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Caesarea Maritima (Greek: παράλιος Καισάρεια), called Caesarea Palaestina from 133 AD onwards,[1] was a city and harbor built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BC. Today, its ruins lie on the Mediterranean coast of Israel about halfway between the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa, on the site of Pyrgos Stratonos ("Strato" or "Straton's Tower", in Latin Turris Stratonis).[2] Caesarea Maritima as with Caesarea Philippi in the Golan Heights and Caesarea Mazaca in Anatolian Cappadocia was named to flatter the Caesar. The city was described in detail by the 1st century Roman Jewish historian Josephus (Jewish Antiquities XV.331ff; Jewish War I.408ff). The city became the seat of the Roman praefecti soon after its foundation. The emperor Vespasian raised its status to that of a colonia. After the destruction of Jerusalem, in A.D. 70, Caesarea was established as the provincial capital of Iudaea Province before the change of name to Syria Palaestina in CE 134 shortly before the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt.[3] According to historian H.H. Ben-Sasson, Caesarea was the "administrative capital" beginning in 6.[4] Caesarea remained the capital until the early 8th century, when the Umayyad caliph Suleiman transferred the seat of the government of the Jund Filastin to the newly built city of Ramla.

Remains of a stone sarcophagus found at Caesarea
Remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct
The theatre at Caesarea




Roman rule

Herod built his palace on a promontory jutting out into the sea, with a decorative pool surrounded by stoas. In 13 BC, Caesarea became the civilian and military capital of Iudaea Province (sometimes spelled Judaea), and the official residence of the Roman procurators and governors, Pontius Pilatus, praefectus and Antonius Felix. Josephus describes the harbor as being as large as the one at Piraeus, the major harbor of Athens. Remains of the principal buildings erected by Herod and the medieval town are still visible today, including the city walls, the castle and a Crusader cathedral and church.

Archaeological excavations in the 1950s and 1960s uncovered remains from many periods, in particular, a complex of Crusader fortifications and a Roman theatre. Other buildings include a temple dedicated to Caesar; a hippodrome rebuilt in the 2nd century as a more conventional theater; the Tiberieum, which has a limestone block with a dedicatory inscription [5] This is the only archaeological find with an inscription mentioning the name "Pontius Pilatus"; a double aqueduct that brought water from springs at the foot of Mount Carmel; a boundary wall; and a 200 ft (60 m) wide moat protecting the harbour to the south and west. The harbor was the largest on the eastern Mediterranean coast. Caesarea grew rapidly, becoming the largest city in Judea, with an estimated population of 125,000 over an urban area of 3.7 square kilometers.

In 66 AD, a massacre of Jews here and the desecration of the local synagogue led to the disastrous Jewish revolt.[6]

Vespasian declared it a colony and renamed it Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea.

In 70 AD, after the doomed Jewish revolt had been suppressed, games were held here to celebrate the victory of Titus. Many Jewish captives taken during the revolt were brought to Caesarea Maritima and 2500 were slaughtered in Gladiatorial games.[7]

Early Christian mentions of Caesarea in the apostolic period follow the acts of Peter who established the church there when he baptized Cornelius the Centurion (Acts, 10, 11). The Apostle Paul often sojourned there (9:30; 18:22; 21:8), and was imprisoned at Caesarea for two years before being taken to Rome (23:23, 25:1-13).

The Harbor at Caesarea

Perhaps one of the most impressive parts of ancient Caesarea was its harbor, Sebastos. At the time it was built in the 1st century BC, Sebastos Harbor ranked as the largest artificial harbor built in the open sea, enclosing around 100,000 m2[8][9]. King Herod built the two moles, or breakwaters, of the harbor between 22 and 15 BC[10], and in 10/9 BC he dedicated the city and harbor to Caesar (Sebastos is Greek for Augustus)[11]. The rapidity of the harbor’s construction is stunning considering its size and complexity. The moles were made of lime and pozzolana, a type of volcanic ash, that would set into concrete underwater. Herod imported over 24,000 m3 of pozzolana from Puteoli, Italy, in order to construct the 500 meter long southern breakwater and 275 meter long northern breakwater[12]. At a conservative estimate, a shipment of this size would have required at least 44 shiploads of 400 tons each[10]. Herod also had 12,000 m3 of kurkar quarried to make rubble and 12,000 m3 of slaked lime produced to mix with the pozzolana. However, constructing the moles was just as complicated as obtaining the materials.

