Caesarea was founded by King Herod the Great (r. 37–4 B.C.E.) in the years 22–10 B.C.E. on the Mediterranean shore between Jaffa and Dora. It was built on the site of the deserted town of Straton’s Tower, a Ptolemaic trade station. Prior to its conquest by the Hasmoneans at the end of the second century B.C.E., Straton’s Tower became subordinate to Zoilus, the tyrant of the much older, larger, and important city of Dora. Caesarea was built by Herod to serve as a military stronghold and main harbor for his vast kingdom of Judea, naming it after his patron in Rome, Caesar Augustus (r. 29 B.C.E.–14 C.E.). The harbor was likewise named Sebastos (Greek for Augustus). Its prosperity continued as long as it served as a provincial capital and its harbor functioned, serving the international trade. Besides the sea routes, a network of five paved Roman roads connected Caesarea with its countryside and with other inland cities.

Following the Arab conquest in 640 or 641 C.E., Caesarea underwent a sharp decline, shrinking in size about 10 times relative to its former extension. But even before, Samaritan revolts (in the years 484, 529/30, 556 C.E.) caused a gradual decline of the city and its countryside; the plague in the east (541–542 C.E.) and the Persian conquest (614–627 C.E.) caused damage and certain deterioration even before the final Muslim conquest, which marked the end of urban life.

Its territory included the southern tip of Mount Carmel, the northern foothills of the Samaria hills, and the northern Sharon Plain—a region known as a land of wheat and of good pasture. During the ca. 650 years of its existence under Roman rule it was a prospering city. Therein and in its countryside “prices are low, there abundance obtains” (t. y. Kelim 9.4, 32c; Ketub. 12.3, 35b; second half of third century C.E.). It was “a pleasant city and rich in everything” (Expositio totius mundi et gentium 26:160–161, fourth century C.E.). In the fourth century C.E. the city was also famous for its purple dye. There were merchants in brine, linen, silk, perfumes, and spices; there were fullers and washers, leather cutters, glassblowers, smiths, stonemasons, carpenters, tile makers, chandlers, bed manufacturers, and shipwrights. A rich assemblage of local and imported artifacts illustrating various aspects of the local economy has been retrieved in the excavations.

History of Research.

Several monographs on Caesarea were published simultaneously in 1975. The most detailed survey on the history of the archaeological exploration is given in Raban and Holum (1996), addressing some of the post-1992 finds. Large-scale excavations were carried out at the site in the years 1992–2000. Excavations headed by Peter Gendelman on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority have since been carried out above the harbor vaults on top of the temple platform, in the oval Roman amphitheater in the northeastern part of the city, and along the decumanus maximus, ca. 656 ft (200 m) to the east of the crusader city. A French expedition directed by Jean Mesqui, Nicolas Faucherre, and Haim Barbe explored the crusader fortifications of the city. Sections of a colonnaded street were uncovered in several places underneath the later fortifications. The inscriptions are available in their entirety (Ameling et al., 2011; hereafter CIIP). The most comprehensive study of the city coins is Kadman (1957) and that of the gems is Hamburger (1968).

Provincial-Administrative Status.

Caesarea served Herod as an administrative capital of his kingdom, Judea. He had a palace there. In 6 C.E., after the deposition of his son Herod Archelaus from his post as ethnarch (r. 4 B.C.E.–6 C.E.), Judea became a Roman province, Provincia Iudaea, later called Iudaea Palaestina or just Palaestina. Caesarea was the provincial capital (Caesarea caput Iudaea est; Tacitus, Hist. 2, 78.4), and it maintained this status until the Arab conquest of 640 or 641 C.E. The Roman governor resided and held office in the palace at Caesarea, known as Herod’s praetorium, or headquarters (Acts 23:35).

