An ancient copper jewellery may have belonged to Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate, say archaeologists after it was ignored for 50 years.
Scientists say a simple 2,000-year-old ring that was discovered 50 years ago near Bethlehem could have been worn by the man who crucified Jesus.
The ring, which is made from copper-alloy, bears the inscription ‘of Pilatus’ which experts believe refers to the infamous Pontius Pilate.
The intriguing artefact was one of many found in Herod’s burial tomb but only now have archaeologists spotted the curious inscription.
The stamping ring was found in 1969 by Professor Gideon Forster from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the fortress built by Hing Herod.
The palace was built between 23 and 15BC after Herod defeated the Parthians.
He decided to build a town and palace on the site 10 miles (16km) south of Jerusalem to celebrate his victory.
Roman officials ruling over Judea at the time would have been buried there.
The ring was one of thousands of artefacts found there in the 1960s and it was only recently cleaned and examined, revealing the inscription for the first time.
The words ‘of Pilatus’ were surrounded by a picture of a wine vessel.
‘I don’t know of any other Pilatus from the period and the ring shows he was a person of stature and wealth,’ Professor Danny Schwartz told Haaretz.
The name was a rare one at the time.
Pilate was the Roman governor serving under Emperor Tiberius between 26CE and 36CE.
He was known as an aggressive, tactless martinet, loathed in Jerusalem for his venality, violence, theft, assaults, abuse, endless executions and savage ferocity.
Guarded by his troops and watched by a tense crowd, he tried Jesus alongside two so-called thieves (probably rebels) and Barabbas.
The ring also belonged to someone who had status within the Roman cavalry, according to the paper published in the Israel Exploration Journal.
It would have been used to seal letters and stamp official documents.
A stamping ring would have been used by the governor for day-to-day work or by officials on his behalf.
Herodium is a hilltop fortress situated in the Herodyon National Park.
Between 23 and 15BC, King Herod the Great constructed a fortress, palace and small town on the cone-shaped mound, and was later buried there.
Herod was born around 73BC and was governor of Galilee until 40BC.
The Parthian Empire then conquered Judea, which was under Roman control at the time, and Herod fled to Jerusalem.
He sought refuge in Petra, where his mother was said to have been originally from, and was later appointed King of the Jews by the Roman senate.
With Roman support, he took back the kingdom three years later, and began building the fortress a decade after that.
Archaeologists believe the palace was built by slaves and contractors and consisted of four towers – believed to have been where Herod lived – as well as frescoes, an aqueduct, elaborate mosaic floors and corridors connected by archways.
The site is the highest peak in the Judean desert, stretching 2,450ft (758 metres) above sea level.
According to biblical accounts, when news of Jesus’ arrival reached the king, he was said to have felt threatened and ordered all newborn babies in Bethlehem to be killed.
The Bible portrays him as a tyrant that would stop at nothing to keep his throne.
In Matthew 2:16, the gospel wrote: ‘When he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.’
There were even accounts that the king killed three of his own sons, out of fear of losing his crown. However, few other historical accounts of this massacre have been reported.
Herod died in Jericho in spring 4 BC of an illness dubbed ‘Herod’s Evil’, which is thought to have been a combination of cirrhosis of the liver, hypertension, and diabetes.
His body was buried in a tomb on the site of the fortress, which archaeologists claimed to have uncovered in 2007.
However, last year, experts ruled this location out because the tomb was too small for a ruler known for his decadence and love of ambitious, large scale architectural projects.
Experts at the time also said the said the building where the tomb was said to have been found has an awkward layout with two staircases above the tomb, and is not symmetrically aligned with the rest of the complex, which would have been a design faux pas not fit for a king.
They also believe that the ruler, known for his expensive taste, would not have settled for a coffin made of local stones.