In 1961, the Italian archaeological mission found a curious limestone block while excavating the Herodian theater in the southern part of ancient Caesarea. Measuring 32 by 27 inches, it was embedded in a staircase. To everyone’s surprise, the stone bore a neatly engraved four-line inscription containing the name of Pontius Pilate and his title as the prefect of Judea.
Because the inscription seems to dedicate the Tiberieum—apparently a building in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberius—it is likely a dedication plaque, which would have been installed prominently on the building. So even though we don’t know where this Tiberieum stood or what exactly it was, we are confident that the stone block came from it.
But how did it become a step, and how do we explain its peculiar damage? By the fourth century C.E., when the Pilate Stone was re-used, the Herodian theater no longer was a theater for dramatic performances but had been remodeled for nautical games. The wearing of the stone on the left side is apparently a result of its secondary use as a step in that later arena. And the semicircular indentation on the right? We can assume that this reworking is intentional and must predate the terminal use in the theater. If functional, the indentation may suggest that the stone was used as part of the covering of a well—its secondary use. This would make the final position in the theater not secondary but tertiary! But history did not stop there: Sometime in the sixth century, the theater was consumed by a massive Byzantine fortress that concealed the staircase.
We can attribute the Pilate Stone’s survival to its consecutive use. Recycled in a later building that had been buried under another structure, it escaped the fate of many other artifacts that perish from being exposed to the elements and human action. The Pilate Stone might well be the only identifiable relic of the original Tiberieum—wherever that might have stood and whatever that might have been.