Succeeding Valerius Gratus in 26 AD, Pontius Pilate was the fifth ruler of Judea under Rome, holding power until 36 AD. Despite the scant historical record of his early life, Pilate was likely from a middle-class Italian family and had army experience before his appointment as prefect or procurator in Judea, since his primary function there was military. He was also responsible for tax collection and judging legal cases beyond the authority of the local councils – the Jews were allowed to self-govern, but any executions required Roman approval. Pilate resided in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast with his wife Claudia Procula, but he travelled extensively throughout the province. Especially during the Passover, Pilate would’ve been expected to be present in Jerusalem to keep the peace.
According to the historians Philo and Josephus, Pilate was insensitive towards Jewish religion and customs, which led to various conflicts with the Jews. For example, Josephus records that the Jews became outraged at Roman images secretly brought into Jerusalem by Pilate’s soldiers at night. After days of protests, Pilate threatened to put the Jewish protesters to death, to which the Jews showed their necks and declared that that would be better than their Law being violated. Pilate eventually conceded and removed the images. A similar event occurred when Pilate displayed golden shields from Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. This time, it took a reproach from the Roman Emperor Tiberius to prompt their transfer to Caesarea to restore the peace. Pilate also used Temple money to build an aqueduct, then attacked and killed Jewish protesters who objected to his actions. Philo stated that Pilate was stubborn, relentless, and had a furious temper. He ruled Judea amidst allegations of bribery, theft, insults, illegal executions, and cruelty. Finally, after a bloody conflict with Samaritan pilgrims, Pilate was deposed by Vitellius, Syria’s governor, and stood trial in Rome for his conduct. From there, Eusebius records that he was exiled to Gaul (modern-day France), where he committed suicide. He was replaced in Judea by Marcellus, who reigned briefly before Marullus took his place.
When in Jerusalem, Pilate would most certainly have stayed in Herod’s palace. As the second most prominent building in the city (after the Temple), it served as the residence of the ruling Roman authority whenever he was there. Josephus records that the palace was luxurious and richly decorated, built from massive white marble stones. It had tall towers and contained many bedrooms. However, most of it was demolished along with the rest of the city in 70 AD during Jerusalem’s destruction. In the New Testament, this palace was called the praitorion, a Latin word referring to the tent of the highest ranking officer in a Roman military camp. When the Romans occupied a city, they typically resided in the largest building there, which was Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. Many Bibles translate it as “Praetorium,” but here it’s simply “palace.” The word praitorion could also refer to the elite guard for the Roman ruler, as Paul mentions in the biblical book of Philippians.