Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect, or governor, of Judea from 26 to 36 CE, best known for his appearance in the New Testament. He was officially responsible for condemning Jesus to crucifixion, though he "washed his hands" of the matter, passing blame onto the Jews. Little is known of him outside of his appointment in Judea, but a few legends exist.
According to biblical accounts, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish legislative body, arrested Jesus and turned him over to Pilate after questioning him, as they considered him a threat to the organized religion. According to the Synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — Pilate did not consider Jesus a political threat after conducting his own trial. However, he offered the public the choice of a prisoner to be released, either Jesus or a man named Barabbas, and they chose Barabbas. Pilate then literally washed his hands in front of the crowd, claiming that he was not responsible for Jesus' execution, though the official decision was his. Different Christian groups today are divided over the prefect's responsibility in the matter.
A contemporary Jewish historical account of Pilate, by the author Josephus, tells that he was not well liked by the Jews and that he came into conflict with them a number of times over religious issues. Though he removed Roman war standards after a Jewish protest against them, he reportedly used Temple funds to build an aqueduct and violently quashed the resulting riot. He was so unpopular as governor that he was removed from the post after ten years.
Accounts of Pilate's life before and after his post as governor are varied. There is no consensus on where he was born or the circumstances of his death, though traditions abound. He is sometimes said to have committed suicide, and other times to have been executed by the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Some stories hold that bodies of water consistently rejected his corpse.
A well-known legend tells that Tiberius fell seriously ill and asked to see Jesus, about whose miracles he had heard. Pilate stalled, fearing to give Tiberius the news that Jesus was dead. A woman named Veronica then traveled to Rome with her kerchief, which exhibited a miraculous image of Jesus after she used it to wipe his face while he carried the cross. Tiberius was healed by the presence of Veronica's kerchief, but furious at Pilate. After he returned to Rome, Tiberius condemned him to death.