Praetorium

PRAETORIUM (prē-tō'rĭ-ŭm). Sometimes spelled Pretorium, the Latin term for the Greek praitōrion, which among the Romans could refer to a number of things. Originally it meant the general’s tent in the camp of an army station. Sometimes it referred to the military headquarters in Rome itself or in the provincial capitals. It also meant the staff of men in such an establishment or even the session of a planning council. In the Gospels (Matt.27.27; Mark.15.16; John.18.28, John.18.33) it refers to the temporary palace or headquarters (“judgment hall”) of the Roman governor or procurator while he was in Jerusalem, which was actually Herod’s palace adjacent to the temple (cf. Acts.23.35). It was the scene of the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. No doubt the debated reference in Phil.1.13 (cf. Phil.4.22, “Caesar’s household”) means the headquarters of the emperor’s bodyguard, which modern research has shown could have been either in Rome or in some of the provincial capitals.


PRAETORIUM prē tōr’ ĭ əm. The word also is spelled “pretorium,” and is transliterated into Gr. as πραιτώριον, G4550. The word denoted originally the general’s tent or military headquarters, reflecting the original meaning of the word praetor, e.g., fit concursus in praetorium, “a crowd gathers at the general’s headquarters” (Caesar, De bello civili, 76). In the layout of a Rom. military camp, the via praetoria was the road that ran from the praetorium to the gate that faced the presumed enemy, on the flank opposite the porta decumana. The praetorium in a permanent camp (e.g., at Borovicium, or Housesteads, on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland), the headquarters building, like the rest of the cantonment, was in stone, and a residence of some consequence. The term thus found ready extension in Rom. usage to the residence of a provincial governor, e.g., imperat suis ut id in praetorium involutum quam occultissime deferrent, “he bids his men bring it to his official residence under cover as quickly as possible” (Cicero, In Verrem, 2, 4, 28). In the NT, the word signified the governor’s official residence in Jerusalem or part of it. There are six references which RSV (with Moffatt) trs., noncommittally, “praetorium” in all instances. This bypasses the difficulty involved. Does the word refer to the procurator’s headquarters (Herod’s palace, placed at the governor’s disposal? Or the Tower of Antonia, contiguous to the outer Court of the Temple?), or some special residence (John 18:28, 33; 19:9), or “barracks” (Matt 27:27)? In Acts 23:35 the word undoubtedly refers to Herod’s palace at Caesarea. It is not clear whether this palace in the garrison town was properly called a praetorium because of the fact, implied in the context, that it was at the disposal of the procurator of Judea, or because the word was already acquiring the meaning of “royal abode,” which is evident in the Lat. of both the Augustan and Silver Lat. periods. (See Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary, s.v., p. 1436.) “Sedet ad praetoria regis,” writes Juvenal in his famous Tenth Satire (The Vanity of Human Wishes), picturing Hannibal in exile, “sitting a suppliant at the royal palace.” Hence, too, in the Fourth Georgic, of the cell of the queen bee, poetically pictured by Virgil.

A controversial passage remains (Phil 1:13), “in the whole praetorium.” The most probable meaning is, perhaps, the praetorian corps (see Praetorian). The usage is attested in Lat. (e.g., Lewis and Short, s.v., where two or three Silver Lat. instances are quoted: e.g., Tac. Hist. 4.26, in praeatorium accepti “received into the praetorians’ corps” [Pliny 7.20.19], meruit in praetoria Augusti centurio, “he served as a centurion in Augustus’ praetorian guard”). Alternative possibilities are listed by H. A. A. Kennedy in his commentary on the Philippian epistle (EGT, III, 423, 424): (1) the praetorians’ camp. Such a camp existed, built by Seianus near the Viminal Gate (Tac. Ann. 4.2), but no context survives where it is called the Praetorium; (2) the palace of Nero, a use paralleled above (Juvenal 10.61 and according to Lewis and Short, listing the Vulgate, Acts 23:35). This interpretation, as Kennedy remarks, cannot be easily dismissed; (3) the judicial authorities. Both Theodore Mommsen and W. M. Ramsay favor this. (See W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, p. 357ff.) There would be two prefects of the Guard and their assessors. The suggestion may be true, but the word “whole” casts some doubt upon it and favors the other meanings.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

praitorion, Mt 27:27 (the King James Version "common hall"); Mr 15:16; Joh 18:28,33; 19:9 (in all margins "palace," and in the last three the King James Version "judgment hall"); Ac 23:35, (Herod’s) "palace," margin "Praetorium," the King James Version "judgment hall"; Php 1:13, "praetorian guard" (margin "Greek `in the whole Pretorium,’ " the King James Version "palace," margin "Caesar’s court"):

1. Governor’s Official Residence:

The Pretorium was originally the headquarters of a Roman camp, but in the provinces the name became attached to the governor’s official residence. In order to provide residences for their provincial governors, the Romans were accustomed to seize and appropriate the palaces which were formerly the homes of the princes or kings in conquered countries. Such a residence might sometimes be in a royal palace, as was probably the case in Caesarea, where the procurator used Herod’s palace (Ac 23:35).

2. In Gospels Herod’s Palace:

The Pretorium where Jesus was brought to trial has been traditionally located in the neighborhood of the present Turkish barracks where once stood the Antonia and where was stationed a large garrison (compare Ac 21:32-35), but the statements of Josephus make it almost certain that the headquarters of the procurator were at Herod’s palace. This was a building whose magnificence Josephus can hardly sufficiently appraise (Wars, I, xxi, 1; V, iv, 4). It was in this palace that "Florus, the procurator took up his quarters, and having placed his tribunal in front of it, held his sessions and the chief priests, influential persons and notables of the city appeared before the tribunal" (Wars II, xiv, 8). Later on, "Florus .... brought such as were with him out of the king’s palace, and would have compelled them to get as far as the citadel (Antonia); but his attempt failed" (II, xv, 5). The word translated "palace" here is aule, the same word as is translated "court" in Mr 15:16, "the soldiers led him away within the court (aule), which is the Pretorium." There is no need to suppose that Herod Antipas was in the same palace (Lu 23:4 ); it is more probable he went to the palace of the Hasmoneans which lay lower down on the eastern slope of this southwest hill, where at a later time Josephus expressly states that Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice were living (Wars, II, xvi, 3).

The palace of Herod occupied the highest part of the southwest hill near the northwest angle of the ancient city, now traditionally called Zion, and the actual site of the Pretorium cannot have been far removed from the Turkish barracks near the so-called "Tower of David." It is interesting to note that the two stations of the Turkish garrison of Jerusalem today occupy the same spots as did the Roman garrison of Christ’s time. It is needless to point out how greatly this view of the situation of the Pretorium must modify the traditional claims of the "Via Dolorosa," the whole course of which depends on theory that the "Way of Sorrow" began at the Antonia, the Pretorium of late ecclesiastical tradition.

See also GABBATHA.

3. Philippians 1:13:

With regard to the expression en holo to praitorio in Php 1:13, there is now a general consensus of opinion that "Praetorium" here means, not a place, but the imperial praetorian guard, ten thousand in number, which was instituted by Augustus. Paul was allowed to reside in his private house in the custody of a praetorian soldier. As these were doubtless constantly changed, it must have become "manifest" to the whole guard that his bonds were for the sake of Christ. See also preceding article.