Pontius Pilate was the fifth Roman governor of Judea and the man who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. According to the New Testament, he didn't really want to execute Jesus, but was pressured into ordering his death by the Jewish religious authorities and a mob of unruly spectators.
Pilate became the governor (or Prefect) of Judea in 26 AD and held the position for about ten years. Some sources say that he had previously been an officer in the Roman army and that his wife was a niece of Emperor Tiberius.
The historian Josephus describes him as an inflexible and brutal man who was quick to resort to force, and on at least two occasions ordered his soldiers to attack unarmed demonstrators. But he may have sometimes felt a need to act quickly, because Judea was a difficult province to govern, and a peaceful demonstration could easily turn into a riot or uprising.
He was probably in the third or fourth year of his rule when Jesus was brought to him. The main charge against Jesus was that he claimed to be a king, which was equivalent to rebelling against the emperor. The Jewish religious leaders wanted Pilate to order a crucifixion, since that was the standard punishment for sedition. But apparently Pilate was touched by Jesus and realized that he was innocent. So instead of immediately giving the order for the crucifixion, he tried to find a way to save him.
But the Jewish leaders, along with a mob in the courtyard, kept up the pressure. And Pilate was finally forced to yield when the Jewish leaders threatened to report him to the emperor for failing to enforce the laws against sedition. Still, although he did finally give the order for the crucifixion, he washed his hands as a symbolic gesture that he was being forced to act against his will.
In 36 AD, after reports of cruelty and oppression, Pilate was called back to Rome. A legend relates that both he and his wife eventually converted to Christianity.