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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

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site of an ancient Greek and Roman port city, Caesarea Maritima, located on the coast of Israel, about 40 km (25 mi.) north of Tel Aviv (32°30′ N, 34°53′ E; map reference 1400 × 2120). Herod the Great founded the city above remains of a Hellenistic town called Straton's Tower. He named it Caesarea for Caesar Augustus, his patron, and its adjacent port Sebastos, Greek for Augustus. Josephus (War, 7.20) calls it Caesarea by the Sea, whereas other Greek and Latin authors specified “Caesarea near Sebastos,” “Straton's Caesarea,” or “Caesarea of Palestine” to distinguish it from numerous homonyms. Rabbinic authors call it Qisri or Qisrin, and Arabic Qaisariya survived into modern times, leaving no doubt about the site's identification.


Straton's Tower was a Phoenician fortified town (Heb., Migdal Shorshon), not just a fortress. Although the earliest ceramics date from the fourth century BCE, and scholars have suggested one of two fourth-century Sidonian kings as the founder, the earliest textual reference is a papyrus from 259 BCE (P Cairo Zeno 59004), attesting commercial activity and a harbor. A local tyrant named Zoilus may have fortified Straton's Tower near the close of the second century BCE, but this did not prevent Alexander Jannaeus from seizing it in about 100 BCE for the expanding Hasmonean kingdom and introducing a Jewish population. To weaken the Hasmoneans, the Roman general Pompey attached Straton's Tower and other coastal towns to Syria In 63 BCE; In 31 BCE, however, Octavian restored it to Herod's kingdom. By this time Straton's Tower lay depopulated and in ruins.


CAESAREA. Figure 1. Plan of the site. (Drawing by Anna Iamim)

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Herod the Great built Caesarea and its harbor between 22 and 10/9 BCE (see figure 1); it ranks with the Second Jewish Temple as his most spectacular building project. In two succinct passages (War 1.408–415; Antiq. 15.331–341) the historian Josephus describes a typical city (polis) of the late Hellenistic age, including a theater, an amphitheater “along the shore,” a “royal palace,” marketplaces, and streets laid on a grid plan. However, he devotes most of his attention to the harbor, Sebastos—to its breakwaters extending out into the sea, vaulted warehouses for trade goods, statues apparently of the emperor's family on columns at the harbor entrance, and a tower (lighthouse?) named Drusion, for the son of Augustus. On an elevated platform above the inner harbor, Herod erected a temple to Roma and Augustus.

After 6 CE, when Herod's grandson died, the Romans ruled Judaea directly through a governor and an administration headquartered at Caesarea. The site remained the capital of the province, later renamed Palestine, until it fell to the Muslims In 641 CE. A Latin inscription found in the theater records that Pontius Pilate, governor in about 30 CE, dedicated a temple at Caesarea to the emperor Tiberius (Annales épigraphiques 1963, no. 104). During the First Jewish War (66–70 CE), the Roman commander, Vespasian, wintered his troops there, and after it, as emperor, he re-founded Caesarea as a Roman colony. For the next three centuries, Roman governors, soldiers, and veterans dominated the city. The bulk of inscriptions from this period are in Latin. The city's constitution was of a western type, with two chief magistrates (duumviri) and a municipal senate (decuriones). Caesarea profited from close links with Rome: the emperors expanded its aqueduct system (Hadrian, In c. 130 CE) and built an amphitheater for gladiators and a hippodrome for chariot racing, both of western type.

Christianity emerged at Caesarea soon after the Crucifixion, when St. Peter converted the centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). The Jewish War had eradicated the large Jewish population, and most of the Christians as well, but after the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135 CE), when Rabbi Akiba was martyred at Caesarea, both groups began to resettle, attracted by the city's prosperity. The rural population was mostly Jews and Samaritans. In the third century, Caesarea was the site of a celebrated rabbinic academy and the Christian school of Origen, the scholar and theologian, who assembled a notable library and compiled the hexapla text of the Christian Bible.


