From: Poncius Pilatus <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Publius Sulpicius Quirinius <email@example.com>
Subject: Yearly Report on Judea
Poncius Pilatus, Procurator of Judea, to the Senator Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, Imperial Legate of Syria, greetings! You'll find as attached files the report you asked on the taxes this year, as well as profiles on the important people in the area, including one on each member of the entire Herod dynasty. The facts in those profiles are of public notoriety; here are a few more confidential commentaries for your eyes only.
The great Herod died, as you know, some thirty years ago, leaving to the Jews who hated him monuments which are worthy of both Rome and their King Solomon. He was an ambitious man, so he served us. He was frowned upon by the priests, who have a lot of influence on the populace of Jerusalem. He had a lot of wives, and a lot of kids.
On top of a very beautiful granddaugther on whom I will tell you a few things, he had three sons. Archelaus, ethnarch of Jerusalem, died over twenty years ago after Augustus deposed him. This is why I'm fortunate enough to answer only to you, without some local prince to share power with. The other two sons are completely faithful to Rome. Philip, tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis, is a regular sovereign. He was married. And to whom, you might ask? To Herodias, his niece, the granddaughter of the great Herod.
Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, the only one of the three sons who matters, is a nonchalant prince and, especially compared to the Jews around him, cares very little about intellectual matters. He was married to some Arabian princess. And then... And then he fell madly in love with the gorgeous Herodias, his niece and sister-in-law, the wife of his brother Philip. His brother gave her to him and he married her, to the outrage of the King of Arabia. Herodias is the niece of the two brothers, married to one, and then to the other. I'm sure you can imagine how the Jews took this double incest with adultery on top, they who are so principled. One of their prophets, whose name I forgot, had the balls to go to the court and lecture Herodias's daughter Salome who, I hear, is very beautiful, dances very well, and whose dog of a stepfather is very fond of. The holy man's head was cut off and brought on a platter to Herodias.
You know better than I how much Tiberius loves Herod Antipas, since he's one of those sovereigns who defend the edges of the Empire against incursions by the Arabs. Obviously, because of these connections I have to be subtle and curteous in my thankfully rare relations with him. He's a difficult man, who can be downright obnoxious, and who is way too influenced by Herodias. It's sometimes hard to accomodate him.
I also included intelligence on about twenty of the most important men in the area, including the great priest of the Jews, their head sacrificator and sovereign pontiff—pontifex maximus. He's important because he chairs the Great Sanhedrin, whose seventy members, all of them Pharisees or Sadducees, hate each other: when they have no enemy to unite against, Jews, like Arabs, love to turn on each other. His name is Joseph, but everyone calls him Caiaphas. With his mad eyes and big black beard, he's quite a number. But, in this crazy country, he matters, so I have to make do. My report also includes some economic and military information which you may find useful. Now, please allow me to move on to more personal matters.
I succeeded Valerius Gratus here four years ago. I like to think that I fullfill well the task that, through you, the Emperor entrusted me with. But what have I done in four years? What do I do all day, day after day? Nothing. I argue with Antipas and then make up. I collect taxes. Sometimes I have to judge on cases, mostly in fiscal matters. What will I do in the coming years? Surely, not much more. And always the same thing.
Nowadays, the country is quite calm. Of course, it means I'm successful, and I'm glad. Nevertheless, I sometimes dream of great endeavours which will put my name in the history books. Don't laugh, Quirinius! To you, a Senator, Imperial Legate, praeses, friend of the Emperor, immortality is already granted. My unknown name is guaranteed to be forgotten once I'm gone.
Jews are not warriors. They are first and foremost a people of belief and faith, and they only fight for what they believe in. Here, religion is unbelievably important. In Rome, or even in Syria, it's impossible to realise quite the kind of fanatics that surround me here in Jerusalem. The Jews worship only one god, whose name cannot be pronounced, and who decides everything. Imagine a Jupiter who doesn't have a statue, without Apollo and without Mars, without Venus, without Juno, who is alone in his Olympus, from where he smites mortals and decides everything: this is about how Jews see their god. They are very pious, they pray all the time, and fervently—feverishly, I should say.
