Sacred Connections Scotland

Was Pontius Pilate a Scot?
Barry Dunford

Fortingall yew tree and church

Fortingall yew tree and church

Traditionally, Fortingall, a small hamlet in Perthshire, Scotland, was the royal seat of the Caledonian King, Metallanus, who lived at the time of Christ.  Caledonia was the ancient Roman name for northern Britain, now Scotland. A local oral tradition claims that Metallanus was related to Pontius Pilate who may have been an initiate – “What is Truth” [1] – conceivably a Druidic password. The fact that Pilate gave this possibly Druidic password to Jesus may suggest he knew that Jesus was also an initiate. According to Isabel Hill Elder, “The motto of the Druidic Order, ‘The Truth Against the World’, was the principle on which Druidism was based and by which it offered itself to be judged.” (Celt, Druid and Culdee). There was a local legend held in nearby Glen Lyon, which had been passed down through the ages via an oral tradition, that Pontius Pilate was born at Fortingall [2] and that he was related to King Metallanus. Curiously, one of the oldest military regiments in the British Army, the Royal Scots Guards, claim to be descended from Pontius Pilate’s personal bodyguard. 

Roman  Bridge, Glen Lyon

Roman Bridge, Glen Lyon

According to the ancient Scottish Chronicles, Metallanus was on good terms with the government of Caesar in Rome. Local tradition records a Roman camp at Fortingall and perhaps a clue as to its presence there may be found in the Latinised name of the Scottish King, Metallanus. For it is known that the mining of metal ores, such as iron, lead and copper took place in this area in past times and no doubt the Romans would have been particularly interested in accessing these metals. In nearby Glen Lyon is to be found an old bridge which traditionally has been known as the Roman Bridge.  Could Pontius Pilate have eventually come to Rome as a result of this Scottish Roman connection?

The Druid motto relating to truth is supported by the research of the Rev. George Oliver, D.D., who writes:  “In the Mythology of the British Druids, Mr. Davies has given a copious collection of the moral precepts which were derived from the druidical institution; and these precepts often produced a corresponding purity of thought, for it is confidently asserted that the bards had such a sacred regard for the truth that it is constituted the motto of their order.” (The History of Initiation, 1841)

Furthermore, a Welsh writer, Owen Morgan poses the intriguing question: “Was the Lord Jesus Christ a Druid? The Lord Jesus sought to supplant the priesthood of Aaron by the introduction into Jerusalem of another priesthood which had nothing Jewish about it. It is called in the scripture, the priesthood of Melchizedec. Melchizedec was a priest of the Most High God; was not a son of Abraham, and that patriarch, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, acknowledged the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedec over that of the tribe of Levi, which was a purely Jewish priesthood. Melchizedec, a contemporary of Abraham, not being a son of Abraham, and existing before the priesthood of Levi came practically into existence, was a Gentile, exercising the duties of a Gentile priesthood, which, unquestionably, was Druidic….Jesus is said to be a priest after the order of Melchizedec….We are thus irresistibly convinced the Lord Jesus Christ was a Druid, and a priest after a most ancient order, whose headquarters was Britain! – the ‘Isles’ of Isaiah….It is not surprising in this view the ancient Druids of Wales, and the rest of the isles, accepted Christianity readily; for they must have recognised the priesthood of Christ as being their own most ancient one.” [3]

In The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal (1909) the author, A. E. Waite, refers to, “….the apocryphal legends which represent Pilate as one who was converted ultimately, who became a bishop of the Church and sealed his testimony with martydom.” Moreover, according to an early Syriac text known as the Book of the “Cave of Treasures”, which is believed to date from the 4th century A. D., Pontius Pilate is regarded as “a wise man and a lover of the truth”. [4]  Could this be suggestive of a Druid initiate? And the non-canonical Gospel of Peter records that Joseph of Arimathea was “the friend of Pilate and of the Lord”.

