Roman Counter Culture: Slight Return

…and we’re back in the room.


Yes, we’re back at the LAARC, working on the remainder of the Museum of London’s collection of archaeological dice.

We have some exciting plans for the data that we’re collecting but for now I’ll just content myself with posting a few pictures of this week’s dice.

Here’s my first die of 2015.


It’s a bit broken, but it’s nice.


John had this stunner.




It’s a lovely lozenge-shaped die, but it wasn’t the easiest piece for John to scan.

Now, the running title here is Roman counter culture, but one (at least) of our dice today wasn’t Roman at all. We’re playing fast and loose but just go with us.

Here it is.


It’s listed as post-medieval and is very small, with the sides only measuring only about 4mm. The pips are also placed very very close to the corners and edges which has caused some breakage around them.


The pips were actually a little difficult to see clearly by eye, but they’re much clearer in the photos and the scans.

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We’re going to be working on scanning the last few dice over the next few weeks and then we will start having a look at the find spots, contexts and distributions to see what that might tell us about dice production and use in Roman, and later, London.

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – The writing on the wall (and the floor and in the street…)

It has often been said that Romans had, and inspired, ‘the epigraphic habit‘. Put (very) simply, they liked to write stuff down. They wrote on scrolls and books, on buildings, in mosaics, on memorials and dedications, on personal objects and on public monuments.

It’s debatable how many people would have been able to read all of this writing but things like personal and place name, and simple phrases of the ‘this is mine’ and ‘I made this’ variety may have been recognizable to many people who may otherwise be considered illiterate*.

To be in a place and see its name inscribed is great. Spending time in North Africa with, often, Arabic overtones to everyday culture, it can be a bit too easy to forget that you are not, in fact, in the Middle East (I’ve heard North African countries referred to as ‘Middle Eastern’ on a surprising number of occasions). So, just to remind us all of where we are…



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This is Africa. OK?

And this one names one of the specific Roman provinces of Africa,



Now that we’ve got the straight, let’s get a bit more specific. Many of the North African cities enjoyed high status. Some were veteran colonies or trade hubs which prospered because of the many trading opportunities available, and several were treated to visits from one Emperor or another.  Never known for their reticence when it came to blowing their own trumpets, the Roman citizens of these cities loved to commemorate any big occasion, visit, achievement or fancy new building with an inscription, and these inscriptions have provided us with the names and statuses of the towns and cities during the Roman period.

Timgad, in modern Algeria, was founded by the Emperor Trajan around 100CE as a veteran colony for Parthian veterans. Its full name, ‘COLONIA MARCIANA ULPIA TRAIANA THAMUGADI.

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And these inscriptions from modern Djemila, confirms its status, ‘COLONIA’, and the Roman name ‘CUICUL’.

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Here, this arched architectural element from a public fountain at Simitthus (Chemtou ) in Tunisia, with a dedication to the emperor Marcus Aurelius from the people of the city – ‘POPVLO SIMITTVENSI’.

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And there is this dedication set up on behalf of the people of the ‘COL[ONIA] SABRAT[A]’ (Sabratha) in Libya, to thank L. AEMILIUS QUINTUS, for his good works on behalf of the city.


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Spot the city name?


It looks to me like this monument has been reused, as the inscribed panel looks like an earlier inscription has been chipped away. Perhaps L. Aemilius Quintus had outdone an earlier good citizen.

Other commemorations include this beautifully intact (hopefully still intact) and in-situ dedication to the Emperor Augustus from the theatre at Lepcis Magna, Libya.


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This reads, in full:



When Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of the deified (Caesar), chief priest, was ()holding tribunician power for the twenty-fourth time, consul for the thirteenth, father of the country, Annobal, adorner of his country, lover of concord, flamen, sufete, in charge of sacred things, son of Himilcho Tapapius Rufus, saw to the construction at his own expense and also dedicated it.