CAESAREA. Figure 2. Sixth-century octagonal church on the Temple Platform, looking east. (Drawing by Will Andalora and Anna Iamim)

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Caesarea reached its apogee of population and prosperity between the fourth and late sixth centuries, under the Christian Empire. A Christian church replaced Herod's Augustus temple on the Temple Platform (see figure 2). The authorities repaired and expanded the aqueducts and built newfortifications to enclose a much larger inhabited space. Among the city's bishops, metropolitans of Palestine, was Eusebius (bishop c. 315–339), who wrote an ecclesiastical history and recorded Christian martyrdoms in Caesarea's amphitheater during the Great Persecution. His Jewish counterpart, Rabbi Abbahu, frequented the baths and taught his daughters Greek, which was then the predominant language. The classical historian Procopius (sixth century) was a product of the city's schools.

Although tectonic action and the coastal surge had damaged the breakwaters of Herod's harbor severely, Caesarea remained an important seaport until the seventh century. Emperor Anastasius restored the harbor about 500 CE (Procopius of Gaza, Penegyricus 19; Patrologia graeca 87, col. 2817); trade through the port helps account for the intense urban construction of churches, streets, and public buildings, attested archaeologically and in inscriptions throughout the sixth century. In the meantime, a series of Samaritan rebellions caused severe dislocations in the rural economy, the other source of Caesarea's prosperity. Like other cities, Caesarea suffered from recurrences of plague after 541–542, and from crushing imperial taxation demanded for the wars of the emperor Justinian (d. 565). Deurbanization had probably set in before the seventh-century invasions.

In 614, a Persian army invaded Palestine. Caesarea capitulated and suffered no physical damage but remained under Persian rule until 627. In 641 or 642, Caesarea fell to the Muslims, and the Roman city came to a precipitous end. Many of the landholding aristocracy, who had supported urban life, went into exile during the invasions. The Muslim conquerors did not favor Caesarea. During the Umayyad age (to 750) it was reduced to little more than a coastal defense station.


CAESAREA. Figure 3. Islamic/Crusader fortifications, eastern range, looking north. (Photograph by Aaron Levin)

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By the tenth and eleventh centuries, however, under Fatimid rule, a prosperous town had emerged on the site, with new fortifications encompassing a much-reduced urban space (see figure 3). The geographers el-Muqaddisi and Nasr-i-Khusrau praise the water supply of Muslim Qaisariya, its luxuriant gardens and orchards outside the walls, and its Great Mosque, positioned on what had been Herod's Temple Platform (Palestine Pilgrims' Texts Society, vol. 3.3 [1971], p. 55; vol. 4.1 [1971], p. 20). In 1101 European Crusaders took the Fatimid town by storm, and it became a Christian principality that lasted, despite episodes of reconquest and destruction, until 1265. A church of St. Peter succeeded the Great Mosque on the Temple Platform. In 1251–1252 the French king Louis IX rebuilt the fortifications. However, only fourteen years later, the Mamluk sultan Baybars seized Caesarea from the Crusaders; In 1291 his successor leveled the walls to make them useless to subsequent invaders. Caesarea then remained desolate until modern times, although squatter villages sometimes inhabited the ruins.

In 1884, Bosnian refugees from Europe resettled ancient Caesarea. Their town survived until 1940, and some of its buildings, including a mosque, still exist within the medieval fortification perimeter, now called the Old City.


Recently, archaeological exploration has begun to enrich our understanding of Caesarea's history, known previously from literary sources. Archaeologists recognizesix periods of occupation, corresponding to the history outlined above: Hellenistic (fourth–first century BCE), Roman (first–third century CE), Byzantine (fourth–seventh centuries), Islamic (seventh–eleventh centuries), Crusader (twelfth–thirteenth centuries), and Mamluk to modern (fourteenth–twentieth centuries).

