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Mary and Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic at the Chora Church, Constantinople 1315–20.

Publius Sulpicius Quirinius (c. 51 BC – AD 21), also translated as Cyrenius,[1] was a Roman aristocrat. After the banishment of the ethnarch Herod Archelaus from the tetrarchy of Judea in AD 6, Quirinius was appointed legate governor of Syria, to which the province of Judaea had been added for the purpose of a census.[2]


Born into an undistinguished family, son of Publius Sulpicius Quirinus and paternal grandson of Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, from Gens Sulpicia, in the neighbourhood of Lanuvium, a Latin town near Rome, Quirinius followed the normal pathway of service for an ambitious young man of his social class. According to the Roman historian Florus, Quirinius defeated the Marmaridae, a tribe of desert raiders from Cyrenaica, possibly while governor of Crete and Cyrene around 14 BC, but nonetheless declined the honorific name "Marmaricus".[3] In 12 BC he was named consul, a sign that he enjoyed the favour of Augustus.

From 12 to 1 BC, he led a campaign against the Homanades (Homonadenses), a tribe based in the mountainous region of Galatia and Cilicia, around 5–3 BC, probably as legate of Galatia. He won the campaign by reducing their strongholds and starving out the defenders.[4] For this victory, he was awarded a triumph and elected duumvir by the colony of Antioch of Pisidia.[5]

By 1 AD, Quirinius was appointed tutor to Augustus' grandson Gaius Caesar, until the latter died from wounds suffered on campaign.[6] When Augustus' support shifted to his stepson Tiberius, Quirinius changed his allegiance to the latter. Having been married to Claudia Appia, about whom little is known, he divorced her and around 3 AD married Aemilia Lepida, daughter of Quintus Aemilius Lepidus and sister of Manius Aemilius Lepidus, who had originally been betrothed to Lucius Caesar.[7] Within a few years they were divorced: in 20 AD he accused her of claiming that he was her son's father, and later of trying to poison him during their marriage. Tacitus claims that she was popular with the public, who regarded Quirinius as carrying on a prosecution out of spite.[8]

After the banishment of the ethnarch Herod Archelaus in 6 AD, Judaea (the conglomeration of Samaria, Judea and Idumea) came under direct Roman administration, with Coponius appointed as prefect. At the same time, Quirinius was appointed Legate of Syria, with instructions to assess Judea Province for taxation purposes.[9] One of his first duties was to carry out a census as part of this order.[10]

The Jews already hated their pagan conquerors, and censuses were forbidden under Jewish law.[11] The assessment was greatly resented by the Jews, and open revolt was prevented only by the efforts of the high priest Joazar.[12] Despite efforts to prevent revolt, the census did trigger the revolt of Judas of Galilee and the formation of the party of the Zealots, according to Josephus[13] and of which Luke speaks in the Acts of the Apostles.[14]

There is a reference to Quirinius in the Gospel of Luke chapter 2, which – in certain translations – links the birth of Jesus to the time of the Census of Quirinius, although this contradicts the time of Jesus' birth given in the Gospel of Matthew, that is, ten years earlier, under the reign of Herod the Great, who died in the year 4 BC.[15]

Quirinius served as governor of Syria with authority over Judaea until 12 AD, when he returned to Rome as a close associate of Tiberius. Nine years later he died and was given a public funeral.


The earliest known mention of his name is in an inscription from 12 BC discovered in Antioch Pisidia known as Res Gestae Divi Augusti ('The Deeds of the Divine Augustus'), which states: "A great crowd of people came together from all over Italy to my election, ... when Publius Sulpicius (Quirinius) and Gaius Valgius were consuls."[16] Two other inscriptions also found in Pisidian Antioch (Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 9502–9503) mentioned Quirinius as a Duumvir, when Marcus Servilius was a Roman consul in 3 AD.[17]

The discovery of coins issued by Quirinius as governor of Syria, bearing the date "the 36th year of Caesar [Augustus]" (5/6 AD counted from the Battle of Actium) confirmed his position there.[18] The census that he conducted in Syria has been confirmed by an inscription[19] purchased in Beirut in 1674 and brought to Venice, commemorating a Roman officer who had served under him stating among other achievements: "By order of the same Quirinius I took a census of the city of Apamea".[18]

