North Africa | Roman Architecture | Second edition

North Africa | Roman Architecture | Second edition

 

North Africa Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

North Africa | 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 9.1  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].)
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 9.4  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.
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 9.6  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.
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.

 

North Africa Part 2 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

North Africa Part 2 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

 

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.

One of the main Roman cities in this region is Thysdrus (El Djem), which attained considerable wealth in the third century and from its position at the center of a vast olive-growing district. It was also well-placed as a trading center on the routes between the coast and the hinterland.

It boasts one of the largest and best-preserved amphitheaters in the Roman world, 148 × 122 meters, built between ad 230–236 in the proconsulship of the extremely wealthy M. Antonius Gordianus (Figure 9.11). The lowest three stories of the façade, with round-headed openings flanked by half-columns, still stand. Originally there was probably a blind fourth story above, like that of the Colosseum.

It would have carried the masts for the vela to protect the spectators from the sun, bringing the total height of the building to 38.5 meters.6 The seating, raised on well-preserved concrete substructures, faced an arena measuring 65 × 39 meters. West of Thysdrus, where the Tell mountains fall away to the dry and hot central plateau of Tunisia, the home of nomadic herders, is Sufetula (Sbeitla), situated at the intersection of a number of important roads.

Its finest and best-preserved monument, the forum, has a monumental entrance, a triple arched gateway built-in ad 139, which opens onto a rectangular paved area surrounded by columnar porticoes. Opposite the gateway is the Capitolium which consists of three separate temples, side by the side, each with a tetrastyle porch.

Tripolitania came under Roman protection when Carthage was destroyed in the Third Punic War (146 bc), becoming part of the province of Africa Proconsularis more than a hundred years later. The indigenous inhabitants of Tripolitania were the Libyans, a Hamitic people, and alongside them lived the Phoenicians, who had established emporia (trading

Figure 9.11  Thysdrus (El Djem, Tunisia), amphitheatre, c. ad 238.

posts) on the coast. These settlements depended partly upon the Saharan caravan trade, and partly on the fact that the Phoenicians were skilled agriculturalists, intensively cultivated the olive, and probably introduced fruit trees and vines. The Gebel, the precipitous edge of the Sahara plateau, encloses the great coastal plain of the Guevara.

This coastal strip, because of its high rainfall, was the only area able to support an urban civilization, and that is where the three great emporia, Sabratha, Oea (Tripoli), and Lepcis Magna, were built (Sallust, Jug. 78.1). The climate must have been milder in antiquity because farms are frequently found in the semi-desert interior of the country, places where nothing would grow today.

Horses, cattle, and elephants once lived in Tripolitania, and the countryside produced wheat, barley, and wine. Olive oil was produced in prodigious quantities and as a result, olive presses are frequently found. There were woodlands on the promontory of Cape Misurata and there were trees in the coastal regions.

Soil erosion was slower than today, and the Romans were adept at building dams and barrages to conserve what little water there was. The precious water was then stored in underground cisterns which are such a feature of Roman houses in North Africa. However, an ever-present menace was the shifting sand dunes and it is to the dunes, which eventually engulfed Lepcis Magna and Sabratha, that we owe the remarkable preservation of these cities.

Lepcis Magna, which became one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire, seems to have fared well under the rule of Augustus. During the late first century bc and the first half of the first-century ad substantial additions were made to the old forum which lay near the sea to the west of the harbor (Figure 9.12).

The forum was laid out on strictly rectangular lines except for the NE side which remained oblique, perhaps because of the alignment of an earlier building. The three temples which dominated the NW side of the square were all built at this time. They had the high podium characteristic of Italian buildings; the emphasis was frontal and the columns ran around three

Figure 9.12  Lepcis Magna (Libya): general plan.

sides only. The central temple, the Temple of Rome and Augustus (dedicated between ad 14 and 19) had a rostrum in front of it, approached by a pair of narrow staircases, one on each side, an arrangement reminiscent of the Temple of Deified Julius Caesar in the Roman Forum. Before ad 53 a basilica was added opposite and in the second-century ad a curia or senate house NE of it, built on the lines of a temple.