After the short reign of Herod’s grandson, King Herod Agrippa I (41–44 C.E.), who died in this palace, the rule over the province was transferred to procurators of equestrian rank. At their command were local auxiliary troops of Caesareans and Sebastenes. The procurators were subordinate to the Roman governor of Syria, of a senatorial rank, with four legions under his command. After the Jewish Revolt, a Roman legion was stationed in the province; and hence, it was promoted in rank, to be ruled by a governor from the senatorial class, a delegate of the emperor of praetorial rank, legatus Augusti pro praetore. The governor was the commander of the legion and the chief judicial authority. The financial affairs of the province were entrusted to a procurator of equestrian rank. A separate praetorium was built for him by Vespasian (r. 69–79 C.E.) and Titus (r. 79–81 C.E.) in 77/78 C.E. (CIIP 1282), some 984 ft (300 m) to the north of Herod’s praetorium. In ca. 117 C.E., when a second legion was transferred to the province, governors of consular ranks were nominated over the province, the two legionary commanders being subordinate to his command. In the Byzantine period, following the administrative reforms of Diocletian (r. 284–305 C.E.) and Constantine (r. 306–337 C.E.), when the provincial governors were deprived of military command, which was entrusted to the dux provinciae, the praetorium of the financial procurator became the residence of the Byzantine governor of the province.

The split of provincia Palaestinae into two and later three smaller provinces in the mid-fourth to early fifth centuries caused a gradual decrease in the administrative status of the city. Under a Christian regime it was the seat of metropolites Palaestinae. But in the Council of Chalcedon (451 C.E.), Jerusalem, the mother of all churches, was recognized as the fifth patriarchate of the Christian world and Caesarea lost its former ecclesiastical supremacy over the church of Palestine.

Municipal Status.

In terms of municipal administration, Caesarea was founded by Herod as a regular Hellenistic polis, its affairs being regulated by a municipal council (boule) and principal magistrates (probouloi). On 5 March 71 it was proclaimed by Vespasian a Roman colony, Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea (or Caesarensis), as it is named on the city coins. Its affairs were regulated by a curia headed by two duumviri (“the two men”), two aediles (magistrates charged with the supervision of public buildings, games, markets, and other municipal matters), and other elected magistrates. Religious affairs were directed by pontifices (a principal college of priests), and there was also a collegium of augures (religious officials predicting future events and interpreting omens according to the flight, singing, and feeding of birds, the appearance of the entrails of sacrificial victims, celestial phenomena, and other portents). The emperor cult and the games associated with it were controlled and financed by a group of six wealthy freedmen (seviri Augustales). Some of these officials and decuriones (council members) are attested in the Latin inscriptions (CIIP 1358–1381). Its citizens had Roman citizenship. The administrative language became Latin, and officials and soldiers serving in the governor’s officium (office, or staff) were added to the population of the city. Vespasian exempted the citizens from the poll tax. Titus added an immunity from land tax. On the city coins issued under Severus Alexander (r. 222–235 C.E.) the title metropolis was added.


The population, heterogeneous, comprised Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, and Christians. Many languages were heard in its streets: Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Sailors and merchants from all over the Mediterranean, soldiers, provincial officials, city people, and farmers from the countryside, each dressed in specific costumes, gave it a cosmopolitan flavor. Likewise, there was rich variety of currency in use and in its pantheon, as reflected in its statuary and inscriptions.

The Jews.

The Jews lived in the first century C.E. in all parts of the city, being intermingled with the Gentiles, rather than in a separate quarter. This was a source of much friction and animosity. It was the wealthiest community in the city until 61 C.E. when Nero (r. 54–68 C.E.) gave supremacy over the city to its non-Jewish opponents. The leadership of the community was by a council of 12, headed by John, the tax collector (telones), seemingly of harbor taxes (Josephus, J.W. 2.287, 292).

In 66 C.E., under the procurator Florus, more than 20,000 Jews were massacred; others were deported as slaves or fled to the countryside. The ensuing Jewish Revolt brought a decisive blow to the Jewish population in the city. In the second century C.E. the Jewish community started to revive, but it was not the majority or the wealthiest as before. However, together with the Gentiles they outnumbered the Samaritans.

