Breakwater from remains of Herod's harbor at Caesarea
(from photo by Craig Koester in Journeys of Paul)

Caesarea Maritima

Latin: "Caesar's city on the sea"

The largest city in Roman Palestine was a totally new foundation built by Herod at the site of a Greek military encampment on the Mediterranean coast of Samaria that had been previously known as Strato's Tower. Though Alexander Jannai occupied the area as early as 96 BCE, there was no Israelite settlement at the site before Herod began construction (ca. 20 BCE) of an 8000 acre seaport that rivaled Alexandria & Antioch in commercial importance. The 40 acre harbor was bigger than that at Athens. It was one of the most ambitious construction projects in Near Eastern history. 

Caesarea was designed as a model Roman city, complete with aqueducts, sewers, a forum, mosaic walkways covered with marble colonnades, a racetrack [hippodrome], an amphitheater (larger than the Coliseum in Rome) & a large temple dedicated to Augustus & Roma. It was Herod's tribute to his Roman patrons. After Herod's son Archelaus was deposed, it became the Roman capital of Judea & Samaria. A stone with a dedication by Pontius Pilate found in the theatre provides physical evidence that it was the primary base of the Roman prefects. Josephus reports that Herod's grandson Agrippa died shortly after his triumphal appearance in the theater at Caesarea. The book of Acts claims that several early Christian missionaries [Philip, Peter & Paul] visited the city in the decades after Jesus' crucifixion. Luke also reports (Acts 23-25) that Paul was held at the Praetorium [headquarters of the imperial forces] at Caesarea for several months in 60-61 CE. Five years later the Jewish revolt against Rome began at Caesarea with riots between gentiles & Jews. In the 3rd & 4th c. CE Caesarea became a major center of Christian learning due to the theologian & biblical exegete Origen & the historian Eusebius.

References: Josephus, Antiquities 15.293, 339; 16.13; 19:343-365.
                   _____, War 1.80; 2.16-17, 282-296, 457-459.
                   Acts 8:40, 10:1-11:18, 21:8-16; 23:23-35; 25:1-32.

Herod's aqueduct to bring fresh water 
from the mountains of Samaria to his port city
(from photo by Craig Koester in Journeys of Paul)

For further recent information about archaeological & historical evidence, see:

  • Rousseau, John J. & Rami Arav. Jesus & His World. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) pp. 30-33.

Other online resources:

  • Caesarea - exquisite aerial photos & videos provide a virtual tour of ruins of Herod's city [BibleWalks].

  • Combined Caesarea Expeditions - website of university consortium posts illustrated reports & learning modules pertaining to excavations since 1996.

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