North Africa Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition
Africa, according to its governor, Gnaeus Piso, is like a leopard’s skin, its habitable areas scattered like spots surrounded by waterless desert (Strabo, Geo. 2.5.33). Moving from west to east across the North African coast one passes successively through Mauretania Tingitana (Morocco), Mauretania Caesariensis (the west and center of Algeria), Numidia, a province carved out of Africa Proconsularis in ad 197–198 (eastern Algeria and the western parts of Tunisia), Africa Proconsularis (Tunisia and western Libya), Cyrenaica (eastern Libya), and Aegyptus (Egypt). In the first four provinces, the Punic influence was always a factor, as well as the dogged independence of both people and rulers. However, Roman influence became paramount in these areas when they entered the Roman Empire. The Cyrenaican cities, on the other hand, were all originally Greek settlements and Hellenistic influence was strong even under Roman rule. In Egypt, traditional buildings were the rule, except for Alexandria, which not only clung to its Greek heritage, but was itself a significant influence on Rome, particularly in the later first-century bc, and to some extent throughout the Roman Imperial period.
Mauretania became part of the Roman Empire at the time of Claudius after he had put down a revolt following the execution by Caligula of Ptolemy, son of Juba II, the king established by Augustus. Claudius created two new provinces, Mauretania Tingitana, named after it’s capital Tingis (Tangiers), and Caesariensis, with Caesarea (Cherchel) as its capital. Tingitana has an Atlantic coast as well as a Mediterranean one. The principal road ran south from Tingis to Volubilis and then up and along the Mediterranean coast towards Mauretania Caesariensis. Volubilis was an ancient Phoenician town, which grew rapidly in the mid-first century ad when a Forum was built. In the later second century ad, the urban grid was extended to the NE and a 3-kilometre-long circuit of walls was built, enclosing an area of about 40 hectares. At the time of Septimius Severus, a basilica was built, with twin apses and two tiers of columns dividing it into nave and aisles. A large number of fine peristyle houses have been uncovered with fountains and polychrome mosaic pavements. The plains around Volubilis were extremely fertile and produced grain and olive oil. The province also supplied Rome with purple dyes and precious wood as well as agricultural goods and animals for the arena, such as leopards and lions. Much of the rest of the province was mountainous. Running parallel to the Mediterranean coast is a mountain range called the Rif, south of which running SE to NW is the Middle Atlas, a much higher mountain range. Wadis on its western side run to the Atlantic coast to discharge into the sea just south of Sala Colonia, which lies NE of Rabat. Sala had a monumental centre probably belonging to the time of Juba II. A military camp was built outside the walls in the second century, and 10 kilometers to the south a wall and ditch running from the wadi to the sea marked the southern limit of the Roman Empire in this region. From the eastern side of the Middle Atlas springs the river Moulouia, which discharges into the Mediterranean between Rusaddir (Melilla) and Siga marking the boundary between Mauretania Tingitana and Caesariensis.
The province of Mauretania Caesariensis was dominated by two ranges of mountains, the Tell Atlas range, which runs parallel to the coast for a distance of 1,500 kilometers, and the Saharan Atlas range which runs further inland and offered good grazing land for the nomads. North of the Saharan Atlas range is the High Plateau, subject to freezing winters and the hot Sirocco in summer, which made it practically uninhabitable in Roman times. The Tell Atlas enjoys a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and mild, rainy winters with snow only at high altitudes. Many types of trees grow in these mountains including cedar and pine. Its forests also supplied Rome with racehorses and animals for the arena. Rainfall is highest along the coast and it is there that most cities are to be found. Caesarea (Cherche), the old Phoenician port of Iol, was annexed by Rome in 33 bc and made the capital of Juba II, who had been educated in Rome and was a lifelong friend of Augustus. He built many splendid monuments there, including temples, baths, a theatre, and an amphitheater. When the latter fell into disuse the theatre was converted into an arena. There was a lighthouse on a small offshore island that sheltered the port, and an aqueduct provided water to the city. Sited picturesquely on the coast a short distance east of Caesarea is Tipasa. Parts of the forum, basilica, capitol, and curia survive on a rocky headland projecting into the sea. To the south is a third-century ad amphitheater, measuring c. 77 × 55 meters and a large temple approached by a monumental staircase. Close to the western wall of the city is a late second/early third-century ad theatre with a 73-meter-wide cavea resting on radial vaults. A number of peristyle houses have been excavated near the documents and underwater excavation has revealed parts of the ancient port. A remarkable monument, 10 kilometers east of Tipasa, is the so-called ‘Tomb of the Christian woman’, which had an enormous circular drum, 200 Roman feet (59.20 meters) in diameter, adorned with 60 Ionic half-columns, spaced at ten Roman feet intervals (Figure 9.1). Its stepped conical tumulus built of sandstone blocks was pierced by a curved corridor, 150 meters long. The entrance to the corridor was under one of the four false doorways in the drum and ran in an almost complete circle to the tomb chamber. Clearly derived from a similar but earlier tomb, the Médracen, near Timgad, it is variously dated to the second or first-century bc and is thought to be a royal tomb, perhaps of Juba II.