In the years 230 to 360 C.E., for four generations, Caesarea was renowned for its Jewish academy. It was founded by Bar Qappara and Rabbi Hoshaya in ca. 230 C.E. (at about the same time that Origen established his residence in Caesarea). Hoshaya headed it until his death in about 250 C.E. (Origen died in ca. 254 C.E.). His most prominent pupil was Rabbi Johanan, the future head of the academy of Tiberias. In ca. 260 to 265 C.E. Rabbi Jose b. Hanina (d. ca. 280 C.E.) became the head of the academy. He established close ties with the rabbis of Babylonia. Rabbi Abbahu (d. 309 C.E.) was his most prominent student. In his days the academy of Caesarea achieved its greatest prominence. According to Sol Lieberman, Tractate Nezikin (Damages) of the Jerusalem Talmud, comprising the Baba Qamma, Baba Mezia, and Baba Batra, was redacted in Caesarea some 50 years before the redaction of the rest of this Talmud in Tiberias; its rules, dealing with civil and criminal law, served the Jewish tribunal in the city. Few details are known about the activities of the rabbis of the fourth generation (320–360 C.E.) and later. The Jews assisted the Samaritans in their 556 C.E. revolt. According to al-Balādhurī their number during the Muslim siege of 634–640/41 C.E. was 200,000, but this is an exaggeration; the correct number was perhaps 20,000 or just 2,000. According to one source a Jew named Yusuf had shown the Muslims a secret tunnel through which they penetrated and conquered the besieged city. Other Arab sources bring different narratives.

The Gentiles.

The Gentiles, Greeks, or Syrians (according to Josephus) had conceived themselves as descendants of Hellenistic Straton’s Tower. Herod erected temples in the city and adorned it with statues, to serve their religious needs. In 61 C.E. they obtained from Nero the rule over the city after a bloody controversy with the Jews over the isopoliteia (equal citizenship). The foundation myth by Strato was kept alive among them and celebrated in the city up to the mid-fourth century C.E., as is evident by the “Louvre Cup.” In the first century C.E., under the procurators, their youth were serving in the local auxiliary of the Roman army. Later, they were replaced by foreign legionary. The people of Caesarea assisted Vespasian and Titus during the Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–70 C.E.). According to Josephus Vespasian was first proclaimed emperor by his troops in Caesarea. As a Roman colony the official language became Latin; and a new Gentile element, Latin-speaking officials and legionary soldiers, was introduced into the city.

Already in the first century C.E. the famous philosopher Apollonius of Tyana (Ep. 11) had praised the city in a letter to its councilors for its Greek ethics, laws, and customs (see also Josephus, J.W. 3.409). From the second and third centuries C.E. Caesarea was renowned as a school of Roman law and a center of secular Latin and Greek education, rhetoric, and philosophy. It maintained this reputation under Christian dominance. A dozen and a half persons of letters who wrote in Greek and Latin originated from the city. A notable Latin historian originating from the city was Eutropius, author of the Breviarium ab urbe condita, an abridged history of Rome, in 10 books (in Latin), from its foundation to his time, at the request of Emperor Valens (r. 364–378 C.E.). Shortly thereafter, in ca. 380, Paeanius translated in the city this Breviarium into Greek. Jerome used it. This translation is still extant almost in its entirety. The second notable historian originating from the city, writing in Greek, was Procopius, the court historian of Justinian (r. 527–565 C.E.) and his general Belisarius. Priscianus, a Caesarean as well, was the most important grammarian of Late Antiquity. Among his writings was a treatise in praise of Emperor Anastasius (r. 491–518 C.E.).

Christian life.

Christian life in Caesarea started in the first century C.E. with Philip the Evangelist, who resided in the city with his four daughters, virgins. Cornelius, the commander of the “Italian cohort,” in the city was the first Gentile to be baptized together with his household by Peter. Paul was detained in the governor’s prison there for two years (60–62 C.E.), until being fetched, at his request, to Rome, to be tried there by the emperor. In 195 C.E. the Quatrodeciman synod was convened in Caesarea by Bishop Theophilus, the first attested bishop of the city, together with Bishop Narcissus of Jerusalem. The resolution adopted was to celebrate Easter on Sunday, rather than the fourteenth of Nisan, following the Jewish practice. The Christian community suffered martyrdom in the persecutions under Decius (r. 249–251 C.E.), Valerian (r. 253–260 C.E.), and Diocletian. The names of nine other bishops of the city are known up to the episcopate of Eusebius (315/16–339 C.E.).