Another enigma regarding a possible Pontius Pilate celtic connection relates to coins minted under the authority of Pilate in Jerusalem. These were Roman coins, with Greek words inscribed on them, and circulated in Judea during Pilate’s governorship there. These coins were unique and unlike any minted by the other Roman Governors of Judea in that the symbol of a lituus was impressed on them. The lituus is not unlike the shape of an abbot’s crozier and it was associated with augury or divination. In her book Coins of Bible Days (1955), Florence Aiken Banks remarks: “The lepton or mite of Pilate….is a particularly revealing one, for it pictures a device which played an active part in the life not only of this vacillating governor of Judea at its supremely important moment of history but also in that of his ruler and patron, the emperor Tiberius. This device is an augur’s wand. The Romans felt that interpretation of the will of their gods was a matter for careful training; accordingly they provided a college of augury where selected pupils learned to determine the portents of such phenomena as lightning flashes, flights of birds, positions of clouds and stars, the rush of the winds, the whir of insects, and even a cat’s crossing of one’s path. Graduation from this college raised a man to a level far above his fellows. Before he became governor of Judea, Pilate was an augur, and quite possibly it may have been his eminence in this field which won him the emperor’s favor, for Tiberius was an ardent believer in augury.” Interestingly, a 19th century clergyman, the Rev. Francis Thackeray says: “The reputation of the Druids, as prophets and magicians, was so high, that they were sometimes consulted even by the Roman Emperors.”[5]

Lituus symbol on Pilate's coin

Lituus symbol on Pilate’s coin

Writing about the Pontius Pilate coins, an academic historian, Alan Millard, says: “On the back was a harmless wreath with the date in it; on the front was a curling rod, something like a shepherd’s crook….This was the mark of office of the Roman augur, the expert who foretold the future….In a handful of coins issued by the Roman governors of Judea, those made under Pilate stand out from the rest. He issued the coins with a curved staff and a ladle. Both were pagan objects, contrasting with the ears of corn and palm branches on the other governor’s coins!” (Discoveries from the Time of Jesus, 1990) 

In their research work The Coins of Pontius Pilate (2001) the authors, Professor Jean-Philippe Fontanille and Sheldon Lee Gosline, relate: “In his Guide to Biblical Coins, David Hendin mentions an original hypothesis proposed by Florence Aiken Banks….The theory is that before becoming prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate followed the calling of soothsayer or seer. The Emperor Tiberius, was well known for the importance he attached to the interpretation of signs and portents (Suetonius, ‘Life of Tiberius’). Pilate obtained his position through personal connections, his wife being a grand daughter of Emperor Augustus (who died in 14 C.E.), known as both Procula and Claudia. In the Gospels (Matt 27:19) she is recorded as attempting to stop Pilate’s involvement in Jesus’ trial because of a dream.”

Commenting on the Pilate coins, these two researchers observe: “Each of his coins presents on one of their faces an object associated with divination or Roman religious rites: the ‘simpulum’ ….and the ‘lituus’….The hypothesis which seems the most probable is this: Pilate greatly wished to illustrate his coins with the simpulum, and subsequently the lituus, because there were strong links that tied him personally to these symbols.” They go on to say: “A fairly frequent symbol from the Roman religion of the time, the simpulum, was a utensil used by the priests during their religious ceremonies…. This was not the first time that the simpulum appeared on Roman coins, but it was the first time it figured alone. This fact gives an additional specificity to Pilate’s coins, not only in the context of Judaea, but also in comparison with all the other coins of the Empire. From the beginning of the first century B.C.E., under the Republic, the simpulum, accompanied by other cult objects (among them the lituus) appeared on coins. In fact, the simpulum and/or the lituus figured on about 1.5% of all Roman coins….Curiously, no simpulum is listed among the coins of Tiberius, except for those of Pontius Pilate.” 

Fontanille and Gosline further comment: “Even more than the simpulum, the lituus was a very important symbol of the Roman cults. It was carved on the frieze in the Temple of Jupiter, the thunder god in Rome. The lituus was the wooden staff, which augurs would hold in their right hands; it symbolized their authority and their pastoral vocation. It was raised toward the heavens while the priests invoked the gods and marked out the segment of the sky, which they watched for messages from the gods. Legend records that Romulus used it at the time of Rome’s foundation, in 753 B.C.E. It is interesting to note that the bishop’s crosier, used until present times, is the direct descendant of the lituus….Pilate’s coinage is exceptional in that it alone displays the lituus as the sole object illustrated on the face….80 to 90% of Roman coins showing the lituus have it pointing to the left, whilst Pilate’s lituus is oriented toward the right. If this were a matter of chance, the given percentage would be around 50%. There might then be a more profound reason, which has still to be defined.”

