Israeli archaeologists excavating the ruins of the Mediterranean port of Caesarea here have identified the praetorium - the Roman administrative complex where St. Paul was incarcerated for two years before being sent to Rome for trial about 60 AD, the director of the dig said recently.
Yosef Porat of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the archaeologist who headed this summer's excavations, has long suspected the 15,000 square meter complex was the Roman government seat in the first century AD, when Caesarea was the capital of Judea. The site, prominently located between the 2,300-year-old city's seaside amphitheatre and hippodrome, included a palace with luxurious bathhouse, administrative offices and large courtyards.
But it was the discovery this summer of an inscription at the site which convinced Porat that he had discovered the praetorium.
One recently uncovered room had a floor mosaic with the Latin inscription "...adiviorb(us) offici custodiar," translated by Prof. Leah de Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as "...I came to this office - I shall be secure." Prof. Werner Eck of the University of Koln in Germany suggested that the room served as the office of a unit connected with security or the secret police.
Porat explained: "It is like a puzzle. Suddenly you get a piece and everything makes sense. We suspected for two years that this was the government complex, but with the inscription we have proof."
The trial of the Apostle Paul by the Roman governor likely took place nearby, he said. "St. Paul was tried at Caesarea, but Caesarea is a huge place. Now we know the location of the campus of the governor, and it is logical that he was tried on this campus."
Porat said the hall where Paul faced the governor was probably still beneath an unexcavated part of the praetorium complex. Similarly, no site for Paul's imprisonment cell has yet been identified, although archaeologists believe that a cellar in the complex may have been used as a jail.
Excavations of the praetorium complex began in 1974, and Porat said 60 per cent of the area has now been unearthed. Initially before the site's extant was realized, it was presumed to be the seaside palace of Herod the Great, the megalomaniac Edomite convert to Judaism who allied himself with Rome and was the king of Judea at the time of Jesus' birth. But excavations subsequently showed the complex to post-date Herod by a generation. …