The Christian academy in the city was established by Origen, who spent most of the last 20 years of his life in Caesarea (ca. 230–250 C.E. in Caesarea). Origen’s school of Christian theology was open to pagans and Christians alike and provided also secular education. His liberal curriculum included astronomy, mathematics, geometry, geography, and philosophy. His pupil, Pamphilus (martyred in 309 C.E. in Caesarea), collected and copied the writings of Origen and established a library comprising 30,000 scrolls, which included many secular books on Greek science, philosophy, history, drama, poetry, rhetoric, etc., as well as compositions of Jewish Greek authors. He and his pupil, Eusebius, took it upon themselves to catalogue this collection. The scriptorium of Caesarea was famous for its attentive work in producing copies of scriptures. In ca. 325 C.E., at the request of Constantine, 50 copies of the Bible, in codices of parchment, were dispatched by Eusebius to Constantinople. Later in the fourth century Hilary of Poitiers, Eusebius of Vercelli, Georgius of Nazianzus, Jerome, and Rufinus worked in this library.


The Samaritan presence in Caesarea grew after the first and second Jewish Revolts against Rome. In the third century C.E. they constituted the largest ethnic group in the city. There was much friction between them and the Jews, and by the third century C.E. they were considered by the Jews as Gentiles. They served on the governor’s staff and in the army. Several revolts are attested in the late fifth and sixth centuries C.E. The Samaritans had a distinct script that occurs on amulets and a few inscriptions. Samaritan amulets and oil lamps are commonly found in Caesarea. A basilical structure from the Byzantine period uncovered in the eastern part of the former Roman praetorium should be identified as a Samaritan synagogue, rather than as a Christian church. Samaritan soldiers assisted the Byzantine army against the Arabs. According to al-Balādhurī their number in the city during the siege was 30,000. The wealthiest among them left their property with the Samaritan high priest in the Samaria hills and fled abroad.

Material Remains.

The archaeological finds are in good accord with the detailed literary description by Flavius Josephus and references in later sources. All the Herodian structures were built of local kurkar


Aerial view of the harbor. Baker Photo Archive

view larger image

sandstone; the “white stone” (Ant. 15.331; J.W. 1.408, 414) or “polished stone” (Ant. 15.339) was a thick layer of polished white stucco of masonry style that coated the walls, not marble, as some scholars have opined. The construction works lasted 12 years (22–10 B.C.E.). In 15 B.C.E. Agrippa, Augustus’s chief minister, visited the city. Herod entertained him there, seemingly in a chariot race in the hippo-stadium, still under construction.


The harbor (J.W. 1.409–413, Ant. 15.332–338) was vast and of deep waters. It extended ca. 1,312 ft (ca. 400 m) into the sea, built by applying the most advanced Roman architectural techniques. Volcanic ash (pozzolana) was imported from the Bay of Naples. Large wooden rafts were first built on shore and then floated to the appropriate place and sunk to constitute the artificial quay. The quay was protected by a breakwater and a wall with towers. The largest tower was called after Drusus, the stepson of Augustus. It was perhaps a lighthouse. The harbor comprised three parts: external, middle, and internal. The internal harbor replaced the Hellenistic limen kleistos, rock-cut inland. There were many landing places and secondary anchorages as well as vaulted shelters for sailors. To the north of the middle harbor a complex of elongated warehouses was uncovered. There were several brothels in Caesarea, serving the soldiers (Ant. 19.357). Some of them were presumably located near the harbor, serving the sailors.

The city walls.

Caesarea was a fortified city (Ant. 15.293–294). Following a local architectural tradition evident also in Dora, the area surrounded by the wall was semioval in shape, not rectilinear, even though the city had a rectangular layout. Two round towers and a polygonal one with a 393.7 ft (120 m) long section of the Herodian wall were uncovered on the north, and a round one, with a 196.8 ft (60 m) long wall section, was uncovered in the south, where the wall had encompassed the theater within the confines of the city. Much of the course between the two extremities was traced in surveys and soundings. In the fifth century C.E. a new wall of a similar contour was built to protect the much expanded city. The maximal length of the city in a north­–south axis was ca. 4,265 ft (ca. 1,300 m); its maximal breadth in an east–west axis was ca. 1,640 ft (ca. 500 m).

