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The ruins of Caesarea Philippi
The ruins of Caesarea Philippi
Caesarea Philippi (Ancient Greek Καισαρεία Φιλίππεια) or Caesarea Paneas (Καισαρεία Πανειάς) was an ancient Roman city located at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon, adjacent to a spring, grotto, and related shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan, and called "Banias, Paneas", or Baniyas (not to be confused with Baniyas in northwestern Syria). The surrounding region was known as the "Panion".
Banias does not appear in the Old Testament. Philostorgius, Theodoret, Benjamin of Tudela, and Samuel ben Samson all incorrectly identified it with Laish (Tel Dan), while Eusebius of Caesarea accurately places Dan/laish in the vicinity of Paneas at the fourth mile on the route to Tyre.
Alexander the Great's conquests started a process of Hellenisation in Egypt and Syria that continued for 1,000 years. Paneas was first settled in the Hellenistic period. The Ptolemaic kings, in the 3rd century BC, built a cult centre.
Panias is a spring, also known as Banias, named for Pan, the Greek god of desolate places. It lies close to the fabled "way of the sea" mentioned by Isaiah, along which many armies of Antiquity marched. In the distant past a giant spring gushed from a cave in the limestone bedrock, tumbling down the valley to flow into the Huela marshes. Currently it is the source of the stream Nahal Senir. The Jordan River previously rose from the malaria-infested Huela marshes, but it now rises from this spring and two others at the base of Mount Hermon. The flow of the spring has decreased greatly in modern times. The water no longer gushes from the cave, but only seeps from the bedrock below it. Paneas was certainly an ancient place of great sanctity and, when Hellenised religious influences were overlaid on the region, the cult of its local numen gave place to the worship of Pan, to whom the cave was dedicated and from which the copious spring rose, feeding the Huela marshes and ultimately supplying the river Jordan. The pre-Hellenic deities that have been associated with the site are Ba'al-gad or Ba'al-hermon.
The Battle of Panium is mentioned in extant sections of Greek historian Polybius' history of "The Rise of the Roman Empire". The battle of Panium occurred in 198 BC between the Macedonian armies of Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid Greeks of Coele-Syria, led by Antiochus III. Antiochus's victory cemented Selucid control over Phoenicia, Galilee, Samaria, and Judea until the Maccabean revolt. The Hellenised Sellucids built a pagan temple dedicated to Pan (a goat-footed god of victory in battle [creator of panic in the enemy], desolate places, music and goat herds) at Paneas.
On the death of Zenodorus in 20 BC, the Panion, which included Paneas, was annexed to the Kingdom of Herod the Great. He erected here a temple of "white marble" in honour of his patron. In the year 3 BC, Philip II (also known as Philip the Tetrarch) founded a city at Paneas. It became the administrative capital of Philip's large tetrarchy of Batanaea which encompassed the Golan and the Hauran. Flavius Josephus refers to the city as Caesarea Paneas in Antiquities of the Jews; the New Testament as Caesarea Philippi (to distinguish it from Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast). In 14 AD, Philip II named it Caesarea (in honour of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus) and "made improvements" to the city. His image was placed on a coin issued in 29/30 AD (to commemorate the founding of the city), this was considered as idolatrous by Jews but was following in the Idumean tradition of Zenodorus.
In 61 AD, King Agrippa II renamed the administrative capital as Neronias in honour of Roman Emperor Nero, but this name held only till 68 AD when Nero committed suicide. Agrippa also carried out urban improvements
During the First Jewish–Roman War, Vespasian rested his troops at Caesarea Philippi in July 67 AD, holding games over a period of 20 days before advancing on Tiberias to crush the Jewish resistance in Galilee.
In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is said to have approached the area near the city, but without entering the city itself. Jesus, while in this area, asked his closest disciples who they thought he was. Accounts of their answers, including the Confession of Peter, are found in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Here Saint Peter made his confession of Jesus as the Messiah and the "Son of the living God", and Christ in turn gave a charge to Peter. However, in the same context, after praising Peter, Christ also called him "Satan" and "a stumbling block".
On attaining the position of Emperor of the Roman Empire in 361 Julian the Apostate instigated a religious reformation of the Roman state, as part of a programme intended to restore the lost grandeur and strength of the Roman State. He supported the restoration of Hellenic paganism as the state religion. In Panease this was achieved by replacing the Christian symbols. Sozomen describes the events surrounding the replacement of a statue of Christ (which was also seen and reported by Eusebius):-
In 635 Paneas gained favourable terms of surrender from the Muslim army of Khalid ibn al-Walid after the defeat of Heraclius’s army. In 636 a newly formed Byzantine army advanced on Palestine using Paneas as a staging post on the way to confront the Muslim army at Yarmuk.
The depopulation of Paneas after the Muslim conquest was rapid, as the traditional markets of Paneas disappeared (only 14 of the 173 Byzantine sites in the area show signs of habitation from this period). The Hellenised city fell into decline. At the council of al-Jabiyah the administration of the new territory of the Umar Caliphate was established, Paneas remained the principal city of the district of al-Djawlan (the Golan) in the jund (military Province) of Dimshq (Damascus), due to its strategic military importance on the border with Filistin (Palestine).