In November 2013 and April–May 2015, excavations were carried out in Caesarea in the area between the entrance to the Roman theater and the Caesarstone factory of Kibbuz Sedot Yam (Permit Nos. A-6946, A-7383; map ref. 190101–66/711414–45). The excavations, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Kibbuz Sedot Yam, were directed by P. Gendelman and U. ‘Ad, with the assistance of Y. Amrani and E. Bachar (administration), A.S. Sa‘id (trial excavations and area supervision), R. Mishayev, M. Kahan and R. Liran (surveying and drafting), A. Peretz (field photography), SkyView (aerial photography), A. Dagot (GPS), D. Planer and D. Syon (metal detection), and K. Sa‘id and workers from the Caesarstone factory.
The excavation area is located east of the theater, in one of the insulae of ancient Caesarea (Fig. 1). The insula is bounded on the west by the main north–south street—the cardo maximus—a portion of which was uncovered in the Crusader city (‘Ad et al. 2017). It is bounded on the north by an east–west street—a decumanus—the western end of which was excavated (Porath, Raban and Patrich 1998: Fig. 1). The remains of a building and installations from the Roman and Byzantine periods were discovered previously to the east of the present excavation area (Oren 2010) and part of a theater or odeon was unearthed south of it (Reich and Peleg 1992; Porath 2008:1660; Fig. 1: A-1418, A3301). Remains of an opulent building from the Byzantine period were discovered southeast of the excavation (Sa‘id 2006; Fig. 1: A-3667).
Approximately 23 excavation squares were opened in three areas (A–C; Fig. 2). They revealed remains of a mansion and a kiln from the Early Roman period; parts of a structure and a cesspit from the Late Roman period; a large building from the Byzantine period with mosaic-paved rooms, a courtyard and a bathhouse; and meager walls from the Early Islamic period. A good many of the remains were damaged by modern activity.
The Early Roman period (first–second centuries CE). In Area A, a large room was partly excavated, revealing a white mosaic floor with a complex geometric pattern in shades of red, black and yellow (Fig. 3). In Area B the foundations of walls were discovered near a fallen heap of plaster bearing a fresco. These remains probably belonged to one of Caesarea’s mansions, like those previously uncovered (Porath 2008:1658; Gendelman and Gersht 2017). In the western part of Area C the remains of a poorly preserved round installation (diam. c. 2 m; Fig. 4) were unearthed, apparently the lower part of an oven or a kiln.
The Late Roman period (third–fourth centuries CE). A structure of unclear use was built on the ruins of the Early Romanmansion: two large rooms with mosaic floors were uncovered in Area B; the mosaic floor in the eastern room was white, and in the western room it featured geometric and floral patterns in shades of red, black and yellow (Fig. 5). Above the southern part of the earlier kiln in Area C was a round pit with a plastered channel leading to it from the west (Figs. 4, 6). The pit had no floor, and its walls were lined with kurkar stones without mortar, indicating that it was a cesspit; it seems to have served the building with the mosaic floors in Area B.
The Byzantine period (fourth–seventh centuries CE). In Areas A and B were remains dating from the early Byzantine period (fourth–fifth centuries CE), but only a small part of these were uncovered because most were covered by a new structure in the late fifth–early sixth centuries CE. The newer structure was well preserved and not dismantled. Additional remains of this structure, which was in use until the mid-seventh century CE, were uncovered throughout the excavation area, and it probably extended over a large part of the insula, if not all of it. The eastern part of the excavation revealed remains of a bathhouse (Fig. 7), which included at least two caldaria with a suspended floor (hypocaust), heating pipes in the walls (tubuli) and a bathtub. North of the caldaria was a large courtyard paved with stone tiles arranged in a complex geometric pattern (opus sectile; Fig. 8). Marble tiles found in a fallen heap in the courtyard indicate that they had once lined the walls; we may assume that the courtyard was part of the frigidarium (cold bath). To its east and on a lower elevation were remains of kurkar-paved rooms. These were apparently used for storage and the operation of the bathhouse. South and west of the bathhouse were rooms, halls and corridors paved with geometric polychrome mosaics incorporating vegetal motifs. South of the bathhouse, in Area B, were the remains of three large mosaic-paved rooms (Fig. 9). The remains of an additional room, bounded by a narrow corridor, were uncovered in Area A, west of the frigidarium (Fig. 10). In the northwestern part of the excavation, where the structure did not survive, there were large fragments of polychrome mosaic floors which were damaged in modern times.
In Area C, east of the caldaria, a large open space (16 × 17 m) was bounded on the west by a broad wall—apparently the eastern wall of the bathhouse—and on the east by a circular or semicircular hall (below). It seems that the planning of this open space involved the razing of the earlier structures down to their foundations, robbing their stones and leveling the area. A drainage channel was then built, crossing the space from east to west; its westward continuation was uncovered south of the bathhouse. The channel was covered with stone slabs, which every few meters were replaced by two stones set as a gable (Fig. 11).After the channel was built, the area was covered with a layer of brown soil (thickness c. 0.5 m), above which was a layer of kurkar of the same thickness, which was in turn covered with a layer of brown, fertile soil. These findings indicate that this open area was a garden.
The semicircular/circular hall in the southeastern corner of Area C was only partly uncovered (diam. c. 9 m; Fig. 12). It was built of ashlars, and its inner face was covered with marble slabs. The hall was paved with a mosaic in an opus sectile pattern, attested to only by the slabs impressions in the mortar. A U-shaped room built of ashlars and paved with large marble slabs abutted the hall on the south. At the western end of Area B, near the assumed route of the Cardo Maximus, a mosaic floor was uncovered with a simple geometric pattern and a two-line inscription in Greek, indicating that the building had been built by Elias the comes. The inscription’s proximity to the cardo may indicate that it was installed near one of the entrances to the building.
The Early Islamic period (seventh–eighth centuries CE). After Caesarea was conquered in 640/1 CE, the building was abandoned, and its stones were robbed out. This is attested by the robber trenches of the structure’s walls and the layer of debris over the floor. It seems that during this time the area was not used for permanent habitation. In the eastern part of the area were three narrow walls built of kurkar stones in secondary use; these may have served as agricultural fences, like those uncovered in the past in the western part of Caesarea (Porath, Raban and Patrich 1998:45, 55–56; Porath 2008:1663).
The remains uncovered in the excavation show that the insula was among the structures belonging to prominent inhabitants of Caesarea in the Roman and Byzantine periods. In the earlier phase, dated to the first century CE, the insula was apparently within the Herodian wall, which may have delimited it on the south and east. The remains from the Byzantine period show that there was a large structure within the insula, which included an opulent bathhouse, rooms and a hall paved with a polychrome mosaic, as well as a garden and a distinctively shaped room—apparently a lavish entrance hall—in its western part. These remains, the extensive use of opus sectile, marble tiles covering the walls, wall mosaics and other elements, attest to the rich decoration of the building. At this point, it cannot be determined whether this was a public building or a private dwelling of a wealthy citizen of Caesarea.
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