The urban plan.

Dwelling quarters and other buildings surrounded the harbor, and in their midst, on top of a hill, stood a temple dedicated to Rome and Augustus, housing two magnificent statues, one of each of them. The street layout was orthogonal, with streets set equal distances from each other. Under those leading to the harbor and to the sea ran a system of parallel sewage channels with a diagonal one connecting them all, in a manner that enabled the seawater to flush in and clean the entire system in time of ebb, without flooding the city. The orthogonal layout of the streets in the southwest zone was maintained throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods, but their floor level was raised in four distinct stages and the sewage system repaired or renovated. The public buildings of Herod included marketplaces (agorai). The dimensions of the city blocks (insulae) in the southwest zone were 311.7 by 213.3 ft (95 by 65 m).

Since the time of Hadrian (r. 117–138 C.E.) the major thoroughfares, the decumanus maximus (which ran parallel to the actual asphalt road leading to the ancient city from the east; its eastern end and another section, located ca. 656 ft [ca. 200 m] to the east of the eastern gate of the crusader city, were exposed) and the cardo maximus (partially exposed below the crusader wall, on its inside), became colonnaded streets. In that time the semioval curvilinear wall street and the adjacent Herodian city wall were replaced by a colonnaded street. The urban plan of Caesarea was praised as “remarkable in many ways” by an early fourth-century source (Expositio totius mundi et gentium 26.160). Colonnaded streets (platea and stoa) are mentioned in some rabbinic and Christian sources. Many of the street columns were incorporated in the Muslim and crusader city walls and in the northern mole of the crusaders’ harbor. At the intersections of the major thoroughfares there were tetrapylons. One was roofed by a dome; another was praised for its special and extraordinary look.

Water supply.

Water was supplied to the city by means of several aqueducts. On the north two channels of a high-level aqueduct reached the city on arcades. They collected water from springs on the southern and southeastern slopes of Mount Carmel and Ramot Menashe. The western channel is dated by numerous inscriptions to Hadrian (CIIP 1200–1209); the other one was constructed earlier, under the Roman procurators or by Herod himself. The low-level aqueduct, on the north as well, is a tunnel 3.9 ft (1.2 m) wide and ca. 6.6 ft (ca. 2 m) high, roofed by a masonry vault. It brought water from a vast lake that came into being in the second half of the third century by damming the run of Nahal Tanninim into the sea. The lake caused damage to the arcade of the upper level aqueduct, and a deviation line was installed to its south in 385 C.E. (CIIP 1259). In the Byzantine period a terra-cotta pipe brought water from a spring located to the south of the city.

In the Later Roman and Byzantine periods, in addition to the sewage system, a network of lead and terra-cotta pipes ran under the streets, providing fresh water from the aqueducts to street fountains as well as to private dwellings. There were also water cisterns and wells.

Religious structures.

Herod’s temple of Rome and Augustus stood on a hill overlooking the harbor and the city. Rectangular in shape, the dimensions of the exposed podium were 152.2 by 93.8 ft (46.4 by 28.6 m). The foundations and fragments of architectural members suggest that it was a peristyle temple facing the harbor with a pronaos of six columns. It was approached by staircases from the west and south. The emperor’s cult was celebrated each year in the temple and in a procession in the streets. On this occasion chariot races, munera (fights of men against men), and venationes (hunting of animals and inciting of animals against others) were held in the hippo-stadium. Herod also built in the city other temples and set cultic statues therein (J.W. 2.266). The Tiberieum (CIIP 1277) might have been a temple or an altar dedicated to the emperor Tiberius (r. 14–37 C.E.), located near the theater; according to another opinion it was a lighthouse. The Hadrianeum, mentioned in another inscription, of the Byzantine period (CIIP 1262), might have been originally a temple for Hadrian. Cults for other deities are suggested by the city coins and by the statuary, though some of the statues served for decoration rather than for public cult. Once a year, on 5 March, Tyche, conceived as the genius (spirit) of the colony, was honored in a feast commemorating the proclamation of Caesarea as a Roman colony. Being assimilated with Isis, her feast coincided with the Navigium Isidis, the renewal of the sailing season after the winter storms throughout the Mediterranean. A Mithraeum was installed in the third century C.E. by one of the financial procurators in the northern vault under the audience hall of the praetorium.

