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About Caesarea

Modern Setting
(excerpted from The promontory palace at Caesarea Maritima: preliminary evidence for Herod's Praetorium by Kathyrn L. Gleason, et al.)

The ruins of Caesarea Maritima lie forty kilometers north of Tel Aviv along the rapidly developing coastline, divided among the lands of the Israel National Park Authority, Kibbutz Sdot Yam, and the development projects of the privately owned Caesarea Development Corporation. The Promontory Palace, extending westwards 100 m. into the sea, is situated within the National Park, adjacent to the restored ancient theater and the newly discovered amphitheatron (a stadium/hippodrome complex).

The ruins of the palace lie in two parts. The Lower Palace is built close to sea level, its central peristyle framing a great rock-cut pool. The Upper Palace, built on a higher reach of the promontory and on a slightly different orientation, focuses on a large central courtyard, paved in compacted crushed stone. Although not previously well-known to tourists, the promontory palace is currently undergoing partial reconstruction as part of a tourist path from the theater to a new seaside promenade terminating at the Crusader Fortress wall.

Historical Setting

Caesarea Maritima, established by Herod the Great on the site of the Hellenistic city of Strato's Tower, has been known continuously from its founding through until the present day, and is the setting for numerous historically significant events and personages. The palace of the city is mentioned in only a few instances, although incidents in lives of the procurators, governors and other officials who dwelt there are more frequently described.

An artist's interpretaion of Caesarea Maritima's harbor and lighthouse. Painting source: National Geographic

The basileia features prominently in Josephus' description of Herod's building programs at Caesarea. Agrippa I was struck by fatal illness in the theater and died in the palace. "Herod's praetorium" was the destination of the apostle Paul for a hearing before Antoninus Felix at Caesarea (Acts of the Apostles 23:35.). Later, Herod Agrippa II and his sister Berenike visited a new governor, Porcius Festus,there and heard Paul's self-defense in the akroaterion (Acts 25:23). Josephus, in relating the incident of the standards at Caesarea (BellJ 2 169-74; AntJ 18.57), mentions a demonstration outside of the palace which moved into the adjacent stadium.

Together these narrative sources provide an image of the palace, stadium (amphitheater, hippodrome), and theater in close proximity to one another. Such a constellation of palace and public buildings in the southern area of the city, however, was unknown to excavators until the last quarter of this century. Only the theater, excavated in 1958 by A. Frova had been recognized since the mapping efforts of Conder and Kitchener in the 1880s. The palace and Josephus' amphiteatron, however, remained lost to memory.

Caesarea Bibliography:



  • Hellenistic Strato's Tower
  • 22 BCE: Herod founds and dedicates Caesarea
  • 15 BCE: Herod visits Rome
  • 10/9: Opening Games

  • 6 C.E. New province of Judaea. First comes under Augustus' direct control under the legatus of Syria. Governor in Caesarea was an official of equestrial ranct with the title prefect.
  • 41-44: Herod Agrippa I reigns under Claudius
  • 44: Agrippa dies in the theater at Caesarea. Power resumed by Rome under a procurator.
  • 58: Paul's first visits to Caesarea
  • 60-62: Paul imprisoned; transferred from prison at Caesarea to Rome
    66: Start of the Jewish revolt. Roman army comes to Judaea. Vespasian based at Caesarea.
  • 69: Vespasian declared emperor by his troops, in Caesarea; Vespasian declares the city a colony.
  • 70-90: Judaea capta coin series
    Second Century: Marked by an absence of literary or other sources. A Lack of Jewish leadership results in much assimilation among Jews resettling in Caesarea. Caesarea keeps growing. Harbor slumps.
  • 100: Agrippa II: Civil and Military affairs handled by a legatus augusti propraetore who resided at Caesarea
  • 132-135: Second Jewish Revolt
  • 180: Death of Marcus Aurelius; instability follows

    Third Century: flourishing and diverse city life-- no single group dominant among Christians, pagans, Samaritans and Jews; close ties to Alexandria
  • 201: Septimius Severus vivits Palestine, establishes Pythian games
  • 230-250: Origen lives at Caesarea (dies 253) flourishing school and Christian intellectual life.
  • 231:Alexander Severus visits Caesarea; elevates it to a Metropolis
  • 235: Persecution of Christians under Maximin--church leaders the focus. Proconsul Urban orders all inhabs to offer sacrifices to gods. Origen flees to Cappadocia.
  • 250: Persecution of Christians under Decius: severe. Origen tortured in prison. Bishop of Jerusalem persecuted--dies after torture at Caesarea. Governors replaced three times during this period.
  • 250-270: possible Palmyrean conquest of city
  • 253: Peak of Caesarean mint's production
  • 258: Persecution of Christians under Vallerian: three martyrs.
  • 260: Persecution of Christians under Gallienus: one martyr.
  • 273: Aurelian conquers Palmyra--threat ended.
    Turn of fourth century: Caesarea head of Palestine at its fullest extent. Sizable officium in the city. Soldiers of local garrison. Highest tribunal in province.
  • 300: Public inscriptions now Greek
  • 303: Flavian, proconsul in Caesarea declares that Christian in office would lose all civil rights while those in imperial households would be deprived of liberty.
  • 303-311: Severe persecution of Christians under Diocletian.
  • 314-338: Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea
  • 326: Helena visits Jerusalem from Constatinople
  • 351.352: Jewish revolt against Gallus fails, much suffering--affects Caesarean Jewish community.
  • 355: Caesarea's synagogue destroyed.
  • 358: Reduction of province (Petra as capital of S. Arabia). Caesarea begins to decline as Palestine is redivided with new capitals.

    Mid-Fifth century: more land divided from Palestine. Christian tourism. Less centralized. Rise of country estates, cities generally, lose their splendor. Immigration of Christians to country towns. Samaritan community initiates uprisings against Constantinople using Caesarea as a base.
  • 484: Samaritans slay Christians, burn churches while their ruler, Justa, celebrates a triumph with games in the hippodrome.

  • 529: Samaritan attack on Christians, burn churches.
  • 536: Justinian elevates Caesarea's governor to rank of proconsul.
  • 555/556: Samaritan attack on Christians, burn churches. Governor of the Province, Stephanos killed in his onw praetorium and his possession in the building were pillaged.

    Mid-sixth century: Octagonal Church on temple platform
    By the late byzantine period, Procopius of Gaza describes how wretched the port had become. Few non-christian minorities. Port of no use. Aqueducts in disrepair, fire, famine, depopulation. Factionalism centering around sporting events. However, much was refurbished--the city would not be deserted for centuries to come.
  • 627: Persian district governor interrogates the monk Anastasius, who is then imprisioned in the city's fortress.
site design and construction by Neil Shea
Copyright 2002 by Kathy Gleason