Treasure Discovered Off the Coast of Caesarea from Two Ancient Shipwrecks

Among the treasure chest of finding is a ring belonging to one of the earliest disciples of Jesus.

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: archaeology
Silver and bronze Roman coins from the mid-third century CE which were recovered from shipwrecks off of the coast of Caesarea Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority’s (IAA) Marine Archaeology Unit, “The finds reveal the story of two ships that sank with all hands in different periods, apparently while attempting to maneuver the vessels into port.”

A number of fascinating artifacts from the wrecks of two ships that foundered off the coast of Caesarea in the Roman and Mamluk periods (some 1700 and 600 years ago) have been discovered in recent months near Caesarea, during an underwater survey conducted by the Marine Archaeology Unit of the IAA. The ships’ cargoes and the remains of their wrecked hulls were found scattered in shallow water at a depth of about 4 meters, scattered on the sea floor.

According to Jacob Sharvit and Dror Planer of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit, “The ships were probably anchored nearby and were wrecked by a storm. They may have been anchored offshore after getting into difficulty, or fearing stormy weather, because sailors know well that mooring in shallow, open water outside of a port is dangerous and prone to disaster.”

The marine treasure includes hundreds of silver and bronze Roman coins from the mid-third century CE and a large hoard of silver coins from the Mamluk period (fourteenth century; about 560 coins, including a large amount of smaller ribbon cut like pieces); a bronze figurine in the form of an eagle, symbolizing Roman rule; a figurine of a Roman pantomimus (pantomime) in a comic mask; numerous bronze bells intended among other things to ward off evil spirits; and pottery vessels. Multiple metal items from the hull of a wooden ship were also discovered, including dozens of large bronze nails, lead pipes from a bilge pump, and a large iron anchor broken in pieces-attesting to the force it withstood until it finally snapped, probably in the storm.

One of the coins which were recovered – Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

The underwater remains include rare personal effects of the shipwreck victims. Among these were a beautiful red gemstone for setting in a ‘gemma’ ring; the carving of the gemstone shows a lyre. In Jewish tradition, the lyre it is called Kinor David (‘David’s harp’) from which the Sea of Galilee gets its name “Kinneret” being in the shape of a harp. According to 1 Samuel 16:23, King David played his harp for Saul. “Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.”

Another exquisite and rare find is a thick, octagonal gold ring set with a green gemstone carved with the figure of a young shepherd boy dressed in a tunic and bearing a ram or a sheep on his shoulders. The image of the ‘Good Shepherd’, is one of the earliest and oldest images used in Christianity for symbolizing Jesus; it represents Jesus as humanity’s compassionate shepherd, extending his benevolence to his flock of believers and all mankind. This unique gold ring bearing the figure of the ‘Good Shepherd’ gives us, possibly, an indication that its owner was an early Christian.

A centuries-old ring engraved with an Early Christian image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” which was recovered from shipwrecks off of the coast of Caesarea – Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

 The ring was discovered near the port of Caesarea, a site of great significance in Christian tradition. Caesarea was one of the earliest centers of Christianity and housed one of the first Christian communities. At first, only Jews belonged to this community. It was here, that the apostle Peter baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 10:10). “This was the first instance of a non-Jew being accepted into the Christian community,” says Sharvit. “From here, the Christian religion began to be disseminated across the world.”

According to Eli Eskozido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Israel’s coasts are rich in sites and finds that are immensely important national and international cultural heritage assets. They are extremely vulnerable, which is why the Israel Antiquities Authority conducts underwater surveys to locate, monitor and salvage any antiquities.”

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