Caesarea Maritima is a city rich in history—biblical history and church history. Today it is a national park in Israel, but previously it was one of the most important cities in Judea. Herod the Great built his palace there, and in A.D. 6 it became the administrative capital for the Roman governors of Judea. Of course, the governors would often go up to Jerusalem to conduct business, but their palace of choice was Herod's palace at Caesarea Maritima. As the governor's main residence, it saw a lot of commercial and political activity, giving it great prominence.
In 1961, an artifact was found there called the "Pilate Stone." This stone has four lines etched into it, and it refers to a building that was built and dedicated by Pontius Pilate. The original Pilate Stone has been moved from Caesarea Maritima to a museum in Jerusalem. It is (to date) the only archaeological reference to Pontius Pilate. It was a very significant find because it corroborates the biblical account in witnessing to the existence of a man named Pontius Pilate. It is a reminder that this Christian faith of ours is grounded in space and time.
Caesarea Maritima also played a role in the rest of the New Testament. Paul was in Caesarea many times. Its port provided a suitable launching point for Paul to set out on his missionary journeys. He also spent two years there as a prisoner (Acts 25:22–27). So he got to know the city pretty well. And Peter baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10:1).
As we move into the pages of church history, the city remains significant. A man named Pamphilus was martyred there in 307 under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who launched an empire-wide persecution of Christians. The church historian Eusebius, who also happened to be from Caesarea Maritima, recorded that the jails were so full of Christians under Diocletian that it launched a crime spree. The officials were so concerned with arresting Christians that common criminals were literally getting away with murder.
One of the victims of Diocletian's persecution was Pamphilus. He was important because his main efforts at Caesarea Maritima were directed toward building up the city's library. It was one of the best libraries in the ancient world. It is estimated that at one time it held more than thirty thousand manuscripts. Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible, spent time looking at the manuscripts and working at Caesarea Maritima. Some other significant church figures, such as Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great, also spent time there, so great was its library and prominence as a center of study.