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Archaeologists Exploring Herod’s Port Conclude They Built Them Better in the Old Days

July 5, 1984
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Scuba-diving archaeologists exploring the submerged ancient port of Caeserea, south of Haifa, say it is a model of harbor construction that would do credit to present day engineers. They also believe it is older than the 2,000 years usually given it.

Recent finds by the Inter-University and International Caeserea Ancient Harbor Excavations Project (CAHEP) have confirmed the existence of a port which pre-dates by at least 200 years that built by King Herod between 21 and 9 BCE. Herod, surnamed “The Great,” ruled over Judaea from 37-4 BCE under Roman tutelage.

The smaller and older port discovered by the archaeologists is believed to have served a Greek settlement dating back to the second century BCE. Experts suggest that because of the pre-existence of a port, Herod chose the site to build his grand harbor named in honor of the Roman Emperor, Ceasar Augustus.


Prof. Robert Hohlfelder of the University of Colorado, an associate director of CAHEP, suggested that Herod’s decision may have been partly political. He wanted to build a facility which was not in Romanheld territory for the benefit of gentiles on the same scale as his construction for the Jews in Jerusalem, Hohlfelder said.

Herod’s harbor is believed to have been the first man-made open seaport in the world. Its construction was completed in about 10 years. There are two massive breakwaters running out to sea, forming a shelter that could contain up to 300 ships. One of the breakwaters was used for loading and unloading cargoes and had warehouses on its 70 meter wide top.

Dr. Avner Raban, of Haifa University’s Center for Maritime Studies, said that if the builders of Haifa port in the 1930’s and the port at Ashdod in the 1950’s had used the same silt control methods as Herod’s engineers, many of the problems that plague those ports today would have been avoided. Herod’s men built a series of cross channels to admit silt-free sea water to the port area.

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