The main road continues east along the fertile coastal plain which was dotted with ports such as Iconium (Algiers), a former Phoenician settlement, and Saldae (Bejaia). In the hills behind Saldae were the two veteran colonies of Sitifis (Setif) and Cuicul (Djemila), both close to the frontier between Caesariensis and Numidia. Situated on high plains in the center of a wheat-growing area, the beautiful city of Cuicul was founded by Nerva as a veterans’ colony (Figure 9.2).
Built on a narrow ridge between two wadis, the original plan envisaged a small civic center consisting of a forum, with a basilica on its SW side and a curia or senate house on its NE. On its NW side were a market (macellum) and a Capitolium. The forum was surrounded by a small number of housing blocks, as regular as the site would allow. The monumental center began to creep southwards in ad 169 with the construction of a basilica. Soon the city began to expand outside its wall circuit and houses began to be built on a low hill to the south of the old center, the area later to become the Christian quarter. In the Antonine period, a theatre was built against its eastern slope with an arch standing over the crooked street which led to it. At the time of Commodus, a large bath building was built west of the new housing quarter. A conical fountain near the Large Baths seems to be a smaller version of the now demolished Meta Sudan near the Colosseum in Rome. In the Severan period, the new quarter and the old town were connected by an impressive paved square dominated by a temple to the Severan dynasty on its SE side, facing the old town. An arch of Caracalla was built at the
Figure 9.1 Map of Roman North Africa.
Figure 9.2 Cuicul (Djemila, Algeria): general plan. (After M.I. Finley, ed., Atlas of Classical Archaeology [London: Chatto and Windus, 1977].)
beginning of the road to Sitifis on its west side, and soon fountains and other buildings were added to the square (Figure 9.3). These developments have been called an ‘armature’, a route which links the major buildings of a town. In the case of Cuicul the armature consists of the original cardo and its adjacent forum, the Severan square from which run two arms, one to the theatre and the other to the Large Baths.1
Figure 9.3 Cuicul (Djemila, Algeria), Arch of Caracalla.
Numidia was an old Berber kingdom that extended from the territory of Carthage in the east to the kingdom of Mauretania in the west. After the fall of Carthage in 146 bc the victorious general, Scipio Africanus, had a ditch (the fossa Regia) dug to separate the territory of Carthage (called Africa, later Africa Vetus) from eastern Numidia (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 5.3.25). In 46 bc Julius Caesar annexed eastern Numidia as the province of Africa Nova. Augustus then created the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis by combining Africa Nova, Africa Vetus, and Tripolitania. Further defenses were built in Numidia (the fossatum Africae) to defend the southern borders of the empire, perhaps starting at the time of Hadrian. The old Phoenician city of Rusicade (Skikda) in Numidia was a port of some significance because it lay at the end of a road from Cirta which was built by Hadrian for the transport of grain from the interior and surrounding districts. Its most important survival is its fairly large, but poorly preserved theatre, 82.4 meters in diameter. Cirta (Constantine), dramatically sited high on a plateau about 80 kilometers from the sea with a deep ravine running through the middle, was the capital of King Syphax and later King Massinissa. Under the Romans, it was the most highly romanized city in the region and fully Latin speaking. In the early second century ad, it became head of an autonomous confederation of four cities, including Rusicade. The city was destroyed in ad 311 and two years later rebuilt by Constantine who renamed it, Constantina. Today the ancient city has almost entirely disappeared under later structures, apart from an aqueduct, the lowest tiers of which survive near the bottom of the ravine.
