Photo: The theatre at Caesarea (restored).
Caesarea Maritima is found in Acts 8:40; Acts 9:30; Acts 10:1, 24; 11: 11; 12:19; Acts 18:22; 21:8,9,16; Acts 21:7-40; Acts 23:23,33; Acts 24, 25, 26; Acts 25:1,4,6,13, 23; Acts 25:11; 26: 1-13.
For more than 600 years the capital city of the Roman Province of Judea was the port city of Caesarea. It was a critical economic seaport during the time of Jesus and the Apostles, located on the beach between what is now called Tel Aviv and Haifa, about 23 miles south of Mount Carmel. A journey from Jerusalem (as Paul traveled with his Roman escorts) was 64 miles.
The city was constructed by Herod the Great who sought favor with the Romans (while balancing his relationship with his constituent Jews). He knew there was no excellent Mediterranean port east of Pireaus in Athens, and chose the site of Caesarea (named in honor of his patron Caesar Augustus). He chose the site of a military garrison called “Strato’s tower” and built the port using the most modern techniques available. Some scholars believe the first use of underwater concrete was at the port works. The city also acted as a Roman garrison and took twelve years to build.
Herod spared nothing to make this city a lavish Roman city. It featured a magnificent hippodrome, an amphitheater, a dramatic theatre (where the remains of a dedication stone has been found inscribed with the name of Pontius Pilate), a seaside palace and many ornate public buildings. It also boasted of an Imperial temple (probably in honor of Augustus Caesar) and an aqueduct for a consistent water supply from Mt.Carmel’s foothills. The garrison numbered as much as three thousand Roman troops during the period and was manned (in part) by the Italian band (Acts 10:1).
The harbor engineering displayed Roman genius. A twenty-two foot wide breakwater was built against the gales in the south. The base was filled with gigantic blocks of limestone and fill cement. Some pier columns measured 50 x 18 x 9 feet, and several are still visible today (extending 150 feet from the shore).
This city was the center of Roman government for hundreds of years and the residence of the Govenor of Judea. Pontius Pilate lived there during his near ten-year tenure in office. At times it experienced
disturbances because of the mix of Jews and Romans, was a strong economic and Roman military presence. When the Jews rebelled in 66 CE many Jews in the city were massacred. King Herod Agrippa II and Bernice his consort found refuge here when the war broke out.
Luke includes a number of events at Caesarea in the Book of Acts. Philip the evangelist preached and lived there with his four prophetess daughters (Acts 8:40;21:8,9). After Paul’s conversion, the brethren helped Paul escape trouble and took him to the port of Caesarea to locate a ship bound for Tarsus (his hometown – Acts 9:30). Peter first preached to a Gentile, the Roman centurion named Cornelius in this city. This was the first city where the gospel was preached to a non-Jew. This caused tension in the Jewish minds of Peter and the other Apostles.
Caesarea was a port call for Paul on his missionary journeys (Acts 18:22). Paul later stopped in Caesarea on his way to Jerusalem and stayed with Philip and his daughters (Acts 21:8). It was during this stay that he was warned of trouble by the prophet Agabus if he continued on his journey to Jerusalem. Much later, the Apostle Paul was sent to Felix governor of Judea. On his arrival to Caesarea, he appeared before Felix (Acts 24) and was imprisoned for two years waiting to make his defense. Festus, the successor to Felix gave him audience, as did King Herod Agrippa II.
There were other cities which bore the name “Caesarea”. One such city known as Caesarea Philippi was in the jurisdiction of Agrippa fifty miles from Damascus on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon. Near Caesarea Philippi Jesus gave important teaching to His Disciples (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:28ff).