A tale of King Herod, concrete and a sunken harbor
Tectonic (defined) events may also have played a role in the destruction of a harbor far older than the "wicked city" of Port Royal. Although precisely how and when portions of the ancient harbor of Caesarea Maritima sank beneath the sea is still the subject of scholarly dispute, it is clear that the underwater ruins are a boon for maritime archeologists and historians.

removing rubble

working in the cassion
  Built 2,000 years ago in present-day Israel by King Herod, the harbor is now partially submerged beneath the Mediterranean, preserving a nifty archeological record that proves how advanced the ancients were in the construction of harbors.

King Herod's imported Roman engineers, it seems, enlisted the sea to help them complete the world's first modern harbor. Moreover, they had a formula for cement that could harden underwater, and may have incorporated into the design a sluicing system that created a current to cleanse the harbor of ship-stopping sediments, an engineering marvel not yet understood by today's scientists.

Work by University of Colorado historian Robert Hohlfelder and others has unmasked an ingenious system of breakwater construction. Large stone and concrete blocks were laid out in checkerboard fashion. Then the alternating hollows between the set and submerged blocks, all encased in a wooden framework, quickly filled with sand as a result of natural sea action. Finally, Hohlfelder says, the breakwater was "capped with rubble, concrete and paving stones to form continuous sea walls."

Images on this page courtesy of Dr. Eduard G. Reinhardt, © Combined Caesarea Expeditions.   High-tech cement work
Eduard G. Reinhardt, a geoarcheologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia who has been helping excavate and study the submerged harbor since 1990, calls the accomplishments of the Roman engineers "astonishing... . The introduction of hydraulic concrete was such a technological innovation that it transformed how harbors were built," contends Reinhardt, noting that its first use in harbor construction was in the harbor at Cosa, Italy, dated to the first half of the second century B.C.

Some scholars, Reinhardt says, believe the Romans knew more about building harbors than we do today.

"What makes Caesarea unique is the method of formwork construction for the concrete and the grandeur of the project. Nothing of this size had been attempted before," he notes of the 100-acre harbor. "Hydraulic concrete allowed the construction of harbors anywhere."

Artifacts, being raised (top) with the help of some simple technology. Other finds at Caesarea Maritima come to light through the use of metal syclinders designed to keep sediment from flooding areas under excavation.
  lead ingotTypically, harbors are sited using the natural shape of a coastline, and their builders exploit naturally occurring bays, coves and islands. But the straight coastline of Israel makes harbor construction especially difficult. The ability to build with cement enabled ancient engineers to build out from the coastline, providing a safe port of call for ancient shipping moving along the coast from Turkey and Cyprus to Egypt, according to Reinhardt.

What was the secret ingredient for the Romans' hydraulic cement? Apparently, says Reinhardt, it was pozzolana, AKA volcanic ash. That, too, was imported to Caesarea Maritima from Italy, probably from the neighborhood of Mount Vesuvius.

The harbor was also built very quickly, in less than a decade, and is considered one of the most innovative and successful engineering feats of the ancient world.

Good thing, too. Seems that Herod may have built the place, in part, as a way to suck up to Caesar Augustus. Herod had the bad judgment to support Mark Antony in the civil war, and when Augustus came out on top after the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., Herod had to make amends -- or lose his head.

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