If Pontius Pilate had been related to the Caledonian King, Metallanus, then he would certainly have been tutored by the Druids in the King’s entourage, who would have instructed the Celtic royal family as a matter of course. Anthony Roberts notes: “In the courts of the early Scottish Kings and the Clan Chiefs there was always found the Bard or Prophet who could define the future and read the auguries for good or evil.” [6] Even Julius Caesar recorded that the British Druids were learned in philosophy, astronomy and divination. If, as has been suggested, Pontius Pilate was an adept in augury, could his possible celtic background and potential Druidic initiation be the explanation for this intriguing state of affairs, and thus the reason for the unique appearance of the lituus symbol on the Pilate coins in Judea?  Interestingly, contemporary coins depicting a lituus symbol, dating from the 1st century B.C. to the 1st century A.D., have been found in the British Isles. [7]

In his treatise Britain and the Gael (1860), William Beal writes about the Druidic augur connection: “In the old language of Britain, Drai, Draoi, and Draoithe, were the designation of a Druid or Druids, Augurs, &c., and Draoidheachd of Druidism, or the rites and worship of the Druid religion. The Druids are supposed to have had some resemblance if not relationship to the priests and diviners of Asia. The Magicians and Sorcerers whom Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar called to their aid, are spoken of in the Gaelic bible as Druids (Draoithe). This also is the name given to wise men who came to Bethlehem from the east.”

The Pilate Stone at Caesaria in Palestine

The Pilate Stone at Caesaria in Palestine

The Pilate celtic connection is possibly reinforced by the following information: “During the excavations of Caesarea on the coast of Israel a stone was unearthed inscribed with the name Pontius Pilate and the word Hiberieum. While Hibernian now refers to Ireland, could it also in those distant times have included Scotland, indicating Pilate’s birthplace was far distant from the place in which he became infamous?” (Quoted from a letter by Mr. A. F. Kennedy from Leicester, England, and reproduced in the Craigie column of the Courier and Advertiser newspaper, Dundee, Scotland, 23rd March 2000). This information could suggest a Celtic ancestry for Pontius Pilate. The first full word on the Pilate stone is usually said to be Tiberium and is presumed to relate to Tiberius, the Roman Caesar during Pilate’s time as Governor of Judea. However, Mr. Kennedy, who had visited the Pilate stone, was quite sure that the first letter was an H rather than a T. Interestingly, John Jamieson in his Historical Account of the Ancient Culdees of Iona (1811) remarks: “It has, particularly, been urged, that ancient writers were so little acquainted with the northern part of our country, or that lying beyond the Forth, that they viewed it as an island distinct from Britain; that they sometimes called it Hibernia, and its inhabitants Hiberni; and that the position given to the country is applicable to Scotland only.” 

Furthermore, an 18th century Scottish historian, James MacPherson, writes: “As a concluding argument against the Hibernian extraction of the Scots, it may not be improper to observe, that the Caledonians might be called Hibernians, their country in general Hibernia, and the western division of it Ierna or Yverdhon….If the Picts spoke the Gaelic or Caledonian language, they must certainly have called the territories of the Scots, Iar, Eire, Erin, or Ard-Iar, words, all of them, expressive of the situation of the country of the Scottish tribes, in opposition to the Pictish division of Caledonia; if they spoke the ancient British, they would have distinguished the country of the Scots by the name of Yverdhon, or, as it is pronounced, Yberon or Yveron. These names being communicated to the Romans by the Britons, or by Pictish prisoners, it was natural for them to latinize them into Ierna, Jouverna, or Hibernia.” [8] It may be of interest to note that a few miles east of Fortingall is to be found the gaelic placename Tirinie which could relate phonetically to the land (Tir) of Ierne.

A further enigmatic incident relating to Pontius Pilate has been discovered by David Ovason who writes: “When the time came for Christ to die, Pilate wrote a title to be affixed on the Cross in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. We know this as the INRI scroll, after the acrostic of the Latin version, Jesus of Nazarenus, Rex Judæorum. In the Authorized Version of the Gospel of John these words are translated as Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews….In fact, both the English and the Latin versions of the inscription are misleading. If the words of Pilate affixed to the Cross were reported accurately in the Greek Gospel of John (and there is no reason to doubt this), then the scroll did not read like this at all. In translation, the Greek should read: ‘Jesus the Nazarean, the King of the Jews’. The Greek word used for the supposed place-name Nazoraios, does not mean ‘from the place Nazareth’ at all….If the Greek word Nazòraios, which Pilate wrote upon the scroll intended for the Cross, did not mean ‘from Nazareth’, what did it mean? A more accurate translation into English would be Nazorite – ‘the one singled out’. The word implies that Pilate knew that Jesus belonged to a special religious sect. In Greek capital letters, the word reads ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΣ. The first two vowels of this word, A (alpha) and Ω (omega) are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Is it possible that the symbols of alpha and omega, which played such an important role in early Christian symbolism as ‘the beginning’ and ‘the end’, may also have referred to this Mystery-word Nazorite – a secret sect about which we know virtually nothing? Is it a veiled reference to the secret sect to which Jesus belonged, or from which he received his education before the last three years of his ministry? It has been suggested by Alfred Heidenreich (who was aware of the mistranslation of the INRI scroll) that the word Nazirite was applied to the Essenes who had settled in Judea – the same religious group, as we have seen, whose hidden libraries were recently discovered in the Dead Sea area. Whether Christ was an Essene remains speculative, but we have the authority of the gospels themselves that he was a Nazorite.” 

