and Description of the Excavations
(excerpted from The promontory palace at Caesarea Maritima: preliminary
evidence for Herod's Praetorium by Kathyrn L. Gleason, et al.)
The site is one of Caesarea's three prominent
sandstone (or kurkar, seen in photo at right) promontories
or islands projecting into the Mediterranean. Herod
employed two as the basis for the harbor. On the third, and most
southerly, is the palace. From this promontory, the city and harbor
are viewed panoramically, and there is controlled access to the
palace by sea and land. Until recent years, the only visible sign
of palace was a great rock-cut pool (35
x 18m.) with a central base (below, left).The pool area is surrounded
by foundation cuttings. Still known locally as "Cleopatra's
Baths" or the "Piscina," the pool and cuttings have
been surveyed by various archaeologists at Caesarea.
Hebrew University excavations in the harbor area between 1976-79,
the team studied the promontory and identified the rock cuttings
as the foundation walls of a large palace. The amphitheatron was
discovered in 1991, finally making sense of Josephus' description
of the building being along the coast in the south of the city (AntJ
15.341). The Upper Palace, wedged between the stadium and the Lower
Palace, was partially excavated in 1993, but full realization of
its plan came in the following three years and is still in progress.
Netzer directed the first systematic excavations on the promontory
in 1976 with L. I.Levine and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The
team documented the rock cuttings on the promontory and began digging
the one preserved side of the building: the east range of rooms.
The results suggested a luxuriously-appointed building of some 110
x 55m. The east range comprised large central hall, or triclinium
with two small flanking rooms to each side (right). The triclinium
and one room on each side were adorned with well-crafted geometric
mosaics (below left) and traces of wall plaster imitating marble
revetment. An entrance stair was located at the northeast corner.
The earliest pottery from the site, recovered in a sounding near
the entrance stairway, dates to the late 1st c. B.C..-early 1st
c. A.D., but the context of this material was unclear and further
clarification was needed.
The dramatic siting of the building, its walls
battered by the surf, provided the strongest evidence that the palace
was Herod's, recalling his palaces at Masada, Jericho and Herodium,
where Herod engineered difficult and beautiful terrain into luxurious
residences. Evidence that pozzuolana was used in the construction
of features in the pool added evidence that the pool was constructed
when this cement was imported for construction of the harbor. In
sum, the configuration of the building, its siting, and technical
aspects of its construction, provided a compelling basis for identifying
the promontory palace as that of Herod the Great. Further stratigraphic
excavation was required to establish a ceramic chronology and answer
questions about the extent and phasing of the building, which appeared
to have survived through the Byzantine era.
In 1990, Netzer and a Hebrew University team
returned to the site with Kathryn Gleason, Barbara Burrell and a
group of 20 student volunteers under the sponsorship of the University
of Pennsylvania. The season produced important new additions to
the 1976 discoveries, consisting primarily of evidence for the development
of the east range during the Roman period. Excavations that season
revealed that, in the Roman period, the triclinium and its rooms
were provided with a small caldarium, whose
hypocaust (right) and furnace were well-preserved.
A tile used in the furnace bears the stamp of the Tenth Legion Fretensis.
Atop destruction debris in the southernmost room of the east wing,
excavators found two inscribed marble columns with six dedicatory
inscriptions. These revealed important new information about officials
of Caesarea from the 2nd-4th c. A.D., including a previously unattested
"curator of ships of the colony of Caesarea."
Finally, excavations in 1990 revealed the
eastern exterior wall of the palace, approximately where anticipated.
The picture was not so simple, however: the wall was composed of
many component segments, most obscuring the line of the original
wall; furthermore, heavy rains later that winter washed down a baulk
outside of this wall, revealing a new eastern wall parallel to the
earlier discovery. Only in 1993 would it become clear that it was
the stylobate for the colonnade of the Upper Palace.
