Herod the great constructed an amazing coastal city in 22-10BC. Previously known as Strato’s tower, after a Sidonian anchorage [from Abdashtart, the name of a Sidonian king given this land by the Persians in appreciation of Sidonian help against the Greeks] it was later named Sebastos after the greek form of Augustus. and a reference to Octavian after the unexpected victory at the battle of Actium in 31 BC, [where Herod had backed the wrong horse in Mark Antony] Herod here attempted to make amends to the new roman ruler. Caesarea martimia literall Caesar’s city on the sea.
That Herod was an amazing builder there is no doubt. This port stands alongside the pride of his fortresses at Masada, Herodium, Alexandrium, Machaerus and Hyrcania. But it was here that the building ingenuity of Herod was paramount, for before his time there was no real deep-water port on the coast of Israel. This is confirmed by the movements of Alexander between Tyre to Gaza, without stopping at another port. But to construct a port here at Caesarea had it’s challenges. To establish a foundation for the walls here in a turbulent sea was difficult, and erosion of foundations and movement of stone blocks a real challenge. [Demonstrations of its destructive powers noted again recently here at Caesarea with the amount of erosion of the aqueduct]. The answer to this was the construction of large wooden rafts which were floated to the correct location then filled with hydraulic cement. This was a first for this part of the world. The cement additive was obtained from Italy, possibly from Vesuvius. The addition to cement [traditionally just hydrated lime] of pozzolana or volcanic ash [known as a pozzolanic additive] allowed the setting of the conglomerates under water. The 100 acre port [larger than ancient Pireus] had another ingenious feature. A lower portion of the wall to the south of the port allowed larger waves to introduce addition water volume into the port which would then lead to a continuing discharge from the port entrance. This meant the port automatically underwent a natural dredging program! [Images of the port walls can be seen here: http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/archaeology/photos/herods-tomb/#/herods-caesarea-ruins_24931_600x450.jpg] Josephus wrote: “the king triumphed over nature and constructed a harbour larger than the Piraeus, including other deep roadsteads within its recesses. Notwithstanding the totally recalcitrant nature of the site, he grappled with the difficulties so successfully, that the solidity of his masonry defied the sea, while its beauty was such as if no obstacle had existed.”
Further building magnificence marked the site, [further details are provided by Josephus in Antiquities XV. 331 ff; War I, 408 ff]
- There was a building of a palace for Herod on a promontory into the harbour. Within the walls of the palace was a fresh water pool, apparently larger than an olympic pool, and a central plaza with statue.
- An aqueduct leading from springs at the foot of mount Carmel brought fresh water into the complex. The length of the aqueduct around 9km! and again this aqueduct was expanded from a single to double channel as the town grew. A segment is called the crocodilian to the north near modern Bet Hanaya.
- An amphitheatre constructed by Herod with seating of around 8000, which was expanded to around 15,000 in the first century. Padded seating was provided, and it appears that thin leather skin material provided shade.
- A hippodrome, still present on the beach
The port of Caesarea marked the influence of gentile power within the land of Israel. From 6AD it became the imperial seat of provincial Judaea. Noted as the location of the roman administration within the time of Paul when he was taken by roman company to the seat of judgment in direct opposition to the seat of Jewish determination at Jerusalem. The headquarters for the tenth legion was here. It was later that Vespasian made his headquarters here, and was announced emperor here by his troops in 69AD. Titus his son, following the destruction of Jerusalem, ordered 2,500 Jews to fight with animals at the amphitheatre here, including Rabbi Akiva a leader of the Jews, to celebrate his brother Domitian’s birthday. (It seems that Caesarea was not a good place to celebrate birthdays!)
Cornelius the centurion was converted here Acts 10 marking divine intervention into the provision of the gospel to the gentiles. It was marked by the direct gift of the holy spirit without the laying on of the apostle’s hands. A number of contrasts are made between the location of Peter at Joppa (a small Jewish harbour) and Cornelius at Caesarea within this record.
Herod was to die an untimely death here by worms in Acts 12, and immediate on his death, the presence of one of his servants is seen supporting the embarkment of Saul with Barnabas in Acts 13!
As the centre of gentile power, it was fitting therefore that Paul would declare his intentions to stand before Caesar at this point. It seems remarkable that God allowed the discovery of hydraulic cement allowing Paul to leave from here on a number of his journeys. Acts 9:30; 18:22; 21:8-16
Lengthy discussion before the judgment seat following Paul’s extradition from Jerusalem Acts 23:21-27:1.
Other interesting things to note about Caesarea include:
- The first extra-biblical reference to Pontius Pilate was found at Caesarea during excavations by an Italian team in 1959-60, and a copy of the inscription can still be seen at the site today. The inscription included the words: TIBERIVM (Tiberius) and TIVS PILATUS (Prefect Pilate) Other references to Pilate are on inscriptions on coins. [He was ordered back to Rome following the bloody suppression of a Samaritan uprising in 36AD, and subsequently thought to have committed suicide in Gaul. He was replaced by a man called Marcellus)
- It was a christian centre of scholarship, and the place of Origen.
Detailed archeology reports on Caesarea can be found here: http://www.digcaesarea.org/
To view more Photos visit: Caesarea Maritima, Sebastos Photos