Lepcis Magna grew rapidly in size during the first-century ad. From the old forum the cardo bent slightly to the west, presumably to follow the line of the Wadi Lebda and a block of insulae, each 20 metres wide, was laid out on each side of it. Then the angle of the grid changed again, to align itself with the main road to the SW and another block of insulae, this time 26 metres wide, was laid out.

A number of important public buildings were built in the Augustan period precisely at the point of intersection between the two blocks of insulae. They were paid for by wealthy benefactors as if inspired by the building activities of Augustus in Rome. The earliest addition was an extremely elegant provisions market (macellum), financed by Annobal Tapapius Rufus and completed in 8 bc.

It has a pair of circular kiosks inside a rectangular porticoed courtyard measuring 40 × 70 metres. Rufus went on to build a large theatre, 90 metres in diameter, which was inaugurated in ad 1 or 2.7 Building it was a considerable achievement considering its size and the problems of building on a flat site.

However, it is clear that the builders had not yet mastered the technology of raising a cavea on hollow substructures. Some of the lowest parts of the cavea were cut into the rock, and much of the rest was supported on an Augustus (earth fill), contained within a massive outer wall of solid masonry articulated externally by pilasters.

The result is a very solid-looking building which dominates its surroundings. The aggestus was divided into six wedges by five pairs of radial walls containing staircases that gave access to the upper parts of the cavea. The summa cavea rested on massive radial vaults of masonry and concrete, some of which have been restored to their original position by the excavators.

The stage front was decorated with a row of niches and contained the slot into which the curtain was lowered before each performance. Behind rose the magnificent back wall of the stage (scaenae frons) with its three stories of marble columns.

The columns to be seen today are Antonine replacements of the original Augustan ones, which were of grey limestone, and the wall with its three semicircular recesses is of the same date. To the SE of the theatre was a chalcidicum (monumental portico) built at the expense of Iddibal Caphada Aemilius in ad 11–12. The fact that, according to inscriptions, all three buildings were financed by private citizens seems to indicate general prosperity in the region.

Two factors were to change the whole appearance of Lepcis Magna at the beginning of the second-century ad. Until then Lepcis had relied on springs and wells for its water supply. This was to change thanks to the efforts of another wealthy private citizen, Quintus Servilius Candidus, who began searching for a source of water that could serve the city all year round.

He is credited with building an underground pipeline that brought water to the city from the Wadi Cam, about 20 kilometers east of the city (ad 120). Fountains started to be built and soon Lepcis was to have its first large public bath.

Secondly, the Arch of Trajan (ad 109–110), a four-sided arch standing over a crossroads, was one of the last buildings in the city to be built entirely of limestone, until then the standard building material at Lepcis.

During the reign of Hadrian, the marble trade expanded greatly, which was to have tremendous consequences for the buildings of Lepcis. From that time onwards few buildings did not make extensive use of marbles from Greece and Asia Minor.

The most important building of the period was the Hadrianic Baths (ad 126–127). Situated to the south of the main grid of the city, it had to take into account both the Wadi Lebda, which turns sharply south at this point, and also the fact that Roman baths were oriented so that the cold rooms were on the north side and the hot rooms on the south.

This meant that it had to be built at an angle to the pre-existing grid plan of the city, a fact which caused problems later on.

The layout of the baths was somewhat unusual in that there was a single palaestra to the north of the main bathing block instead of two smaller ones at the sides of the frigidarium, a feature which had by this time become standard in Rome.

The palaestra was very large, almost 120 meters long, and terminated in two curved exedras. The first component of the main bathing block, the big open-air swimming pool (natation), measured 27.80 × 14.55 meters and was 1.75 meters deep, with three steps leading down to the water on all sides.

