There are nearly thirty people in the New Testament who have been identified in archaeological inscriptions, images or writings. Each are named and described below. Some of the descriptions contain links to photographs of archaeological items which are described elsewhere on this website. There is a similar list of people in the Old Testament confirmed by archaeology.
Four different Roman emperors are named in the NT. All of these are well-known in history, from statues, coins, inscriptions and Roman historians such as Suetonius, Tacitus and Livi.
1. Augustus (31 BC - AD 14)
Jesus was born during the reign of Augustus, as recorded by Luke, "In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered" (Lk 2:1)
2. Tiberius (AD 14-37)
Luke dates the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry by the reign of Tiberius, "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius ..." (Lk 3:1)
3. Claudius (AD 41-54)
According to Luke the famine predicted by the prophet Agabus took place during the reign of Claudius, "One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius" (Acts 11:28)
It was Claudius who ordered all the Jews to leave Rome, "After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome". (Acts 18:2). This event is also recorded by the Roman historian Suetonius, "Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city". (Suetonius: Lives of the Twelve Caesars - Claudius 25). It is most likely that Chrestus refers to Christ.
4. Nero (AD 54-68)
Although Nero is not specifically named in the NT, Nero was the emperor that Paul appealed to during his trial before Festus in Jerusalem. "Now if I am in the wrong and have committed something for which I deserve to die, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can turn me over to them. I appeal to the emperor. (Acts 25:11). At the end of his trial before Herod Agrippa, Agrippa said, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor" (Acts 26:32). When Paul arrived in Rome, he referred to this appeal to the emperor when speaking to the Jewish leaders, "But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the
emperor - even though I had no charge to bring against my nation." (Acts 28:19).
Several members of the Herod family who ruled over the whole of Judea or parts of it under the authority of the Roman Empire played prominent roles in the New Testament. The Herod family are also well-known in history, from inscriptions, coins, and contemporary historians, particularly Josephus and Tacitus.
The NT often refers to the ruler using the generic title 'Herod', rather than identifying the
particular member of the Herod dynasty.
5. Herod I the Great (37 - 4 BC)
Herod the Great ruled over all Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus. He was remembered for
his extensive building works, including the harbour at Caesarea, and the Temple in Jerusalem.
Both Matthew uses his reign to date the birth of Jesus, "In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea ..." (Matt 2:1). Luke uses his reign to date the birth of John the Baptist, "In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah." (Lk 1:5)
Matthew records the visit of the wise men to Herod, and the subsequent killing of all the first-born boys in Bethlehem, "When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men." (Matt 2:16). Although this event is not recorded in history, it is quite typical of the behaviour of Herod the Great to eliminate any perceived threat to his power.
There were several sons of Herod who became rulers over portions of Israel, Archelaus, Antipas and Philip the Tetrach.
6. Archelaus (4 BC - AD 6)
Archelaus was the oldest son of Herod the Great and was appointed Ethnarch of Judea, Samaria & Idumea by the Romans, following the death of his father. Archelaus was violent and brutal, and after protests and petitions by the Jews, he was removed from power by the Romans and banished to France, after which Judea was ruled by Roman procurators, such as Pilate.
After the flight to Egypt, Joseph was warned by in a dream not to return to Judea because Archelaus was ruling there, "But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee". (Matt 2:22).
7. Antipas (4 BC - AD 39)
Antipas was another son of Herod the great, and the second husband of Herodias. He was appointed Tetrarch of Galilee, and Perea by the Romans. Luke dates the beginning of the public ministry by the rule of Antipas, "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee" (the Herod being Antipas) (Lk 3:1). When Jesus was warned that Herod was wanting to kill him, he called Antipas, 'that fox' (Lk 13:31-32).
Antipas is primarily remembered for the execution of John the Baptist. In AD 29, Antipas went to visit Rome, visiting his brother, Philip on the way. There he met Philip's wife, Herodias, and they fell in love. She agreed to marry Antipas if he divorced his wife, the daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabataeans. John the Baptist spoke out against him marrying his brother’s wife, and was imprisoned. The Gospels record the event of Salome pleasing Antipas by dancing. When rewarded with whatever she wanted, on consulting her mother, asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter (Mt 14:1-11, Mk 6:14-29).
