Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2012.12.21 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.12.21

Joseph Patrich, Studies in the Archaeology and History of 'Caesarea Maritima': caput Judaeae, metropolis Palaestinae. Ancient Judaism and early Christianity, 77.   Leiden; Boston:  Brill, 2011.  Pp. xii, 340; 158 p. of plates.  ISBN 9789004175112.  $221.00.  

Reviewed by Felipe Rojas, Brown University (


Although never as important in the imagination as Rome, Constantinople, or Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima, like those other cities, represented many things to many people; indeed, even the material fabric of the city—in particular its streets and porticoes—was at times imagined to embody, literally, the rival claims of individuals and communities as they strove for political and religious authority. Both Christians and Jews, for example, contended that, after the death of prominent religious leaders and heroes, columns or pillars throughout the city manifested and substantiated their own sorrow. So the Babylonian Talmud asserts that pillars shed tears when Rabbi Abbahu died, while Eusebius records an even more pathetic miracle: the columns of the city’s stoas suddenly became stained, as if with blood, following the death of Christian martyrs. Perhaps fittingly, this once thriving multicultural city has been excavated piecemeal by a variety of archaeologists, not always working in tandem, and often competing for historical authority.

Joseph Patrich’s book treats many aspects of the charged and contested material fabric of Caesarea Maritima. The volume consists of twelve essays, most previously published; only one of the articles (chapter V, on commerce and economy in Late Antique Caesarea) is entirely new, while another was available until now only in Hebrew (chapter III, which deals with the proclamation of the city as a Roman colony). Apart from compiling the scattered output of a distinguished Israeli scholar who is intimately familiar with the city (Patrich conducted excavations there between 1993-1998 and 2000-2001), the book’s main merits are the unified bibliography and the three detailed indices, which enable targeted and efficient exploration of the volume’s diverse contents. A brief preface gives the original source of publication of the articles. Patrich’s book does not aim to be an introduction to Caesarea nor a purposeful synthetic account of the current state of archaeological and historical research. Instead, his collection offers a dozen studies concerned chiefly with the topography of the city, from individual buildings or complexes (e.g., the hippodrome treated in chapter VII or the palaces discussed in chapter VIII) to city-wide analyses. In addition to specialists interested specifically in Caesarea, the readers who will most benefit from Patrich’s essays will be those interested in urban spaces in the cities of the Eastern Mediterranean and in their successive transformations through Late Antiquity.

Few, if any, will read the book from cover to cover but those who do will feel the dizzying effects of its sudden shifts in relevance, interest, length, and breadth from one chapter to the next. Essays are arranged roughly chronologically by subject, but the collection is framed by extended discussions of Caesarea’s urban context. The book opens with a lengthy treatment of the Herodian city, which includes a short discussion of the possible layout of Strato’s Tower and its poorly understood Hellenistic predecessor. It closes with another detailed analysis of urban infrastructure in which Patrich attempts to use the archaeological record to shed light on the Late Roman city as described in the Acts of the Martyrs of Caesarea (the blood-stained columns mentioned above are dealt with on pp. 269-270.) In contrast to these expositions of city-wide urban context, there are also short analyses of minutiae including ten pages dedicated to four modest Christian objects (Chapter XI) and about as many to the scant evidence that may suggest that there was a chapel dedicated to St Paul in the city (Chapter X).

Patrich’s handling of the archaeological and literary evidence is clear, well-informed and well-illustrated. The book deals, sometimes in meticulous detail, with the civic places where Caesarea’s heterogeneous inhabitants—Jews, Christians of various leaning, and polytheists—interacted. Especially interesting are articles analyzing the many transformations of the city’s material fabric in the wake of political and religious upheavals. For example, Patrich uses a simple prayer scratched on a wall to discuss the possible conversion of a cistern into a prison then suggests that a passage of Eusebius lamenting that spaces meant for murderers were being filled with the representatives of the church (p. 268-269) might reflect a sudden major increase in the number of prisoners in the city. Whether this is correct or not, Patrich pointedly draws attention to the sometimes traumatic mutations in Caesarea’s urban infrastructure.

Throughout the book repetition is frequent: brief accounts of the early history of the city, for example, occur several times. A volume of this sort perhaps makes such redundancies inevitable, but it also offers the author an opportunity to give an overview —in the form of introduction or conclusions—of the impact of his collected contributions. It is regrettable that Patrich attempts no such thing, since an explicit discussion of recurring methodological issues that come to mind when reading these essays would surely make his volume and even his individual essays of interest to a wider range of scholars. For example, how should one handle the tensions between material record and texts, especially at a site for which we have so many (sometimes conflicting) extant ancient sources? Or, similarly, how should one attempt to integrate the diverse scholarly output produced at sites where many teams are working simultaneously, but not under a single authority?

The book includes 172 black-and-white photographs and line drawings. These illustrations are mostly useful and of high quality, but some would benefit from higher resolution photographs (coins, as usual, seem to have suffered most, e.g., fig. 60 and fig. 90). Many illustrations demand reproductions at slightly less reduced scales; the bone artifacts in fig. 64, for example, are barely visible. The reproductions of architectural drawings, too, are sometimes so small as to be nearly incomprehensible. Typographical errors in English are uncommon; however, quotations of short Greek and Latin passages have frequent errors. The most distracting among these are many misplaced accents and breathing marks. Even in the index and—also when transliterated—Greek and Latin words appear misspelled. (I do not know Hebrew or the other Semitic languages quoted and cannot comment on the accuracy of quotations from them.) Such problems with illustrations, as well as with Greek and Latin quotations, cast a shadow on the editors, especially in the case of a book that is exorbitantly priced. This volume is beyond the reach of most individuals, graduate students and faculty alike, but serious academic libraries should acquire it. However, one is left wondering whether there could be a different outlet for the valuable contributions compiled here, one that could be, if not free, then at least more affordable and reach a much wider audience. This would suffice: simple OCR scans of the various essays displayed online, along with the collected bibliography and indices for the diverse scholars of antiquity interested in the many Caesareas illuminated by Patrich.

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