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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

Historical Place: Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea Maritima was a port city built by Herod the Great in 22 BCE on the site of the Hellenistic period anchorage known as Strato’s Tower. Herod named the city and its harbor (Sebastos) in honor of Augustus Caesar, his patron. The city flourished during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Following its capture by a Muslim army led by the Arab general Muawiya in 641, the city lost much of its population and its harbors fell into disuse. By the 10th century Caesarea was again a prosperous town. The Crusaders established a principality at Caesarea in 1101. In 1251, Louis IX of France built a castle on the site. It was destroyed by Mamluks in 1291 and the site was abandoned except for occasional squatters. The site covers 235 acres and is located along Israel’s Mediterranean coast twenty-five miles north of Tel Aviv.

Caesarea Maritima has been under large-scale excavation almost continuously for fifty years by Italian, American, and Israeli archaeological teams. Most recently an international team (the Combined Caesarea Expeditions) continues excavations at this important site. The remains of the city’s harbors lie beneath the sea and have been the subject of intense underwater survey and excavation by the Caesarea Ancient Harbor Excavation Project.

General Overviews

Because excavations continue at Caesarea, no comprehensive and authoritative treatment of the city’s history and archaeology exists. Raban and Holum 1996, a collection of conference papers, however, provides the most detailed overview of current scholarship. Holum and Hohlfelder 1988 and Hohlfelder 1987 are two popularly written syntheses of the results of excavations up to the mid-1980s, and Lifshitz 1977 is a more scholarly review of Caesarea’s history.

Historical Interest

This Roman city, capital of of the province Judaea/Palaestina, has several references of interest.

· Hippodrome

· Phoenician port (Migdal Šoršon)

· Hellenistic: Sidonian outpost named "Strato's Tower" (259 BCE: mentioned in Zeno Archive)

· 103 BCE: Captured by the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus

· 63 BCE: Transferred to Syria by Pompey the Great

· 30 BCE: Given to Herod by Octavian

· 20 BCE Founded again by king Herod and named after the emperor; 45 hectares; a Graeco-Roman balance to Jewish Jerusalem

· Dams made of concrete

· 6 CE Seat of the prefect (later procurator)

· Governor's Palace

· Modern surname Maritima to distinguish this city from Caesara in Cappadocia

· Vespasian: Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta

· Severus Alexander: Metropolis Provinciae Syriae Palestinae

· Center of Christian and Jewish scholarship

· Eusebius

· Byzantine walls: 135 hectares

· 640 Captured by Arabs

The Sights

· Temple of Augustus and Roma

· Dams

· Governor's palace

· Theater

· Poorly visible amphitheater

· Hippodrome

· Aqueduct


References: Hohlfelder, Robert L. “Caesarea Maritima: Herod the Great’s City on the Sea.” National Geographic 171.2 (February 1987): 260–279. A popularly written article on the history and archaeology of Caesarea.

  • Holum, Kenneth G., and Robert L. Hohlfelder, eds. King Herod’s Dream: Caesarea on the Sea. New York: Norton, 1988. A very accessible but dated survey of the history and archaeology of Caesarea Maritima with an introduction to the archaeological methods.

  • Lifshitz, Baruch. “Césarée de Palestine: Son Histoire et ses Institutions.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Romischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, 2. Vol. 8. Edited by Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase, 490–518. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1977. A scholarly review of Caesarea’s history in an important reference work.

  • Raban, Avner, and Kenneth G. Holum, eds. Caesarea Maritima: A Retrospective After Two Millennia. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1996. An important collection of forty papers delivered at a 1995 international symposium on Caesarea Maritima, covering the city’s history, archaeology, culture, economics, and religious life with extensive notes and bibliography. A very important scholarly resource.


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