In order to build the moles, architects had to devise a way to lay the wooden forms for the concrete moles underwater. One technique was to drive stakes into the ground to make a box and then fill the box with pozzolana concrete bit by bit[8]. However, this method required lots of divers to spend large amounts of time underwater hammering in the stakes and it also used a lot of the valuable pozzolana. Another technique was a double planking method used in the northern breakwater. On land, carpenters would construct a box with beams and frames on the inside and a watertight, double-planked wall on the outside. This double wall was built with a 23 cm gap between the inner and outer layer[13]. Although the box had no bottom, it was buoyant enough to float out to sea because of the watertight space between the inner and outer walls. Once it was floated into position, pozzolana was poured into the gap between the two walls and the box would sink into place on the seafloor and be staked down in the corners. The flooded inside area was then filled by divers bit by bit with pozzolana-lime mortar and kurkar rubble until it rose above sea level[13].

On the southern breakwater of Sebastos Harbor, another type of construction, called barge construction, was used. The southern side of Sebastos is much more exposed to harsh waves than the northern side, leading it to need sturdier breakwaters. Instead of using the double planked method filled with rubble, the architects constructing the southern breakwater sank barges filled with layers of pozzolana concrete and lime sand mortar. The barges were similar to boxes without lids, and they were constructed using mortise and tenon joints, the same technique used in ancient boats, to ensure they remained watertight. The barges were ballasted with 0.5 meters of pozzolana concrete and floated out to their position. Alternating layers of pozzolana based and lime based concretes were hand placed inside the barge to sink it and fill it up to the surface[13].

During its height, Sebastos Harbor was one of the most impressive harbors of its time. It had been constructed on a coast that had no natural harbors and it served as an important commercial harbor in antiquity, even rivaling Cleopatra’s harbor at Alexandria. The ancient historian Josephus was so impressed with the harbor at Caesarea he wrote, “Although the location was generally unfavorable, [Herod] contended with the difficulties so well that the solidity of the construction could not be overcome by the sea, and its beauty seemed finished off without impediment.”[14] However, while the harbor was impressive on the surface, it had some underlying problems that would soon lead to its demise. Studies of the concrete cores of the moles at Caesarea have shown that the concrete is much weaker than similar pozzolana hydraulic concrete used in various ancient Italian ports. For unknown reasons, the pozzolana mortar did not adhere as well to the kurkar rubble as it did to other rubble types used in Italian harbors[12]. Small but numerous holes in some of the cores also indicate that the lime used was of poor quality and was stripped out of the mixture by strong waves before it could set[12]. Also, large lumps of lime were found in all five of the cores studied at Caesarea, which shows that the pozzolana-lime mixture was not mixed thoroughly, perhaps due to the incredibly rapid construction of the harbor[12]. These structural deficits probably would not have seriously affected the harbor’s stability, except for one other detail – the harbor had been constructed over a geological fault line that runs along the coast of Israel. Seismic action gradually took its toll on the breakwaters, causing them to tilt down and settle into the seabed[14]. Also, studies of seabed deposits at Caesarea have shown that a tsunami struck the area sometime between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD[15]. Although it is unknown if this tsunami simply damaged or completely destroyed the harbor, it is known that by the sixth century AD the harbor was unusable and today the moles rest over 5 meters underwater[16].

Christian hub

After the revolt of Simon bar Kokhba, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and expulsion of Jews, Caesarea became the center of Early Christianity in Palestine.

