Catholic Encyclopedia - Praetorium


This name is derived from the Latin prætorium, in later Greek tò praitórion. Originally prætorium signified the general's or prætor's tent in Roman camps; then it was applied to the military council sitting there in judgment, and later to the official residence of the provincial governor, a palace or castle. In the Gospel (v. g., Matt., xxvii, 27) it denotes the building Pilate occupied at the time of Christ's Passion. There were two castles of this kind, both built by Herod. The first rose on the site of the tower of Birah, or tower of the House (II Esd., ii, 8; cf. I Mach., xiii, 53), called Baris by Josephus ("Ant. Jud.", XV, xi, 4; "Bell. Jud.", I, iii, 3). The tower of Baris stood on a rocky mass about 350 feet long and 130 feet wide, cut perpendicularly to a height of 30 feet on the south side, at a distance of a hundred yards from the north-west corner of the Temple enclosure, and to a height of 15 feet on the north, where it was separated from Mount Bezetha by a ditch nearly 200 feet wide. On this rock, now occupied by the Turkish barracks, Herod built a new fortress. Between the rock and the Temple enclosure he made two wide courts surrounded with porticoes. The castle, called Antonia in honour of Mark Antony, is described by Josephus in glowing terms (Bell. Jud., V, v, 8). Some years later, Herod built a second palace, on the northern brow of Mount Sion, at the western extremity of the town.

That Pilate resided in one of these two castles when Jesus was brought before him can scarcely be doubted; and the early tradition which locates the pretorium in the fortress of Antonia is well supported by history and archæology. During the Paschal solemnities, riots and sedition often broke out amongst the Jews in the precincts of the Temple; the Roman soldiers were therefore held under arms at the different porticoes, watching the populace, to suppress any attempted insurrection, the Temple being the watch-tower of the city, as the Antonia was of the Temple (Bell. Jud., V, v, 8). In case of sedition the Temple was accessible only from the Antonia (cf. Bell. Jud., II, xv, 5, 6; VI, i-iii). Pilate came from Cæsarea to Jerusalem solely to look after the Jews assembled around the sanctuary, and in such circumstances he would naturally have resided in the Antonia. St. John (xix, 13) tells us that the paved court, in Greek Lithostrotos, where our Lord was sentenced to death, bore the significant name of Gabbatha, in Syro-Chaldean (from Heb. gaphiphta, i. e. the raised). So interesting a place could not have been forgotten by the first Christians. In the year 340, St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminded his flock, as a well-known fact, that the house of Caiphas and the pretorium of Pilate had remained "unto that day a heap of ruins by the might of Him who hung upon the Cross" (Catech., xiii, xxxviii, xxxix). Now, the western palace of Herod was spared by Titus, and served as a citadel to the legion left to garrison the Upper City (Bell. Jud., VII, i, 1). During the rebellion of the Jews under Bar-Cocheba, Julius Severus took it by assault; but Hadrian rebuilt it and made of it the citadel of Ælia Capitolina (Eutychius of Alex., "Annales"). Whereas the Antonia was utterly destroyed by Titus (Bell. Jud., VI, ii, 7), and history tells of no building raised upon its ruins before the fifth century.

In 333 the Bordeaux pilgrim mentions Golgotha as being on his left as he was walking from Mount Sion towards the northern Gate: "On the right", he says, "we perceive, down in the valley, walls where once stood the house of pretorium of Pilate. There the Lord was judged before His Passion." The Brevarius of Jerusalem (c. 436) mentions in the pretorium "a great basilica called St. Sophia, with a chapel, cubiculum, where our Lord was stripped of his garments and scourged". Peter the Iberian (c. 454) went down from Golgotha "to the basilica named after Pilate", and thence to that of the Paralytic, and then to Gethsemane. The local tradition remained constant, showing at all times up to the present day the pretorium of Pilate to have been in the Antonia.

Of this fortress there still remain three piers and two archivolts of the triple gateway, which gave access to the castle. The central arch, which crosses the street, and which from the sixteenth century only has been called Arch of the Ecce Homo, measures 20 feet. The smaller one, on the north, is enclosed in the new church of the Ecce Homo (1); the small southern arch has disappeared. The gateway extends 66 feet. To the east of the Arch of the Ecce Homo is a court paved with rectangular stone blocks, over 15 inches thick. It measures about 130 feet by 95 feet, and is bordered at the east end by foundation walls of ancient buildings. This is the outer court or the Lithostrotos. On the day of Christ's trial, the Jews could not penetrate further amongst pagan dwellings without contracting a legal defilement. On this pavement stands the chapel of the Condemnation (2), restored in the twelfth century and rebuilt in 1904. The chapel of the Flagellation (3) rises about 100 feet more to the east; it dates probably from the fifth century, but has been three times rebuilt. On the rock of Baris, the natural site of the royal palace, was the tribunal, "the inner court", called "the court of the pretorium" in the Syrian Version (Mark, xv, 16). The chapel of the Crowning with Thorns (5), built in the twelfth century, is still well preserved. The basilica of St. Sophia (6), reconstructed in the twelfth century, stood towards the east. It was transformed later into a Turkish tribunal, and finally razed to the ground in 1832, when new barracks were erected.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII

Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company

Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight