Excavations at Caesarea, Summer 1997

Kenneth G. Holum


Caesarea Maritima lies on the Mediterranean coast 40 km. north of Tel Aviv, Israel (ph.1). Since the 1950s a number of teams from Israel and abroad have explored it extensively, uncovering one of the richest urban sites in Israel (map). King Herod founded a city here, naming it for the emperor Caesar Augustus, that flourished for thirteen centuries. Through this long history, Caesarea was also a harbor, and much of the site's special interest comes from the city's organic relationship with the sea (ph. 2).Caesarea was also equipped with an elaborate aqueduct system (ph. 3), one of the best preserved ancient aqueducts in the eastern Mediterranean region. Archaeological discoveries in recent years have surpassed expectations. including such treasures as a hoard of gold coins from the late fourth century (ph. 31), figured mosaic pavements (ph. 32), and a collection of of gold belt ornaments from the sixth century (ph. 33). The site has also yielded more mundane evidence for ancient cultures, including a massive collection of ancient pottery (ph. 34).

The Combined Caesarea Expeditions, an amphibious archaeological expedition, conducted its ninth season from May 25 through July 24, 1997, under the auspices of the University of Maryland and the Center for Maritime Studies, Haifa University. As before, the directors were Kenneth G. Holum from Maryland and Avner Raban and Joseph Patrich from Haifa. More than 150 volunteers and students participated in land and underwater excavations, representing the Universities of Oklahoma and Maryland, Temple University, Brooklyn College, Dominican University, Trinity College, and a number of other institutions in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and several European countries. The international professional staff numbered more than forty.  Financial support came from volunteer contributions, the Joseph and Mary Keller Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Foundation, the Dorot Foundation, other private donors, and the participating institutions.

The international summer excavations now concentrate on area TP, the Temple Platform, area LL, the waterfront quarter of the ancient city north of the Inner Harbor, and, of course, on the harbor itself (map).  In addition the summer team is supporting the broader CCE and Haifa University effort to study and publish the vast material collected during large-scale excavations since 1993.  In 1997 this included numismatic analysis, environmental studies (sedimentology and soil flotation, phs:29-30), drawing profiles of pottery, lamps, and glass, and analysis of both animal bones and human skeletal remains.   Further preliminary results will soon appear inCaesarea Papers 2, to be published soon as a supplementary volume of the Journal of Roman Archaeology..

Under the sea, the 1997 excavators conducted caisson probes that yielded new hard data on the later history of the harbor's use.  Dr. Eduard Reinhardt treats the results in a separate report.

On land excavations in area TP, the Temple Platform, made dramatic progress (ph.10). It had long been assumed that this artificial mound was the site of King Herod's temple to Roma and Augustus, mentioned by the first century C.E. Jewish author Josephus.  CCE began by exploring the remains, already exposed by earlier excavators, of an octagonal church dated to the sixth century (ph.15). In 1995 CCE uncovered massive foundations of the temple directly beneath the church (ph.12).

During the 1997 season the team exposed much more of the foundations both of the church and of Herod's temple (ph.13).  It is now certain that the temple had a pronaos, or front porch, on the west overlooking the Inner Harbor (ph.35). The three-m.-wide foundation on the west uncovered in 1995 supported the temple's western colonnade, nearly 30 m. wide north-south.  To the east the temple extended nearly 47 m., so it was a huge and imposing structure that, from its central location, dominated both the harbor and the city itself.  In 1997 the excavators first identified the massive foundations that surrounded the temple's naos or cella, housing the divine images of the goddess Roma and the emperor Caesar Augustus, for whom the city was named.  These foundations measured seven to eight m. thick, and thus would have accommodated both the cella walls, perhaps with internal galleries and staircases, and perhaps an engaged or free-standing colonnade that surrounded thecella on north, east, and south.

Besides studying the temple foundations, the 1997 team continued graphic and photographic recording of a large and growing collection of architectural fragments in the local kurkar sandstone representing the temple's superstructure.  These enable the excavators to suggest a tentative reconstruction of the temple's superstructure (ph.36).  Further, the excavators uncovered or identified further elements of the octagonal church that replaced Herod's temple on the same site ca. 500 C.E.(ph.13), and of a monumental Islamic and Crusader building of the 10th through 13th centuries (ph.14).

The temple, we believe, is the most important monument of Herodian architecture to have come to light in recent years.  Significantly, its architectural affinities appear to be with contemporary temples of the Late Hellenistic East, such as the Zeus temple at Gerasa in Jordan and (not surprisingly) the temple of Augustus at Samaria-Sebaste, Caesarea's sibling city. The new building tends to confirm recent scholarship that locates the inspiration for King Herod's building program less in the buildings of Italy and Rome itself and more in Alexandria and other urban centers of the Hellenized Middle East.

Area LL is located to the northwest of the Temple Platform and north of the Inner Harbor (ph.16, map), and should represent a waterfront quarter of the ancient city from the time of Herod's original foundation through the end of antiquity. Here the team is continuing and expanding Hebrew University excavations of 1974-79 (ph.17), with the hope of studying, eventually, the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman levels that represent Caesarea when Sts. Peter and Paul visited it in the first century C.E. and when the earliest community of Gentile Christians took root there.

In two seasons of excavating area LL, the archaeologists have studied fragments of medieval Islamic dwelling units constructed in and around the ruins of a large and well-constructed Byzantine warehouse (horreum) of the sixth century (phs.17,19-20).  This building was apparently positioned purposely near the harbor because it functioned in export-import trade.  Excavation beneath its foundations in 1997 (ph.21) suggested that this sixth-century facility replaced an earlier building of the same type that may date back to the Herodian period.

Adjacent to the horreum on the northeast, the team reexposed and studied the remains of one of ancient Caesarea's east-west streets, well-constructed of large limestone slabs laid across the direction of traffic (ph.23).  The street pavement apparently dates from the fourth century, although earlier pavements may have existed below it on the same line.  In the eighth and ninth centuries, during the Early Islamic period, the street was abandoned, and the stone walls of domestic units were laid above it (ph.24).  Thus the excavation in area LL illustrates the process of transformation in urban life in Caesarea at the end of antiquity.

In 1997 the team also studied and removed a 10 x 10 m. portion of an extremely dense pottery deposit adjacent on the east to the sixth-century warehouse (ph.22).  The deposit reached a maximum thickness of nearly three m. and contained only minute quantities of cookware and tableware but was rich in storage jars and transport amphoras of the fourth through early seventh centuries.  Because it overlay an Early Islamic well, however, this was not likely a primary deposit associated with storage and transshipment activity in the adjacent warehouse but was apparently brought in from somewhere nearby to elevate the surrounding terrain to a level suitable for the earliest Islamic domestic units.   The issue remains controversial.  A rapid probe at the end of the season revealed further soil layers beneath this deposit, and below these layers another dense ceramic deposit of vessels from the first and second centuries C.E. lying just above the ancient sea level.  Excavation in this intriguing area, and in area TP and the ancient harbor, will continue in 1998.