Caesarea Maritima Promontory Palace of Herod the Great


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

Promontory Palace of Herod the Great

A seaside palace west of the theater at Caesarea Maritima has been identified by E. Netzer as the maritime palace Herod the Great built to supervise construction of the great harbor, and, later, to provide reception space for guests at spectacles and official functions. (Fig. 1) The view north from this promontory became increasingly impressive as the harbor was completed and thrived. The palace served as the official praetorium of his heirs and subsequent Roman officials. Lower Promontory Excavations in the 1970s by Netzer and Lee I. Levine in the lower area of the palace revealed a series of luxurious reception rooms and heated chambers centering on a large (35 x 18 m.) rock-cut swimming pool enclosed by a colonnade. Cuttings in the bedrock between the columns suggested to Netzer that planters had been built between the columns, offering a pluteus around the pool, as well as a planting area protected from the salt spray. (Fig. 2) Upper Palace Excavations by K. Gleason and B. Burrell for the University of Pennsylvania Museum (1990-1996), in collaboration with E. Netzer and Hebrew University; and by Y. Porath of the Israel Antiquities Authority (1993-1996), have revealed an upper, more public half of the palace connected to the stadium (also referred to as an amphitheater by Porath following Josephus) and the theater. The upper palace comprised a series of baths and reception rooms facing out onto a quadriportico (42 x 65 m.) Although the courtyard was paved in plastered crushed sandstone in later Roman phases, fragmentary areas of layers of rich red sand (hamra), popular today with gardeners, were used to level many areas of the courtyard and may indicate the presence of vegetation or a gardened area in the first Herodian period and possibly a gardened courtyard in the first phase of the upper palace’s peristyle courtyard, but soil pits and other planting features were not preserved in any detectable pattern. (Fig. 3) Pollen extracted from plaster on the kurkar columns of the surrounding colonnade included taxa likely to have been growing within the courtyard: Cypress (Cupressus–either juniperus or sempervirens), hazelnut (Corylus, a non-native), and the herbaceous taxa, Brassicacaea, Salvia, and Cistus (Fig. 4). A fourth century AD well briefly supplied water for the courtyard. Curse tablets (defixiones) at the bottom of this well indicate the popular practice of wishing ill, rather than wishing well.

Foundations of garden architecture, water channels and garden soils of the late Byzantine period have also been found, best preserved in the eastern half of the site.



Fig. 1: Plan of the Promontory Palace (J.H. Williams and A. Iamim): a) first phase (c. 22-15 BC) ; b) second phase (c. 15-4 BC)

Fig. 1: Plan of the Promontory Palace (J.H. Williams and A. Iamim): a) first phase (c. 22-15 BC) ; b) second phase (c. 15-4 BC)


Fig. 2: Photograph of cuttings around pool for planters (K. Gleason).

Fig. 2:Photograph of cuttings around pool for planters (K. Gleason.

Fig. 3: Photograph of Hamra soil in courtyard (K. Gleason).

Fig. 3:Photograph of Hamra soil in courtyard (K. Gleason).

Fig. 4: Reconstruction drawing of the Promontory upper garden (Y. Korman).

Fig. 4 Reconstruction drawing of the Promontory upper garden (Y. Korman)


37 BCE - 135 CE


  • D. Langgut, K. Gleason, and B. Burrell, “Pollen Analysis as Evidence for Herod’s Royal Garden at the Promontory Palace, Caesarea” Israel Journal of Plant Sciences 62 (2015): 111-121.;
  • K. Gleason et al. “The promontory palace at Caesarea Maritima : preliminary evidence for Herod’s Praetorium” Journal of Roman Archaeology, 11 (1998) 23-52. (worldcat)
  • B. Burrell, K. Gleason, and E. Netzer, “Uncovering Herod’s Seaside Palace” Biblical Archaeology Review 19.3(1993): 50-57; link
  • K. Gleason, “Ruler and Spectacle: Herod’s Palace at Caesarea” Caesarea Maritima: a Retrospective after Two Millennia. Eds., A. Raban and K. Holum, Leiden: J. Brill, 1996, pp. 208-27; (worldcat)
  • L.I. Levine, and E. Netzer, Excavations at Caesarea Maritima, Qedem 21, 1986, pp. 158-160; Excavations at Caesarea Maritima (worldcat)
  • E. Netzer, “Herod the Great’s Palace” In Caesarea Maritima: a Retrospective after Two Millennia. Eds. A. Raban and K. Holum, Leiden: J. Brill, 1996, pp. 193-207. (worldcat)

Pleiades ID





Kathryn L. Gleason ORCID: 0000-0001-6260-8378

Publication date

21 Apr 2021