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The name Caesarea, (Hebrew: קֵיסָרְיָה‎; Arabic: قيسارية‎, Kaysaria; Greek: Καισάρεια), was given to the city/maritime port in antiquity on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea between the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa in present day Israel. The city was a significant center of Christian life during the first millennium of the Christian era. Today, the area of the city is largely an archaeological site near a settlement of the same name.

Ancient beginnings

Caesarea had its origin in the Greek city of antiquity called Pyrgos Stratonos. King Herod the Great changed the name to Caesarea in honor of the Roman emperor Augustus. On the site of Pyrgos Stratonos Herod constructed a majestic city of temples, palaces, a theater, amphitheater, and a major port often referred to as Caesarea Maritima (Greek: παράλιος Καισάρεια). The city became the capital of Judaea in the year 6 AD and the residence of the Roman procurators. The Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus made it a Roman colony, called Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea. In 133, its name became Caesarea Palæstina.

Christian era

As the Christian era began, Caesarea became the political center of Roman rule in the area now termed the Holy Land. The city was the civilian and military capital of Judaea Province and the official residence of the Roman procurators, governors, and praefectus, including Pontius Pilatus and Antonius Felix.

The city was an important center of early Christianity. In the New Testament, the city is mentioned in the Book of Acts in connection with the activities of the Apostles Peter, Philip, and Paul. It was in Caesarea that Peter baptized the centurion Cornelius. Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea before being sent to Rome for trial. According to the first-century historian Flavius Josephus, the Jewish revolt against Rome, which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70, was touched off by an incident at Caesarea in 66. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Caesarea became the principal city in Palestine.

It wasn't until the late second century that Caesarea recorded its first bishop, Zacchaeus the Publican, and the city began to develop a Christian prominence. It was the site of a council, about 196, that involved regulation of the celebration of Pascha. Caesarea became the ecclesiastical metropolis of Palaestina Prima, subject to the Patriarch of Antioch which, until 451, was itself senior to the Bishop of Jerusalem. Included among Caesarea's bishops were such personalities as the historian Eusebius.

In 231, Origen arrived in Caesarea after fleeing Alexandria where he had been banished by Bp. Demetrius of Alexandria for his unauthorized ordination as a priest and made it his permanent home. There, he established a theological school with the scholarly priest Pamphilius of Caesarea who had a reputation for having an extensive ecclesiastical library of over 30,000 manuscripts. While the collection at the library suffered during the persecutions, the collection was restored by the bishops of Caesarea.

The library's presence contributed to the scholarship that came from Caesarea. Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea and the first Church historian, is famous for his works that include his books on Church history (Historia Ecclesiastica) and a geographical-historical study of the Holy Land (Onomasticon).

In the sixth century, a major church, the Martyrion of the Holy Procopius, was built over the remains of a Roman temple on the podium. The church was a 125 foot octagonal building set in a 150 foot square precinct.


In 639, Caesarea was overrun by the Arabs after which the population of the city declined. The twelfth century brought the crusades and almost two centuries of warfare. In 1101, Baldwin I, who led a Frankish army of crusaders, took the city from the Arabs. The city became the seat of a Latin archbishop in a crusader built cathedral. An aspect of the crusader occupation of Caesarea is storied finding of the legendary Holy Grail in Caesarea. Late in the twelfth century Caesarea was taken by Saladin before Richard the Lionhearted of England recaptured it four years later.

Louis IX, King of France, rebuilt the fortifications of Caesarea in 1251, before the city was attacked by the Mamluk Sultan Baibars in 1265. After he had taken the city, Baibars razed the city's fortifications to prevent their re-use by the crusaders. Caesarea, then, faded into history.


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