The southern part of Numidia is dominated by the imposing Aurès mountains which reach heights of 2,330 meters. Covered with pine, cedar, and oak forests they served as a refuge for Berber tribes in their resistance to Roman rule. It is in the northern foothills of the Aurès mountains where Lambaesis, the largest legionary fortress in North Africa, is located. The headquarters of the legate of the 3rd legion Augusta from the time of Hadrian, Lambaesis became the capital of Numidia when it became a province in ad 197–198. The legionary fortress (Figure 9.4), built at the time of Hadrian and rebuilt in the 3rd-century ad, is enclosed in walls measuring 500 × 420 meters with gates on each of the four sides. The north gate, the Porta Praetoria, opens onto a broad colonnaded street that runs towards the Principia (headquarters building). The via Principalis, also colonnaded, runs from the west to the east gates. The point where they meet is marked by the monumental entrance to the Principia, a four-sided structure measuring 23 × 36.60 meters (Figure 9.5). Each of its four sides has the appearance of a city gate, with large arches to allow passage of wheeled vehicles, flanked by smaller arches for pedestrians. There was an upper story lit by a single arch on each side. The south side of this building formed part of the northern wing of the Principia which consisted of a paved rectangular peristyle courtyard, 65 × 37.40 meters, with rooms around three sides, and on the fourth, at a slightly higher level, the cross-hall, measuring 52 × 29.50 meters, where the commander could address the assembled troops. The usual five rooms were ranged along the south side of the complex, the central and largest one a sacellum, and the pairs of rooms to the right and left for the regimental adjutant (cornicularius) and his clerks, and the standard-bearers (signiferi) and their assistants. The latter was in charge of legionary pay as well as the underground chambers where cash and other valuables were stored, a good example of which can be seen at Cilurnum (Chesters) on Hadrian’s Wall. The rest of the fortress was taken up with barracks, stables, workshops, the hospital (valetudinarian), and a substantial bath building. Not all of the fortress has been excavated and the commandant’s lodgings (praetorium) have yet to be identified. Near the fortress, a remarkable sanctuary dedicated in ad 162 consisted of eight small shrines leading to a tetrastyle temple of Aesculapius. The temple was framed by a semicircular portico
Figure 9.4 Lambaesis (Algeria), Fortress of the Third Legion Augusta: plan. (After P. Romanelli, Topografia e archeologia dell’Africa romana, Enciclopedia Classica [Turin: Società Editrice Internazionale, III,X,VII].)
Figure 9.5 Lambaesis (Algeria), the monumental entrance to the Principia, looking SW.
and approached by a complex staircase that alternated between convex and concave, an ‘unusually bold example of baroque planning.’2
From Lambaesis a major road ran to Thevestis (Tebessa) and on to Carthage. In ad 100 the important colony of Thamugadi (Timgad) was built for army veterans along the first part of this road (Figures 9.6 and 9.7). One of the most remarkable Roman cities, it seems to have been planned as a perfect square of 355 × 355 meters (1,200 × 1,200 Roman feet), divided into a checkerboard of 12 × 12 insulae (city blocks), every 20.7 meters (70 Roman feet) square, by intersecting N/S and E/W streets. Originally the city was surrounded by a wall 355 meters long on each side. Ultimately the most westerly strip was never divided into the 12 insulae originally envisaged. Most of the rest were occupied by one, two, or sometimes three houses. The forum took up several insulae south of the decumanus, and, along with the adjacent theatre, extended practically as far as the original southern limit of the city. The open central area of the forum, measuring 50 × 43 meters, was dominated on its east side by imperial statues, grander in scale than the standing statues of Timgad’s notables on the north side of the forum. There was a curia (senate house) to the west along with a small temple and rostra (speaking platform). It had shops to the north as well as a public lavatory and to the east a basilica. Just north of the basilica, facing the decumanus, was an official-looking house that occupied an entire insula, perhaps for the use of an official, perhaps the governor of Numidia. East of this house was the small East Market with two semicircular courtyards paved in red brick to light the surrounding shops. A bath building, one of 14 in the town,
Figure 9.6 Thamugadi (Timgad, Algeria) c. ad 100: general plan. (After M.I. M.I. Finley ed., Atlas of
Classical Archaeology [London: Chatto and Windus, 1977].)
Figure 9.7 Thamugadi (Timgad, Algeria), general view, showing North baths in the foreground, and triple arch and Capitolium in the distance.
