Apollonia-Arsuf: Final Report of the Excavations Volume I

The Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology

Monograph Series of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

No. 16

Apollonia-Arsuf: Final Report of the Excavations
Volume I: The Persian and Hellenistic Periods
(with appendices on the Chalcolithic and Iron Age II remains)

Israel Roll and Oren Tal

Contributions by:
Moshe Fischer, Amir Gorzalczany, Shlomo Izre’el, Nira Karmon, Nili Liphschitz, Arik Rosenberger and Moshe Sade

Tel Aviv 1999

The site of Apollonia-Arsuf lies on the Mediterranean coast of Israel on a cliff overlooking a natural anchorage between Joppa and Caesarea. More than a century of research and two decades of excavations have revealed its long and interesting history. A modest coastal settlement in proto-historical and biblical times, it became the only maritime centre of the southern Sharon Plain from the late 6th century B.C.E. until the mid-13th century C.E. This volume presents an outline of the history and research of the site, the derivation of its name and its natural environment. The material culture of the Persian and Hellenistic periods and its economic and social implications are dealt with in detail.

Table of Contents


Israel Roll

Shlomo Izre’el

Oren Tal

Oren Tal


4.2: FINDS
Amir Gorzalczany


Shlomo Izre’el


Moshe Fischer and Oren Tal


5.2: FINDS

Oren Tal

Moshe Sade

Nira Karmon

Nili Liphschitz

Arik Rosenberger

Oren Tal


Apollonia-Arsuf is located on a kurkar (fossilized dune sandstone) cliff overlooking the Mediterranean shore, in the northwest part of the modern city of Herzliya. The site lies at a distance of 17 km. north of Joppa and 34 km. south of Caesarea. It also lies at an almost equal distance, of about 10 km. from the river-mouths of the (Nahal) Yarkon to the south and the (Nahal) Poleg to the north, that is, in the middle of the west coast of the southern Sharon Plain. At the western part of the site, the ground reaches a height of 35 m. above sea level, and from there it gently slopes down towards the east until about 20 m. above sea level.

The remains above ground before the excavations included: a Medieval city wall protected by a moat, which encloses an area of approximately 90 dunams and includes a city gate on the east; a Crusader castle, on the northwest side, which includes a double-wall system of fortifications of about 4 dunams surrounded by a large moat; a port of about 3 dunams, with built jetties, which are related to and extend from the castle into the sea; and, a sheltered anchorage of about 30 dunams, which is protected by a sandstone reef that extends from north to south. The anchorage is located south of the port and opposite the ancient city, and is still used today by local fishermen.

Large amounts of pottery were spread over the surface outside the city wall, to a distance of about 150 m. to the north and east of the Medieval fortifications, and up to 200 m. to its south. The pottery belongs mainly to the Byzantine period and to the early decades of the Early Islamic period (6th and 7th centuries C.E.), which apparently indicates that at the time the city extended over an area of about 280 dunams. There is no evidence that this large urban centre was ever fortified. At the foothill of the cliff, on the beach level, two springs were reported by the Survey of Western Palestine (SWP) team in the last century, one below the southwest corner of the castle, and the other below the southwest corner of the walled city. These springs no longer exist and it is not clear at all whether they were active in antiquity, nor is there any evidence of aqueducts leading to the site. The built well which is located northeast of the walled city, which includes a shaft and a pool connected by a channel, is not attested to before World War I. However, the numerous cisterns and pools still visible throughout the ancient site indicate that its water supply was maintained largely by collecting rainwater.