Covered colonnades provided shade on three sides, and along the fourth was a row of deep round-headed arches, their soffits gleaming with brightly colored glass mosaic. There were changing rooms (apodyterium) on each side and beyond these a pair of latrines.

The cold room (frigidarium) was the largest room of all, and in common with many others in North Africa, it had two large, marble-lined pools, one at each end. Because of its position at the center of the complex with rooms on all sides the frigidarium had to be lit by means of a clerestory, which meant that it was also higher than the surrounding rooms.

The vault of the frigidarium was once covered with mosaic, as is shown by three large surviving fragments with scrolls, vine tendrils and foliage patterns picked out in bright green and yellow glass which probably belonged to this vault.

The warm room (tepidarium) originally had a single large plunge in the middle, but later on, two small plunges were added. The last room, facing south, was the caldarium, a large rectangular room with five plunges, all built at the time of Commodus.

There were further hot rooms at the sides and many of the original installations of the sweating rooms (sudatorium) have survived. Hot air heated not only the floor through a hypocaust, but also the walls through rows of terracotta tubes, and then escaped via chimneys.

The splendors of the Hadrianic Baths were a prelude to the magnificence to come. At the end of the second-century ad, Lepcis Magna was one of the wealthiest cities in the Roman world. It was also the birthplace of Septimius Severus who was emperor from ad 193–211. During his reign, he was immensely liberal towards the city of his birth.

He endowed it with an entirely new quarter, consisting of a new forum and a basilica, flanked by a broad colonnaded street linking the Baths of Hadrian with an enlarged harbor. The Severan monuments of Lepcis are of more than purely local interest.

They would scarcely have been out of place in the capital itself and are more complete as a group than any contemporary monuments in Rome.8 It is as a group they should be discussed because that was the way they were conceived. Before starting to build the forum/basilica complex it would have been necessary to curtail the flow of the Wadi Lebda, which ran close to where the colonnaded street runs.

A huge dam was built 2 kilometers upstream diverting the water into an artificial channel to prevent it from silting up the harbor. Then the harbor, which may have existed on a smaller scale at the time of Nero, was greatly enlarged in the Severan period by joining up a number of small islands off the coast to create a basin measuring 390 × 419 meters.

This means it was three-fifths the size of that at Carthage, and a third of the size of Trajan’s harbor at Rome but was larger than that at Iol-Caesarea. Warehouses were built around the basin and the steps and mooring posts are still visible. The mouth of the harbor was marked by a great lighthouse of which only the foot of the tower and its substructure survive. The base is 21.20 meters square, which suggests that it was a tall structure.

Once the threat of seasonal floods had been removed, work began on the colonnaded street. The surviving part is about 450 meters long and more than 40 meters broad, including the flanking arcades supported on columns with Pergamene capitals.

The street had to change direction abruptly near the palaestra of the Hadrianic Baths, which were aligned on a strict N/S axis that ran diagonal to the rest of the grid, while the new forum was aligned to the existing grid. The solution was to build a monumental nymphaeum at this point to draw attention away from the bend in the road, a device well known to Hellenistic architects.

The nymphaeum was spectacular with a big semicircular fountain basin that poured its waters down into a trapezoidal basin a little lower. Behind was a high semicircular back wall of concrete faced with masonry, and elaborately decorated with niches and two stories of red granite columns. On the opposite side of the street was a curved columnar portico that flanked the street leading to the theatre.

Along the NW side of the colonnaded street stood the forum (Figure 9.13), a big rectangular enclosure, measuring some 100 × 60 meters, surrounded by a high masonry wall of a severe, almost military character. When Justinian’s forces occupied Lepcis in ad 533 they found the city mostly covered with sand because the Vandals had demolished the Late Roman Wall allowing the sand dunes to take over.

The Byzantine walls enclosed only a small part of the town but took advantage of the massive walls of the Severan forum and basilica, one reason why they are so well preserved. The forum was surrounded by a two-story portico, the columns of the bottom story carrying arches with alternate Medusa and Nereid heads in the spandrels (Figure 9.14).