Until thirty years ago the site was known only from the reports of nineteenth-century explorers, chance finds, and a few rescue excavations. Among the explorers, most important were Claude R. Conder and Horatio Herbert Kitchener, who visited Caesarea briefly In 1873. They studied and mapped the aqueducts, the theater, the outer (Byzantine) perimeter wall, which they dated to the Roman period, and also the medieval (Islamic and Crusader) fortifications. In 1945, J. Ory reported remains of a Byzantine synagogue exposed during winter storms to the north of the Old City, which Michael Avi-Yonah examined briefly In 1956 and 1962. In 1950 Benjamin Reifenberg recognized, in an aerial photograph, an amphitheater (not the one mentioned by Josephus) to the northeast of the Old City. In 1951 Shmuel Yeivin excavated a site to the east of the Old City, where a tractor from the neighboring kibbutz had struck one of two colossal Roman statues that had flanked the entrance (propylaeum) to an unidentified building from the Byzantine period. A tessellated pavement (11.5 × 13.4 m) exposed accidentally In 1955, is decorated with medallions displaying eleven species of birds. This has recently been identified plausibly as part of a suburban villa from the Byzantine period. [See the biographies of Conder, Kitchener, and Yeivin.]

Excavation on a large scale dates only from 1959, when archaeologists first comprehended Caesarea as an urban, maritime site and began systematic recovery of all phases of occupation. In 1960, Edwin A. Link, a pioneer of underwater exploration, brought a team of divers that identified the ruins of Herod's harbor. In five campaigns (1959–1964) the Italian Missione Archeologica, directed by Antonio Frova, explored the outer perimeter wall, proving it to be Byzantine; the team also exposed part of an inner perimeter to the north of the medieval fortifications, which it failed to date convincingly. The Missione also excavated the Herodian theater, to the south of the Old City, and the ruins of an imposing fortress that succeeded it in the sixth or seventh century. Between 1960 and 1964, Avraham Negev supervised clearing within the Old City that brought to light barrel-vaulted substructures forming the western facade of the Herodian Temple Platform and, on the platform itself, the ruins of a triple-apsed Crusader basilica. He also cleared the moats in front of the medieval fortifications and removed dune sand from the southern preserved section of the twin high-level aqueducts, northward along the shore, that date to the Roman period.


CAESAREA. Figure 4. Marble statue of Tyche and the god Sebastos to the right. Height, 1.52 m. (Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)

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The 1970s and 1980s brought a higher level of archaeological sophistication to research at Caesarea, including stratigraphic excavation using balks, scientific ceramic analysis, and modern underwater techniques useful for studying the harbors. Between 1971 and 1987, the American Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima, directed by Robert J. Bull, conducted twelve summer seasons of excavation. This team explored sectors to the south, east, and north of the Old City, including the low-level aqueduct, which it dated to the fourth century; a well-preserved suburban bath from the Byzantine period; and a Byzantine public building that appears, from inscriptions in its tessellated pavements, to have been part of the governor's headquarters (Gk., praitorion). In 1973 and 1974, John Humphrey studied Caesarea's hippodrome, now one of the best-known facilities of its type from the Roman East. Among other outstanding finds were a marble statue of the city goddess, Tyche (see figure 4), of Caesarea and, to the south of the Old City, a cult center of the Roman god Mithras, located in a barrel-vaulted warehouse (Lat., horreum), one of a complex of such vaults dating from Herod's time. The Joint Expedition also restudied the inner perimeter wall, which it dated to Herod's original foundation, and devoted special attention to Caesarea'sstreets. By excavating numerous street fragments in various sectors, mostly Byzantine in date, the team recovered the orientation of the original Herodian grid and the dimensions of some of the city blocks (insulae).