The successive history of Apollonia-Arsuf, first as a coastal settlement and later as a maritime urban centre, covers a period of approximately eighteen centuries, from the late 6th century B.C.E. through the mid-13th century C.E. Throughout that period Apollonia-Arsuf was apparently less important than Joppa, which usually served as the main harbour of Jerusalem. It was certainly smaller and less important than Caesarea, which for long periods of time served as a seat for rulers, governors, and church leaders. This seems to explain the relative scarcity of written sources concerned with the early history of the site. Nevertheless, soon after the decline of the southern neighbour site of Tel Michal, during the Late Persian and Hellenistic periods, Apollonia-Arsuf gradually became the main city and haven of the southern Sharon Plain. From the Late Hellenistic period onward it also became the chief commercial and industrial centre of the region, which extended between Nahal (stream/river) Poleg and Nahal Yarkon. It is at this time that Apollonia-Arsuf makes its appearance in the written sources. It is first mentioned in the writings of Josephus. In his list of cities, which belonged to the Jews under Alexander Jannaeus, he mentions Apollonia between Straton’s Tower (which became Caesarea under Herod the Great) and Joppa (Jewish Antiquities XIII, 15, 4, [395]). Actually, this list mentions the names of Hellenistic cities that previously belonged to Syria, Idumaea, and Phoenicia, and became part of the Hasmonaean kingdom. The source implies, then, that Apollonia was already considered an urban centre in pre-Hasmonaean times, that is, in the Hellenistic period. However, in another statement by Josephus, in which he gives the reason for building the large port of Caesarea, he explains that king Herod carried out the project because "… between Dora and Joppa, midway between which the city (of Caesarea now) lies, the coast was without a harbour so that vessels sailing along the Phoenician coast to Egypt, had to ride at anchor in the open sea, when menaced by the southwest wind" (Jewish War I, 21, 5, [409]). From this statement, we may be led to believe that the natural anchorage of Apollonia was not regarded as a reliable all-season harbour in the Hellenistic period. However, we may assume that during good weather, as is the case throughout most of the year in this part of the Mediterranean, ships serving the coastal maritime traffic could well use the anchorage. The imported pottery from the main production centres of the Hellenistic world found at Apollonia seems to support this assumption.

Josephus mentions Apollonia, once again, in one of the two lists of cities, in which Gabinius, the proconsul of Syria in 57-55 B.C.E. restored order, soon after the imposition of Roman rule in the region. In Jewish War I, 8, 4, [166] Apollonia is mentioned among the cities that were inhabited anew by Gabinius’ order. In the parallel list in Jewish Antiquities XIV, 5, 3, [88], which mentions cities that were rebuilt by Gabinius, Apollonia is not mentioned. However, Josephus adds that there were "… not a few other (cities)", which were rebuilt on this occasion, and it is possible that Apollonia was one of them. On the basis of archaeological data, none of the two statements made by Josephus is supported by the finds uncovered so far at Apollonia.

In written sources of the Roman period, Apollonia is listed among the coastal cities of the Iudaea/Palaestina, and between Joppa and Caesarea, by Pliny (V, 13, 69; ed. Mayhoff 1906:390) and by Ptolemy (Geographia V, 15, 2; ed. M?ller 1901:987). The latter also provided the coordinates of the city’s location, which are 66° longitude and 32° 15´ latitude. We do not know if these figures are the result of calculations based on an observed angular orientation, or on a known distance on the ground from a place, which was actually located according to the method of triangulation. However, Martianus Capella (De Geometria VI, 679; ed. Willis 1983:241) locates Apollonia Palaestinae at the distance of 188 miles from Ostracine on the northern coast of Sinai. This seems to imply that, at a certain stage, Apollonia too could have served as a triangulation point to calculate the distances between places.

The depiction of Apollonia on the Tabula Peutingeriana, on the coastal highway between Joppa and Caesarea, and at the distance of 22 miles from the latter, is of great importance to the present discussion. This unique cartographic item, which in its original form belonged to the class of itineraria picta, was an official road map intended to guide its official users when traveling on duty. The representation of Apollonia indicates that it too served as an official leg on the country’s Imperial road network. Moreover, the figure of 22 miles corresponds to the actual distance between the two ancient sites of Caesarea and Arsuf, which provides formal proof for the identification of Apollonia with Arsuf.

There is also much written documentation in which Apollonia is not mentioned, such as the New Testament, the Mishnah, and in the Talmudic literature. Actually, we have no evidence for the existence of Jewish or Christian communities in Roman Apollonia. However, considering the fact that large communities of both faiths were present in Roman times in both Caesarea and Joppa, and even closer, in the southern Sharon hinterland, we may assume their presence in Apollonia as well. As there was no coin minting at Apollonia, this seems to provide a formal proof that the Roman authorities did not consider it to be a main urban centre of the province, but rather a medium-sized coastal town like Jamnia and Azotus. However, the impressive villa maritima uncovered most recently in the south of the site, which shows a typical Roman planning and building method, provides a tangible proof for the cultural presence of Rome there.