Specifically, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia[17], the Jewish Bishops of Jerusalem, "the first Christian church"[18], were succeeded, after the Bar Kokhba revolt, by the gentile Bishops of Aelia Capitolina who were "suffragans" (subordinates) of the Metropolitan bishop of Caesarea. While the Apostolic Constitutions (7.46) state that the first bishop of Caesarea was Zacchaeus the Publican, there is no contemporary record of a bishop at Caesarea until the end of the 2nd century, when a council was held there to regulate the celebration of Easter. In the 3rd century Origen wrote his Hexapla and other exegetic and theological works while living there. Eusebius was one of its archbishops (315 - 318).

The main church, a martyrion (martyr's shrine) to an as yet unknown saint, was built in the 6th century and sited directly upon the podium that had supported the Roman temple, as was a widespread Christian practice. Throughout the Empire, prominently-sited pagan temples were rarely left unconsecrated to the new rites: in time the Martyrion's site was re-occupied, this time by a mosque. The Martyrion was an octagon, richly re-paved and surrounded by small radiating enclosures. Archaeologists have recovered some foliate capitals that included representations of the Cross.

Through Origen and especially the scholarly presbyter Pamphilus of Caesarea, an avid collector of books of Scripture, the theological school of Caesarea won a reputation for having the most extensive ecclesiastical library of the time, containing more than 30,000 manuscripts: Gregory Nazianzus, Basil the Great, Jerome and others came to study there. The Caesarean text-type is recognized by scholars as one of the earliest New Testament types.

An elaborate government structure contained a basilica with an apse, where magistrates would have sat, for the structure was used as a hall of justice, as fragments of inscriptions detailing the fees that court clerks might claim attest.

An unusually well-preserved, sixth century, mosaic gold and colored glass table patterned with crosses and rosettes and found in 2005 [1] can be seen at [2]

Muslim rule

Fishing Boats

In 638 the city, capital of Byzantine Palestine and an important commercial and maritime center, was conquered by the Muslims, allegedly through the betrayal of a certain Yusef, who conducted a party of troops of Muawiyah through a "secret tunnel", perhaps the extensive Byzantine sewers, into the city.[19] The Persian historian al-Baladhuri, who offers the earliest Muslim account, merely states that the city was "reduced".[20] The seventh-century Coptic bishop John of Nikiû, mentions "the horrors committed in the city of Caesarea in Palestine".[21] In one or the other upheaval the great library was destroyed.

Crusader city

The walls remained, but within them the population dwindled and agriculture crept in among the ruins. When Baldwin I took the city in 1101/2, during the First Crusade, it was still very rich, nevertheless. A legend grew up that in this city was discovered the Holy Grail around which so much lore accrued in the next two centuries.

Perhaps the Holy Grail was recovered more than once, for the Genoese found a green glass goblet that they identified as the Chalice and expatriated to Genoa, where it was placed in the church of San Lorenzo.

The city was strongly refortified and rebuilt by the Crusaders. A lordship was created there, as was one of the four archbishoprics in the kingdom (see Archbishop of Caesarea).

A list of thirty-six Latin bishops, from 1101 to 1496 has been reassembled by 19th century papal historians; the most famous of these is probably Heraclius. After that the Latin "Bishop of Caesarea" became an empty title.

Saladin retook the city in 1187; it was recaptured by the Crusaders in 1191, and finally lost by them in 1265 this time to the Mamluks, who ensured that there would be no more battling over the site— where the harbor has silted in anyway— by razing the fortifications - in line with their practice in other formerly-Crusader coastal cities.

Modern times

The Mosque of Caesarea Maritima, now a shop

Caesarea lay in ruins until its resettlement by Circassian and Bosnian refugees as Kaisariyeh in the 1870s and 1880s. Their descendants were expelled during the 1948 War. In the 1950s and 60s, modern archaeology uncovered details of Crusader ramparts and the theater of the Roman city. More recent work has filled out the picture [22].

Caesarea has recently become the site of what bills itself as the world's first underwater museum, where 36 points of interest on four marked underwater trails through the ancient harbor can be explored by divers equipped with waterproof maps.


