Caesarea Maritima Byzantine Law Court and Roof Garden


Iudaea (province) (Pleiades)

Province Description

Judaea, the Roman province, included parts of the areas of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms, notably Biblical Judah, Samaria, and Edom. Its capital was Caesarea Maritima. Roman influence in the region began in 63 CE, when the Roman general Pompey the Great conquered Syria from Mithridates of Pontus, besieged Jerusalem, and captured the Second Temple; he appointed Hyrcanus, one of the two Hasmonean brothers fighting for kingship, as ethnarch of Judaea. Later, Julius Caesar appointed Antipater, the father of Herod, as Judaea's first Roman Procurator. Later these ties allowed Herod to seek backing from Rome against the Hasmoneans in 40 BCE, when the Senate recognized him as “king of the Jews.” His territories came to include the regions of Galilee, Gaulanitis (the Golan),Peraea and the Decapolis, and Augustus later granted him the coastal cities, Batanaea, Auranitis, and Trachonitis. Herod balanced his allegiance to Rome with the independence of his kingdom, often employing architectural projects to express his ambitions and control of nature to express his capacity to rule . His many palaces, placed strategically around the kingdom, feature dramatically designed landscapes and gardens. Upon his death, his son and heir Archelaus was unable to maintain order and the major part of Judaea was annexed to Syria in 6 CE, with its own prefect, while two other sons of Herod, Philip and Antipas, received territories as tetrarchs. By the time of Trajan, Judea was reduced in size and many of the Herodian palaces abandoned, preserving them over the millennia for archaeologists. Hadrian renamed the province After the Bar Kochba revolts (132-135)Hadrian renamed the province Syria Palaestina, erasing the name of Judaea.
The geography of Judaea comprises a wide variety of biomes, from richly watered plains of the Galilee and the Jordan, to the semi-arid Judean Hills, the humid, fertile coastal plain of the Mediterranean, and the deserts of the Dead Sea valley and the Negev. The period for which we have the richest evidence of a garden culture in this region is during the reign of Herod the Great. An allied king of Rome, Herod’s relationships with Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Augustus, and Marcus Agrippa and other officials ave been preserved in the texts of Flavius Josephus. These constitute a rare record of interactions between Rome and its territories, and provide a valuable context for understanding the trends of design in the early imperial period. The proximity of Judaea to Alexandria, whose palaces and gardens lie beneath the modern city and its harbors, may also provide a suggestion of the late Hellenistic garden culture that Romans emulated. Evidence of gardens in the Hasmonean winter palaces at Jericho and the palace identified as that of Hyracanus the Tobiad at 'Iraq al-Amir on the other side of the Jordan Valley provide rare cases where texts can illuminate archaeological evidence. These gardens require further investigation and both are threatened by local development.


Caesarea Maritima
Caesarea Maritima (Pleiades)

Location Description

Ultimately the capital of the Roman provinces of Judaea and Syria Palestina, the city was built by Herod the Great. He acquired the old Hellenistic city of Strato’s Tower from Octavian as part of a territorial expansion after Actium, and turned the modest natural harbor here into a major port city, laid out on an orthogonal urban plan. Reminiscent of the basilaea of Alexandria, the southern area of the city was devoted to Herod’s seaside palace, in its early phase, and to public entertainment facilities by the time of the city’s opening in 12 BC. Josephus describes the port and the features of the city (AJ and BJ 1.21.5. 408) including an “amphitheatron” and theater in the south, where archaeologists have discovered and restored a stadium and a theater. These are in the area of the archaeological remains of a palace, also noted but not located by Josephus. The city was a successful enterprise, and by the second and third centuries CE the stadium functions had moved inland and expansive villas were constructed over the remains of the stadium. By the Byzantine era, these villas were incorporated into a new praetorium. These palaces and villas have gardens, discovered in varying degrees of preservation, supplied with water through water channels, initially from the aqueduct and later from wells. Upon the destruction of this district of the city, the Arab inhabitants developed gardens amidst the ruins, irrigated by wells and water channels.


Royal Garden


Garden Description

Byzantine Law Court and Roof Garden

Architectural analysis and epigraphic finds excavated by Josef Patrich and the Combined Caesarea Excavations suggest that the buildings in the area immediately south of the harbor (Area CC) formed a governmental compound of Roman - Byzantine Caesarea, comprising a Revenue Office (skrinion), a Law Court and adjacent to them an archive or library for judicial and financial records and books. Earlier archaeologists (JECM) had identified this complex as an honorific U-shaped building; however, it is clearly the inverse. Constructed about 200 CE, the Law Court was a vast hall (13 x 18 m.), built on top of four vaults facing west(Fig.1). In the first phase (fig 3), the hall faced west to the sea and was surrounded on three sides (N, E and S) by a reflection pool. To its east a square fountain was constructed.

During the second phase (fig 4), the pool was converted to a roof garden, filled in with the rich, red sandy soil, locally known as hamra (also noted in the upper courtyard at the promontory palace.) The soil was set on a surface of bipedal ceramic tiles (ca. 60 x 50 cm), which in turn were supported on suspensurae of flat sandstone blocks (each 20 x 20 cm and 15 cm thick) supporting the corners of four bipedal tiles. This arrangement formed a separating space between the roof of the vaults and the garden soil, preventing moisture from damaging the ceiling of the vaults (Fig. 2). This arrangement has no known parallels in Israel, but was used over vaults for the gardens of Tiberius on the Palatine in Rome, a form of nemora pensile, or hanging gardens.

During this phase the building looked out over an extended garden on the east side. Here the garden soil (hamra) extended beyond the eastern wall of the former reflection pool to include the square fountain. The garden was irrigated by a water tank (ca. 3 x 3 m.) erected on ground level between the hall and the fountain, the dimensions of which were reduced at this phase. The eastern wall of the reflection pool was partially dismantled to accommodate this tank.

During the third phase, in the 6th century, the entire garden, including the fountain, was covered by a mosaic floor.



Fig. 1: Plan of the garden area (Anna Iamim, Combined Caesarea Excavations)

Fig. 1: Plan of the garden area (Anna Iamim, Combined Caesarea Excavations)


Fig. 2: Reconstructed section of vaults and planting area showing roof garden construction (E. Clemence after J. Patrich)

Fig. 2: Reconstructed section of vaults and planting area showing roof garden construction (E. Clemence after J. Patrich)

Fig. 3: Reconstructed of Phases 1 with a surrounding reflection pool (I. Rabinowitz after J. Patrich)

Fig. 3: Reconstructed of Phases 1 with a surrounding reflection pool (I. Rabinowitz after J. Patrich)

Fig. 4: Reconstructed of Phases 2 with a surrounding garden (I. Rabinowitz after J. Patrich)

Fig. 4: Reconstructed of Phases 2 with a surrounding garden (I. Rabinowitz after J. Patrich)


77 CE - 638 CE


  • K.G. Holum, “Inscriptions from the imperial revenue office of Byzantine Caesarea Palaestinae” Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplement 14, 1995: 333-345. (worldcat)

Pleiades ID





Joseph Patrich

Publication date

3 May 2021