I could burst with indignation. Everything is ready for the journey to Jerusalem and this morning I have discussed with Marcius the last touches. 'Anything else that you can think of?' I inquired. I felt brisk, full of a lively expectation about Jerusalem, and almost amiable towards my Jews. 'Of course,' he said, 'we do not take the images on the standards.'* I protest that I showed no astonishment; I am learning not to be astonished in this country. Then, 'Why not?' I said. 'When we take the standards to Jerusalem,' he repeated, 'we always leave the images behind.' 'Not on this occasion, I think,' said I, 'whatever Valerius Gratus may have been weak enough to do.' He did not turn a hair. 'Every Procurator since Caesar took over the country has left the images behind,' he asserted, 'otherwise the Jews would be deeply offended.'
*The standards of the Roman soldiers frequently had fixed to them medallions bearing images of the Emperors.
I assure you, my blood boiled. 'Do you mean to tell me,' I asked, 'that when the Roman Governor makes his formal entry into the chief city of the Jews, he is to omit from the standards of his troops the images of the Imperator Tiberius Caesar, whom may the gods preserve, and of Augustus Caesar Imperator, his great predecessor?' 'I do,' he said. 'It is the accepted policy and I beg you to follow it. The Jews will not tolerate the image of any god or emperor in Jerusalem: neither statues nor medallions on the standards nor images on coins. You know yourself that although the silver coins minted in Italy that reach this country bear Caesar's image - for that cannot be avoided - the copper coins that are minted in Judaea itself have not his image on them. So, too, with the standards.' He looked me in the face. 'It is Caesar's will that their religion not be offended. They have no image of their god. In the depths of their Temple in Jerusalem is a little chamber which is inhabited by their god, but it is empty; there is nothing in it.'

'Caesar would not object,' I said, 'if I took his image into Jerusalem, and nothing happened. He would be pleased to think that I was breaking down the hostility of these Jews to him and Rome and all the outside world.'

'If there is a tumult,' Marcius said, 'and an attack on the troops in the narrow streets of Jerusalem, I cannot answer for the consequences. Would Caesar be pleased then?'

Straight talking, as you see. Alexander was there and I looked at him from time to time, but the little Jew had the good sense to keep his mouth shut. At the finish, I have had to give way. What else could I do? I cannot risk a tumult and a rising so early in my term of office, with so few troops available and the certainty that I should be condemned for failure, though if I were successful all Rome would praise my 'firmness.'

But it goes against the grain. To enter Jerusalem before the eyes of these arrogant priests and their surly people, as though we were on sufferance! It is the same everywhere. What do the Britons think when they see that we stop short at their island? What do these Jews think when they see that we choose rather to humiliate Caesar than offend them? They will take toleration for weakness and caution for timidity. And it will do no good. Evil will come of it. Mark me, we shall have our work to do over again and in the end we shall have to do it thoroughly. At present I must yield. I would offend the Jews cheerfully, but I cannot afford to cross Caesar or Sejanus.

Procula goes with me. She has long ago exhausted Caesarea; she insists that it is time she saw something truly Jewish. I tell her that at all events, when we go up without the images, she will be seeing something that is truly un-Roman.

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