See also


  1. ^ Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae (ed. B. Niese)
  2. ^ Avner Raban and Kenneth G. Holum (1996) Caesarea Maritima: a retrospective after two millenia BRILL, ISBN 9004103783 p 54
  3. ^ Shimon Applebaum (1989) Judaea in Hellenistic and Roman Times: Historical and Archaeological Essays Brill Archive, ISBN 9004088210 p 123
  4. ^ A History of the Jewish People, H.H. Ben-Sasson editor, 1976, page 247: "When Judea was converted into a Roman province [in 6 CE, page 246], Jerusalem ceased to be the administrative capital of the country. The Romans moved the governmental residence and military headquarters to Caesarea. The centre of government was thus removed from Jerusalem, and the administration became increasingly based on inhabitants of the hellenistic cities (Sebaste, Caesarea and others)."
  5. ^ Pilate Inscription
  6. ^ accessed September 17, 2007
  7. ^ Kasher, Aryeh (1990) Jews and Hellenistic Cities in Eretz-Israel: Relations of the Jews in Eretz-Israel with the Hellenistic Cities During the Second Temple Period (332 BCE-70CE) Mohr Siebeck, ISBN 3161452410, p 311
  8. ^ a b Hohfelder, R. 2007. “Constructing the Harbour of Caesarea Palaestina, Israel: New Evidence from ROMACONS Field Campaign of October 2005.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 36:409-415
  9. ^ Votruba, G. 2007. “Imported Building Materials of Sebastos Harbour, Israel.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 36:325-335.
  10. ^ a b Votruba, G., 2007, Imported building materials of Sebastos Harbour, Israel, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 36: 325-335.
  11. ^ Raban, A., 1992. Sebastos: the royal harbour at Caesarea Maritima - a short-lived giant, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 21: 111-124.
  12. ^ a b c d Hohfelder, R. 2007. “Constructing the Harbour of Caesarea Palaestina, Israel: New Evidence from ROMACONS Field Campaign of October 2005.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 36:409-415.
  13. ^ a b c Brandon, C., 1996, Cements, Concrete, and Settling Barges at Sebastos: Comparisons with Other Roman Harbor Examples and the Descriptions of Vitruvius, Caesarea Maritima: A Retrospective after Two Millenia, 25-40.
  14. ^ a b Holum, K. 1988. King Herod’s Dream: Caesarea on the Sea. New York: Norton.
  15. ^ Reinhardt, E., Goodman, B., Boyce, J., Lopez, G., Hengstum, P., Rink, W., Mart, Y., Raban, A. 2006. “The Tsunami of 13 December A.D. 115 and the Destruction of Herod the Great’s Harbor at Caesarea Maritima, Israel.” Geology 34:1061-1064.
  16. ^ Raban, A., 1992, Sebastos: the royal harbour at Caesarea Maritima - a short-lived giant, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 21: 111-124
  17. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Jerusalem (A.D. 71-1099): "As the rank of the various sees among themselves was gradually arranged according to the divisions of the empire, Caesarea became the metropolitan see; the Bishop of Ælia [Jerusalem as renamed by Hadrian] was merely one of its suffragans. The bishops from the siege under Hadrian (135) to Constantine (312) were:"
  18. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Jerusalem (A.D. 71-1099): "During the first Christian centuries the church at this place was the centre of Christianity in Jerusalem, "Holy and glorious Sion, mother of all churches" (Intercession in "St. James' Liturgy", ed. Brightman, p. 54). Certainly no spot in Christendom can be more venerable than the place of the Last Supper, which became the first Christian church."
  19. ^ Eric M. Meyers, Galilee Through the Centuries, ch. "The Fall of Caesarea Maritima", 1999:380ff.
  20. ^ The archaeological stratum representing the destruction is analyzed in the PhD dissertation of Cherie Joyce Lentzen, The Byzantine/Islamic Occupation of Caesarea Maritima as Evidenced Through the Pottery (Drew University 1983), noted by Meyer 1999:381 note 23.
  21. ^ Quoted in Meyers 1999:381.
  22. ^ Caesarea

External links

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

Coordinates: 32°30′00″N 34°53′59″E / 32.5°N 34.89972°E / 32.5; 34.89972


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