Shipboard off Alexandria

We are at last within sight of Alexandria, my dear Seneca, and to-morrow we land. I shall spend a week meeting my staff, interviewing applicants for jobs (shoals of Greeks, of course), receiving deputations of loyal Jews, and talking to every one who can be useful to me. Then on to Caesarea which, as you know, is my head-quarters.

Here at Alexandria I am to meet Valerius Gratus, my predecessor as Procurator of Judaea, and if anyone can tell me how to solve the riddle of getting on with the Jews, he ought to be the man. Not that I shall not get on with them; I mean to, and I believe I shall. Valerius has stood them - or they have stood him, do you say? - for over ten years, so it can be done, though no one else has done it.*

*Valerius Gratus was Procurator of Judaea from A.D. 15 to A.D. 26.

I have been lucky, by the way, in engaging two of Valerius's staff for myself. One is Marcius Rufus, his chief military officer and now mine, who has been on leave and is travelling back with me. The other, who is even more important, is his Secretary Alexander. He is a Jew, but one of those Jews that are half-Greek: Greek on the surface, and Jew at the bottom. You cannot do without them. It seems that you cannot get a real Jewish Jew to put himself at the service of a mere Roman governor, and if you could you would be little better off because he would not have the languages. And languages are needed, I assure you. There is one sort of Hebrew for their sacred writing, there is the Aramaic that they commonly talk, there is Greek for non-Jews and for all educated people, whether Jews or not, and there is Latin for the Roman Procurator and his staff if they don't choose to use Greek. Alexander speaks them all, Alexander knows everything. I am told that the only person in this part of the world who is sharper than a Greek is a Greek-educated Jew. Congratulate me, therefore, on my Alexander. I rely on him to tell me what I do not know about my province of Judaea - which is almost everything. There are two persons, you see, whom I must not at any price offend: Caesar Imperator (whom the gods preserve)* and my Jew Alexander.

*The Emperor Tiberius, who reigned A.D. 14 to A.D. 36.

Marcius, on the other hand, is a Roman of the Romans. He despises all foreigners, especially Jews. He knows how inferior they are to Romans, and he has never got over the shock of discovering that the Jews are equally satisfied that the Romans are immeasurably inferior to themselves. I was telling him that I had promised to receive the addresses of loyal Jews in Alexandria. 'Impossible!' he said. 'There aren't any.' The other day, when the sea was rough, a wave came over and struck me in the back, knocking me down. When I could get my breath, I said, 'A treacherous blow!' 'We are on our way to Judaea,' said Marcius.

Procula* is worried that we are to have only a week in Alexandria. She says that she will not have time to do the necessary shopping. My own opinion is that from that point of view a week is much too long. But it really is ridiculous that the Treasury should not make a special 'furnishing grant' or something of that kind to a man in my position. You know I shall have to keep up the palace of Herod** at Caesarea and another that he built for himself at Jerusalem and probably there's a third of the same kind at Samaria. How in the world is a poor man going to maintain these enormous places? It was all very well for Herod. He was one of the richest men in the world and Judaea was only a small part of his kingdom. Valerius will be waiting for me here with an inventory of his private 'fixtures' in these palaces and there will be a pretty bill for me to pay. Besides, he is sure to take a great many things away with him, and I shall have to replace them. So you may imagine Procula spending a happy week among what she declares are the finest shops in the Empire - much better, she says, than those of Rome.

*Claudia Procula, Pilate's wife.

**Herod the Great, whose reign was marked by the erection of palaces, temples and great public works of various descriptions.

You can see yourself how the whole affair has been mismanaged by Rome. When we decided that we must take over the government of Judaea because of the unruliness of the Jews, we should have annexed the whole country that Herod ruled from near Damascus to the Dead Sea and not have left his two sons in possession of large parts of it.* It's an unfair tax on the Procurator of Judaea , who has to keep up the state of Herod on a fraction of his income. Well, some one will have to find the money, and there's no one for it but the Jews. A Rome Procurator must not be worse housed than a semi-barbarous king like their Herod, must he? I tell Procula that if she wants rugs and tapestries, she should wait till she goes on a visit to Damascus or Antioch, but she only smiles at that; a rug in the hand is worth two in the desert to a woman any day. I say again, the Jews will have to pay. After all, it is a reasonable charge to impose on them and they can afford it. The Jews all over the world - and they are all over the world, you can't get away from them anywhere - are sending money to Jerusalem all the time.**

*When Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., the Romans allowed his territories to be divided between his sons Archelaus, Antipas and Philip, Judaea falling to Archelaus. In A.D. 6, however, they deposed Archelaus and placed Judaea in the hands of a Rome Procurator, but left the other territories still in the hands of Antipas and Philip.

** Pilate is thinking of the Temple-tribute' which all Jews sent to Jerusalem each year. The Roman Governors in the provinces resented these contributions, but the central government at Rome upheld the Jews in sending them.

You would be astonished at the sight before me as I write - a perfect forest of masts. I did not think there were so many ships afloat. No wonder the Alexandrines say their city is the greatest commercial centre in the world. The Captain has just pointed out to me a whole fleet of big ships on one side of the harbour - the fleet that carries grain to our people in Italy. The grain-traffic, he tells me, is in the hands of - whom do you think? - of course, the Jews. He also confided to me that he liked the Jews better outside Judaea than in it. I shall see. At all events I rejoice that, though I might easily have had a more important province, when I am in Judaea I shall be governor, chief tax collector and commander-in-chief all in one.

I will write again before we leave for Caesarea.

LETTERS OF PONTIUS PILATE: --back to table of contents