at the east end of the decumanus occupied almost four insulae. North of the forum a house was sacrificed in the fourth-century ad to build the Library of Rogatianus, with a three-sided columnar porch preceding a semicircular room lined with cabinets for the books or scrolls. A space equivalent to over six insulae was set aside for the theatre, beginning in ad 160. The city quickly outgrew the restraints imposed by the plan. The dramatic change of scale that the city underwent in the second-century ad is illustrated by the new Capitolium, built c. ad 160, whose temenos (enclosure) was as big as the entire forum (Figures 9.6 and 9.7). The podium of the temple alone measured 53 × 23 meters and its columns were 14 meters high. Too large to fit within the city grid it was built outside the original city boundary to the west facing the forum and theatre. In the Severan period, the city wall was demolished and a row of buildings was built in their place along the west and south sides of the original city without any attempt to extend the grid plan. In place of the western city gate, a fine triple arch was built in the late second-century ad, along with a colonnaded street leading up to it. The street, 350 meters long and 21 meters wide was built as a monumental approach to the city from the direction of Lambaesis. To the SW of the arch a rich citizen, M. Plotinus Faustus Sertius built a large new market building with a colonnaded courtyard opening onto a semicircular roofed exedra with seven shops radiating off it. Several other large monuments were built around the edge of the city, including the double-circulation North Baths, measuring 80 × 65 meters (third-century ad), which were admired by Krencker for their ‘academic clarity and beauty,3 and the small but complex South Baths (mid-second-century ad).4 About 350 meters south of the South Baths, under a massive Byzantine fortress, are the remains of a spring sanctuary with a temple and pool, to which Caracalla added gardens.
The Atlas range, which runs 2,500 kilometers across North Africa, terminates in Tunisia with the Northern Tell, a mountain range that runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast, and further south, the High Tell, whose highest peak is Mt. Chambi (1,544 meters). Between them runs the river Bagradas (Medgerda), 450 kilometers long and of vital economic and strategic importance. It rises at Thubursicu Numidarum (Khamissa, Algeria), where its source is marked by pools and a temple of Saturn. It runs past Simitthu (Chemtou), famous for its quarries of Numidian marble (Giallo Antico), and discharges into the Gulf of Tunis near Utica. The Bagradas valley was one of North Africa’s most fertile regions for grain production and had easy access to the ports of Carthage, Thabraca (Tabarka), and Hippo Regius (Annaba), making it one of the leading food suppliers to the city of Rome. Situated at the edge of this fertile valley is Thugga (Dougga), perhaps the residence of Numidian kings from 146 bc until 46 bc when the territory was annexed by Rome. Built like an Italian hill town on a steep site, the streets of Thugga are narrow and winding, and its major monuments occupy prominent positions within the city. The oldest survival is a 21-meter-high tower mausoleum, dating to the third or second-century bc, which seems to have been built for a native prince. It has steps all around below a plain basement, a central stage adorned with four Ionic columns on each side, and a top stage guarded by four lions and capped with a pyramid. Similar tower or obelisk tombs were found at Mactar, Cillium, Ghirza, and Sabratha. The striking Capitolium, built-in ad 166–167 at the expense of Publius Marcius Quadratus, stands on rising ground and dominates the space in front of it with its portico of six columns raised on a high podium (Figure 9.8). On the western side of the Capitolium was the forum, surrounded on three sides by colonnaded porticoes, built by the family of the Gabino. On the east side was the temple of Mercury, built by the family of the Pacuvii, with its rectangular cella flanked by two exedrae. It faced a colonnaded enclosure with a large curved exedra on its eastern side. The opposite was the market, also built by the Pacuvii, with shops facing a colonnaded enclosure. Further south down the hill was a residential district of peristyle houses with fine mosaic pavements. In the middle of these were the Licinian baths, built at the time of Gallienus and richly marbled. They had as regular a layout as the site would permit with a large central frigidarium, two palaestrae, a small tepidarium, a large caldarium, and a range of other hot rooms. East of the baths were the temples of Concordia, Frugifer, and Liber Pater, the latter
Figure 9.8 Thugga (Dougga, Tunisia), Capitolium, ad 166–167.
facing a colonnaded enclosure with an adjacent cult theatre. South of this was the Cyclops baths called after a mosaic in the frigidarium. There was an arch of Septimius Severus on the road leading toward the baths. Publius Marcius Quadratus also built the theatre with its well-preserved columnar scaenae frons, which stood high up the plateau, NE of the Forum.
Nearby is Bulla Regia, originally a Numidian town, which became a colony under Hadrian. Apart from the usual forum, capitol, theatre, and baths, it is mainly notable for its houses with their underground rooms to protect their inhabitants from the extremes of the weather. The House of the Hunt had a complete underground peristyle with eight columns around it and hexagonal windows above (Figure 9.9). The House of Amphitrite has a triclinium paved with a magnificent mosaic of the crowning of Amphitrite or Venus, surrounded by dolphins. Hippo Regius is situated on the coast, north of the Bagradas valley. It had a large Forum (76 × 43 meters) built at the time of Vespasian and was surrounded by temples and other monuments. There is also a substantial theatre, a macellum, a large bath building dating to the Severan period as well as a smaller bathing establishment. To the east of the macellum is the so-called ‘Christian quarter’ with a large three-nave basilica. The town is famous for its bishop, St. Augustine, who died in ad 430, just before the town fell to the Vandals.