1992, a new phase of archaeology began in Israel, with funding provided
from the Ministry of Tourism to employ new immigrants through the
Caesarea Development Project to excavate archaeological sites and
develop them for tourism. On the promontory, excavations, now under
the sponsorship of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, but in
collaboration with Netzer and Hebrew University, continued to focus
on the lower promontory. Ten workers from the new employment project
joined an international group of 16 volunteers.
Work in this season yielded additional stratigraphic
information about the furnace and entrance stairwell. We uncovered
the rear wall of the triclinium for the first time, which proved
to have an apse and semicircular pool, with a central cutting probably
once housing a central fountain. Excavations to the east, or outside,
of the palace wall, up on the upper promontory, produced a variety
of fills over quarried bedrock, but no distinctive features. All
trenches lay outside of the security perimeter fence for the theater
compound, restricting further excavation to the east.
1993, the Caesarea Development Project had escalated and the study
excavation strategy turned to one of "rescue" excavation
in advance of expansion of the National Park's facilities. The security
fence on the upper promontory was removed and the Penn team agreed
to take on excavation of the full upper promontory; however, prior
to issuance of the 1993 permit, the IAA reallocated the eastern
half of this upper area, then a parking lot, to IAA archaeologist
Yosef Porath, working on a year around basis on the adjacent amphitheatron,
to expedite excavation. Although no one at that time knew what lay
beneath the dirt parking lot, the boundary ultimately divided the
underlying building cleanly in half, through the courtyard and preserved
northern rooms of the Upper Palace.
The 1993 Penn season, which ran from mid-July
until the end of October that year, with two rotating teams of up
to 40 workers and volunteers, revealed the first outlines of the
Upper Palace; and the 1994 season, lasting only six weeks, but with
a full complement of 30 workers and volunteers, filled in important
gaps. The Upper Palace was found to consist of rooms disposed alongside
a large central courtyard. Along the eroded
south side of the courtyard, down on the beach, two walls suggested
the remains of the palace platform to the south. Aided by the discovery
of a central base or small platform, we were able to reconstruct
the full dimensions of the courtyard (42 x 65m). These were confirmed
later in the year when the IAA team undertook full-scale excavations
of the eastern half of the palace.
The courtyard contained a system of water
features. Just south of the central axis of the courtyard, Penn
excavators found a channel feeding into the corner of a cistern.
The IAA team later revealed the cistern to be one of two large stone
tanks beneath the central axis
of the courtyard. In 1994, a well (left)
was discovered at the west end of the water channel, possibly the
source of the water for channels later found in the IAA area, if
not for the cisterns themselves.
At the bottom of well, a cache of some 60
lead defixione, or curse tablets,
were recovered during wet-sieving. These tablets and an associated
assemblage of coins, dating to the 4th c. A.D., are discussed by
Barbara Burrell on another page.
A small plastered floor was excavated to the south of the well,
at a lower level. Its purpose is unclear, but it perhaps served
for water raising. The surface of the courtyard is paved in crushed
kurkar, and in some areas a plastered surface was preserved. Beneath
the surface, irregularly quarried bedrock was leveled with a red-sandy
fill, with a few Hellenistic sherds, or more crushed kurkar. This
courtyard is discussed more fully below.
Surrounding the courtyard, a colonnade was
supported atop a stylobate of ashlar blocks set into straight-sided
box-like foundation trenches cut into the bedrock. Only one base
was found in situ, but careful sleuthing by Williams revealed a
repeating configuration of blocks that provided the intercolumniation
of the colonnade. Better preservation of column bases in the IAA
sector would later confirm the finding. The bases were carved in
the local kurkar sandstone and then coated in plaster. Various column
segments and partially carved capitals have been found in the Penn
excavation area, but none can be definitively associated with the
colonnade, so the architectural order is unknown at present.
The central feature of north wing of the Upper
Palace was a large hall (192m2). Paved at the time of its destruction
in ornate geometric mosaic "carpets" of the Byzantine
period, the room had evidently received many alterations while keeping
its essential architectural form of the 1st B.C. We identify the
room as an audience hall, cautiously holding
the view that it was in such a room that the governors of Caesarea
received Paul, among many others, for hearings.
