Saturday, August 22, 2015

Caesarea Maritima - Israel

Caesarea Maritima, on the Mediterranean coast of Israel between Tel Aviv and Haifa, was named after the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus and built by Herod the Great between 25 and 13 BCE.  It was the largest city, seat of the Roman governor and the administrative capital of the Province of Judea during the ministry of Jesus. It was mostly a gentile, non-Jewish city.

Its seaside location was a marvelous spot during the hot Palestine summers with a nice cooling sea breeze. Even in March, when we visited, that cooling breeze was appreciated. No dummy, Herod built his own palace on a promontory that went into the ocean, to maximize that breeze. While Herod was alive, his capital was in Jerusalem. However, after he died, the administrative center of Judea was moved to Caesarea. Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea from 26 to 36 CE, which included the time of Jesus's crucifixion. During that time Pilate lived and governed from Caesarea and many of the Roman troops were stationed there. Pilate was a prefect, a low-ranking Roman governor in an area not particularly important in the empire at that time. During the Passover, the Roman governors would go to Jerusalem because the crowds and heightened feelings created increased risks of unrest. The only archaeological artifact found so far that is associated directly with Pilate was found at Caesarea in 1961. It is a partial dedicatory inscription for a temple (the missing letters are in brackets) with an English translation to the right:
[DIS AUGUSTI]S TIBERIEUM          To the Divine Augusti Tiberieum
[PO]NTIUS PILATUS                          Pontius Pilate
[PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E              prefect of Judea
[FECIT D]E[DICAVIT]                        has dedicated [this]
The original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This replica is at Caesarea near the palace. 
Connections to early Christianity

Philip the evangelist, also known as Philip the deacon, one of the seven along with Stephen who was stoned (Acts 6:3-6), and the man who baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27-39), lived in Caesarea with his four daughters and entertained the Apostle Paul there (Acts 21:8-16). He may have been the person who introduced Christianity to Caesarea.

Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian Regiment stationed at Caesarea, was the first gentile convert to Christianity. Cornelius was visited by an angel who told him to send to Joppa for a man named Peter who was staying there with Simon the tanner. Independently, Peter, a man for whom things seem to happen in threes, had three visions of a large sheet full of unclean animals that he was told to kill and eat. Just as the third vision finished, men sent by Cornelius to Joppa to seek Peter arrived and invited Peter to Caesarea. Several days later Peter arrived in Caesarea and found Cornelius at his home with a large gathering of people invited by Cornelius. Peter said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right...God sent to the people of Israel...Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all...[T[hroughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee...God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power...We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen - by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead." As Peter spoke the Holy Spirit was poured out on all present, including the gentiles and many spoke in tongues. Peter said, "Surely no one can stand in the way of [the gentiles] being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So Peter baptized Cornelius and his guests and then stayed with Cornelius a few days afterwards (Acts 10).

Paul was a familiar face in Caesarea. Shortly after his conversion, he visited Jerusalem and was about to be killed by the Hellenistic Jews, so some friends "took him down to Caesarea and sent him off [by ship] to Tarsus" to get him away from that danger. (Acts 9:30) In between his second and third missionary journeys, he "landed at Caesarea" before going to Jerusalem. (Acts 18:22) After Paul testified of his conversion to Ananias, the High Priest, and the Sanhedrin, a plot was formulated by them to have him killed. So Paul was transferred to Caesarea by a detachment of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and spearmen. In Caearea, Antonius Felix, the governor or procurator, "ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod's palace."  (Acts 23) Five days later, Ananias, a lawyer named Tertullus, and some other elders, came to Caesarea and brought charges against Paul to Felix. Felix ordered Paul to remain under guard, with some freedom, and delayed a decision, wanting to "grant a favor to the Jews" but also hoping "Paul would offer him a bribe." (Acts 24) Two years elapsed and Felix was replaced as governor by Porcius Festus. The Jewish leaders, apparently frustrated by the inaction of Felix, appeared before Festus shortly after he was appointed and again presented their charges against Paul. The Jews wanted Paul transferred to Jerusalem where they planned to ambush and kill him. Festus asked Paul if he was willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial. Paul responded, "I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried...I appeal to Caesar!"

