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CAESAREA (sĕs'a-rē'a). A city built between 25 and 13 b.c. by Herod “the Great” at a vast cost and named in honor of his patron Augustus Caesar. It lay on the coast of the Mediterranean about twenty-five miles (forty-two km.) NW of the town of Samaria, which Herod had rebuilt and renamed “Sebaste,” also in honor of Augustus. Herod intended it as the port of his capital, and a splendid harbor was constructed. Great stone blocks were used to top the reefs that helped to form the harbor. Being the military headquarters for the Roman forces and the residence of the procurators, it was the home of Cornelius in whose house Peter first preached to the Gentiles (Acts.10.1-Acts.10.48). It was the place of residence of Philip the evangelist with his four unmarried prophesying daughters (Acts.8.40; Acts.21.8-Acts.21.9), who entertained Paul and Luke and their party on their return from the third missionary journey. Later it was the enforced residence of Paul while he was a prisoner for two years, and where he preached before King Agrippa (Acts.23.31-Acts.26.32). The Jewish war that Josephus described with such power and pathos, and that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem, had its origin in a riot in Caesarea. Here Vespasian was proclaimed emperor of Rome in the year a.d. 69, while he was engaged in the Jewish war. Caesarea became the birthplace of Eusebius (c. 260) and the seat of his bishopric. It is still called Kaysariyeh.

palestine. A city built by Herod the Great on the site of Strato's Tower, about halfway between Joppa and Dor, on the Mediterranean coast. Named in honor of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, it was the Roman metropolis of Judea and the official residence of the Roman procurators and Herodian kings. The city was built between 22 and 10 b.c., on an insignificant site, though an important location. It lay on the coastal route between Egypt and Syria, but the harbor of Strato's Tower was a minor one, unsheltered and never more than an insignificant anchorage. Yet here, unrestrained by earlier constructions or by Jewish sensitivities, a Greco-Roman masterpiece was built, surpassing the engineering feats of Masada. A circular, artificial harbor was created larger than Piraeus and a major seawall built. The city was laid out on a grid, the main streets orientated to the harbor, linking it with a magnificent theater, forum, and amphitheater that overlooked the sea. A major aqueduct was built that brought a copious water supply from springs in the hills several miles away; an intricate drainage system underlay the streets. One hundred fifty years later, Hadrian doubled the size and capacity of the aqueduct, possibly as a result of an earthquake that damaged the city's monuments. Since 1960 air surveys have plotted the outline of the harbor, and excavations of the forum, theater, and aqueduct have been made. But most sections of the city have not yet been excavated, presently preserved beneath an extensive golf course.

The allusions to Caesarea in the Book of Acts are important. Philip the Evangelist brought Christianity to his home city and here later entertained Paul and his companions (21:8). Here also dwelt Cornelius, and this was the locale of his conversion (10:1, 24; 11:11). It was in this cosmopolitan city of Jews and Gentiles that Peter gained his first insight (10:35) of the divine kingdom that has no discrimination of peoples as “clean” or “unclean.” Pontius Pilate, the procurator, lived here, and in 1961 Italian archaeologists found a stone inscribed with his name. Paul made Caesarea the port of his landing when he returned from his second and third missionary journeys (18:22; 21:8), and it was to Caesarea he was sent for trial by Felix (23:23-33). He made his defense here before Festus and Agrippa and sailed from here in chains to Rome (25:11). It was difficulties between Jews and Gentiles at Caesarea that led to the Jewish revolt of a.d. 66 which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. It subsequently became an important Christian center, and it was the home of the church father Eusebius.

See F.M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine, II (1938), pp. 296f.

CAESAREA sĕs’ ə re’ ə (Καισαρεία). Caesarea, garrison port of Rome on the Pal. coast, sixtyfive m. from Jerusalem, was a foundation of the first Herod and a monument to that subtle diplomat’s pro-Rom. policy. On the long harborless coast of Pal., Joppa was the one port S of Carmel equipped with some natural protection, but Joppa was violently national and rabidly anti-Rom. Herod knew his Jewish subjects too well to make the mistake of turning Joppa into a Rom. bridgehead. It was better to begin on neutral, unencumbered ground, in spite of the vast expense entailed in providing the open roadstead of Caesarea with effective harbor works. The building of these was a fine feat of engineering. A breakwater 200 ft. wide was built against the southern gales. The water ran to twenty fathoms; this depth was filled with enormous blocks of limestone, some of them fifty ft., by ten, by nine. On this foundation were a mole and quay with adequate defenses. The enclosed haven was larger than Pieraeus, opening like modern Haifa to the safe N.

