Your letter has come and I am grateful to you for it and for your offer of services. I shall venture to make use of you at once and you yourself have given me the hint. You say that things are not only quiet at Rome but too quiet for some people; that the mob grumbles as 'stingy Caesar' for not giving them largesse and games and hopes that he will treat them more generously when he comes back to Rome.* You approve of Caesar's policy, and so do I; let them go without their Games and do some honest work for a change. But I am not Caesar and I cannot afford to have my people grumbling. Therefore I must exhibit Games, and that is why I ask for your assistance.
*In this year Tiberius retired to the island of Capreae, in the Bay of Naples. He never returned to Rome.
First of all, I shall have some fighting with wild beasts. I would have liked to have the sort of contest that I saw in Alexandria - some bulls against an elephant, but elephants cost too much for Procurators. The chief display will be half a dozen lions against a dozen Idumaean prisoners armed with darts. You can see at once that it will be an affair of tactics; if they can separate the lions, but there - I know you have a mind above such things. (They have six light darts each, so the odds are on the lions.) Some other prisoners - these are criminals - will fight on horseback against the bulls. These prisoners are chosen because they cannot ride. Later, the gladiators - and here you can assist me. I want to give the people a novelty. I find that they have rarely seen a Gaul and scarcely ever a Briton. Now I design a chariot-fight between Parthians on the one side and Gauls and Britons on the other. The chariots are here - I shall have six on each side - and I am getting the Governor of Syria to send me some Parthian prisoners. There will be six to drive and six to do the fighting. Can you get me the Gauls and Britons, especially the Britons? They must be used to chariot-fighting, and I want to buy them outright, so that those who survive can be used at other Games by me or loaned to friends. I should be very willing to have none but Britons if so many are available. There is much interest here in that island, and every one is asking why Caesar does not go in and add it definitely to our possessions. We shall never be really safe in Gaul until we do so. But, I know, caution is nowadays the word.*
*Tiberius, following the maxims of Augustus, was reluctant to extend the boundaries of the Empire and the conquest of Britain was not seriously undertaken until A.D. 43, under the Emperor Claudius.
I have asked Alexander what the High Priest meant with his talk about a Jewish deliverer or Messiah, and I know that you, of all people, will want to hear his answer. Like everything in this strange country, it is a mixed question of religion and politics. Apparently the Jews are led by their sacred writings to believe that some day or other their God, who has chosen them out from all the peoples of the world (a funny notion), will re-establish them in the position which they held hundreds of years ago, when neither Romans nor Greeks had come upon them. But, says Alexander, their educated men and their rulers, like Caiaphas, are much too sensible to think that it can be done in these times of ours, and so they postpone the coming of a deliverer to the indefinite future, or even say that it applies not to this world at all but to another life succeeding this - a very sensible view to take, you will say, and so do I. But the ordinary Jew, who buys and sells or farms or fishes, sees the future differently. The more he is oppressed by barbarians, as he would say, like Greeks or Syrians, Egyptians or Romans, the more does he look forward to the coming of a deliverer, a sort of God, sent from his heaven to liberate the Jews; some of them even think that this deliverer will not only free Judaea but will conquer all the world. That is why Caiaphas spoke meaningly to me; there's never a rascal sets himself up anywhere in these parts but a horde will gather round him and believe his story that he is sent to be their King. 'What would Caiaphas and Annas make of that?' I said to Alexander. He never stirred a muscle. 'It is doubtful,' he said, 'how far the deliverer would require the services of a High Priest any more than of a Roman Governor. Annas and Caiaphas undoubtedly believe that the deliverer will come some day. They must believe no less, but they will be very slow to admit that he has actually come; the common people believe that he may come now and they may decide at any moment that he has arrived.'

Is it not a comic idea - this paltry little race, that has been overrun by half a dozen conquerors, carried into slavery, and scattered about the earth, believing that it is chosen out of all others and that its God, who has never been able to prevent its misfortunes, will send some one to overthrow Caesar and Rome? You would think that when they see we only keep 4,000 soldiers here they would know how weak and contemptible they really are, but I suspect that, though Caiaphas knows better, many of them think that those 4,000 are all that Rome has got. In any case, if you can rely on a God to perform all sorts of miracles, it does not matter how many soldiers are on the other side. I fear that some day they will require a lesson.

If you have the chance I beg you to commend me to Lucius Aelius Sejanus.* Pray tell him that I am contemplating making some new roads in this country and that I shall ask permission to call the first of them by his name. I shall write to him myself later. I had hoped to send him a present of the wine of the country, but oh, my dear friend, it is like vinegar. No wonder the Greeks here do a roaring trade in noble Chian and our warm Falernian.

*The favourite of Tiberius, who at this time was the real ruler of the Empire. Later, he was denounced by his master from his retreat in Capreae, accused of conspiracy and hurried to execution.

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