There were many synagogues, but the remains of only one of the fourth to seventh centuries C.E., yielding seven Greek inscriptions, were uncovered in the northern part of the Herodian city (CIIP 1139–1145). In 66 C.E., a controversy between Jews and non-Jews over control of a narrow alley that led to one of the synagogues resulted in a pogrom in which more than 20,000 Jews were massacred. This marked the beginning of the Jewish Revolt against Rome. In later generations (third and fourth centuries C.E.), it was known as the synagogue of the rebellion (אתשינכ התדרמד). Another synagogue of a large capacity was converted by Vespasian to an odeum, a small theater used for performances of music and reciting poetry. In the fourth or fifth century C.E. a synagogue was installed in one of the vaults of the deserted Roman amphitheater.

In the first century C.E. the Christian community used to assemble in private houses of its members, such as Cornelius or Philip. In later periods these sites were shown to Christian pilgrims, being converted to chapels. An octagonal church, decorated and revetted in marble, was built in ca. 500 to 525 C.E., or somewhat earlier, above the deserted temple of Rome and Augustus. It was dedicated perhaps to Procopius, the first martyr of Caesarea, which was set on fire in the Samaritan revolt of 484 C.E. Five churches are mentioned in the seventh-century C.E. Miracles of St. Anastasius the Persian: St. Euphemia, St. Mary the Younger, a chapel of St. Anastasius the Persian at the tetrapylon, the “most holy church of Christ,” and a building associated with the martyr Cornelius. A chapel dedicated to St. Paul was built on a second floor above a complex of warehouses of a palatial mansion. Another one was annexed perhaps to the apsidal reception hall of this mansion. A church dedicated to the apostles existed in the fifth century outside the city wall.

Entertainment structures and games.

Caesarea had six entertainment structures. Herod’s theater, built of kurkar sandstone decorated with frescoes, was enlarged and elaborated by Septimius Severus (r. 193–211 C.E.). Its diameter was ca. 328 ft (ca. 100 m); the scaene frons (decorated backdrop to the stage) was of marble with gray and pink porphyry columns. The plaster floor of the Herodian orchestra was replaced by marble plates and the proscenium was likewise revetted in marble. By the sixth century it went out of use, being encompassed by a wall with semicircular towers that formed an internal fortress (kastron). In the second or third century C.E. a second theater was constructed outside the Herodian city wall, at a distance of ca. 656 ft (ca. 200 m) to the east of the earlier theater. Small sections of the auditorium and of the scaene frons were uncovered. Caesarea also had an odeum of a large sitting capacity. It was installed by Vespasian inside a Jewish synagogue.

Herod’s “amphitheatron” (Ant. 15.341, J.W. 1.415), a U-shaped hippo-stadium with an arena of ca. 984 by 164 ft (ca. 300 by 50 m) in dimension, was locally known as “the great stadium” (J.W. 2.172) or just “the stadium” (Ant. 18.57). In the northern end 12 starting gates were installed. The chariot races followed the Greek style of the Olympia hippodrome, with chariots starting their run in lanes that were laid parallel to the longitudinal axis of the arena, converging farther away to the meta prima, the farther turning point (in the Circus Maximus and other Roman circuses the start was in radial lanes, converging to the meta secunda, the nearer turning point). During the Jewish war the starting gates were dismantled, the openings being blocked by a thick wall and the arena converted to a vast open prison for the thousands of Jewish captives. At the end of the Jewish war, in October 70 C.E., more than 2,500 of them were slaughtered there by being forced to fight with wild beasts or one against another or by being hoisted on a stake in spectacles given by Titus to celebrate the eighteenth birthday of his brother Domitian (J.W. 7.37–38). Under Hadrian new starting gates were installed, eight in number with a large central gate in the middle. They had a radial layout, to permit a Roman-style start. By the early fourth century C.E. the arena was shortened and the structure converted to an oval amphitheater. After the triumph of Christianity, the pagan shrine (sacellum) was converted to a martyrs’ chapel.

