(Caes·a·reʹa) [Of (Belonging to) Caesar].
An important seaport city built by Herod the Great on the Mediterranean seacoast during the latter part of the first century B.C.E. The original site was previously known as Straton’s or Strato’s Tower, thought to be so named after a Sidonian ruler. The ancient name has been preserved in the Arabic name Qaisariye (today called Horvat Qesari in Hebrew). It is situated about 40 km (25 mi) S of Mount Carmel and about 87 km (54 mi) NNW of Jerusalem.
The Jewish historian Josephus is the prime source of information about the construction and early history of the city. Herod the Great had received the site along with Samaria and other towns as a gift from Caesar Augustus. After rebuilding Samaria, which he named Sebaste, he turned his attention to the seacoast and proceeded to build a magnificent port and city at Strato’s Tower, the construction covering a period of 10 to 12 years, and the time of its dedication coming about the year 10 B.C.E. (according to some scholars). These projects were named by Herod in honor of Caesar Augustus—the city was called Caesarea, whereas its seaport was called Sebastos (Greek for Augustus). The city was most beautiful both in material and in construction, and it contained a temple, a theater, and an amphitheater large enough to accommodate a great crowd of people. An aqueduct supplied Caesarea with fresh water, and a drainage system underneath the city carried water and sewage out to the sea. The major feat, however, was the construction of the city’s artificial harbor.
Following the removal of Herod the Great’s son Archelaus, Caesarea became the official residence of the Roman procurators who governed Judea. In the Bible account of the Acts of Apostles, the city figures prominently both as a seaport and as a seat of government.
Philip, who had accomplished successful missionary service in Samaria, subsequently engaged in “declaring the good news” in the coastal territory from the city of Ashdod through all the cities on up to Caesarea, about 90 km (56 mi) to the N. (Ac 8:5-8, 40) Shortly thereafter, Paul’s conversion took place, and because of a plot against him when he began preaching in Jerusalem, the disciples there took their new brother to the seaport of Caesarea and sent him off to his hometown, Tarsus.—Ac 9:28-30.
As the main headquarters for the Roman military forces, Caesarea was a natural place for the centurion Cornelius to have his residence. The city, though having a substantial number of Jewish residents, is considered to have been mainly of Gentile population. Thus in the year 36 C.E. Peter was divinely directed to a fitting site for witnessing to uncircumcised Cornelius, his relatives, and his intimate friends and for their being baptized as the first uncircumcised Gentiles to be admitted into the Christian congregation.—Ac 10:1-48.
It was to Caesarea that Herod Agrippa I withdrew after his unsuccessful imprisonment of Peter, and here he received the delegations from Tyre and Sidon and shortly thereafter died (44 C.E.), as an expression of God’s adverse judgment. (Ac 12:18-23) Paul went through Caesarea on returning to Palestine when nearing completion of his second and third missionary tours. (Ac 18:21, 22; 21:7, 8) At the time of his second visit, Paul and his companions lodged with Philip the evangelizer, who possibly settled in Caesarea at the close of his earlier preaching tour. Some of the local disciples now accompanied the apostle from that seaport up to Jerusalem, though Paul, while in Caesarea, had been warned by the prophet Agabus of the danger awaiting him.—Ac 21:10-16.
Because of an assassination plot against him in Jerusalem, Paul, under arrest, was later taken to Caesarea under heavy guard and delivered to Governor Felix for trial. (Ac 23:23, 24) The notable contrast between the emotional religious prejudice accompanied by riotous conditions in Jerusalem and the relatively orderly conditions in Caesarea are considered to be evidence of the strong Roman influence in the latter city as well as its position as the chief garrison of Roman troops. Governor Festus, who succeeded Felix, obliged Paul’s Jewish opposers in Jerusalem to come down to Caesarea to present their charges against him, at which time Paul appealed to Caesar rather than face trial in Jerusalem. (Ac 25:1-12) While still in Caesarea awaiting transfer to Rome, Paul was able to give a strong witness concerning Christianity before Festus and his royal visitors, King Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. (Ac 25:13, 22-27; 26:1-32) From Caesarea Paul, as prisoner, set sail on the voyage that would eventually take him to Rome.—Ac 27:1, 2.
During the reign of Nero, bitter rivalry broke out between the Jewish and Syrian inhabitants of Caesarea, and incidents there are considered to have served to ignite the flame of revolt that eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
In 1961 a stone was found in the theater of Caesarea bearing a Latin inscription that includes the name of Pontius Pilate, the first such inscription to be found.
[Picture on page 384]
Caesarea, with a breakwater (now submerged) built by Herod the Great to form an artificial harbor