According to their holy books, which are really important to them, all of their people were taken, in a faraway past, captive in Babylon. Ever since then they have been very tense. They are always on the edge, and very sensitive to everything. They spend all their time on intellectual speculations. And, what's stranger, they don't separate the fate of humanity from the fate of their little race. They are modest to humility and prideful to insanity. We both know how many great men there were among the Greeks. Our City has produced great soldiers, great lawmakers, poets, architects, et alii. They just have a bunch of prophets. They are incredibly imaginative about their past and their future. We build bridges—they make dreams. We write laws—they make up fantasies. And they are the center and the end of those fantasies, even though their dreams include all of space and time. They are pretty tough, acrimonious, selfish, narrow-minded. They are very intelligent and capable of enthusiasm.
I'm not going to teach you how important Asia and those unknown, restless worlds at our borders, are. There is all of the Orient in my Jews. Cleopatra was already far from Rome—Jerusalem is even further. It is the end of the universe, and there I am, exiled in the middle of the visions of a tiny crazed race. These visions sometimes lead to revolts. The Galileans, especially, rise up often. A few months ago I had to crush a sedition in Galilee and, once again, it was about that god that the Jews care so much about—and about money. Money and religion are often intertwined with my Jews. This is the reason why the census is so unpopular. Already under their King David, centuries ago, a census had caused furor, teeth-gnashing and threats by the prophets, all of it because the census is the basis of taxation. And taxes, to them, is almost a sacrilege. Since God, their only god that is, is the only master that men can acknowledge, paying tribute to a profane sovereign is like putting him in God's place. To my Jews, the money in the public treasury is like stolen money. A census that you, Quirinius, ordered a few years ago, awoke these ideas and caused troubles in Galilee. I had to take rigorous measures. But, at least for a month or two, I felt like I was actually doing something.
The truth is, I am bored to death in this backwater hole. When the Galileans aren't rising up in the name of their pennies and their only god, nothing happens around the Temple of Jerusalem. Who cares about the mundane events of this place in Rome, in Athens or in Alexandria? Who even knows Jerusalem exists? Does the Emperor know I exist? If you don't get me transfered in Pannonia, Byzantium, or better yet Sicilia, one of the places in the Empire where history is in the making, I will die unknown.
There I am, writing about my dreams of glory and immortality, and I have to leave you. And for what? To try some harmless guy, that this idiot Caiaphas and his damn Sanhedrin are sending me. I guess he's another of their prophets, and he was gathering up quite a crowd. I was even worried for a while: all Jerusalem was over-extatic when he arrived from Galilee. But, out of all their kooks, he was the only one who didn't refuse taxes. A while ago, agents of Antipas asked him whether they should pay them—it was a trick, of course. He pointed to a coin made out in the likeness of the Emperor and said "Give back to Cesar what is to Cesar, and give back to God what belongs to God." Pretty smart, right? I wish I had rebels like this all the time.
And now, for once that I get a religious leader that doesn't urge to take arms and rise up against me, who doesn't have his followers beat up tax collectors, the fanatic priests over at the Sanhedrin get jealous of his popularity and want me to execute him. That's what our policy here is based on: when they're not fighting us, they're fighting among each other. Now that I'm writing about this, I'm getting an idea, and I'm sure you'll approve: if he's Galilean—and I'm paid to know that when they're a pain in the ass they're always Galilean—I'll send him over to Herod Antipas. He's in town nowadays. After all—and don't laugh—he is the sovereign of all Galileans, right? This guy'll keep him busy. It is the wisest policy to keep the monopoly of capital punishment—if the Jewish courts could sentence people to death, all of our collaborators would get it—but this time, I want to send the ball back into their court for this minor case, which only concerns them.
Don't forget about me, Quirinius! I'm tired of growing old in the shadow, handling unimportant questions. The idea that the history of the world is made without me, that I'm left aside of everything important that's going on, keeps me awake at night. If you ever get the chance, if you want to, if you can, please mention me to Tiberius. Let him send me anywhere. Anywhere away from here, Quirinius, where I am bored to death because nothing comes here and nothing leaves from here.
Many have pointed out the fact that I spell Pontius Pilate's name Poncius. Had they checked out the pipelink at the top of the writeup they would've realized that I'm quite aware I'm using an alternate spelling, which is the original Latin spelling, which was later deformed into Pontius in English.
kalen says re Prefect Log: 33 A.D. : It's a very popular modern misconception that Judea was a Roman "backwater". Such an idea ignores several facts, the size of the harbour and storage facilities at Ceserea being one of the strongest of them.