Historical accounts[edit]

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in his Annals Book III that when Quirinius died in 21 AD, Tiberius Caesar "requested that the Senate pay tribute...with a public funeral", and described him as a "tireless soldier, who had by his faithful services become consul during the reign of Augustus, ... [and] later was appointed to be an adviser to Caius Caesar in the government of Armenia..."[20] The Jewish historian Josephus wrote in more detail about the census of Judea around 6 AD that Quirinius undertook as the governor of Syria.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ King James Version of Luke 2:2, a back-transliteration of the Greek Κυρήνιος.
  2. ^ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 1: "Cyrenius came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance ..."
  3. ^ Erich S. Gruen, "The Expansion of the Empire under Augustus" in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume X: The Augustan Empire, 43 BC – AD 69, (Cambridge University Press, 1996) page 168.
  4. ^ Erich S. Gruen, "The Expansion of the Empire under Augustus" in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume X: The Augustan Empire, 43 BC – AD 69, (Cambridge University Press, 1996) pages 153–154; see also Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution, (Oxford University Press, 1939, reissued 2002), page 399. Justin K. Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, (Mohr Siebeck, 2008) page 56, suggests that it is uncertain whether Quirinius actually served as legate; he may have served only as a military general.
  5. ^ Justin K. Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, (Mohr Siebeck, 2008) page 56.
  6. ^ Livius.org: "P. Sulpicius Quirinius"
  7. ^ Robin Seager, Tiberius (Blackwell Publishing, 2005), page 129.
  8. ^ Francesca Santoro L'Hoir, Tragedy, Rhetoric, and the Historiography of Tacitus' Annales (University of Michigan Press, 2006), page 177.
  9. ^ Hayes, John Haralson; Mandell, Sara R. (1998). "Chapter 3: The Herodian Period.". The Jewish people in classical antiquity: from Alexander to Bar Kochba. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 153–154. ISBN 978-0-664-25727-9. Retrieved June 13, 2010. Thus in 6 or 7 AD, Augustus commissioned the newly appointed Legate of Syria, Quirinius, to carry out the census
  10. ^ Erich S. Gruen, "The Expansion of the Empire under Augustus" in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume X: The Augustan Empire, 43 BC – AD 69, (Cambridge University Press, 1996) pages 157
  11. ^ Golinkin, David (December 2008). "Does Jewish Law Permit Taking a Census?". The Schechter Institutes. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  12. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: QUIRINIUS, P. SULPICIUS: "The assessment caused great dissatisfaction among the Jews (ib.), and open revolt was prevented only by the efforts of the high priest Joazar (ib. 2, § 1). The levying of this assessment resulted, moreover, in the revolt of Judas the Galilean and in the formation of the party of the Zealots (Josephus, "B. J." vii. 8, § 1; Lucas, in Acts v. 37). Josephus mentions the assessment in another passage also ("Ant." xx. 5, § 2)."
  13. ^ H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-674-39731-2, page 274: "Josephus connects the beginnings of the extremist movement [called the Zealots by Josephus] with the census held under the supervision of Quirinius, the legate of Syria, soon after Judea had been converted into a Roman province (6 AD)."
  14. ^ Ac 5,37
  15. ^ Brown 1977, p. 17.
  16. ^ Argubright 2013, p. 6.
  17. ^ Argubright 2013, pp. 8–9.
  18. ^ a b Novak, Ralph Martin (2001). Christianity and the Roman Empire: Background Texts. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 291. ISBN 978-0567018403.
  19. ^ CIL III, 6687 = ILS 2683
  20. ^ Argubright, John (2013). Bible Believer's Archaeology - Volume 2: The Search for Truth. Bible Believer's Archaeology. Vol. 2. John Argubright. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0979214813.
  21. ^ Argubright 2013, p. 7.


  • Brown, R.E. (1977). The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. Doubleday & Company.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Consul of the Roman Empire
12 BC
with Marcus Valerius Messalla Appianus
Succeeded byas Suffect consul