Tag Archives: Caesarea Maritima

“Assured Results” of Archaeology

I love archaeology, and love having the chance to share my passion with others.  But as my teacher and later colleague Professor Anson Rainey use to say: “archaeology is the science of digging a hole and spinning a tale about it.”  One example of a change in the interpretation of finds follows.

Temple to Augustus or ???

Years ago the above structure was interpreted as possibly the Temple to the Roman Emperor August that Josephus mentions as being by the harbor at Caesarea Maritima.

But now, a Nymphaeum (monumental fountain), not a Temple.

Today, the structure is interpreted as being a monumental fountain that is located at the northwestern corner of the podium on which the Temple to Augustus stood.

Thus, as research continues, the interpretation, and dating of finds can change: think at Timna—Solomon’s Mines, Not Solomon’s Mines, and now, Solomon’s Mines.  Hmm.

For an article on the projected “visitor upgrades” at Caesarea Maritima see Here.

Another Son of God? Pilate’s Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima

Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of Judea that condemned Jesus to death (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18 and 19). He is mentioned 61 times in the New Testament.  He governed Judea from A.D. 26 to 36.

The Pontius Pilate Inscription from Caesarea Maritima—now in the Israel Museum.

Pilate was facing at least two major problems when Jesus appeared before him to be tried.  The first was that he needed to deal with any potential rebellion against Rome—what else would a “king of the Jews” do?

A second problem was how seriously should Pilate take the accusation that

John 19:7-8  . . .  he [Jesus] must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”  When Pilate heard this, he [Pilate] was even more afraid,

Why was Pilate “more afraid” when he heard this charge?  Well, the dead “ascended” Augustus was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire as a deity.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry there were Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  that had been in existence for over 40 years!

And in addition, Augustus’ son, and now Emperor(!), Tiberius, was worshiped as the “son of god” (that is, the son of the deified Augustus)!  In this regard it is not often remembered that it was Pilate who built a temple for the worship of Tiberius as the “son of god” at Caesarea Maritima!  How could there be a “son of God” to compete with the Imperial “son of god?”  In addition Pilate was confronted with the potential accusation of the local leadership: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12).  Pilate had a “lot on his plate!”

In light of this, I invite you to check out the following description and discussion of the “Pilate Inscription” from Caesarea Maritima.


In 1961 by an Italian expedition that was excavating the theater at Caesarea Maritima discovered a Latin inscription that actually mentions him.

The “Pilate” Inscription from Caesarea Maritima

When people comment on this inscription they usually emphasize that now there is actual archaeological evidence for Pilate’s activity in Judea and that his title was “Prefect.”  This is fine,  BUT what about the word “Tiberieum” in the first line?  To what does “Tiberieum” refer?

This stone was used at least three ways.  First, it was probably a dedicatory inscription in a temple called a “Tiberieum.”  Pilate built this temple to honor the Roman Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14–37)—the current “son of god”!  This was then the second imperial cult temple in Caesarea—the first was the (probably much larger) Imperial Cult Temple that had been built by Herod the Great (37– 4 BC) for the worship of Augustus and deified Roma!

Thus it should be noted that at Caesarea Maritima the imperial cult founded by Herod the Great was still being practiced AND that Pilate as a good governor was also promoting the Imperial Cult—adding a structure for the worship of the ruling Roman emperor, Tiberius (14–37).  All of this going on during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (ca. 26–30)!

Secondly, the stone was taken from the temple and used as part of a well–head—note the half-circle on the right hand side.  Finally, it was used as a step in the fourth century Byzantine theater (where it was discovered).

Four lines of the Latin inscription are visible.

[_ _ _]S TIBERIÉUM
[_ _ PO]NTIUS PILATUS
[PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E
[_ _ _ _ _ ] É [_ _ _ _ _ _ _] (Taylor, p. 564)

[. . .] Tiberieum
[. Po]ntius Pilate
[Pref]ect of Judaea
[. . .]e[. . .] (p. 565)

Joan E. Taylor translates the inscription as:   “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, [made and d]e[dicated] the Tiberieum for the (Augustan) gods” (p. 570).

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 564–65.

Caesarea — No Longer Visible Rooms and Passages

ICSPCMPP12

Part of the Labyrinth under the Peristyle Courtyard. Note the stone arch as well as fresco on the walls. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

In a visit to Caesarea Maritima almost all groups will visit the “Promontory Palace” that was evidently constructed by Herod the Great and used by his successors and Roman governors.  A portion of the Palace was built on a promontory that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea and features a rectangular pool that was surrounded by a portico.

ICSPCMPP15

View looking northwest at the “Peristyle Courtyard. The rectangular courtyard is outlined by the columns. In the center the green shrubs cover the underground labyrinth. The “Promontory Palace” is not visible but is off the left side of the image.

To the east of the Promontory Palace is a connected Peristyle Courtyard (photo above) in which a copy of the famous “Pilate Inscription” is currently displayed.  To the north of the courtyard are administrative offices and an “audience hall.”   The “audience hall” may indeed have been the place where the Apostle Paul appeared before the governors Felix and Festus and King Herod Agrippa II ca. A.D. 58 (Acts 23–26).

What few people realize is that under the “garden” of the Peristyle Courtyard there is a labyrinth of passage ways and arches.  Below are two additional images of this substructure.  One wonders what these substructures were used for.  Storage?  Servants quarters?  Housing of prisoners?

ICSPCMPP13

ICSPCMPP14

Mithraeum at Caesarea Maritima

Most tour/study groups will visit Caesarea Maritima as part of their program in the Holy Land.  There they will typically visit the theater, the hippodrome/circus, the Crusader City, and the aqueduct.

The Mithraeum is inside the left (northern) storage vault

Another interesting, but infrequently visited site is the Mithraeum that is located in one of the storage vault areas just to the north of the seaside hippodrome/circus.  There, from the first to the fourth century pagans worshiped the deity Mithra/Mithras.

The worship of Mithra was especially favored by soldiers in the Roman Legions.

Mithra slaying the bull — a statue in the British Museum
To view a full size image with commentary and without markings Click Here

The statue above depicts Mithra dressed in a flowing garment with a Phrygian style hat.  Notice him plunging his knife into the bull while a dog and a snake lap up the blood.  A scorpion is biting the bull’s genitals.

View of the worship area with altar, benches, and a Summer Solstice “window” arranged so that at noon on 20/21 June the sunlight would shine into this area

The above is a view looking at the eastern end of the Mithraeum.  The altar  is visible at the far end and in the upper portion of the image is a “window” in the vault that allowed sunlight to fall on the worship center at noon on 20/21 June—the time of the summer solstice.

Marble Medallion — Mithra slaying the bull — From Caesarea Maritima
To view a full size image of this Medallion Click Here

One very unique find from the Mithraeum is a marble medallion that depicts Mithra slaying the bull.

For additional commentary and to view additional high-resolution images
Click Here.