The most powerful Phoenician trading city on the North African coast was Carthage, which lies on the NE edge of modern Tunis. As a result of the Third Punic War (149–146 bc), Carthage was destroyed and the territory of Carthage became the province of Africa with Utica as its capital. Situated on a gulf about 30 kilometers north of Carthage, Utica’s importance in Phoenician maritime trade is reflected in a developed urban structure rivaling that of Carthage. After it became the capital, a theatre, a small amphitheater, later enlarged, and perhaps a circus was built.5 In 46 bc Julius Caesar annexed eastern Numidia which became
Figure 9.9 Bulla Regia (Tunisia), House of the Hunt, underground peristyle.
the province of Africa Nova, and re-founded Carthage, which was populated by 3,000 colonists. The second wave of settlers came in 29 bc and a new grid plan was laid out covering 300 hectares, making it one of the largest cities in the western Empire. When the province of Africa was extended to include Tripolitania and Africa Nova in 27 bc, Carthage became the capital of Africa Proconsularis and soon became a great mercantile center once again. The Romans rebuilt the old Punic harbor, with a rectangular basin on the seaward side, used as a merchant port, leading to an inner circular one, used as a military port (Appian, 8.96). In common with many cities of North Africa Carthage possessed relatively few significant public buildings until the second-century ad. At about the time of Hadrian or a little later an ambitious aqueduct system was built to bring water from the mountains south of Zaghouan to Carthage. The aqueduct, which ran an astonishing 132 kilometers, became the main source of drinking water for the city (Figure 9.10). Built partly of stone and partly of brick, long sections of it still run close to the modern road. The nymphaeum at Zaghouan, built near the source of the water, consisted of a collecting basin in the shape of a double circle. Staircases on each side led up to a terrace three meters higher, enclosed by the columns of a cross-vaulted portico. At the end of the terrace was a small temple, measuring 4.13 × 3.75 meters, in which presumably stood a statue of the divinity. When the water arrived at Carthage it was stored in the enormous group of 15 water cisterns of La Malga, on the western side of the city. Measuring 127 × 102 metres, their capacity was 60,000 cubic meters. This aqueduct system, one of the most complete in the Roman world, is a testimony to the engineering skill of the Romans.
It is no surprise that a few years later the Antonine Baths (ad 145–162) were built, the most notable building of that period. Its main bathing block measures 212 × 106 meters, very nearly as big as the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. The complex was magnificently sited along
Figure 9.10 Zaghouan to Carthage aqueduct (Tunisia), Hadrianic or later.
the seashore, with the frigidarium nearest the sea. This side of the building was joined to the perimeter wall in the manner of the baths of Trajan in Rome. The layout of the nation, frigidarium, and flanking palaestrae is fairly conventional, but the five interlocking octagonal hot rooms which swell out from the main block in a gentle curve are reminiscent of the contemporary Forum Baths at Ostia. Once lavishly decorated with marble and mosaic, the Baths reflect the size and prosperity that Carthage had achieved by the second-century ad. Carthage was also amply endowed with buildings for entertainment. Remains of one of the largest amphitheaters in the Roman world, measuring 156 × 128 meters, have been found there. Its theatre, 104 meters in diameter, was the largest in North Africa after Oxyrhynkos in Egypt, and back to back with it an enormous odeum was built in the third century ad. With a cavea 96 meters in diameter, it was almost as large as the gigantic Odeum of Domitian in Rome. For a people known to have had a passion for chariot racing, a suitably large Circus was built in the early second-century ad. At least 496 meters long and with a capacity of 40–45,000, it is one of the largest known.
Just over 50 kilometers south of Carthage was Thuburbu Maius, situated in the middle of a rich agricultural district. Many of its fine buildings date to the second-century ad, including the Forum, measuring 49 × 49 meters and dominated by a Capitolium on a high podium. The Temple of Peace faced its NE side and a circular Temple of Mercury its SW. South of this was the Market, two large bath buildings, and a palaestra donated to the city in ad 225 by Petronius Felix. South of these was a sanctuary, said to be of Baal, with a tetrastyle temple on a high podium dominating a horseshoe-shaped peristyle courtyard. Several peristyle houses decorated with mosaic pavements were also found. East of Thuburbo Maius is the Gulf of Hammamet, at the south end of which lies Hadrumetum (Sousse), which became very prosperous during the empire because of its access to Mediterranean trade and its agricultural hinterland. Several peristyle houses were found there, decorated with fine mosaics, including the famous Vergil mosaic. Between the Gulf of Hammamet and the Gulf of Gabes is a dry, but fertile coastal area nowadays called the Sahel, well suited to olive production.
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