King Agrippa II and his sister Bernice came to Caesarea to "pay their respects" to the newly appointed Festus. Agrippa was the great-grandson of Herod the Great, outranked Festus, and had the right to superintend the Temple in Jerusalem and to appoint its high priest, issues that directly impacted Festus as procurator of Judea. Agrippa was a governor in Syria and also governed neighboring territories that had been governed by his great-uncle Philip, including Caesarea Philippi, and his great-uncle Antipas, including the city of Tiberius. Interestingly, his sister Drusilla had been married to the previous procurator Felix, and Agrippa was currently having an incestuous affair with his sister Bernice. Bernice was later mistress of the Roman Titus, who conquered Jerusalem, son of Severus who became Roman Emperor and he followed his father as Emperor. Festus told Agrippa about Paul's case and Agrippa indicated interest in hearing Paul. The next day Agrippa and Bernice "came with great pomp" and entered the room with "high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city." Festus had Paul brought in and Paul rehearsed his early days as a Pharisee and his conversion to Christianity after a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. When Paul finished, Agrippa indicated to Festus his belief that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. (Acts 25 and 26) Shortly thereafter, Paul was put on a ship for Italy. (Acts 27:1-2)

In the third century (before 240) Origen wrote the Hexapla in Caesarea, a side-by-side version of the Old Testament with Hebrew and translations by other scholars.

Some Bible scholars have argued that the Nicene Creed adopted by Constantine at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 was the local creed of Caesarea brought to the council by Eusebius of Caesarea.

Eusebius of Caesarea was likely born in Caesarea about 260 to 265 and later became its bishop in about 313. He served as bishop until his death in about 339. He was an important scholar and historian. His Church History or Ecclesiastical History is the first surviving history of the Christian Church from the period of the Apostles to his own time and is very important for its use of sources that have otherwise been lost. He also wrote the Life of Constantine and was a participant at the First Council of Nicaea.

Caesarea had a theological library where many important theologians came to study, including Basil the Great and Jerome. The library was probably destroyed either by the Persians in 614 or the Saracens in 638.

History of Caesarea

The harbor at Caesarea was built between 23 and 15 BCE and it was the largest artificial harbor built in the open sea up to that time. It was called Sebaste (Greek for Augustus). The southern breakwater was 2000 feet long, jutting into the water to the west and then curving to the north in a boomerang shape. At the end of it was a large lighthouse modeled after the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. The northern breakwater jutted 800 feet into the water straight west, but stopped before reaching the end of the southern breakwater, leaving an opening for ships at the northwest corner. The breakwaters were built of special concrete imported from Italy. The concrete was mixed with volcanic ash that allowed it to harden underwater. Giant wooden forms were towed out to sea and filled with wet concrete causing the forms to sink. Once the concrete hardened the forms were removed. Buildings were built on the breakwaters, primarily for storage and other uses related to shipping. Between silting, which partially filled the harbor, the rising Mediterranean Sea, earthquakes and perhaps a tsunami, the breakwaters were eventually submerged. However, the submerged ancient breakwaters can still be seen from the air.
An artist's conception of what the breakwaters looked like in Herod's day. Photo from 
An aerial photo shows the submerged breakwater. Photo from 
Part of the harbor as it looks today. The current breakwater is part of the old southern breakwater and the building was built during the Crusader period. 
The northern part of the harbor as it looks today. 
Inland from the harbor, Herod built a temple dedicated to Roma, the god of Rome, and to Caesar Augustus.  It was built on a raised platform supported by vaults that were used for storage. The temple and other structures built by Herod were built of local kurkar stone coated by a layer of polished white stucco. Little of the temple remains today, but portions of the vaulted platform still exist.
Part of the platform for the Temples of Roma and Augustus east of the harbor.
Herod built a palace south of the harbor on a promontory that jutted into the ocean. The palace was on two levels. On the lower level was a large open-air pool, filled with fresh water, surrounded by columns on all four sides and then surrounded on three sides by the ocean. The pool opening is still visible today in the rock. This palace is probably where Paul was imprisoned for two years.
A plan of the palace photographed at the site. The pool is in the area marked with a 1. It is speculated that Paul may have been interrogated or kept in the rooms around 5 or 11. 
An artists rendering of the palace also photographed at the site. The hippodrome is to the upper right. The drawing mixes time periods as it shows the crusader tower on the reduced breakwater and the Ottoman minaret in the right background. 
A different rendering found at It shows that the promontory used to be much more prominent than it is now. It also shows the theater with a wall enclosing the bowl. 
The promontory as it looks today viewed from further south. You see the upper level of the palace, where the pillars are, and the lower level jutting into the ocean. 
The area of the upper palace viewed from the northeast. 
A close-up of some of the upper palace pillars.
The hole where the pool was located in the lower level of the palace, as viewed from the upper level. Note the mosaics being restored toward the bottom of the picture.
Mosaics on the lower level of the palace.
Rooms on the north side of the upper palace. The harbor is to the distance in the north.
A room where Paul might have been kept or questioned. Note the hippodrome seats in the background. 
Mosaic floor in the upper palace.
Mosaic floor in the upper palace.
Part of the promontory to the north of the pool area. 
Between the harbor and the palace and east of the hippodrome were villas that belonged to the governing class. One of the buildings was an archives building with seven rooms around a courtyard with mosaic floors, built around 77 CE. Inscriptions indicate it was a tax department where records were kept. Some marble pillars are evident. Marble was not imported until after 70 CE.
Remains of the villas.
Remains of the villas. The Ottomon minaret is visible to the back left. The two-level building in the background was used by later governors with storage areas below it. 
This may be part of the archives building.