Philip was also a son of Herod the Great. He was the uncle and first husband of Herodias (Mt 14:4), and father of Salome. He was not a ruler, and lived mostly in Rome.
Herodias was a granddaughter of Herod the Great, and niece of Philip. She was also Philip’s wife, and mother of his daughter Salome. She left Philip to marry Antipas, and ordered the execution of John the Baptist (Mt 14:1-11, Mk 6:14-29).
Salome was the daughter of Herodias, who danced for Antipas. She was the grandniece and wife of Philip the Tetrarch, who was much older then her. Her second husband was Aristobulus king of Chalcis. She is not named in the Gospels, but her dance is described by Matthew and Mark (Matt 14:1-11, Mk 6:14-29)
11. Philip the Tetrarch (4 BC - AD 34)
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis" (Lk 3:1).
12. Agrippa I (AD 37-44)
He was a grandson of Herod the Great, and brother of Herodias. He was appointed king firstly of Trachonitis, Batanea, and then eventually all of Israel.
It was Herod Agrippa who had James executed and Peter put in prison, even though he is not specifically named, "About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also". (Acts 12:1-3).
His rather gruesome death is recorded in the Book of Acts (12:20-23), and by Josephus.
13. Agrippa II (AD 50-93)
Agrippa I was the son of Son of Agrippa I. He was appointed Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, then later Galilee, Chalcis and the north. He was appointed by Festus to hear Paul’s defence (Acts 25:13 - 26:32).
14. Berenice or Bernice
Bernice was the sister and rumoured lover of Agrippa II. She attended Paul’s trial before Festus (Acts 25:13, 23, 26:30). Tacitus refers to her as Queen Bernice (Histories 2.2).
Drusilla was the sister of Herodias and Agrippa I, and wife of governor Felix, "Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus." (Acts 24:24).
16. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius (AD 6-9)
Quirinius was the governor of Syria when the census was taken around the time of the birth of Jesus, as recorded by Luke, "In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Lk 2:1-2)
Quinirius was an imperial legate, who governed Syria Cilicia after the rebellion against the rule of Archelaus, although there are difficulties in identifying the census described by Luke with any census conducted by Quirinius.
Quirinius is mentioned on the Lapis Venetus inscription on a badly damaged tombstone. It was found in Beirut, Lebanon in the 1600's and taken to Venice, and is now held in the Vatican. The inscription reads, "Quintus Aemelius Secundus, son of Quintus, of the gens Palatina, in the military field service of the Divine Augustus under Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, Legate of Caesar, in Syria".
17. Pontius Pilate (AD 26-36)
Pontius Pilate was appointed Roman prefect over Judea by the Romans. He was one of a number of prefects or procurators who ruled over Judea, when it was not ruled by members of the Herod family. Pilate had a very prominent part in the trials of Jesus, eventually condemning him to death (Matt 27:11-26, Mk 15:1-15, Lk 23:1-24, Jn 18:28-19:22).
Pilate’s rule was also used by Luke to date the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea ..." (Lk 3:1).
His activities are described in detail in writings by Josephus and Philo.
An inscription with the name Pontius Pilate was found in Caesarea. This was the first piece of archaeological evidence to name Pilate.
18. Sergius Paulus
Sergius Paulus was proconsul of Cyprus under Emperor Claudius. It is very likely that he was the proconsul who was met by Paul and Barnabas on the First Missionary Journey. "When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. But the magician Elymas ... opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith." (Acts 13:6-7).
Inscriptions with his name have been found.
19. Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus (AD 51-52)
Gallio was the son of the older Seneca, and brother of the younger Seneca, the philosopher and adviser to Emperor Nero. Gallio was appointed proconsul of Achaia in July AD 51, and left a year later because of a fever.
He dismissed the case when Paul was brought before him in Corinth, "But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal." (Acts 18:12-17). This dates Paul’s visit to Corinth to the summer of AD 51.
