Caesarea Maritima – Herod the Great
Caesarea Maritima was built by Herod the Great on the coast of Israel, north of Jaffa, as a major harbor city between about 23 and 13 B.C. It was a new city built by Herod, and the writings of Josephus Flavius give one the impression that it was a grand city meant to display the greatness of both Herod and Augustus. Originally, the site was home to a fortification known as Straton’s tower, built by the Phoenicians in the Persian period. The site continued to be inhabited well into the Crusader Period, and impressive remains of fortifications, a castle, a cathedral, and a church can still be seen today.
Caesarea Maritima – Roman Seat of Power
In about 13 B.C. Caesarea Maritima (Caesarea of the Sea) became the seat of power for the Roman praefecti of the Judaea province, and the capital was fully transferred here after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Eventually, about 133 A.D., the city was renamed to Caesarea Palaestina and remained an influential city for over 1,000 years. In the New Testament, Peter visited the centurion Cornelius at his house in Caesarea (Acts 10), Herod Agrippa I died here (Acts 12:19-23), Paul visits Philip here (Acts 21:8), and Paul goes before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa II here (Acts 23:33-26:32).
Caesarea Maritima – Feat of Engineering
Caesarea Maritima demonstrates the nature of an ancient Roman city, with well planned streets, an underground sewage system, an aqueduct, and a harbor. The entire coastline of Israel had only one natural harbor—at Haifa—but Herod did not let nature stop him from building what Josephus describes as even larger than that of Athens at Piraeus. The harbor at Caesarea Maritima was the first artificial harbor in the world, and it was built with a hydraulic concrete made from volcanic pozzuolana sand from Santorini, a concrete capable of hardening underwater, and forming blocks there as large as 39 feet x 49 feet x 5 feet and blocks weighing more than 50 tons. Even more amazing is that this revolutionary technology was lost for well over 1,000 years. Although much of the harbor is only visible today via aerial photography or underwater exploration, investigation reveals that the breakwater for the harbor extended more than 1,500 feet out into the water, and once inside, ships could be transported to the warehouse district via a 500 foot long quay. However, an earthquake in about 130 A.D. severely damaged the harbor and it ceased being used sometime in the Byzantine period.
Although the harbor was an amazing feat of engineering, it was by no means the only impressive structure built at Caesarea Maritima. Buildings from the Herodian and New Testament era include an aqueduct, a theater, a palace, a stadium, and a temple dedicated to Caesar. The aqueduct, which is still standing in good condition today, carried water to the city from about 13 miles away, and rises to an elevation of about 20 feet high along the coast. The palace is mostly in ruins, but some mosaics, pillars, and what appears to be the remnants of swimming pools can still be seen today. It was here that the Apostle Paul would have appeared before Felix, Festus, and then Agrippa II in about 58 A.D. Marcus Antonius Felix, procurator of Judea from ca. 52-58 A.D., is attested in Acts 23-25, Josephus, Suetonius, and Tacitus. He was succeeded by Porcius Festus, procurator ca. 58-62 A.D., attested in Acts and Josephus.
The stadium of Herod’s day no longer exists, and it was replaced by a hippodrome in the 3rd century B.C. The two structures were likely quite similar though. The theater has been partially restored, and is even used for performances today. It was about 300 feet in diameter and seated around 4,000 people, and is likely where Agrippa I gave his last speech, dying soon after in 44 A.D. Acts 12 states that the angel of the Lord smote him, and he was eaten by worms and died. Josephus states that he was immediately smitten with violent pains in his abdomen, and died after a few days. The separate accounts of the death of Herod Agrippa I complement rather than contradict each other. Acts gives the reason and cause of death, while Josephus gives the time frame to death and location in the body of Agrippa’s pain, while both contain numerous similar details.
Caesarea Maritima – Pontius Pilate Inscription
During excavations of the theater at Caesarea Maritima in 1961, a block of black limestone in secondary use in the steps, and with a fragmentary inscription was discovered. The inscription reads: “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius.” The early governors of Judea were of prefect rank, the later were of procurator rank, beginning with Cuspius Fadus in 44 AD. This inscription demonstrates Pontius Pilate not only existed, but was a prefect instead of a procurator. He was procurator from 26 to 36 A.D., and while Roman historians called him a procurator, the Gospels refrain from this term and use the Greek word for governor, much closer to the Latin term Prefect than Procurator. While the temples to the emperors are in ruins, foundations of the temple to Augustus can still be seen inside the Crusader fort.
Caesarea Maritima – Early Christian Church
In a large building near the seashore of Caesarea Maritima, two mosaics were created during the early church, which contain the text of Romans 13:3: “Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.” The texts date to no later than the 5th century A.D., and although papyrus fragments of the New Testament exist from as early as the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., these are two of the oldest inscriptions of a New Testament verse. The city is also known to have been an important center of early Christianity; Origen taught in a famous Christian school here and there was an extensive library in the city. Unfortunately, the library and its works were destroyed in the Muslim conquest.