Against the west wall stood a large temple, perhaps of the Severan family, raised on a lofty vaulted podium and approached by a monumental staircase. Tripteral in front, it had columns around three sides only like the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum Augustum in Rome.

Across the east side of the forum, separating it from the basilica, was a row of tabernacles that diminished in size from north to south. This was to conceal the fact that the site was not perfectly rectangular, and that the basilica was at an angle to the forum.

The position of the basilica is reminiscent of Trajan’s Forum in Rome and, like the Basilica Ulpia, it had an apse at each end. Two stories of Corinthian columns with red granite shafts divided the basilica into nave and aisles

Figure 9.13  Lepcis Magna (Libya), Severan Forum and basilica: plan.

Figure 9.14  Lepcis Magna (Libya), Severan Forum, part of the south arcade, c. ad 216.
Figure 9.14  Lepcis Magna (Libya), Severan Forum, part of the south arcade, c. ad 216.
Figure 9.15  Lepcis Magna (Libya), Severan basilica, c. ad 216
Figure 9.15  Lepcis Magna (Libya), Severan basilica, c. ad 216

 

and there was probably a clerestory above (Figure 9.15). The nave was covered with a wooden roof spanning 19 meters. The interior decoration was of exceptional richness, the colonnades each terminating in a square white-marble pier with the second pier of a similar type standing next to it at the edge of the apse.

The piers, decorated with deeply undercut vine scrolls inhabited by mythological figures, were probably the work of artists from Aphrodisias in Asia Minor. There were two stories of round-headed niches running around the apse, framed by red-granite columns supporting projecting entablatures. The central pair were in giant order, while the six side ones were smaller and had a second order above.

In gratitude for his favors, the citizens of Lepcis Magna erected a triumphal arch in honor of the emperor (Figure 9.12). It was a four-sided arch standing at the crossroads between the cardo and the decumanus Maximus on the line of the coast road from Alexandria to Carthage. It also marked the start of the Gebel road built by L. Aelius Lamia in ads 15–16, which ran 44 Roman miles into the interior.

The arch seems to have been hastily built, perhaps so that it could be finished in time for the emperor’s visit to his birthplace in ad 203. The fact that the floor is raised indicates that it was not for wheeled traffic. Corinthian columns stood on each side of the main passageway supporting steeply raking half pediments and at the corners of the arch were pilasters richly decorated with vine scrolls inhabited by cupids and birds.

They were probably the work of the same sculptors from Aphrodisias who worked on the Severan basilica. In the attic were reliefs commemorating the triumph of Septimius Severus and his sons.

Just over a kilometer east of the harbor was the amphitheater, which nestled in a hollow or former quarry and was joined to the circus immediately north of it by tunnels. It may well have been finished in ad 161–162, at the same time as the circus. The circus was almost on the seashore and had a track or arena almost exactly 450 meters long (Figure 2.9).9

A podium wall, 2.20–2.30 meters high, ran around the arena. Above were 11 rows of seats for the spectators, capped by a gallery of Tuscan columns, with a capacity of 20,000–23,000. The 12 starting gates (careers) were set out, as usual, on a curve to allow the chariots an equal chance of getting past the meta Secunda (the turning post nearest to the careers) at the crucial start of the race.

The careers were joined together, leaving a gap of 20 meters between the last gate and the seating on the north side of the circus. Between each pair of gates was a herm, one complete with the phallus, but lacking its head. A lead curse tablet was found buried under one of the careers, a rare discovery.10

The spina was angled, a sophisticated feature, and as it was always in full view of the audience there was ranged along it a sumptuous array of statuary, columns, water basins, and of course a shrine to Consus, protector of grain. There was perhaps a statue of Victory in the middle of the spine, directly opposite the judges’ box which also marked the finishing line.

