Herod the Great built this great seaport city, constructed on the coast of the Mediterranean, in honor of Caesar and named it "Caesarea Maritima."
[Herod was a client king of Rome, who ruled his province with Rome's approval and authority and with the consent of his friend and patron, the Emperor Augustus. It is possible, even likely, that Jesus was born the same year that Herod the Great died - in 4 BCE.]
Caesarea's strategic location placed it at the juncture of important trade routes. But the harbor itself offered no natural advantages; the currents were dangerous and there were problems with silting. Using ingenious technical advances, Herod's engineers constructed two huge breakwaters, lined with warehouses. At the end of the southern breakwater stood the lighthouse, whose fires burned 24 hours a day. Six enormous bronze statues marked treacherous sandbars. To ships coming in from sea, the sight must have been truly impressive.
Caesarea was built like a model Greco-Roman city and laid out on a grid. There was a forum, theatre, temples, public baths, paved streets, and an elaborate villa that probably belonged to Herod himself. Giant twin aqueducts brought fresh water from Mt. Carmel, and formed part of an elaborate water and sewer system. But the focal point was a temple dedicated to Augustus.
After his death, Herod's city became the new capital of the Roman province of Judea. When Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the prefect of the province also traveled there to ensure that order was kept. His name was Pontius Pilate. Until recently, Pilate's existence was known only through literary sources, but a recently discovered stone bears the inscription "Pontius Pilatus, of Judea," clearly demonstrating Pilate's position and administrative authority.
Later events put Caesarea on the map in ways that neither Herod nor Pilate had intended. A riot in Caesarea incited the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome.
Later Caesarea became an important center of religious study and training. The great early Christian scholar and apologist, Origen, visited Caesarea in 231 CE and turned the city into a center of Christian learning. Origen built a huge library that became a magnet for scholarly study. When the Emperor Diocletian unleashed the Great Persecution (303-313 CE), Caesarea became the site for the death of a number of Christian martyrs, whose fates are described in the work of Eusebius, On the Martyrs of Palestine.