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New research finds Pontius Pilate commissioned Roman aqueduct

Gush Etzion Wells Aqueduct

jorisvo/Shutterstock | Djampa/CC BY-SA 4.0

J-P Mauro - published on 01/01/22

The findings support the writings of Roman Era historian Josephus, who recorded Pilate's orders and an altercation with the Jewish community.

A team of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been digging around Rome’s famed Aqueduct to learn more about the ancient waterway. Along with mapping out 1,200 meters of tunneling, they have made an intriguing find while carbon dating. Now, experts believe that the Roman aqueducts were ordered by the same man who washed his hands of Christ’s execution: Pontius Pilate. 

The study was published in May 2021 in Wiley Online Library. The team carbon dated plaster from the walls of the aqueduct to the mid-1st century. Construction is believed to have been prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, which took place in 70 AD. Pilate, who was Governor of the Roman Province of Judea from around 26 AD to 36 AD, could have commissioned the aqueduct during his rule. 

According to Haaretz, the timeline is supported by the writings of Jewish historian Josephus. He wrote of Pilate’s orders to begin construction of the aqueduct, for which he used funds from the Temple treasury. Josephus noted that the Jewish community was not thrilled with this move. 

The money was one thing, but water was especially important for Jewish cleansing rituals. When Josephus recorded the ire of the Judeans, he didn’t mention the requisitioned funds. Instead, he focused on the water:

“However, the Jews were not pleased with what had been done about this water; and many ten-thousands of the people got together, and made a clamor against him, and insisted that he should leave off that design,” he wrote in Antiquities of the Jews.

Following Josephus’ records, Haaretz explains that Pilate had a unique method for quelling the uproar. Expecting civil unrest over his decision, he instructed some of his men to dress in Judean garments and hide throughout the crowd. With a signal from Pilate, these men struck blows upon anyone in the crowd who shouted out against him. 

The Jewish crowd was unarmed and unprepared for these blows, which were described as “much greater” than even Pilate had commanded. Josephus’ records note a “great number” of slain individuals left on the ground, while many more injured fled the scene.

While Pilate was hardly the Governor of the people, he did show a desire to improve on the infrastructure of his holdings. In fact, the research team has stated that the aqueduct was built with “cutting-edge” engineering practices, for the time at least.

The water that traveled through the aqueduct initially came from nearby Biar Spring, but along the way it was mixed with groundwater. This bolstered the volume of water the aqueduct could provide by as much as seven times the amount Biar Spring could produce annually. 

Read more about the technology behind the Roman aqueduct at Haaretz. 

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