Caesarea Maritima: the high-level aqueduct


Herod the Great constructed a high-level aqueduct to sustain the growth of the population of Caesarea Maritima. The source for the aqueduct’s water was Mount Carmel, located seven miles away to the north-northeast. However, this aqueduct was about much more than the delivery of water to a thirsty city.

On the surface, it would appear that the purpose of aqueducts like the one pictured above near Caesarea was to simply bring a steady stream of fresh water to the city. But the construction of such aqueducts served additional purposes, not the least of which would be the constant, graphic display of Rome’s apparent power over the very products of the heavens and time. Marianne Sawicki explains:

… when Herodian engineers built the massive aqueduct systems to support cities like Caesarea … they accomplished something more than civic improvements. They secularized the water. It no longer came from heaven; it came from Rome. “From Rome” means that Roman engineering brought it into homes and courtyards from far-off mountain springs, conveniently, automatically, without regard to the natural vicissitudes of the weather or the seasons, and without any apparent assistance from divine providence. … Aqueducts as such were by no means a Roman innovation in … Galilee. … But, unlike … earlier installations, the Herodian- and Roman-era aqueducts were monumentally built and called attention to themselves by their size and design. They matched the civic architecture of theaters, colonnaded avenues, temples, and so forth that constituted the “urban overlay” of the Greco-Roman cities in Galilee.

While I could share quite a few more pictures of sites I was privileged to see in Caesarea Maritima this spring, most of them would be of matters dating from the time of the Crusades. So, we’ll leave Caesarea now, having focused primarily on matters pertaining to the first century A.D.

Where do you guess we might be in our photo tour of Israel when posting resumes here on Sat., Sept. 28? Come and see!

Caesarea Maritima: the temple to Augustus



The Jewish historian Josephus (37 – c 100 A.D.), in a brief summary of some of Herod the Great’s building projects across Palestine, noted in regard to Caesarea Maritima:

“At Caesarea he constructed a major port along a shore where there was none, enclosing a harbor larger than the Piraeus [the largest seaport in Greece]. Then he erected a whole city of white stone crowned with a temple to Rome and Augustus – all within a twelve-year period.” (p.246)

In another place, Josephus tells us the temple’s statute of the emperor Augustus was “not inferior to the Olympian Zeus.” (Jewish Wars I.21.7).

We know exactly where this remarkable temple once stood: on the highest and most prominent part of Caesarea Maritima, overlooking the harbor and only 100-300 yards from the coastline of that time. However, the intervening two millennium since its construction has not been kind to this temple for virtually all of it has either deteriorated, been carried away, been re-purposed, or remains yet to be excavated. However, what little of the temple’s remains that have been identified has enabled scholars to surmise what the temple looked like originally.

The photograph above is a close-up shot of a historical marker located on the temple’s foundation that presents scholarship’s proposal of the temple’s appearance.

Caesarea Maritima: the governor’s palace baths



As we’ve noted before, excavation work by archaeologists has revealed multiple layers of habitation in Caesarea Maritima. One of those layers is that of the Byzantine era and something of the Byzantine governor’s palace has been found there, pictured above.

A historical marker reads:

This bathhouse is the only important remain of the private wing of the Byzantine governor’s palace, almost entirely destroyed by the construction of the medieval fortifications.


Caesarea Maritima: the Mithraeum



One of the four palace vaults uncovered in Caesarea Maritima is of particular interest due to its use as a Mithraeum, a place dedicated to the practice of Mithraism. Mithraism was a mystery religion commonly practiced throughout much of the Roman Empire during the first centuries of the Common Era. Everett Ferguson tells us:

After the late first century A.D. archaeological evidence for Mithraism begins to increase; at the end of the second century the emperor Commodus was initiated; it was strongest during the third century, when it was a significant element in Julian’s attempt to reestablish paganism. The main strength of Mithraism, according to the surviving monuments and sanctuaries, was among Roman soldiers and administrative officials along the frontier, from Hadrian’s wall in Britain to Dura Europus on the Euphrates. Only men were admitted to the mysteries, and Mithras as a warrior and guardian of oaths appealed to manly pride. Mithraism also flourished at seaports … and it was well represented in and around Rome, thus indicating its appeal to merchants and city-dwellers as well as soldiers. … It seems never to have had much of a hold in Palestine, where to date only one Mithraeum has been discovered. At Caeasarea one of the warehouses dated from the late first to the third century was used as a Mithraeum in the third century. (Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd edition; pp. 290-291)

A historical marker in front of the Mithraeum in Caesarea Maritima reads:

In the early 2nd c. A.D., one vault was converted into a “Mithraeum.” The contrast between the dark vault and the shaft of sunlight reaching directly the altar from the opening made in the ceiling, played a role in the cult of Mithras, known as the “Unconquered Sun.

Caesarea Maritima: the palace vaults



Starting around 70 A.D., the chief Roman official in charge of the administration of finances and taxes throughout the province of Judea held his office in Caesarea Maritima. His palace (praetorium) was located close to the north end of the amphitheatre/hippodrome while the palace of the procurators (Herod’s palace) was situated near the southern end.

During the 1980’s, archaeologists uncovered the ruins of the administrative wing of the praetorium. It consisted of a large hall surrounded by offices. Beneath it, on a lower story, were four large vaults. In the photograph above you can see a portion of three of these four vaults. Some years after their initial construction and purpose, this area was converted into use as additional warehouse (horrea) space for Caesarea’s port.

A historical marker there reads:

These four long, parallel vaults, opening onto the west through a portico, first served as substructures of the Roman financial procurator’s palace. In a later stage, a large ornamented hall was added in front of the vaults converted into warehouses.

Caesarea Maritima: the amphitheatre/hippodrome (6)



The finish line for the chariot races conducted in the amphitheatre/hippodrome in Caesarea Maritima was on the east side, near its southern end. To be precise, it was located directly in front of the dignitaries’ tribune (the VIP seating area). That area is pictured in the photograph above. Not visible here, but quite close to this seating (toward the right side of this photograph) is where a shrine stood with images of various gods and/or goddesses. And it is quite likely that it was on this very spot that Herod Agrippa I, a grandson of Herod the Great and king over all Palestine from 37-44 A.D., met his end.

We have both a secular record (Josephus) and a Scriptural account (Acts 12.21-23) of the death of Herod Agrippa I. The two accounts go well with each other. Josephus tells us:

“After his seventh year of rule, Agrippa came to Caesarea to celebrate games in honor of Caesar. At daybreak he entered the theater, dressed in a garment of woven silver which gleamed in the rays of the rising sun. His flatterers started addressing him as a god, but then he looked up and saw an owl perched on a rope overhead was struck with intense pain. ‘I, whom you called a god,’ he cried, ‘am now under sentence of death!’ Five days later he died, at age 54.”

Luke’s account in Acts 12.21-23 reads:

“On the scheduled day Herod dressed himself in royal attire, seated himself on the throne, and gave a speech to the people. Those assembled kept shouting, over and over, ‘This is a god’s voice, not the voice of a mere human!’ Immediately an angel from the Lord struck Herod down, because he didn’t give the honor to God. He was eaten by worms and died.”

It was this Herod, Herod Agrippa I, who executed the apostle James and who had the apostle Peter arrested.