Pontius Pilate, the Roman officer or ruler of Judea under whom Christ suffered. The nature of his office is not well understood. In the Greek Testament he is called , which King James's and the Rhemish versions translate " governor;" Philo Judeeus and the Greek fathers style him , Josephus both and and Tacitus procurator.
He was the sixth Roman incumbent of that office, succeeding Valerius Gratus, A. D. 25 or 26, under the reign of Tiberius, and retaining the post ten years. He moved his military headquarters and the standards bearing the image of the emperor to Jerusalem, but was forced by the rage of the people to send the standards back to Csesarea. Jesus was brought to him for punishment, having been condemned by the Jews for blasphemy; but as he would not notice a merely religious offence, they made a new charge of sedition. Pilate became satisfied that this charge was unjust, but fearing to irritate the Jews, who already had grounds of complaint against him, he tried to shift the responsibility upon Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, and afterward to induce the people to forego their purpose; and finally, washing his hands in token of his innocence of the wrong, he reluctantly ordered the crucifixion. Josephus relates several acts of injustice committed by him, and he was finally disgraced in consequence of his cruelty to the Samaritans, a number of whom he caused to be massacred for a slight disturbance excited by his oppressions. The Samaritans complained to Vitel-lius, the proconsul of Syria, who ordered Pilate to go to Rome to answer the accusation.
Tiberius was dead before his arrival, but according to Eusebius the disgraced procurator was banished to Vienne in Gaul, where he committed suicide about A. D. 38. According to a legend, he spent his last years in the recesses of the mountain by Lake Lucerne now called Mt. Pilatus, and drowned himself in the lake on its summit, where a spectral form is sometimes seen emerging from the waters and going through the motion of washing its hands. It can hardly be doubted, after the testimony of several ancient writers, that Pilate transmitted to the emperor Tiberius a report of Christ's trial and condemnation; but the extant " Acts" and " Letters" under his name are universally regarded as spurious. - See Lip-sius, Die Pilatusacten (Kiel, 1871).