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Art in the Public and Private Spheres in Roman Caesarea Maritima

Art in the Public and Private Spheres in Roman Caesarea Maritima

By Yehudit Turnheim and Asher Ovadiah (Rivista dArcheologia Suppl. 17). Pp. 144, figs. 2, pls. 116. Giorgio Bretschneider, Rome 2002. €180. ISBN 88-7689-183-8 (paper).

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This slim volume contains three essays on the city of Caesarea Maritima in present-day Israel, founded by Herod the Great in 22 B.C.E. and provided with a harbor, temples, a theater, a hippodrome, and other monumental buildings. The first essay, on temples of the city, is based on a combination of literary, artistic, and archaeological evidence. The second deals with architectural elements with carved decoration found in the theater, and assumed to have decorated its scaenae frons, and the third places a geometric mosaic floor from the Promontory Palace in the context of other mosaics from the Mediterranean. Though the essays do not form a coherent whole, contrary to the authors’ claims, they do serve to help situate Caesarea in the context of the Roman world of the first century B.C.E. through the fourth century C.E.

Especially in the first section, the authors rely heavily on literary and historical sources and on numismatics. The first essay begins with quotations and summaries of literary and epigraphical sources about temples in the city. These include an inscription stating that Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judaea, erected a Tiberieum in the city. In the illustrations (figs. 11–15) the authors suggest that remains of a broad staircase with a possible balustrade might belong to this temple, but, as far as I can tell, no justification for this identification is provided in the text, nor is there a reference in the text to the illustrations. Sculptures and coins from the city suggest a cult of Tyche/Dea Roma, and the authors find support for this idea in an inlaid bronze cup from Caesarea in the Louvre showing a ceremony in honor of a number of divinities, including Apollo, Hygieia, and Tyche (figs. 16, 17). Somewhat unusually, Tyche seems to be conflated with Roma, since the figure has her foot on a ship’s prow and kneeling figures at her feet. She wears a mural crown but is clad in Amazonian dress. The sacrifice takes place in front of a building with Corinthian columns and arched openings. A similar goddess appears on coins minted in the city, but no temple with this appearance has been found. Josephus states that Herod built a temple of Rome and Augustus in white stone (leukos lithos) on a mound overlooking the harbor. The authors identify this with a temple on an artificial platform overlooking the harbor, thus in a prominent position. The remains, however, include architectural elements in the local sandstone (kurkar), which does not correspond to Josephus’ description. They, nonetheless, dispute Duane Roller’s suggestion of a Severan date on the grounds that marble was more frequently used in that period than in Herodian times.

A Mithraeum was also built into one of the vaults in the horrea near the harbor. This important shrine, which has still not been fully published, is the only Mithraeum known in Roman Judaea and one of the few in the Levant, along with one in Sidon. The Caesarea Mithraeum seems to be somewhat unusual in that there were apparently provisions for letting in rays of light. It had an altar and paintings, but the tauroctone and other scenes from the life of Mithras were depicted on a small carved marble disk found near the altar (not illustrated) rather than in a relief at the end of the shrine, as is more usual. Since remains of frescoes with scenes of Mithraic cult survive on the side walls, it is of course possible that there was a painted tauroctone on the rear wall. The authors note with frustration that this temple is not mentioned in literary and epigraphic sources, and Mithras does not appear on the coins of the city. Surely one would not expect literary sources to mention a Mithraeum, or that an image of a god that was the object of an exclusive cult, here probably brought in by the military, would appear on city coinage.

The date of the Mithraeum is uncertain. According to the authors, lamps found in the vaulted chamber show that the shrine existed at the end of the third–beginning of the fourth century C.E. The authors lay great emphasis on this point, as illustrating the coexistence of Mithraism with Judaism and the rising Christianity, but there does not seem to be any reason why it should not have been established earlier, contrary to what the authors imply. In fact, in other publications of the finds from the building, it is assumed on the basis of ceramics, numerous lamps, and a coin of Elagabalus (r. 218–222 C.E.) found on the floor associated with the Mithraeum that it was converted to a Mithraeum between the late first and early third centuries C.E. and then went out of use (see J.A. Blakel and G. Hartelius’ contribution in The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Excavation Reports: The Pottery and Dating of Vault 1 [Lewiston, N.Y. 1987] 91–104). Oddly, no reference is made to this publication, though L.M. Hopfe does include it in an article (“Mithraism in Syria,” ANRW 18 [1990] 2228–30).

Finally, a small shrine was built into Herod’s hippodrome. Finds include oil lamps and seven marble votive feet, four of them entwined with snakes. The authors suggest an association with Nemesis, known to be worshipped in amphitheaters, as well as with other deities. To me, the votive feet cut short at the ankle suggest a healing cult. If foot races, as well as other games, took place here, maladies of and injuries to the foot might well have been a concern.

The second chapter deals with carved architectural moldings in Asia Minor marble that were found in the theater, most probably came the scaenae frons. These are thoroughly described and well illustrated. The authors note that the architectural ornament corresponds to that used elsewhere in the Graeco-Roman world, but the somewhat clumsy carving, inferior to that of architectural moldings from Beth Shean, suggests to them that though the material was imported, local artisans, inexperienced in working with marble, did the actual carving.

The final chapter deals with an elaborate geometric mosaic in multicolored stone from the Promontory Palace probably built by Herod. Comparisons with other mosaics, however, suggest a later date, if not for the palace then at least for the mosaics, in the late second–early third century C.E. The similarity of this paving to those from other parts of the Graeco-Roman world shows that Caesarea participated in the Roman koine. Pattern books may have been used, or the artists may have come from elsewhere, such as Syria.

This volume contains some interesting material. However, in spite of the authors’ claims, it does not cohere. The descriptions, especially of the religious structures, are too brief to be really useful, and much of the material is not illustrated. References to the illustrations are not always included in the text, and a list of illustrations is not provided. The sections on the architectural decoration and the mosaics are helpful in situating Caesarea in the Roman artistic koine, but at €180, the book is overpriced for its slim though interesting content.

Susan B. Downey
Department of Art History
University of California–Los Angeles
P.O. Box 951417
Los Angeles, California 90095-1417

Book Review of Art in the Public and Private Spheres in Roman Caesarea Maritima, by Yehudit Turnheim and Asher Ovadiah

Reviewed by Susan B. Downey

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 2 (April 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1102.Downey

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