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Caesarea Palaestina, also called Caesarea Maritima, a town built by Herod the Great about 25 - 13 BC, lies on the sea-coast of Israel about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, on the site of a place previously called Pyrgos Stratonos ("Strato" or "Straton's Tower," in Latin Turris Stratonis). Caesarea Palaestina should not be confused with other cities named to flatter the Caesar, Caesarea Philippi, also in Palestine, or Caesarea Mazaca in Anatolian Cappadocia.
Herod the palace-builder did not neglect his new city: his palace at Caesarea was built on a promontory that jutted out into the sea, with a decorative pool surrounded by stoas. The civil life of the new city began in 13 BC, when Caesarea was made the civil and military capital of Judaea, and the official residence of the Roman procurators and governors, Pontius Pilatus and Felix. The city was described in detail by the Jewish historian Josephus (Jewish Antiquities XV.331ff; Jewish War I.408ff)
Remains of all the principal buildings erected by Herod existed down to the end of the 19th century. Remains of the medieval town are also visible, consisting of the walls (one-tenth the area of the Roman city), the castle, the site of the modest Crusader cathedral and church.
Archeological excavations during the 1950s and 1960s uncovered remains from many periods, in particular, a complex of fortifications of the Crusader city and the Roman theater. Other buildings include a temple dedicated to Caesar; a hippodrome that was rebuilt in the 2nd century as a more conventional amphitheater; the Tiberieum, which has a dedicatory inscription that is the only secular record of Pilate; a double aqueduct that brought water from springs at the foot of Mount Carmel; a boundary wall; and, chief of all, a gigantic mole, 200 ft (60 m) wide, built of stones 50 ft (15 m) long, in 20 fathoms (40 m) of water, protecting the harbour on the south and west exposures. The harbor at Caesarea Palaestina, 180 yd (180 m) across, was then the largest harbor on the eastern Mediterranean coast. Josephus included detailed descriptions of Caesarea in Jewish Antiquities 15.331 and in the Jewish War 1.408, for the massacre of Jews at this place led to the Jewish rebellion and to the Roman war.
Vespasian made it a colony and called it Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea: the old name persisted, however, and still survives as "Kaisarieh".
Early Christian mentions of Caesarea in the apostolic period follow the acts of Peter who established the church there when he baptized the Cornelius the Centurion (Acts, 10, 11). The Apostle Paul often sojourned there (9:30; 18:22; 21:8), and was imprisoned at Caesarea for two years before being taken to Rome (23:23, 25:1-13).
After the revolt of Simon bar Kokhba, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem, Caesarea became the center of Christianity in Palestine; however, there is no record of any bishop of Caesarea until the end of the 2nd century, when a council was held there to regulate the celebration of Easter. In the 3rd century Origen wrote his Hexapla and other exegetic and theological works while living there. Eusebius was one of its archbishops (315 - 318).
The main church was the Martyrion of the Holy Procopius, built in the 6th century and sited directly upon the podium that had supported the Roman temple, as was a widespread Christian practice. Throughout the Empire, prominently-sited pagan temples were rarely left unconsecrated to the new rites: in time the Martyrion's site was re-occupied, this time by a mosque. The Martyrion was an octagon, richly re-paved and surrounded by small radiating enclosures. Archaeologists have recovered some foliate capitals that included representations of the Cross.
Through Origen and especially the scholarly prespyter Pamphilus of Caesarea, an avid collector of books of Scripture, the theological school of Caesarea won a reputation for having the most extensive ecclesiastical library of the time, containing more than 30,000 manuscripts: Gregory Nazianzus, Basil the Great, Jerome and others came to study there.
An elaborate government structure contained a basilica with an apse, where magistrates would have sat, for the structure was used as a hall of justice, as fragments of inscriptions detailing the fees that court clerks might claim attest.
In the 7th century, the city was captured first by the Persians, then in 638 by the Muslims, and in one or the other upheaval the great library was destroyed. The walls remained, but within them the population dwindled and agriculture crept in among the ruins. When Baldwin I took the city in 1101/2, during the First Crusade, it was still very rich, nevertheless. A legend grew up that in this city was discovered the Holy Grail around which so much lore accrued in the next two centuries. Perhaps the Holy Grail was recovered more than once, for the Genoese found a green glass goblet that they identified as the Chalice and expatriated to Genoa, where it was placed in the church of San Lorenzo. The city was strongly refortified and rebuilt by the Crusaders. A lordship was created there, as was one of the four archbishoprics in the kingdom (see Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem). A list of thirty-six Latin bishops, from 1101 to 1496 has been reassembled by 19th century papal historians; the most famous of these is probably Heraclius. After that the Latin "Bishop of Caesarea" became an empty title. The bishops did not govern: Saladin retook the city in 1187; it was recaptured by the Crusaders in 1191, and finally lost by them in 1265 this time to the Mamluks, who ensured that there would be no more battling over the site— where the harbor has silted in anyway— that they razed the fortifications.
Caesarea lay in ruins until its resettlement by the Ottomans as Kaisariyeh in 1884, after which the ruins were much damaged. In the 1950s and 60s, modern archaeology uncovered details of Crusader ramparts and the theater of the Roman city. More recent work has filled out the picture Archaeology of Caesarea.
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Caesarea Palaestina
- Archaeology of Caesarea
- Archaeology of Caesarea
- Caesarea history
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