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.

Caesarea Maritima: the amphitheatre/hippodrome (2)



To visit Caesarea Maritima today, one might think that most of what can be seen now has always been obvious, especially given its location beside the sea. However, such is not the case. Even, a quick perusal of the writings of visitors a hundred years ago reveal no awareness whatsoever of much of what is visible today.

In fact, from the third century A.D. onward – over a millennium and a half ago – the area occupied by the amphitheatre/hippodrome was either neglected and left to erosion by the elements, deliberately filled in with sand and debris, or built upon by other construction. Only in recent decades has archaeological excavation, on both land and under the sea, revealed what was largely hidden from view.

A small stretch of some of the eastern section of the amphitheatre/hippodromee has been deliberately left unexcavated so as to illustrate the challenge and effort required of archaeologists. In this section of dirt, pictured above, the various, striped layers of deposits and rubble through the centuries can be clearly seen.

And so, if you can see Caesarea Maritima, thank an archaeologist, and thank God for them!

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.