The city took twelve years to build. It had places of assembly, an amphitheater, a temple to Rome and Augustus, and a drainage system which speaks of Rom. engineering. In the theater a dedication stone in fragmentary form has been discovered bearing part of the name of Pontius Pilate. But the harbor dwarfed the magnificence of the town, and a coin of Nero bears the inscr. “Caesarea by Augustus’ Harbor.” “Caesarea,” said Tacitus, “is the capital of Judaea.” It housed the 3,000 troops, an inadequate garrison which was stationed there. It was the procurator’s headquarters. The aqueduct, which brought in the water supply, ran over brick arches and was vulnerable to enemy attack. Perhaps there was a supplementary system of tanker ships, for the city seems to have been a safe haven for the Rom. administration even during the great rebellion. All resident Jews were massacred when the rebellion broke out in a.d. 66. Paul was imprisoned here, secure from Jewish assassination plots, and the last of the Herods, Agrippa and Bernice, found refuge here during the war. After Rom. times Caesarea fell into decay. The blight of the Arab fell upon the coast, and the Crusaders, for Rome’s reasons, were the only intruders to give attention to the restoration of the port. Their great defenses are visible today, over and mingled with the surviving memorials of Rome. It is a rewarding but demanding site for archeological investigation, and much will emerge from the Israeli program of digging and research.


E. M. Blaiklock, Cities of the New Testament, ch. 14 (1965).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ses-a-re’-a, se-za-re’-a (Kaisareia):

(1) Caesarea Palestina (pal-es-ti’na).

Riots between Gentiles and Jews in Caesarea gave rise to the war (BJ, II, xiii, 7;. xiv, 4 f). Terrible cruelties were practiced on the Jews under Felix and Florus. Here Vespasian was hailed emperor by his soldiers. Titus here celebrated the birthday of his brother Domitian by setting 2,500 Jews to fight with beasts in the amphitheater. Eusebius was bishop of Caesarea (313-40 AD). In 548 AD a massacre of the Christians was organized and carried out by the Jews and Samaritans. The city passed into Moslem hands in 638. In the time of the Crusades it fell, now to the Christians and now to the Moslems; and was finally overthrown by Sultan Bibars in 1265 AD.

The cathedral stood on the site of a temple built by Herod, where the ruins are seen today; as are also those of two aqueducts which conveyed water from Nahr ez-Zerqa. The landward wall of the Roman city was nearly 3 miles in length.

(2) Caesarea Philippi (fi-lip’-i) (Kaisareia he Philippou).

At the Southwest base of Mt. Hermon, on a rocky terrace, 1,150 ft. above sea-level, between Wady Khashabeh and Wady Za`areh, lie the ruins of the ancient city. It was a center for the worship of Pan: whence the name Paneas, applied not only to the city, but to the whole district (Ant., XV, x, 3). It is possible that this may have been the site of ancient Baal-hermon; while Principal G. A. Smith would place Da here (HGHL, 480). The district was given by Augustus to Herod the Great 20 BC, by whom a temple of white marble was built in honor of the emperor. Paneas formed part of the tetrarchy of Philip. He rebuilt and beautified the town, calling it Caesarea as a compliment to Augustus, and adding his own name to distinguish it from Caesarea on the coast of Sharon (Ant., XVIII, ii, 1; BJ, II, ix, 1). From Bethsaida Jesus and His disciples came hither, and on the way Peter made his famous confession, after which Jesus began to tell them of His coming passion (Mt 16:13 ff; Mr 8:27 ff). Some think that on a height near Caesarea Philippi Jesus was transfigured. See Mount of Transfiguration. Agrippa II renamed the town Neronias (Ant., XX, ix, 4). The ancient name however outlived both Caesare a and Neronias, and survives in the Arabic form Banias. The modern village, built among the ruins, contains 350 inhabitants. The walls and towers of which the remains are seen date from Crusading times. The castle, ec-Cubeibeh, crowns the hill behind the town, and must have been a place of strength from the earliest times. Its possession must always have been essential to the holding of the valley to the west. Immediately to the north of the town, at the foot of a steep crag, the fountain of the Jordan rises. Formerly the waters issued from a cave, Magharet ras en-Neba`, "cave of the fountain head," now filled up with debris. Two niches cut in the face of the rock recall the idolatries practiced here in olden times. A shrine of el-Khudr stands on the west of the spring. With the rich soil and plentiful supplies of water, in a comparatively temperate climate, average industry might turn the whole district into a garden. As it is, the surroundings are wonderfully beautiful.