On the spina there would also have been the seven eggs or dolphins which enabled the spectators to follow the progress of the race. At the far end of the spina was the meta prima which marked the first turn. On each of the two metal stood three massive cones visible from a distance, to give the charioteer advance notice of the turn. These cones are frequently shown on reliefs and mosaics, but the only one ever to be found is at Lepcis. It is incomplete but its height can be calculated as 4.75 meters.

West of the town, outside the city walls, was a small bathing establishment known as the Hunting Baths. Starting at the end of the second-century ad and later enlarged and altered, it is of exceptional interest in the history of Roman concrete (Figure 9.16). The complex consisted of a compact set of rooms: Preceding the main bathing rooms were a richly decorated

Figure 9.16  Lepcis Magna (Libya), Hunting Baths, late second-century ad, from the south: (foreground) the caldaria, covered with a single barrel-vault; (behind) the two octagonal domes over the tepidarium and the anteroom to the caldarium; (behind) the frigidarium, one apse visible; (behind) the cross-vaulted cold plunge.
Figure 9.16  Lepcis Magna (Libya), Hunting Baths, late second-century ad, from the south: (foreground) the caldaria, covered with a single barrel-vault; (behind) the two octagonal domes over the tepidarium and the anteroom to the caldarium; (behind) the frigidarium, one apse visible; (behind) the cross-vaulted cold plunge.

hall, the apodyterium and a small latrine. A passage led into the first bathing room, a long barrel-vaulted frigidarium with an apse at each end and a cross-vaulted plunge bath on its NE side. The barrel-vault was decorated with frescoes of a hunt (venatio) in an amphitheater, which give the baths its name.

Octagonal domes covered the tepidarium with its warm plunge and the anteroom to the caldaria. The two caldaria each contained a hot plunge, and both were covered by a single barrel vault. Behind the caldaria were the furnaces and the water cisterns. The building seems to have been designed as a series of interiors with the result that externally there was no attempt to conceal the array of barrel vaults, domes, and apses.

Its excellent state of preservation both inside and out makes it tolerably certain that the exterior was designed to look much as it does today. It was definitely not treated with the whole apparatus of applied orders and pediments, and thus it provides an important insight into the external appearance of late Roman buildings.

Oea, modern Tripoli, has been continuously occupied since Roman times. Like Lepcis it was established as a Phoenician trading post and there are remains of a Punic cemetery near the NW harbour mole. The Roman walled city has almost totally disappeared under the old city of Tripoli, although here and there traces of Roman houses with mosaic floors and painted walls have come to light.

The main surviving monument is a four-sided archway, built by a local citizen, Gaius Calpurnius Celsus, in ad 163 and dedicated to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus (Figure 9.17). On two of the four sides the archway was flanked by detached Corinthian columns standing on tall plinths.

The niches contained imperial statues and there were portrait busts above. The piers of the other two sides were decorated with reliefs of captive barbarian families and in the spandrels were reliefs of Apollo and Minerva. The arch was covered by an octagonal dome formed of three rings of stone voussoirs with an

Figure 9.17  Oea (Tripoli, Libya), Arch of Marcus Aurelius, dedicated in ad 163.
Figure 9.17  Oea (Tripoli, Libya), Arch of Marcus Aurelius, dedicated in ad 163.

octagonal keystone at the top, an indication that techniques for covering a square with a dome existed long before Byzantine times.

 

North Africa Part 3 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

North Africa Part 3 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

One of the most conspicuous Phoenician survivals at Sabratha is a second-century bc tower tomb in the Hellenistic style. It is triangular in plan, with a central stage adorned with three Ionic columns on each side supporting a plain concave stage guarded by lions. Its slender pyramidical termination links it stylistically to the obelisk tombs found near the inland wadis.

In Roman times Sabratha did not enjoy the same imperial favours as Lepcis, with the result that its growth was slower but more sustained. Its building stone was a friable honey-coloured limestone which required a stucco coating. Its buildings needed constant maintenance and marble was only slowly introduced.

