Caesarea Maritima: the amphitheatre/hippodrome (1)



“On leaving the Palace of the Procurators through its main entrance (on the east, an open space with a square structure in each corner) turn left [north] into a passage in the middle of a curved stepped structure. Josephus removes all doubt as to its function, ‘south of the harbor and set back from the shore Herod built an amphitheatre capable of accommodating a large crowd of people, and conveniently located for a view over the sea’ (Antiquities 15.341). Once one recognizes the fluidity of Josephus’ use of the term ‘amphitheatre’, this description perfectly fits the stepped structure, whose curved south end and east side are well preserved. Its proportions (50×290 m) [164 feet x 951 feet] mean that it could have been used for a variety of entertainments from running to chariot races; starting gates are visible at the north end. The podium wall was 1.7 m [5 1/2 feet] above the original floor, and above it on the east side were 12 rows of seats. Here in 11BC Herod celebrated the great games inaugurating the new city (Antiquities 16:138-139).” (Source: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Jerome Murphy-O’Conner)

Josephus’ description of things is clear, but references in modern literature to amphitheatres and hippodromes located in Caesarea Maritima can be confusing for the remains of not one, but two amphitheatres have been discovered there. A large hippodrome has also been discovered but, one of the amphitheatres (the one pictured above) also served as a hippodrome.

The amphitheatre pictured here is the dual purpose amphitheatre: an anphitheatre/hippodrome. It’s the only amphitheatre (or hippodrome) that existed during the time of the events recorded in the book of Acts.

I snapped this photograph while standing on the floor of the amphitheatre/hippdrome, looking north. Some of the seating is visible on the extreme right. Starting gates (carceres) for the horse and chariot races are visible at the north end, one third of the way toward the photograph’s center from the right.

A much larger and more elaborate, dedicated hippodrome was constructed in the middle of the second century A.D. about a quarter of a mile east of the dual purpose amphitheatre/hippodrome pictured here. Similarly, a much larger and more nearly “true amphitheatre” was built in the third century A.D. about one half or two-thirds of a mile (as the crow flies) to the north-north-east of the amphiteatre/hippdrome pictured above.