So the building has been, quite properly, dedicated to the Emperor, but Annobal, the man who stumped up the cash, also gets his big-up, “adorner of his country, lover of concord, flamen, sufete, in charge of sacred things, son of Himilcho Tapapius Rufus”. And just to emphasize that ‘lover of concord’ bit,


As the Roman administration established new, and extended existing trade and communications networks across Africa, road signs and distance markers increasingly became a feature. Here are three examples, the first from near Simithus (Chemtou) in Tunisia, and the second found on the road from Oea (Tripoli) to Fezzan, but currently in the National Museum of Antiquities, Tripoli, Libya, and the third from Cuicul (Djemila) in Algeria.

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The other thing that Romans liked to commemorate was themselves. Grave markers are an important source of information about individuals living, especially, in the towns and cities. There are loads of these at various sites (I was going to say ‘hundreds’ but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s ‘thousands’). We have to be a little bit careful with these because, in the first place, the wording on grave markers can be quite formulaic. We still see “rest in peace”, “went to sleep” on many gravestones now and these kinds of standard phrases were also common in the past. Secondly, the wording on gravestones is not necessarily decided by the deceased person themselves (although it sometimes does seem to be). Gravestones are, for obvious reasons, set up by those people surviving the deceased; family members, friends, etc., and they can sometimes say as much about those people as about the deceased person.

With that in mind, here’s a “rest in peace” inscription from Hadrumentum (Sousse in Tunisia), dedicated to the Christians, ‘CHRISTIANI CIVES HADRUMENTINI FRATRIBUS‘ interred in one of the four large catacombs of the city. Can you pick out ‘DORMIUNT IN PACE’?


Inside the catacombs each burial niche could have had its own personal dedication with some being more formal than others. This fragment of a scratched dedication survives in-situ.


While this complete, and much smarter, inscription has been removed to the Sousse Museum.



The presence of the group inscription seems to suggest a strong shared identity as Christians alongside their individual and familial identities.

My other favourite memorial is this carved and inscribed, in Greek, tombstone from Ptolemias, in eastern Libya.

The grave marker of Hermes the gladiator

This is the memorial to the gladiator, Hermes, ‘ЕΡМНϹ‘. He is shown in his ‘stage’ costume as a Retiarius; a lightly-armed gladiator who carried a trident and net. The ‘net-fighter’ made up for his lack of armour and heavy weaponry by being quick and agile, so our ЕΡМНϹ reflects some of the attributes of the divine Hermes – fast, lithe and cunning. Protector of athletes and as tricky as you like.  The inscription tells us that he won eight of his bouts but he seems to have died in the ninth. Still, he must have made a few bob otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to pay of this lovely tombstone.

Many military roles survive, but in the case of this one you can see that some references have been erased.


These are references pertaining to the Third Legion Augusta, which was stationed at Lambaesis in modern Algeria. Its name has been erased because it backed the losing side in one of the many succession squabbles that went on during the Empire (the side they backed was, arguably, the ‘right’ side, but the winners get to write the histories, eh?).

With Roman culture came an increase in urban living. That’s not to say that North Africa didn’t already have its own cities before the Romans. It did. Many of the cities we may now think of as Roman had their origins much earlier, either as Pheonician or Numidian towns and cities. However, Roman culture did push an idea of urbanization which meant that more and more people lived in closer and closer proximity. This lifestyle necessitated a greater emphasis on personal security and one manifestation of this was the practice of people writing their names on their personal possessions. Here are two pot-sherds from the museum at Timgad, Algeria.

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We see examples of this on military sites in Britain, where large numbers of men (it is usually men) find themselves living in close proximity and want to prevent their stuff from getting nicked. The inscriptions are usually of the ‘ This bowl belongs to…’ type, but they do vary.

Most of these inscriptions we’ve seen so far have been in Latin, with a little bit of Greek thrown in, but here are a few bilingual inscriptions and inscriptions in scripts which I can even begin to decipher.

To start, I’ll go back to that dedication at the theatre at Lepcis. Here’s a closer look at some of the text. The bottom 2 lines are written in Neo-Punic and are a literal translation of the Latin above.


Here’s some more Neo-Punic. This is a building dedication of the Forum at Lepcis Magna, Libya, to  the Emperor Claudius.

Building dedication of the Forum to Claudius

IRT, 338

Look down at the bottom of the stela.


These few lines of Neo-Punic basically repeat what the Latin says (you can see the transcriptions and translations in the IRT site). This shows just how compact a script Neo-Punic is compared to Latin. It’s a semitic language and the inscribed form has no vowels.