In the Augustan period, a rectangular Forum was laid out, which in the course of a century acquired a curia, basilica and several frontally planned temples. To the prosperous Antonine period belong the paving of the Forum, the porticoes of Corinthian columns with granite shafts, and the extensive marbling of most of the temples, except that of Liber Pater which dominates the east side.

At the same time, a new quarter of the town was laid out further to the east. This area was dominated by the large, 92.60-metre-wide Severan theatre, arguably the best preserved in North Africa. Unlike the theatre, at Lepcis it was raised entirely on hollow substructures and its outer wall, with arched openings flanked by Corinthian pilasters, has been partly recomposed.

It is chiefly remarkable for its three-tier scaenae frons which were completely rebuilt by the Italian Archaeological service in 1937 (Figure 9.18). Sabratha is also important for the large number of domestic and commercial buildings which have been excavated. The former had lower storeys of squared stone masonry and upper ones of mud brick. The roofs were flat and large underground cisterns were used to store water.

Figure 9.18  Sabratha (Libya), theatre, scaenae frons, late second-century ad (rebuilt 1937).

Cyrenaica, the eastern part of modern Libya, was settled by the Greeks. It is separated from the west by the Syrtic gulf, which is hazardous to shipping (Strabo, Geo. 17.3.20), and the Syrtic desert, which extends up to the coast.

At the east end of the gulf, the coastline turns sharply north and then east to form a sweeping 210-kilometre-long coastline dominated by the Green Mountain (Gebel Akhtar), a high limestone plateau. The mountain is named for the cypress, juniper and pine trees which grow in abundance there.

Between it and the sea is a coastal strip on which were situated the five towns which gave the area the name of Pentapolis: Berenice, Tauchira (Tocra), Ptolemais (Tolmeita), Cyrene (Shahat) and its port, Apollonia. Cyrenaica became a Roman possession in 96 bc, ruled from Gortyn in Crete, the two forming a single administrative unit.

Cyrene was founded by Greek immigrants from the island of Thera in 630 bc and is situated 18 kilometres from the sea, 620 metres above sea level on the highest point of the Gebel Akhtar. It soon became a flourishing city and its monuments were as splendid as those of any major city on the Greek mainland.

However, in Roman times it became something of a backwater and often had to make do by adapting existing monuments instead of building new ones. At the end of the Augustan period an inscription records that M. Sufenas Proculus rebuilt the old Hellenistic gymnasium, and in the later first-century ad a large basilica took the place of its north side.

From then on it was known as the Caesareum and a small temple, perhaps of Hadrian, was installed in the middle.11 Trajan built a bath building in the NE corner of the Sanctuary of Apollo where it could be assured of a good water supply. After the Jewish revolt (ad 115–117), which caused a great deal of damage, Hadrian brought in new settlers to rebuild Cyrene.

The Temple of Apollo was restored, but with unfluted columns, while the columns of the Temple of Zeus were too badly damaged to be restored at all. In ad 134 Cyrene was raised to the status of Metropolis and by the end of the century seems largely to have recovered, but it never attained the prosperity of other North African cities and old buildings continued to be recycled.

Later in the second-century ad, the Greek theatre was transformed into an arena, an unusual transformation in that the stage buildings of the theatre were swept away and extra banks of seats were built in their place, making it a true amphitheatre.

However, as the theatre was built on a steeply sloping hillside the seats have long since collapsed into the gorge below. In the Severan period the House of Jason Magnus, a large peristyle house, was created by amalgamating two earlier houses with fine mosaic and opus sectile pavements.

Apollonia, the port of Cyrene, had an inner and outer harbour which, along with much of the northern part of the city, are now under the sea. There was little new building of note until Christian times. The main pagan survivals are parts of the towers and gates of the Hellenistic city wall, a Roman bath building, and a Hellenistic theatre dating to the late fourth/early third-century bc.

