Tiberius 11th year.

Coins of Pontius Pilate:

Hendin 648, Caesarea mint, 2.442g, 16.8mm, 270o, 29 A.D.; obverse IOYLIA KAICAPOC, three bound heads of barley, the outer two heads drooping; reverse TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC (of Tiberius Caesar) and date LIϚ (= year 16 = 29 A.D.) surrounding simpulum (libation ladle);

Hendin 649 AE Prutah. Year 17 of Tiberius = 30 AD. TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC, lituus (Augur's staff) / date LIZ within wreath. SNG ANS 373, AJC II 23.

Hendin 650 26 - 36 C.E. AE Prutah. 2.20 grams. Obverse: TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC. Lituus (pagan religious implement); Reverse: Date within wreath (LIH = Year 18 = 31 C.E.)

Note that all Pilate's coins again designate Tiberius as "TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC" (Of Tiberius Emperor) but only the first coin dated as Tiberius 16th year includes the honorific for Julia Augusta.

Because the Greek text on all Gratus and Pilate coinage is "TIB" or "TIBEPIOY" and "KAICAP" (Tiberius Caesar) or "TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC" (Of Tiberius Emperor), they all obviously date to "Years of Tiberius" (as opposed to anyone else).

The mistakes made by numistmatists (as echoed by Fontinille) is to assume the 16th, 17th, and 18th years of Tiberius synchronize with A.D. 29, 30, and 31 respectively, and then reckon the years of Tiberius to be regnal accession years beginning with Augustus' death to justify that syncronization. But this ignores and fails to reconcile with Christ's baptism in A.D. 26 in Tiberius' 15th year, Christ's crucifixion in A.D. 30 after a 3.5 year ministry in Tiberius' 18th year, and further implies Tiberius' 1st regnal year was A.D. 14. These synchronism failures are orange-highlighted in the table below:

Minted 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Tiberius 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Gratus             LΙΑ              
Pilate                               LΙϚ LΙΖ LΙΗ

Even by regnal accession-year reckoning the further problem is Tiberius' accession year would be A.D. 14 when Augustus died and thus Tiberius' 1st regnal year would consequently begin January A.D. 15, not in A.D. 14 as the numistmatists presume.

Nor does a factual reckoning from Augustus' death (wherein Tiberius' 1st year would extend from Aug of A.D. 14 through July of A.D. 15) suffice because it fails to reconcile Tiberius' years with the baptism and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

So, applying now the correct factual reckoning for "Years of Tiberius" beginning in A.D. 12 as established by anaylzing the historical accounts of Seutonius, Tacitus, and Dio it is thus demonstrated that coins dated as shown were actually minted:

"LΒ"  in A.D. 14 - Tiberius' 2nd year, Gratus' 1st year (viewable at Hendin 639)
"LΓ"  in A.D. 15 - Tiberius' 3rd year, some varieties with "Julia" (viewable at Hendin 641)
"LΔ"  in A.D. 16 - Tiberius' 4th year, some varieties with "Julia" (viewable at Hendin 645)
"LΕ"  in A.D. 17 - Tiberius' 5th year, some varieties with "Julia" (viewable at Hendin 646)
"LΙΑ" in A.D. 23 - Tiberius' 11th year, with "Julia" (viewable at Hendin 647)
"LΙϚ" in A.D. 28 - Tiberius' 16th year, Pilate's 2nd year, with "Empress Julia" (viewable at Hendin 648)
"LΙΖ" in A.D. 29 - Tiberius' 17th year, Pilate's 3rd year (viewable at Hendin 649)
"LΙΗ" in A.D. 30 - Tiberius' 18th year, Pilate's 4th year (viewable at Hendin 650)

This analysis of Gratus' and Pilate's coins demonstrates:

  1. The dates on the coins (and thus their mint years) are all relative to the reckoning of "Years of Tiberius" and not inscribed with an absolute Julian year. Consequently, to establish a Julian mint date requires a correct conversion from "Years of Tiberius" to Julian, i.e., a correct reckoning of when "Years of Tiberius" began.
  2. When "Years of Tiberius" are reckoned as factual years beginning in A.D. 12, the date of Gratus' 1st coin ("LΒ") synchronizes with A.D. 14 (the year of Augustus' death and Tiberius' 2nd year and Gratus 1st year as Prefect), while the dates of the coins (LIS, LIZ and LIH) synchronize with A.D. 28, 29 and 30 (the last year being that of Christ's crucifixion and Tiberius' 18th year).