In 1975–1976 and 1979, a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, directed by Lee I. Levine and Ehud Netzer, excavated a sector in the northwest of the Old City that contained a well-preserved Islamic dwelling quarter and, beneath it, remains of a large Byzantine public building of unknown function. Netzer also began exploring the Promontory Palace jutting into the sea northwest of the theater, which may be the royal palace of Herod's city. In 1986, Ronny Reich and Michal Peleg, in a rescue excavation, identified a south gate of the outer (Byzantine) perimeter wall beneath a factory in the neighboring kibbutz. Meanwhile, In 1975, Avner Raban and Haifa University's Center for Maritime Studies had begun systematic exploration of Caesarea's harbors. In 1980 Raban joined with Robert M. Hohlfelder, John Oleson, and later R. Lindley Vann in the Caesarea Ancient Harbour Excavation Project. That team explored Caesarea's harbors intensively for a decade. It studied shipwrecks and anchorages to the north and south—from the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods—but devoted most of its attention to Herod's harbor, Sebastos. The project established that Josephus (War 1. 408–413; Antiq. 15.332–338) had described the breakwaters accurately and recovered details of their design and construction. In building Sebastos, Herod's engineers had employed imported materials and the technology of hydraulic concrete developed in Italy. Still under debate is the later history of Herod's harbor and whether it continued to function in the Roman and Byzantine periods, despite tectonic action and the destructive force of the sea.

In 1989 Kenneth G. Holum and the University of Maryland joined Raban and Haifa's Center for Maritime Studies in the Combined Caesarea Expeditions, a project that continues the strategy and methods of the former Joint Expedition and Harbour Project. This team has devoted its attention again to the underwater exploration of Sebastos and to the outer (Byzantine) perimeter wall and has conducted submarine and field surveys, remote sensing, and geological studies inside the ancient site and to its north and south along the coast. Within the Old City, it has expanded the limits of the Hellenistic and Herodian inner harbor; identified and studied an important Early Christian church on the Temple Platform, octagonal in plan, that Negev's clearing operation had first exposed; and excavated Islamic and Crusader dwellings and public buildings both above the inner harbor and on the Temple Platform. To the south of the Old City, this team has undertaken the excavation of a complete insula of Roman and Byzantine Caesarea to study diachronically the development of the urban plan and the urban infrastructure in antiquity. Under the Combined Expeditions' auspices, Jeffrey A. Blakely has begun excavation of another Herodian horreum vault to exploit the ceramics found in its well-stratified and protected context for evidence of trade goods passing through Caesarea's port. Under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania, Kathryn Gleason and Barbara Burrell are excavating the Promontory Palace.

In 1992 the Israel Antiquities Authority organized a large project to excavate extensive sectors of ancient Caesarea, both within the Old City and to the south along the coast, for the purpose of establishing an archaeological park. Director of the IAA excavations is Yosef Porath, who had earlier conducted important research on the Roman aqueduct system and rescue excavations within the Old City. In the meantime both the University of Pennsylvania team and the Combined Caesarea Expeditions have joined the expanded project, the latter adding Joseph Patrich to its directorate of Raban and Holum. Inside the Old City, the project has identified a sea wall that may represent the harbor restoration of Emperor Anastasius (c. 500), has begun excavation and restoration of one of the vaults that formed the western facade of the Temple Platform, and has exposed a well-preserved Early Islamic dwelling quarter above the landlocked Inner Harbor. To the south of the Old City, the expanded excavations have uncovered, among other finds, a complex of Byzantine warehouses used for storage and marketing of grain, wine, oil, and other trade goods; a Roman/Byzantine public bath; luxurious Roman and Byzantine dwellings; and the spectacular ruins of the amphitheater that Herod built, as Josephus reports (Antiq. 15. 341), when he founded Caesarea.

Work in the last two decades demonstrates that Caesarea is a major site for research on the evolution of ancient urbanism—especially its maritime component—from the Hellenistic period through the Crusader occupation. Research is also advancing on floral and faunal remains, glass, metal and bone objects, and other categories of material culture, including ceramics. Current projects are deploying a full range of scientific strategies and techniques to exploit Caesarea's past.