Under Hadrian a Roman circus was built in the southeastern outskirts of the city, with an arena ca. 1,476 by 295 ft (ca. 450 by 90 m) in dimensions. The circus had euripus (water basins) of marble and a porphyry obelisk. Each turning point was adorned by three porphyry cones. The kurkar seats, resting on radial vaults, were almost entirely looted. Sometime in the second or third century C.E. an oval amphitheater was installed in the northeastern outskirts of the city, with an arena ca. 272 by 182 ft (ca. 83 by 55.5 m) and external dimensions of 420 by 331 ft (128 by 101 m). Two intersecting masonry tunnels ran under the arena. The kurkar seats rested on radial vaults. Caesarea also had a ludon, an arena for the training of gladiators.

The inauguration of the city in September of 9 B.C.E. took place with ceremony and pomp. Herod established the inauguration games as quinquennial games in the same style, to be celebrated every four years, commemorating Augustus’s triumph over Antony in Actium in 31 B.C.E., in the month of September. Hence, the games were known as the Isactium of Caesarea, which were held up to the third century C.E. Another occasion for shows of this kind was the dies imperii in honor of the ruling emperor. This feast was celebrated each year throughout the empire on 20 November.


According to Malalas a public bathhouse was built in the city in the reign of Antoninus Pius (r. 138–161 C.E.). A Byzantine bathhouse was uncovered below the octagonal church, on the southeast. It continued to exist up to the 749 C.E. earthquake. Private bathhouses were a common feature not only in Herod’s palace and the praetoria of the Roman and Byzantine governors but of late antique palatial mansions as well. They were equipped with private privies and fountains.

Herod’s palace.

For his residence Herod built a palace (basileia). The palace was built over two terraces on a promontory to the south of the harbor. The lower one, constituting the private wing in two stories, was surrounded on three sides by the sea. In its center was a rectangular swimming pool of sweet water. It was surrounded by colonnades with planters set between the columns. The private residence, curvilinear in shape, was on the west, projecting deep into the sea. To the east of the swimming pool a reception hall with a mosaic floor was located. The upper terrace, around a courtyard surrounded by porticoes, served as the administrative wing. A T-shaped water cistern was installed under the courtyard. A bathhouse, an audience hall, and a banqueting wing occupied the northern wing. The southern wing was eroded by the sea. Entrance to the compound from the east was via a propylon with four turrets. Under the Roman governors the palace was extended farther to the east. Here were uncovered another bathhouse revetted in marble with a circular pool, a centurions’ club room (scola centurionum), an office of those in charge of the prison, and an office of the frumentarii (imperial secret agents). Beneficiari (legionaries serving in the civil administration of the governor) of Tineius Rufus, the Roman governor who suppressed the Bar Kokhba Revolt, dedicated there a statue in honor of Hadrian, presumably during his visit in the province in 129/30 C.E. (CIIP 1273–1276). Other inscriptions refer to statues of other emperors up to the tetrarchs, governors, or dignitaries that had adorned this compound.

The praetorium of the financial procurator and the Byzantine governor.