Set into a rock-cut trench a across the back
of the room, excavators found an unusual hypocaustal heating arrangement
supporting an open area of heated floor with no evidence of adjacent
bathing facilities. Smaller rooms flanked the hall to either side.
Those to the west were excavated in 1993. The chamber walls immediately
adjacent to the audience hall were totally destroyed by looting,
leaving only a jumbled fill of flue and roof tiles, and footings
cut in the bedrock for foundation walls.
Further west, however, an intact, roofed chamber
was discovered late in the season, filled to the ceiling with rich
deposits of domestic debris. This feature was identified at first
as a small cistern, although it would later prove to be a spring
house. In 1994, excavation of the spring house resumed, and the
chamber was found to open onto a smaller chamber and tunnel completely
carved into the bedrock south of the opening. Its section is similar
to chamber tombs in the area, suggesting that it was originally
part of the Hellenistic cemetery (see below), but its alignment
with the architecture of the palace puts this interpretation into
Immediately to the north of this spring house,
excavations revealed two superimposed pools and to the east, a small
small chamber heated with a hypocaustal floor was discovered at
the surface level. A large drain was also cut deeply into the rock
in this area, draining the pools out to the north side of the promontory.
In this northwest area of the palace, the bedrock was never quarried,
and it was here that the majority of rock-cut cists from a pre-Herodian
(Hellenistic) cemetery were found in 1993
and 1994 .
Although the north side, the promontory has
eroded into the sea, however, a leveled surface in the kurkar suggests
the footing of a the exterior palace wall atop the unhewn kurkar
escarpment. Although the footing of the wall is very different,
it continues the line of the heavy ashlar retaining wall to the
east that binds the upper palace platform to the amphitheatron in
the IAA area. Hellenistic burial cists were also found in this area.
To the east of the audience hall, flanking rooms and a corridor
were discovered before reaching the boundary with the IAA area.
These rooms were paved in fine, complex geometric mosaics set into
fields of white mosaic. Preservation was poor, overall, and construction
of an access road over the site to the IAA area from 1994-1996 has
prevented detailed study of the rooms.
The 1995 and 1996 seasons were devoted to
answering specific questions and finishing uncompleted projects.
By 1995, funding for the overall employment program ended. Twelve
staff and volunteers excavated the baulks of the upper promontory
and prepared measured drawings of the site, working with A. Iamim
and S. Sacks to integrate the plans into the joint city plan on
AutoCAD. In 1996, we returned with a small, veteran staff to complete
the excavation of the stairwell area, the spring house, the cuttings
on the promontory, and the mosaics. We anticipate one further season
in the field to carry out the technically difficult excavation of
the contents of the great pool, most likely unstratified . Feasibility
studies there in 1994 revealed good preservation of architectural
fragments and the presence of a small, presumably ornamental structure
at the west end of the pool.
the history of the promontory, an accurate understanding of its
prominence in the urban plan has been hampered by the fact that
it had never been accurately surveyed in relationship to the main
coast. On the Napoleonic maps of the later 18th and early 19th century
(Gray's systematic coastal survey of 1863, and Conder and Kitchener's
Survey of Western Palestine II), the promontory seems to be sketched
rather than surveyed: its form bears little resemblance either to
Pococke's plan of 1745 or the promontory as seen today. In spite
of the introduction of aerial photographs, the situation did not
improve in the twentieth century, and many of the urban plans produced
of Caesarea by archaeologists show the promontory as a small, innocuous
nub projecting off of the coastline. In 1993, the promontory was
finally linked to a larger laser theodolite survey of the mainland.
In 1995, Anna Iamim produced the first AutoCAD-generated map of
Caesarea fully coordinated with the architectural records of all
of the archaeological teams involved at Caesarea. The promontory
palace emerged, for the first time since antiquity, as one of most
commanding sites of the city.