Caesarea in Palestine

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An ancient Phoenician settlement, probably founded by Straton, King of Sidon, originally called Straton's Tower (Stratonos Pyrgos ). The city came under Roman rule with Pompey and Caesar; and Augustus gave the city to Herod the Great, who improved its excellent harbor, adorned it with magnificent buildings, erected a temple to Augustus, and renamed the city Caesarea (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 15.217). In order to distinguish it from caesarea philippi, it is referred to as Caesarea in Palestine or Caesarea Maritima. About a decade before the beginning of the Christian era it became the administrative headquarters of the Roman procurators and of the Roman garrison in Palestine. Caesarea's contacts with Christianity begin with the Apostles: Peter preached here and baptized Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10). Paul was imprisoned here under the procurators Felix and Porcius Festus until he appealed to the tribunal of Caesar (Acts 23.2226.32). Yet the first known bishop of Caesarea is Theophilus, a contemporary of St. irenaeus, who presided at a council in 195 that determined that Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 5.23). Shortly after 230 origen left Alexandria where he had incurred the displeasure of Bishop Demetrius; he arrived at Caesarea and founded the famous school where such great men as St. gregory thaumaturgus and St. basil came to study. Here, too, was the celebrated library that contained among other treasures Origen's hexapla, one of antiquity's most significant works in scripture studies. Pierius and pamphilus, Origen's successors at the school, expanded the library holdings to 30,000 rolls. This collection provided rich source material for the Historia Ecclesiastica of eusebius of caesa rea (c. 260/64c. 340) but was destroyed during the Arab invasion in 638.

Caesarea was the metropolitan see of Palestina Prima and the scene of many councils summoned to combat arianism. Until the Council of Chalcedon (451) raised Jerusalem to the dignity of a patriarchate, Caesarea was the ranking see in Palestine. Surviving the diocle tian persecution, the Church in Caesarea flourished until the inroads of the Persians in 612, and of the Arabs in 638. A brief period of reconstruction came during the crusades, notably under baldwin, king of jerusalem, but by 1265 the glory of Caesarea was once more in ruins.

Excavations that began at Horbat Quesari (ruins of Caesari) in the 1950s uncovered ruins of a Roman temple, amphitheater, hippodrome, and aqueduct. In 1961 archaeologists unearthed a Roman inscription with the name of Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea at the time of Jesus' crucifixion. From the 1970s continuing into the 1990s archaeologists working on land and underwater discovered the contours of the harbor built by Herod the Great that made Caesarea a major port.

Bibliography: c. t. fritsch, ed. Studies in the History of Caesarea Maritima (Missoula, Mont. 1975). l. i. levine and e. netzer, eds., Excavations at Caesarea Maritima, 1975, 1976, 1979: Final Report (Jerusalem 1986). r. j. bull, ed., The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Excavation Reports (Lewiston, N.Y. 1987). j. p. oleson, The Harbours of Caesarea Maritima: Results of the Caesarea Ancient Excavation Project, 19801985 (Oxford, England 1989). a. raban, k. g. holum et al., eds., The Combined Caesarea Expeditions: Field Report of the 1992 Season (Haifa, Israel 1993). a. raban and k. g. holum, eds., Caesarea Maritima: A Retrospective after Two Millennia (Leiden 1996).

[h. dressler/eds.]