Herod’s temple to Roma and Augustus at Caesarea Maritima

We began this theme in the previous post with the temple Herod the Great erected to the emperor Augustus in the region of Caesarea Philippi. We pointed out that Herod had already built temples to the Emperor at Caesarea Maritima and at Sebaste (= Samaria).

Caesarea Maritima was built on the site of Strato’s Tower and became a center of Roman provincial government in Judea. It was located on the main caravan route between Tyre and Egypt. The harbor at Caesarea was built by Herod and named Sebastos (Greek for Augustus) in honor of the Emperor.

Our photo below shows the harbor and the location of the Imperial temple indicated by a red oval. The inner harbor extended over the grassy area, almost to the steps of the temple. When we first began visiting Caesarea it was thought that another building, north of the inner harbor, marked the site of the Augustus temple. It is now identified as a nymphaeum.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing the Sebastos harbor and the site of the Augustus temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing the Sebastos harbor and the site of the Augustus temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The excavation of the Temple Platform began in 1989 under the direction of Kenneth G. Holum of the University of Maryland. Holum says the temple of Augustus was torn down about 400 A.D. with most of the stone being used in others buildings. The scant ruins enable the archaeologists to determine that the temple measured 95 by 150 feet. He says it towered “perhaps 100 feet from the column bases to the peak.” The temple was made of local sandstone, called kurkar, and coated with a white stucco.

The Temple Platform was covered by an octagonal Byzantine church in the 6th century. Those are the ruins we see today within the Crusader city.

The 6th century Byzantine church was erected over the earlier temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The 6th century Byzantine church was erected over the earlier temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sign at the site of the Temple, already stained in 2005, provides some indication of the appearance of the building.

An artists' reconstruction of the Temple of Augustus at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An artists’ reconstruction of the Temple of Augustus at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Like the Temple Mount [in Jerusalem], Caesarea’s Temple Platform would have been enclosed at least on the north, east and south by columned porticoes marking the sacred precinct (the termenos). and in the center, uipon a high podium, would have risen the temple that Herod dedicated to the goddess Roma, embodiment of imperial Rome, and to the god-king Augustus. (Kenneth G. Holum)

The article by Kenneth G. Holum appeared in an issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (September/October 2004) devoted to “Herod’s Fun City.” His article is entitled “Building Power: The Politics of Architecture.” There are numerous photographs and diagrams.

Charles Savelle left a comment to the previous post in which he called attention to a few additional sources here. I was especially pleased to see a reference to Caesarea Philippi: Banias the Lost City of Pan by John Francis Wilson. Speaking of the temple at Paneion, he says that the building itself would be scandal enough from the point of view of the Jews in the area.

Wilson states that Herod set the course for Imperial Worship in the east.

“Herod’s strategy in erecting this temple extended far beyond the symbolism represented by the structure itself. He was among the first of all provincial rulers in the empire to commit to the cult of Augustus. His Augustan temples, and the elaborate priesthood they required, may even have been influential in setting the course of imperial worship throughout the Eastern empire. While ostensibly the act of erecting these temples represented loyalty and commitment to Rome, it also furnished a basis for the social and political organization of diverse populations such as those in Herod’s kingdom. At the same time, because the new cult left the traditional local cults intact, it represented no threat to them. In fact, it symbolized an interest in protecting the local culture.” (p. 13)

When we think of Caesarea we recall the major events recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The residence of Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea (A.D. 26-36), though there is no reference to this fact in the New Testament.
  • The visit of Peter to preach the gospel to the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10-11).
  • The visit and death of Herod Agrippa I (A.D. 37-44; Acts 12).
  • Paul’s return from his preaching journeys (Acts 18:22; 21:8)
  • The imprisonment of the apostle Paul (A.D. 58-60; Acts 23-26).

We plan to say more about Pilate and his role in upholding the Imperial Cult in Roman Palestine in another post.

3 responses to “Herod’s temple to Roma and Augustus at Caesarea Maritima

  1. Thanks for this helpful piece. Great picture. I assume the quote from Holum should read, “. . . . the temple that Herod dedicated to the goddess Roma” (rather than “Roman”).

  2. Thanks for the correction. I would like to add, for those studying the Imperial Cult as it relates to the book of Revelation, your Imperial Cult and Commerce in John’s Apocalypse would be helpful. Is the book still available?

  3. Thanks for a very interesting post. The site of Caesarea’s Temple of Augustus is the best example I know — apart from the Temple Mount/ Haram es-Sharif in Jerusalem — of a spot that underwent many transformations through time yet, in terms of function, always retained its “historical memory” as somebody’s sacred place. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor states it succinctly in The Holy Land: “The same podium supported the elegant 6th century octagonal church and the great mosque of the early Arab period, which later became the Crusader cathedral dedicated to St. Peter.”

    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC

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