Its scene building was altered at the time of Domitian, and a century later its orchestra was converted into an arena for gladiatorial games and animal hunts, a common procedure in that part of the Roman world. The most outstanding buildings of Apollonia are the four Christian basilicas and the palace of the Byzantine dux, all dating to the sixth century ad.

Columns were taken from pagan buildings and sent in consignments around the empire. When there were not enough original columns rougher ones were made up using local stone, as happened here.

Ptolemais, probably founded in the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes I (246–221 bc), was a grand walled city of some 200 hectares which retained much of its importance into Roman times. It had a natural harbour to the north and its buildings extended the whole width of a fertile, 2-kilometre-wide coastal plain, bounded to the south by the foothills of the Gebel akhdar and to east and west by wadis.

The Hellenistic grid plan had at least five transverse streets (document) intersected by two main longitudinal ones (cardines), enclosing blocks measuring 180 × 36 metres, arranged per strings (the N/S axis longer than the E/W). The principal thoroughfare was 14.80 metres wide, compared to 8.80 metres for most of the major streets.

The city walls, as so often, unrelated to the street plan were punctuated by square towers and extended from the sea to the Gebel where they enclosed a commanding triangle of high ground. There were probably seven gates in the circuit, of which the best preserved is the Tauchira gate flanked by two massive square towers with finely drafted masonry.

In the southern part of the town is a complex of vaulted cisterns, enclosed within a platform measuring 65.85 × 70.60 metres and framed by Doric colonnades on three sides. Traces of a Hadrianic aqueduct have been found to the east of the city.

The prosperity of Ptolemais is attested by many new buildings, including a circus, an amphitheatre, two theatres and an odeum. This prosperity continued into the Late Empire when under Diocletian it became the capital of Libya Pentapolis.

The central part of the main street was collonaded with an early fourth-century ad triple arch at the west end and a Byzantine tetrakionia (a monument at a crossroads with four sets of four columns) at the east.

A former odeum or bouleuterion (council-chamber) was transformed into an aquatic theatre, probably in the fourth-century ad, and at the same time, the public baths were rebuilt. An audience hall (the Triconchos) was added to an old peristyle house, perhaps when it became the residence of the Dux of Libya Pentapolis in the fifth-century ad.

 

 

The best-known monument to survive at Ptolemais is the ‘Palazzo Delle Colonne’. Built at the end of the second-century bc it was a magnificent house sited in the centre of the town at the intersection of the two main streets (Figure 9.19). The main rooms were grouped around a peristyle with heart-shaped angle piers.

To the north was a large Egyptian oecus, a room with an internal colonnade, paved in fine mosaic (Vitruvius, de Arch. 6.3.9). The columns had acanthus leaves around the lowest part of the shaft, a feature of some Alexandrian buildings, and the leaves had wide oval holes between the touching segments. The upper border of the north side of the peristyle court had a decorative arrangement of small Corinthian columns

Figure 9.19  Ptolemais (Libya), Palazzo Delle Colonne, late second or first-century bc: plan.

and pilasters forming three highly ornate aedicules, features of the so-called ‘Hellenistic baroque’ (Figure 9.20). The central aedicule had a round-headed niche set between two pairs of pilasters supporting a hollow pediment. Flanking the aedicules were single columns supporting steeply raking quarter pediments.

The Palazzo is often regarded as reflecting the grand domestic architecture of Alexandria, but the dating of the building has given rise to much controversy. Parts of it, like the colonnade of the oecus, appear to be late Hellenistic, while the upper order of the peristyle may be Augustan, which would make it one of the earliest examples of the type of fantastic architectural composition which was to enjoy such vogue in the eastern provinces during the next three centuries.

Egypt has been described as a ‘gift of the Nile’. Life would scarcely exist there except for that extraordinary river more than 6,000 kilometres long. The narrow band of black, fertile soil on the banks of the river, which abruptly meets the red sand of the desert, was the source of Egypt’s prosperity.

All of the major cities of Egypt were built along the Nile, but none had the commercial advantages of its most famous city, Alexandria, which was built at the mouth of the Delta, giving it both access to the interior of Africa and all the advantages of a Mediterranean port.

