Caesarea Philippi: remnants of the temple of Pan with Pan's grotto. The white-domed shrine of Nabi Khadr shows in the background.
Caesarea Philippi (; Latin: Caesarea Philippi, literally "Philip's Caesarea"; Ancient Greek: Kaisareía Philíppeia) was an ancient Roman city located at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon. It was adjacent to a spring, grotto, and related shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan. Now nearly uninhabited, Caesarea is an archaeological site in the Golan Heights.
Caesarea was called Paneas (? P?neiás), later Caesarea Paneas, from the Hellenistic period after its association with the god Pan, a name that mutated to Banias , the name by which the site is known today. (This article deals with the history of Banias between the Hellenistic and early Islamic periods. For other periods, see Banias.) For a short period, the city was also known as Neronias ( Ner?niás); the surrounding region was known as the Panion (? Pneion).
Caesarea Philippi is mentioned by name in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. The city may appear in the Old Testament under the name Baal Gad (literally "Master Luck", the name of a god of fortune who may later have been identified with Pan); Baal Gad is described as being "in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon."Philostorgius, Theodoret, Benjamin of Tudela, and Samuel ben Samson all incorrectly identified Caesarea Philippi with Laish (i.e. Tel Dan).Eusebius of Caesarea, however, accurately placed Laish in the vicinity of Paneas, but 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, today known as Banias, named for Pan, the Greek god of desolate places. It lies close to the "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's 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 Seleucid 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.
During the Roman period the city was administered as part of Phoenicia Prima and Syria Palaestina, and finally as capital of Gaulanitis (Golan) was included together with Peraea in Palaestina Secunda, after 218 AD. The ancient kingdom Bashan was incorporated into the province of Batanea.
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 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: "Neronias Irenopolis" was the full name. But this name held only until 68 AD when Nero committed suicide. Agrippa also carried out urban improvements It is possible that Neronias received "colonial status" by Nero, who created some colonies
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. The apostles Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses to the Transfiguration of Christ, which happened "in a high place nearby" and is recorded in Matthew (17:1-7), Mark (9:2-8) and Luke (9:28-36).
On attaining the position of Emperor of the Roman Empire in 361 AD 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):-
Having heard that at Caesarea Philippi, otherwise called Panease Paneades, a city of Phoenicia, there was a celebrated statue of Christ, which had been erected by a woman whom the Lord had cured of a flow of blood. Julian commanded it to be taken down, and a statue of himself erected in its place; but a violent fire from the heaven fell upon it, and broke off the parts contiguous to the breast; the head and neck were thrown prostrate, and it was transfixed to the ground with the face downwards at the point where the fracture of the bust was; and it has stood in that fashion from that day until now, full of the rust of the lightning."
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 AD, 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. The council of al-Jabiyah established the administration of the new territory of the Umar Caliphate, and Paneas remained the principal city of the district of al-Djawlan (the Golan) within Jund Dimashq, jund meaning "military province" and Dimashq being the Arabic name of Damascus, due to its strategic military importance on the border with Filistin (Palestine).
Caesarea Philippi became the seat of a bishop at an early date: local tradition has it that the first bishop was the Erastus mentioned in Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans (Romans 16:23). What is historically verifiable is that the see's bishop Philocalus was at the First Council of Nicaea (325), that Martyrius was burned to death under Julian the Apostate, that Baratus was at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. Flavian, (420) Bishop of Caesarea Philippi and Olympius at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. In addition there is mention of a Bishop Anastasius of the same see, who became Patriarch of Jerusalem in the 7th century.
In the time of the Crusades, Caesarea Philippi became a Latin Church diocese and the names of two of its bishops, Adam and John, are known. No longer a residential bishopric, Caesarea Philippi is today listed by the Roman Catholic Church as a titular see. It is also one of the sees to which the Antiochian patriarchate of the Orthodox Church has appointed a titular bishop.
Today Caesarea Philippi is a site of archeological importance, and lies within the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve. The ruins are extensive and have been thoroughly excavated. Within the city area the remains of Agrippa's palace, the cardo, a bath-house and a Byzantine-period synagogue can be seen.