This praetorium was dedicated in 77/78 C.E. under Vespasian and Titus (CIIP 1282). The public wing extended over two terraces. Entrance was from the cardo on the east (cardo W1) through two staircases. The courtyard of the lower terrace had a water cistern in its center. Several grades led to the upper terrace that was built over a complex of 15 vaults. On the west, along the longitudinal axis of the compound, stood the audience hall, first a rectangular basilica with a facade to the west and later an apsidal basilica with a facade to the east. A copy of a fifth-century imperial edict in Greek referring to judicial procedures and their fees indicates that the hall served as a law court. To its south were offices of clerks and to its north, a library or an archive, first rectangular in shape and later apsidal. The northeastern corner of the complex, comprising seven rooms surrounding a central hall, served as a provincial taxation office (skrinion), where accountants and other clerks were in office (CIIP 1336, 1339, 1340). It seems that in the fifth and sixth centuries C.E. the praetorium extended farther east beyond cardo W1, since another accountant (noumerarios) is mentioned in one of the Greek inscriptions uncovered there. A public latrine occupied the southeast corner of the insula. On the northwest was uncovered the bathhouse of the praetorium. The private wing, seemingly located to the north, did not survive. In one of four elongated east–west vaults that supported the upper terrace a Mithraeum was installed by one of the procurators of the third century C.E. Latin inscriptions (and one in Greek) refer to statues of imperial and provincial dignitaries that had adorned the praetorium.

Palatial mansions and warehouses.

Each of the two insulae to the south of the Byzantine praetorium was occupied by a palatial mansion and an adjacent complex of warehouses of the fifth or sixth century C.E. The northern among them was uncovered in its entirety. A broad entrance led in to a corridor that led to the main courtyard, paved by marble plates and opus sectile (colored stones or tiles cut to form a design) floors and surrounded by marble columns. The area to its east included a small basilical hall that seems to have served the morning salutatio (greeting) of the clients coming to greet their patron. To the west of the courtyard extended the main audience hall that served for receptions and dinning. A transversal staircase led up from the courtyard to a portico of two monumental marble columns in front of the audience hall. The basilical layout of this hall is preserved in its substructure. The southwest quarter of the complex comprised three bath suites with a smaller courtyard and an adjacent lavatory. Water was supplied first by lead and terra-cotta pipes and in a later phase by a well with a sakia-type waterwheel (using pots or scoops to lift water) installed above. On the southeast of the complex extended the service quarters, with another well. The villa was decorated by floor and wall mosaics. A complex of six warehouses, of the courtyard, corridor, and composite types, occupied the other half of the insula to the north of the villa. Square underground granaries, dolia halls (halls of large clay containers), and smaller storage rooms where jars of local ware were uncovered indicate that grain, oil, and wine of local produce were stored in these warehouses. Reflecting the wealth of the owner of the villa, presumably a landlord, their purpose was to provide alimentation for the citizens of Caesarea, not for export.

Another complex of three warehouses of the corridor type occupied the northern part of the next insula to the south. They were annexed to a second villa. Here, only the western part was uncovered. It comprised a central courtyard with a double-story peristyle of marble capitals. To its north extended a dining room with three stibadia (semicircular couches) in a trifoil layout. A long corridor with a mosaic floor led west to a wide staircase, which led down to a private garden with a marble-revetted pergola that led to a private beach. The garden had a fountain and was irrigated by water channels. Dwelling rooms looking west, to the sea, had rich opus sectile and mosaic flooring. These rooms were built on top of the upper rows of seats of the Herodian hippo-stadium, which went out of use in the fourth century. A workshop of opus sectile panels for walls was exposed in one of the rooms to the south of the long corridor. Three other aggregates of four, six, and eight granaries were exposed in the next insula to the south. They might have belonged to a third urban villa.

In the northern part of the city was found a house with a small peristyle courtyard. A hoard of 99 gold solidi (coins) of the late fourth and early fifth centuries C.E. was found under the floor in one of its rooms.


Rock-cut Hellenistic cist burials were found under the northern wing of the upper terrace of Herod’s palace. Simple pit Hellenistic tombs, dug in the sand, were uncovered below the Roman structures to the south and southeast of the crusader city wall. “East of Qisrin…are graveyards” (Mishnah, אOhal. 18:10[9]) refers to a Jewish cemetery of the first century C.E. that extended to the east of the Herodian city wall. None of its tombs has been found so far. A Roman cemetery of cremation burials was uncovered against the Herodian wall, on the outside, to the south of the Herodian city wall. A large cemetery of the later Roman and Byzantine periods extended beyond the Byzantine city wall.


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Joseph Patrich