This stone, now in the Archaeological Museum in Algiers, is written in a local script, Numidian? Berber Tifinagh?  Anyway, I have no idea what it says.


There is also this stone from Chemtou in Tunisia, written in Libyco-Berber. The museum has a handy guide to the script which, to be honest, hasn’t made me any wiser.

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And so, to bring the epigraphic habit up to date…

(or almost up to date. Obviously this sort of thing is no longer de rigeur in Libya)

The Colonel. Pre-2011, Libyan towns, cities and highways were peppered with billboard posters like this one, commemorating the revolution of 1969, which brought Colonel Ghaddafi to power.


Some more recent political sloganeering in Tunisia.


And a final word from football-mad Algeria.



* I must confess that I am one of those near-illiterates who can pick out names and the ‘this is mine’ and ‘I did this’ stuff, but I’ve had help for this post from the brilliant ‘The Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania‘ website created by King’s College, and also the scarily extensive Epigraphic Database Heidelberg.

NB. I’ve been a bit rubbish at putting all the references in for these inscriptions (with links to the appropriate website) as I’ve been going along, but I’m working on it so if you’re particularly interested in one of them, do check back, as I’ll add in as many of them as  I can find as quickly as I can.

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Nom nom

North Africa is one of several regions known as the breadbasket of Rome. In the Roman world, regions that were able to produce the vast quantities of foodstuffs needed to keep the empire working became extremely wealthy, and the already high status families from these areas became increasingly powerful. Members of families from Spain and North Africa even got the top job!

One of the most important commodities produced in North Africa was olive oil, so we’ll start with some olive oily stuff.

Oil’s well that ends well


This mosaic, from Tabarka but now in the Bardo Museum, shows a North Africa fortified farmstead and estate surrounded by olive trees, interspersed with grape vines. Parts of a mixed farming economy.

To harvest the olives, workers would bash the trees with long poles so that the ripe olives would fall to the ground, where they would then be gathered up by others. To be honest, I can’t confirm that this fellow is gathering olives, but he’s gathering something, that’s for sure.



Olives are still grown extensively in these areas. This image of neat rows of olive trees was taken out of the window of the train from Tunis to El Djem. The field may look half empty, but in olive growing, tree spacing is key to a good crop yield.


To extract the olive oil, they would have used a press like this one at Madauros, Algeria.


If you’re not familiar with this kind of press (it’s a lever press), this may all look a bit random, so this diagram may help to explain how it works. It’s in Italian, but non-italian-speakers (like me) can look at the pictures.

olive oil  press

The first stage involves crushing the olives using an olive mill like this one at Tipasa, Algeria, making it easier to squeeze out the oil.


The pre-crushed olives are then loaded into circular baskets, which are stacked up on the pressing bed (this one is at Sufetula (Sbeitla), Tunisia) to be squeezed for their oil. The groove helps the oil to run into the collection tanks next to the pressing bed.


These presses (below) are the best preserved Roman presses in North Africa found, together with the remains of the building in which they stood,  at Sufetula (Sbeitla) in Tunisia. You can get an idea of the scale by the man sitting on the wall next to the left hand orthostat (upright standing stone). They’re pretty big.


I love this little mini press at Tipasa. It’s about 60cm (-ish) in diameter.


I wonder if someone just had this at their home or village, maybe they had just a handful of trees and pressed their own oil for their local needs. The technology scales up or down pretty easily, so it’d work.

And this is where they put all that lovely olive oil once it’s ready.


Amphorae were pretty standard storage and transport vessels for a range of commodities such as olive oil, garum, salted fish, preserved fruit, wheat and others.

There are sherds all over the place on the ground at the various sites. As I went round I was looking for any particularly interesting bits and bobs, and on the beach at Nabeul, Tunisia was this amphora base.


(REMEMBER! Just because there are loads of sherds on the ground, that doesn’t mean that you can help yourself. Take only photographs, not artefacts).