The name of Gallio appears on a fragment of an inscription found in Delphi. The inscription is dated to AD 52, and records a letter from the Emperor Claudius, in which Gallio is named as the proconsul.
20. Marcus Antonius Felix (AD 52-59)
Felix was Procurator of Judea. Luke describes Paul’s trial before Felix in the Book of Acts (Acts 24:1-27).
The Roman historian Tacitus described Felix in this way, "He exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave" (Tacitus History 5:9). He was recalled to Rome in AD 59 after causing great bloodshed in Caearea. He is also mentioned by Josephus (Antiquities 20.7:1-2), Suetonius (Lives of the Twelve Caesars - Claudius 28).
According to Josephus, following the departure of Felix, and before the arrival of Festus, the Jews illegally brought James, the brother of Jesus and apostle in Jerusalem, before the Sanhedrin and condemned him to death.
21. Porcius Festus (AD 59-62)
Festus replaced Felix as governor over Judea. "After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favour, Felix left Paul in prison." (Acts 24:37). He later ordered Paul to be brought before the tribunal, during which Paul appealed to the emperor (Acts 25:6-12). He is also mentioned by Josephus (Antiquities 20:8.9).
Other political figures
22. Aretas IV (9 BC - AD 40)
Aretas IV Phiopatris was the Arabian king of Nabatea, while it was subject to Rome. It later became a Roman province. His daughter married Herod Antipas, who then divorced her to marry his brother Philip's wife, Herodias. John the Baptist objected to this, was imprisoned and later executed (Mk 6:17). Aretas declared war on Antipas for this insult in AD 36, as recorded by Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.1-4).
His name appears on coins and on inscriptions at Petra, the capital city of Nabatea.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul recalled that he escaped out of Damascus from Aretas, "In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hand." (2 Cor 11:32).
23. Judas of Galilee
When the apostles were brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, cautioned about previous people who claimed to be the messiah, including Judas the Galilean, "After him (Theudas) Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered." (Acts 5:37)
Judas of Galilee led a Jewish revolt against the census by Quirinius, as described by Josephus
In the Book of Romans, Paul sends greetings to the church in Rome from Erastus, "Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you". (Rom 16:23)
Near the theatre in the ruins of Corinth is an inscription, "Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense". It is very likely that this is the same Erastus that Paul names.
Caiaphas was the high priest who instigated and presided over the trial of Jesus (Mt 26:57-68).
An elaborately carved ossuary inscribed ‘Joseph son of Caiaphas’ was discovered in Jerusalem in 1990, and is displayed in the Israel Museum.
Ananias, son of Nedebaios, was the High Priest (c. AD 47 -59), who presided over the trial of Paul, "Five days later the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and an attorney, a certain Tertullus, and they reported their case against Paul to the governor (Felix)" (Acts 24:1). Ananias the high priest is also recorded by Josephus (Antiquities 20.5.2).
27. Gamaliel the Elder
Gamaliel was a leader of the Pharisees and grandson of Hillel, who had been the tutor of Paul, as Paul recalled in his testimony before the Jews "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3). It was Gamaliel who cautioned the sanhedrin during the trial of the apostles, "But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time." (Acts 5:34).
He is named as the father of Simon by Josephus in his autobiography (Life 38).
The purpose of this page is to describe records of people in the NT in contemporary secular history, rather than in Christian writings. The majority of the apostles are mentioned in writings of the early church by the early church fathers during the post-apostolic period. Some apostles such as Peter, John and Paul are mentioned frequently and their writings in the NT often quoted.
28. Jesus Christ
The most famous reference to Jesus in historical documents is the Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus, although its authenticity is contested, "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." (Ant 18.3.3).
29. Philip the Apostle
Philip, one of the twelve apostles, later became leader of the church in Hieropolis, and was later
martyred. He should be distinguished from Philip the evangelist (Acts 6:5, 8:5)
During excavations of Hierapolis in 2011, a tomb was discovered within the ruins of a church that had recently been revealed. This is claimed to be the tomb of Philip the Apostle. The design of the tomb and the writings on the walls confirm that it belonged to Philip.