Review of Holum, Kenneth G. “Caesarea’s Temple Hill: The Archaeology of Sacred Space in an Ancient Mediterranean City.”

Holum, Kenneth G. “Caesarea’s Temple Hill: The Archaeology of Sacred Space in an Ancient Mediterranean City.” Near Eastern Archaeology 67, no. 4 (December 2004): 184-99.
[Rome/Sacred Space/Architecture/Design]

Kenneth Holum directed an international team of excavators at Caesarea Maritima on the coast of Israel for eleven seasons between 1989 and 2002. They discovered that Herod the Great built a Roman temple there concurrently with the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This article recounts what they learned about this building and the subsequent use of the site.

The Caesarean temple was dedicated to the Roman goddess Roma and to Augustus. It was on a ridge overlooking the harbor of Caesarea. Holum speaks of the place as “socially constituted” sacred space, as contrasted with a site such as Delphi in Greece where the natural setting gives to it a sacred aura. Thus, an important emphasis of the paper is to show what Herod’s engineers did to enhance the sacredness of the site. He mentions the following: 1) Its placement on the highest point in front of the harbor, 2) it sat on a large platform which, like the temple mount in Jerusalem, was first leveled, extended with retaining walls and fill, and elevated, 3) its rather monumental size, 4) its height (about 100 feet) which contributed to its visibility from the sea and surrounding territory, 5) it was built of local kurkar stone but covered with a thick layer of stucco with molded fluting on the columns, all of which imitated expensive marble, thus adding to its beauty and sacredness, 6) gates controlled entrance into the site. Excavators also found evidence of a large sacrificial altar, first down below by the harbor quay, but later moved to the temple platform.

The site continued in use for sacred purposes, but gradually became “desacralized.” They found evidence of destruction about AD 400, consistent with Constantine’s abolishment of pagan sacrifice and temples. However, the evidence did not suggest whether it was caused naturally by an earthquake or on purpose. Many of the materials of the temple were given secondary use in an “intermediate building” which burned, followed in AD 490 by a Christian octagonal “martyrion” which probably venerated a martyr, the most likely candidate Holum believes was St. Cornelius. It was built of expensive materials including considerable marble. This structure lasted only a decade or two when it was converted into a congregational church. The structure apparently served both purposes until the Muslim conquest in AD 640. In the Thirteenth Century the Crusaders occupied the site and further demolished underlying structures as they built their typical subterranean vaults. These in turn were destroyed by the Mamlukes about 1287. Thereafter, the site lost its sacred nature.

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