Precious Roman Period cargo discovered in a shipwreck in Caesarea harbor

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Just prior to the week of Passover, two divers (Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra’anan from Ra’anana) reported to the Israel Antiquities Authority that they had stumbled across a number of artifacts while diving in Caesarea harbor, on Israel’s central Mediterranean coast. The discovery was identified by IAA divers as an ancient shipwreck from the era of Emperor Constantine (306-337 AD). It has been described by IAA officials as the most significant discovery of treasure in the past 30 years.

The cargo included a remarkable cache of bronze items including a candle depicting the Roman sun god Sol, a figurine of the moon goddess Luna and a lamp in the image of the head of an African slave. Three fragments of life-size bronze statues and smaller objects with animal motifs were also among the finds, as well as fragments of large jars used for carrying drinking water for the voyage. A surprising element in the cargo were two large metallic lumps composed of thousands of coins weighing around 20 kg. These coins bore the image of Emperor Constantine.

Jacob Sharvit (Director of the Marine Archaeology unit of the IAA) and Dror Planer (Deputy director) suggest that the ship was transporting metal slated for recycling, “which apparently encountered a storm at the entrance to the harbour and drifted until it smashed into the seawall and the rocks.” The archaeologists estimate from preliminary examination of iron anchors associated with the wreck that they broke during attempts to prevent the windswept vessel from its collision with the coast.

Sharvit and Planer stated that the statues display extraordinary preservation, “as if they were created yesterday, and not 1,600 years ago.”

The finds are a further illustration of the central importance of Caesarea during this period, and the large volumes of cargo which passed through its harbour. The period is known as a time of great economic and commercial stability for Rome, and is a fascinating phase in human history in which Christianity spread dramatically across the Western world, becoming the official religion of the Roman empire under Constantine. The citizens of Caesarea who expressed belief in Yeshua, were among those across the empire who were suddenly relieved of state persecution and granted the freedom to practice their belief.