  • Blakely, Jeffrey A. Caesarea Maritima: The Pottery and Dating of Vault 1—Horreum, Mithraeum, and Later Uses. The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima, Excavation Reports, vol. 4. Lewiston, N.Y., 1986. Important for ceramic studies.
  • Bull, Robert J. “The Mithraeum of Caesarea Maritima.” Textes et mémoires 4 (1978): 75–89.
  • Bull, Robert J., Edgar Krentz, and Olin Storvick. “The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Ninth Season, 1980.” In Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations, 1980–84, edited by Walter E. Rast, pp. 31–55. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Supplement no. 24. Winona Lake, Ind., 1986. This and the following item are comprehensive but sketchy preliminary reports with useful photographs and plans.
  • Bull, Robert J., Edgar Krentz, Olin Storvick, and Marie Spiro. “The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Tenth Season, 1982.” In Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations, 1982–89, edited by Walter E. Rast, pp. 69–94. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Supplement no. 27. Baltimore, 1991.
  • Fritsch, Charles T., ed. Studies in the History of Caesarea Maritima. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Supplemental Studies, vol. 19. Missoula, 1975. Essays on Jewish, Christian, and Crusader Caesarea, written from literary sources.
  • Frova, Antonio, et al. Scavi di Caesarea Maritima. Rome, 1966. Final report of the Italian Missione Archeologica.
  • Holum, Kenneth G., Robert L. Hohlfelder, Robert J. Bull, and Avner Raban. King Herod's Dream: Caesarea on the Sea. New York, 1988. Good introduction to the site for the general reader, but outdated in part by recent discoveries. Includes a bibliography.
  • Holum, Kenneth G. “Archaeological Evidence for the Fall of Byzantine Caesarea.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 286 (1992): 73–85. Interpretive essay on the reasons for ancient Caesarea's decline.
  • Levine, Lee I. Caesarea under Roman Rule. Leiden, 1975. Authoritative study of the Roman period from the literary sources, especially the rabbinic material.
  • Levine, Lee I. Roman Caesarea: An Archaeological-Topographical Guide. Qedem, vol. 2. Jerusalem, 1975. Scholarly guide to the monuments of Roman and Byzantine Caesarea, partly outdated by recent finds.
  • Levine, Lee I., and Ehud Netzer. Excavations at Caesarea Maritima, 1975, 1976, 1979: Final Report. Qedem, vol. 21. Jerusalem, 1986. Includes a helpful guide to earlier excavations.
  • Peleg, Michal, and Ronny Reich. “Excavations of a Segment of the Byzantine City Wall of Caesarea Maritima.” ῾Atiqot (English Series) 21 (1992): 137–170.
  • Raban, Avner, et al. The Harbours of Caesarea Maritima: Results of the Caesarea Ancient Harbour Excavation Project, 1980–1985, vol. 1, The Site and the Excavations. edited by John Peter Oleson. British Archaeological Reports, International Series, no. 491. Oxford, 1989. Comprehensive report on the harbor project's main seasons, with important topographical and geological studies.
  • Vann, R. Lindley, ed. Caesarea Papers: Straton's Tower, Herod's Harbour, and Roman and Byzantine Caesarea. Journal of Roman Archaeology, Supplementary Series, no. 5. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1992. Collection of interpretive essays reflecting current scholarship, including recent reports of the Combined Caesarea Expeditions and ceramic studies.
  • Wenning, Robert. “Die Stadtgöttin von Caesarea Maritima.” Boreas 9 (1986): 113–129. Detailed study of the Caesarea Tyche.
  • Wiemken, Robert C., and Kenneth G. Holum. “The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Eighth Season, 1979.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 244 (1981): 27–52. Important for the discovery of the street grid south of the Old City; includes coins and ceramics.

Kenneth G. Holum

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