Jean-Philippe Fontanille


Throughout the world only twelve specimens of Pilate's coins are listed as bearing countermarks. Three of them can be found in Israel's museums (Two samples are in The Kadman Numismatic Museum, Tel-Aviv; the other sample is in the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum, Jerusalem) The other nine are in private collections. Coins from the latter sources are shown in the illustrations opposite.

The most important study ever published concerning countermarks on coins issued by prefects and procurators of Judea (there are also nine specimens known from the coinage of Valerius Gratus, the predecessor of Pilate), was written by Professor Kenneth Lönnqvist in Israel Numismatic Journal # 12 (1992-1993 ; p. 56-70)

Countermarks are a phenomenon which occurs fairly frequently in numismatics. On the other hand it is very rare to find countermarks on such small denomination coins. Of all the monetary productions of ancient Judea, only the prutot of Pilate and of his predecessor, Gratus, present countermarks.

All the countermarks represent a branch of the palm tree. Seven of these have the Greek letter "C" on the left of the branch, and pi letter on the right. Only one is accompanied by a "C" to the left of the branch; two others have a unique "U" and the remaining two coins show the countermark without any letters

According to the most credible hypothesis, the most frequent letters "C/pi letter" are an abbreviation of a Greek word which designates a cohort, (a detachment of about 1000 soldiers), and probably applies to the 22nd Roman legion, which was stationed in the region. These countermarks could have been stamped in about 36 C.E, the period when Pilate left his official post. The palm branch may have indicated the place where the cohort was stationed, where there was perhaps palm groves. Nobody knows the meaning of the letters "CU"; "U" or "C".

The countermarks were therefore stamped by detachments of the Roman legion purpose connected with military affairs. It is noticeable that the engravers took care to save the central motif, which is always clearly visible. That must have been a delicate operation to accomplish in view of the small size of both the coin and the countermark's matrix. This little detail reveals the importance attached to these coins; the countermarks add an extra dimension to objects already loaded with history. On the other hand, their scarcity is a mystery: the palm branch appears in different form; would anyone make several matrices just to mint a handful of specimens ? It seems odd, but not impossible.

Pontius Pilate Coins: Introduction | Varieties | Countermarks | Shroud of Turin | Book| Menorah Coin Project

Author's email: Jean-Philippe FONTANILLE <>

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