Mosaic floors from the villas.

A hippodrome from the time of Herod was just east of the ocean between the harbor and palace and west of the villas. The hippodrome was very long and quite narrow and was used for chariot and horse races. On the north end were starting gates and on the south end were curves with banks of seats near the palace where the most distinguished guests watched the races. In the middle was a wall which bisected the course, called a spina. It had lap counters and other objects on it. Hippodrome is a Greek word. The Romans called it a circus.
The hippodrome viewed from the area of Herod's upper palace, looking north toward the harbor. 
The hippodrome seating with the spina in the center, seating to the back left and Herod's Palace behind it. 
A view of the hippodrome from further north, looking back toward Herod's palace to the far back right.
This view of the hippodrome from the south end shows the seating on the east side. 
South of the hippodrome was a theater with seating for 5,000 people. The seating area was supported by stone arches and supports. This was used for animal and gladiator fights. Herod Agrippa, the father of Herod Agrippa II and Bernice, mentioned above, gave a speech here that resulted in his death. In 44 CE, after Passover, Agrippa went to Caesarea for games in honor of the Emperor Claudius. At that time he reigned over Judea, Samaria, Caesarea and the area of Herod Philip's previous tetrarchy. Josephus records, "On the second day of the spectacles he put on a garment made wholly of silver...and came into the theater early in the morning. There the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays, shone out in a wonderful manner and was so resplendent as to spread awe over those that looked intently upon him...[F]latterers cried out...that he was a god." Agrippa did not rebuke them or reject their flattery. Then he looked up and "saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tiding...A severe pain arose in his belly, striking with a most violent intensity." He was "carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad...that he would certainly die soon...[W]hen he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age and in the seventh year of his reign." This event is mentioned in Acts 12:19-23, with a different twist: "Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, 'This is the voice of a god, not of a man.' Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died."
The theater with a modern power plant visible to the back right.
Closer view of the theater seating.
Infrastructure just off the theater.
A pillar grave yard to the west of the theater with the power plant in the background. Imagine how much different this site would be if these could be erected.
North of Caesarea was an aqueduct built by Herod which brought water from springs in the Carmel Mountains nearly ten miles away. The water channel was built on top of an arched bridge. Several hundred years later, as more water was needed for the growing city, the Emperor Hadrian had another aqueduct built abutting Herod's aqueduct, supported by another arched bridge. The two side-by-side aqueducts look like one.
The aqueduct.
A different side of the aqueduct. I'm not sure which side was constructed by Herod and which side was constructed by Hadrian. Note the line in the underside of the vaults showing where the two aqueducts come together. I suspect this side is the one constructed by Herod as it looks older and is wider. 
Caesarea was the last major city in Palestine to fall to the Muslims, in about 640, after a seven month siege. The Crusaders of the First Crusade captured Caesarea in 1101, had it retaken by Saladin in 1187, then recaptured it in 1191. The Mamluke ruler Baybars conquered Caesarea in 1265 and leveled it to the ground.

For this post I have borrowed liberally from Jodi Magness, The Great Courses, "The Holy Land Revealed," Lecture 20 and her book The Archaeology Of The Holy Land, chapter 8;


  1. I didn't know that so much happened on this single site. LOTS of interesting history. I really like that aerial view of the breakwater. Their engineering skills are amazing. As for Agrippa--does anyone know what the cause of death was? Maybe a ruptured appendix?

  2. I, too, am surprised at the amount of history here. I love your pictures of the harbor. This was really a beautiful place.

  3. Great writeup, thanks for sharing.