Alexandria became one of the great cities of the ancient world and throughout the Roman Republican and imperial periods one of the greatest influences on Roman art and architecture.

Perhaps the best-known monument of this famous city is the lighthouse, built by Ptolemy Philadelphus in the third-century bc (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 36.18.83) and described by the Arab traveller El-Andalusi in 1166 as 96.99 metres high, capped by a statue of Zeus, giving it an overall height to 117 metres. After its foundation in 331 bc, Alexandria looked to the Hellenistic world, in particular its neighbour, Cyrenaica, for architectural inspiration.12

For example tomb 1 of the necropolis of Moustapha Pasha (third-century bc) has three doorways of Cyrenaican type with inclined jambs and capitals similar to those found in the late fourth century bc Cyrene and Berenice (Benghazi).

Figure 9.20  Ptolemais (Libya), Palazzo Delle Colonne, upper order of the north side of the peristyle court, perhaps Augustan: reconstruction.
Figure 9.20  Ptolemais (Libya), Palazzo Delle Colonne, upper order of the north side of the peristyle court, perhaps Augustan: reconstruction.

Greek influence remained an important factor under the Ptolemies, who were themselves Greek. It was in Greece that much of the development of the Corinthian capital took place, the first example of which, dating to the third quarter of the fifth-century bc, was found at Bassae in Greece.

The Corinthian capitals at Epidaurus, probably designed by Polycleitos the Younger and dated anywhere between 360 and 330 bc, are remarkably beautiful and in many ways anticipate the fully Orthodox Corinthian capitals of the Romans (Figure 9.21a).

The first example of the so-called ‘Normal Corinthian capital’13 was found in the Propylon of Ptolemy II at Samothrace and is dated between 285 and 240 bc (Figure 9.21b). The lower part of the bell is decorated with 16 acanthus leaves, alternately high and low.

Out of the same cauliculus grow the volutes which support the corners of the concave abacus and the helices which meet immediately under the flower on the abacus. Lyttelton argued that the seeds of the ‘baroque’ style can be traced to the fourth century bc Greece,14 but recent studies of the architectural fragments in the storerooms of the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria confirm that some of the earliest surviving examples of ‘baroque’ architecture come from Alexandria.15

Buildings influenced by Alexandria are found at sites with strong political and trading links to it, notably Ptolemais and Petra, and are depicted in several Second Style Pompeian wall paintings.

Alexandria was also a major centre for the development of the Corinthian order, although there was no distinctive Corinthian entablature at first and a Doric or Ionic one was often used. Even in the early Augustan period, Vitruvius was still prescribing either a Doric or Ionic entablature for the Corinthian order (de Arch. 4.1.2). The base normally used for the Corinthian column was the Attic base, as seen in the Erechtheum at

Figure 9.21  (a) Corinthian capital from tholos at Epidaurus (Greece), between 360 and 330 bc; (b) Capital from Propylon of Ptolemy II at Samothrace (Greece), between 285 and 240 bc; (c) flat, grooved modillion; (d) hollow modillion: drawings.
Figure 9.21  (a) Corinthian capital from tholos at Epidaurus (Greece), between 360 and 330 bc; (b) Capital from Propylon of Ptolemy II at Samothrace (Greece), between 285 and 240 bc; (c) flat, grooved modillion; (d) hollow modillion: drawings.

 

Athens. Consoles or modillions appear on Alexandrian buildings from the second-century bc; both the narrow flat grooved type and the square hollow type were used (Figure 9.21c and d). The narrow, flat type appears in a wall painting in room 4 of the House of the Griffins in Rome and in Roman stucco of the early first-century bc.

The architects of the emperor Augustus gradually modified it until it evolved into the scrolled modillion found in countless Roman Corinthian buildings throughout the Roman Empire (Figures 3.13 and 3.14).

 

SEE MORE:

 

Leave a Comment