Apollonia is also mentioned in some written sources of the Byzantine period. It is recorded twice in the anonymous Cosmography of Ravenna, once, in a list of urban centres of Iudaea-Palaestina, following Caesarea and before Joppa (Cosmography of Ravenna II, 14, 2; ed. Schnetz 1940:25) and again between Joppa and Caesarea in a long list of coastal cities of Sinai, Palaestina and Phoenicia (ibid.:V, 7, 2; ed. Schnetz 1940:90). The mention of Apollonia in both lists shows that the town’s name was not missing from a regular city list of the province, which in this case seems to draw upon a road map (see Dillemann 1997:156), nor from a parallel list of the eastern Mediterranean coastal towns. Apollonia is also recorded in one of the later copies of the Cosmography of Ravenna, compiled by the geographer Guido (ibid.; ed. Schnetz 1940:133). Nor is it missing from the long list of 25 cities of that name, enumerated in detail by Stephanus Byzantius. It appears there as Apollonia No. 13, located near Joppa. However, the place-name Apollonia is not recorded in any of the ecclesiastical lists of the early Ecumenical Councils. Stark (1852:452, Note 5), and later Clermont-Ganneau (1896:337-339), conjectured that the absence of Apollonia from the ecclesiastical lists occurred because the city’s name was changed to Sozousa. They pointed out that in Byzantine times such changes were made for cities named after Apollo Soter. As Apollonia of Cyrenaica became Sozousa and Apollonia of Thrace Sozopolis, Apollonia Palaestinae may have been similarly renamed. As Clermont-Ganneau added (1896:338), "… the noticeable fact remains that the town Apollonias-Arsuf, though of considerable importance, does not appear on the ecclesiastical lists, and that Sozousa is mentioned there in conjunction with Joppa, which would harmonize well enough with the geographic position of Arsuf."

Later publications and critical editions of Georgian and Arabic texts, which recount the Persian capture of Jerusalem (known as Expugnationis Hierosolymae A.D. 614) and its aftermath, provide proof that the above-mentioned conjecture was correct. Those texts also record the deeds of the patriarch Modestus, as well as his death on the way to Jerusalem in 630-631 C.E. This unfortunate event happened in the city named Sozos (or Sozosi, that is Sozousa) in the Georgian texts (Conybeare 1910:517; Garitte 1960:55), and Arsuf in the Arabic texts (Peeters 1923-24:41; Garitte 1953:38, 70; 1974:131). This testimony provides clear proof that Sozousa and Arsuf were identical places and, consequently that Sozousa and Apollonia were names of one and the same city. The fact that Stephanus Byzantius mentions both names, Apollonia (s.v. No. 13) and Sozousa (s.v. No. 1), comes, most probably, because he used sources from different periods. He seems to have used a source from Roman times when listing Apollonia, and a source from the Byzantine period when mentioning Sozousa.

According to the ecclesiastical lists of the 5th and 6th centuries C.E. Sozousa served as an Episcopal see. The signature of a bishop named Baruchius (or Barachius) of Sozousa is recorded in several official documents of the synod of Ephesus held in 449 C.E. Two of those documents, each of which includes a paragraph that summarizes the intervention of Baruchius during the synod, are of particular importance because they record the official administrative location and status of Sozousa. One of them begins with the sentence "Baruchius episcopus Sozusae Palaestinae provinciae" (Schwartz 1935, Vol. II/3:183). The other begins with the words "Baruchius episcopus Sozusenae civitatis" (ibid.:245). A third document, which ends with the names of its signatories, also mentions "Baruchius episcopus ecclesiae Sozusae" (ibid.:255). These sources indicate that, in the mid-5th century C.E., Sozousa/Apollonia was a city of the Byzantine province of Palaestina prima that had the official status of a civitas, and that its Christian population was organized in an official community headed by a bishop.

ISBN 965-266-012-4, xvi + 300 pages, 138 drawings and photographs, 6 colour plates.
Hard cover. Price: $60.00


Leave a Reply