BMCR 2003.05.19

Art in the Public and Private Spheres in Roman Caesarea Maritima. RdA Supplementi 27

, , Art in the public and private spheres in roman Caesarea Maritima : temples, architectural decoration and tesserae. Supplementi alla RdA ; 27. Roma: G. Bretschneider, 2002. 80 pages, 29 unnumbered leaves of plates : illustrations ; 30 cm.. ISBN 8876891838. EUR 180.00.

A visitor to the splendid site of Caesarea Maritima (Israel), the ancient Roman capital of Palestine, cannot but be struck by the natural beauty of its maritime location and the complexity of its human habitat. Houses, temples, churches, synagogues, mosques, baths, theatres, to mention but a few of the structures that graced this city, reveal a striking tissue of multiculturalism. Although only a fraction of the surface of the ancient city has been excavated, a plethora of publications has ensured that anyone interested in this important site is well provided with presentations relating to the city’s history, architecture, art, administration, religion, demography, harbor, funerary practices and monuments, inscriptions, sculpture, mosaics, coins, cameos, gems, seals, oil lamps, and even with correspondence between local erudites and their scholarly counterparts.

Readers of BMCR are familiar with the splendid volume of the Greek and Latin inscriptions of Caesarea which two long-time Caesarea excavators, Clayton Lehmann and Ken Holum, have recently produced ( BMCR 2001.08.25). Readers of modern Hebrew have benefited from the important collection of articles which appeared in 1999 in memory of Aharon Wegman, founder of the delightful museum at Sdot Yam which houses numerous findings from the excavations of Caesarea (Rivka Gersht, ed., The Sdot Yam Museum Book of the Antiquities of Caesarea Maritima, Tel Aviv 1999, with abstracts in English).

Turnheim and Ovadiah (hereafter T/O) are no newcomers to Caesarea or to joint publications. They have collaborated previously on projects such as the ‘peopled’ scrolls from the Roman theatre of Beth Shean/Scythopolis (1994, RdA supp. 12), as well as on ornamented architectural elements from Roman Caesarea (in Caesarea Maritima. A Retrospective after Two Millennia, eds. A. Raban and K. Holum, 1996). Here, in a remarkably brief space, they explore three rather disparate aspects of the city, including yet again miscellaneous ornamented architectural elements, the city’s temples and shrines, and a single mosaic.

This somewhat erratic collection begins with an one page summary of the history of the city which compares poorly with the 26 page introduction provided by Lehmann/Holum to their inscription volume (above). The single paragraph snippet of the history of Caesarea barely does justice to the city, its material culture or its diverse population, nor does it help readers to situate the articles which follow.

The first chapter surveys temples and shrines or rather three of these, the temple of Augustus/Dea Roma (Herodian), the Mithraeum (late ancient), and the shrine (to Nemesis?) in the amphitheatre (2nd century?). It begins with literary, epigraphic and numismatic sources which relate to the city in general. It continues with a survey of the three selected sites. Although there is no attempt to account for the selection or for the significance of these three structures within a changing citiscape, this chapter remains a useful introduction to the ‘public’ architecture of Caesarea. There is no map of the city which shows the location of these monuments in spite of the inclusion of 116 photographs and diagrams.

Chapter two covers “miscellaneous ornamented architectural elements”, of which a large number were found in the excavations. It aspires to deal only with representative specimens without explaining the rationale of such selectivity. The chapter covers primarily material recovered in the theatre (architrave and frieze blocks, soffit patterns, cornices and pedestals), with a passing nod to other similar elements from other sites. T/O correctly conclude that the samples under discussion reflect a range of imports, primarily from Asia Minor, but insist on the “inferiority” of this art by comparison with that of Scythopolis. There is no attempt in this chapter to place the theatre’s architectural fragments within a larger canvass of the city’s varying architecture and within the context of the city’s artistic traditions in general.

The third and last chapter (six pages with generous typespace) deals with a single mosaic, a geometric mosaic from the ‘promontory palace’ (Herodian? Hadrianic? Severan?). According to τ this mosaic, whose intricate patterns suggest “sophistication and richness of form” (p. 56), is unique within the context of known Palestinian mosaics and even within a larger context of eastern mosaics. Since, according to τ the nearest parallel is Antiochene (2nd century CE), they conclude that the Caesarean mosaic likewise is not Herodian but rather later, either Hadrianic or Severan. This is an innovative suggestion which remains hypothetical in the absence of a precise discussion of the complexity of the archaeological context of the mosaic.

A two page summary reiterates some of the points raised in the preceding chapters, emphasizing the place of Caesarea as “the leading representative of the classical culture and tradition in Eretz Israel” (p. 61). Perhaps.

The illustrations, black and white, are the best feature of this volume. It is difficult to assess to whom, exactly, this slim volume is addressed. Its price is prohibitive.