Death of Julia Augusta (and her honorific):

As has been noted by the historians' accounts of Tiberius' 17th year regarding the death in A.D. 29 of Julia Augusta (Livia Drusilla, Tiberius' mother and Augustus' wife), Tiberius loathed her and took many steps to deny her various posthumous honorifics, which seemingly included removing her name from coins subsequently minted by Pilate.

As shown above, prior to A.D. 29 most coins except those that Gratus initially minted in A.D. 14 included an honorific for Julia Augusta upto and including the LIS coin dated Tiberius' 16th year which was struck with "Empress Julia" and minted in A.D. 28. But subsequent to Julia Augusta's death in early A.D. 29, the LIZ and LIH coins minted later in A.D. 29 and 30, respectively, did not have her honorific, thus establishing another synchronism resulting from reckoning Tiberius' years as factual from his joint-governance with Augustus in A.D. 12.

But if Tiberius' years are reckoned as regnal accession years, his 1st being A.D. 15, then the "Empress Julia" coin dated in Tiberius' 16th year would have been struck in A.D. 30 (not A.D. 29 as numismatists incorrectly presume), a full year after her death and then the honorific removed a year later still. Given Tiberius' other prompt actions upon her death to deny Julia any posthumous honors, it seems implausible he would wait over a year to deny her this one as well.

The table below shows a reconciled alignment of Tiberius' years (reckoned factually from his joint-governance with Augustus) with the years in which Gratus and Pilate minted Roman coins in Judea dated in "Years of Tiberius", highlighting:

Augustus' death ↓ 
Jesus' baptism ↓ 
 ↓ crucifixion
Minted 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Tiberius 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Gratus             LΙΑ              
Pilate                               LΙϚ LΙΖ LΙΗ
 ↑ Julia's death

Due to HTML formatting constraints, the above table gives the appearance that factual "Years of Tiberius" offset exactly by half a Julian year (6 months), but a Tiberius' factual year initially ran from his innauguration in November of A.D. 12 following the consuls having made Tiberius joint governor with Augustus (October 23rd) through to its anniversary the following year until A.D. 14; thereafter, Tiberius' factual year ran from Senate confirmation of his being head of state in September of A.D. 14 (consequent to Augustus' death), i.e. for purposes of synchronisms with coins of Gratus and Pilate, a factual year of Tiberius overlaps the last 4 months of the prior Julian year and first 8 months of the next Julian year.

So, in theory, using a factual reckoning from Tiberius' joint governance with Augustus allows all the coins minted by Gratus and Pilate to reconcile with Years of Tiberius, and illuminates four synchronisms:

  1. Gratus' initial minting of the "LB" coin in his 1st year as Prefect of Judea subsequent to Augustus' death, in Tiberius 2nd year
  2. Baptism of Jesus Christ in A.D. 26, in Tiberius' 15th year
  3. Pilate's removal of Julia's honorific from coins minted subsequent to her death in A.D. 29, Tiberius' 17th year.
  4. Crucifixion of Jesus Christ in A.D. 30 by Pontius Pilate, in Tiberius' 18th year

In application, this bears out as demonstrated in the Tiberius timeline, with one notable anomoly that it requires Gratus to be appointed by Tiberius immediately upon Augustus' death on August 19th (as Josephus indeed reports), and get to Judea and begin production of the commemorative LΒ coin as Tiberius' 2nd factual year elapsed in September or October. Possibly Tiberius' LΒ coin was begun earlier in Tiberius' 2nd year by Annius Rufus but Gratus (having replaced him) received the credit, or Gratus may have begun striking the LΒ coin late in Tiberius' 2nd year and continued to strike more of them early into Tiberius' 3rd year as well until Tiberius commissioned the LΓ coin later in his 3rd year. This timing of Gratus striking the LΒ coin late in Tiberius' 2nd factual year bears further research and scrutiny.



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(last updated April 11, 2014)