Ovason goes on to make an intriguing observation: “There is no satisfactory answer to the question, who was Pilate? Who was Pilate, that he could recognize the true wisdom of what he had written on the INRI scroll?….if we could read aright the words he inscribed on the scroll, then we would see that he was probably the first Roman to recognize that Jesus was indeed the Son of God…..If we study Pilate’s interaction with Christ, we realize that it is hardly surprising that Tertullian should have described Pilate as ‘already a Christian in his conscience’. Tertullian’s opinion may have been based on a reading of the Acts of Pilate, which circulated in the early 2nd century….The INRI scroll was, in a very real sense, the document intended to herald the new dispensation. This is why Pilate had it written in the three languages of the ancient world (Hebrew, Latin and Greek), to indicate that Christianity was intended for all men and women.” [9]  A revelation of the universal nature of the Christos. Moreover, the number three was central to the Druidic mythos, so much so that they have been referred to as the “men of the threes”. Writing about the Druids a 19th century Irish clergyman, the Rev. Richard Smiddy, comments on: “The number three, which was a mystical number with them, in reference to God, Time, and Eternity.” [10]

It has also been claimed that the Centurion, Longinus, who is said to have thrust a spear into the side of Christ at the crucifixion, came to Britain with Joseph of Arimathea. [11] It seems likely that Longinus would have belonged to Pilate’s personal bodyguard and, in the light of the Royal Scots Guards tradition, Longinus could well have been a Celt. Writing about the Roman legions, John Whitehead remarks: “Their distinctly non-Roman character needs to be emphasized. Of those serving in Britain, two were Celtic, and of the two Italian one was perhaps partly mixed….” [12] This is supported by Prince Hubertus zu Loewenstein who remarks: “It is historically not unlikely that Hibernians were found in the Roman army. Certain national traits never change; then as now the Hibernians were a valiant fighting people given to adventure as well as to great strength of faith.” [13]

 It would appear that there may be some grounds for giving credence to the legend linking Pontius Pilate with Caledonian Scotland.

Note references:

[1] Gospel of St. John, ch.18, v.38  [2] Marshall, William, Historic Scenes in Perthshire, 1881, p.431. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish or the History of Fortingall, 1928,  pp.38-40.  [3] Morgan, Owen, The Light of Britannia, c.1893, pp.325-7.   [4] Wallis Budge, Sir E.A., The Book of the Cave of Treasures, 1927,  p.238.  [5] Thackeray, Rev. Francis, Researches into the Ecclesiastical and Political State of Ancient Britain under the Roman Emperors, vol. I, 1843, pp.38-9.   [6] Roberts, Anthony, Atlantean Traditions in Ancient Britain, 1977, p.73. [7] Creighton, John, Coins and Power in Late Iron Age Britain, 2000, pp.210-13.  After commenting on the lituus symbol on Roman coins, Creighton says: “Let us now return to Britain. Fundamental to the process of town formation is the augur, and his delineation of space and taking the auspices with his curved staff or lituus. The staff’s precise form is open to question….Sometimes they appear as rather short, curved wands, but literary testimony describes them more as staffs and gives the impression of augurs drawing with them in the ground, suggesting slightly longer instruments. Being made of wood there is little chance of finding any in Britain, yet representations of them do come from later Iron Age coins and pottery, although they have often not been recognised as such.”.  [8] MacPherson, James, An Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland, 1771, pp.129-30. [9] Ovason, David, The Two Children: a Study of the Two Jesus Children in Literature and Art, 2001, pp.168-172.  [10] Smiddy, Rev. Richard, An Essay on the Druids, the Ancient Churches and the Round Towers of Ireland, 1871 Dublin, p.23.  [11] Heline, Corinne, Mysteries of the Holy Grail, 1977,  p.17. [12] Whitehead, John, Guardian of the Grail: A New Light on the Arthurian Legend, 1959, p.323. [13] Loewenstein, Prince Hubertus zu, The Eagle and the Cross, 1947, p.xi