The fruits of the earth

Agriculture was big business in North Africa and estates produced a whole range of commodities in addition to olives, with a major crop being wheat. These reliefs from Ghirza (now in the National Museum of Antiquities in Tripoli) record sowing and reaping of the crops on estates in the Tripolitanian pre-desert. The pre-desert is an arid environment so the people farming these areas used large-scale irrigation techniques to ‘green the desert’.



And from the Bardo is this beautifully delicate relief.



Wheat formed a major element of the economy, particularly in the areas of Tunisia and Algeria which were centuriated; divided up into large estates, including imperial estates. This was wheat production on an industrial scale.

There were also vegetables and fruits, these are in the National Museum of Antiquities, Tripoli (formerly the Jamahyria Museum).

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These grapes and pomegrantes are in the Museum at Lepcis Magna. From the style, they look like they might be from Ghirza.

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Trade in these commodities took place in the markets of the coastal emporia, many of which were originally established as Pheonician trading centres.

There is a particularly fine market, macellum, at Lepcis Magna, built in 9-8 BCE, which consisted of a large square  market-place surrounded by a portico, with two octagonal buildings known as tholoi. This is the surviving southern tholos.


Within the macellum there are tables and benches from which goods were traded. Then, as now, prices, weights and measures were strictly regulated and many of the tables have these built-in measures for checking that the correct quantities were being sold for the correct prices.


Here are some other examples from Timgad, Djemila and Tiddis in Algeria.




In the Bardo, in Tunis, is another type of measure called a modius.


To grind the wheat there are several  difference types of mill. This hand mill from Latrum, Libya.


And a reconstructed version of the same type at Chemtou, Tunisia. The wheat goes in the top and drops down between the stones. Then the ground flour collects in the reservoir under the stones.


And here, from Carthage, Tunisia, are several quern stones of difference sizes and materials. There would have been a top and bottom stone and the wheat was ground between them by rotating the upper stone over the lower. The central hole is for the spiggot linking the two stones and the smaller hole at the side is for a handle.


Huntin’, shootin’ n fishin’

Hunting features on many mosaics and reliefs from North Africa, sometimes the hunting of animals destined for the arena, sometimes for the pot. The boars hunted in this mosaic from the Bardo (below) could have been destined for either.


And here, in an in-situ mosaic from Bulla Regia, Tunisia, is a detail of another boar hunt.

Bulla Regia

This small relief of a bird hunt, also from the Bardo, really shows the technique for driving the birds into nets.


And here’s their catch



No guns, of course, but this lovely late-fourth century mosaic from Carthage (now in the Bardo) shows contemporary shooting from horseback. These hunters must have been skilled horsemen, notice there’s no saddle or stirrups. The rider would have controlled the horse with his knees.



Having direct access to the Mediterranean coast, the North African provinces have produced lots of evidence for fishing and related activities during the Roman period. These views of net fishing are from the Bardo.



And for fruits de mer


And from Nabeul, these little nets look like lobster pots

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And, actually, I think that it would be safer for this man if he didn’t catch these giant fish.


All ready for a fish supper in Ptolemais, Libya.

Fish mosaic

And talking of fish, as well as consuming fish fresh from the sea, the other hugely important fish product was garum; Roman fish sauce.

A major garum production site in Tunisia was Neapolis, modern Nabeul.


The tanks you can see in the centre of the image would have been used to produce the garum (see my earlier post about Nabeul for info about garum production and use).

These are the tanks at Tipasa on the Algerian coast. There are still traces of the plaster lining in the tanks.



This is the end

Obviously once all of this lovely food has been produced everyone tucks in, but food has also always been culturally and socially important. A way of displaying wealth and status; a way of entertaining friends and guests; and a way of marking important life-events. Births, marriages and deaths all involved foods, then as now. As this is the end, I’ll leave you with death.

Several of the reliefs already posted above actually come from tombs on which individuals (or their heirs) display the sources of the deceased’s wealth. As it is often from agriculture, that is what is shown.

But food also featured in funerary and commemorative rituals themselves. This grave marker has a vertical stone with an inscription, but also a base with bowl-shaped indentations. Into these would be poured libations of (eg) olive oil, spring water, or offerings of grain would be left to the spirits of the departed.


So there you are. A little look at the grub of Roman North Africa. If you wish to leave a libation, pop it in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box ;)

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Reuse, recycle and renew.

Anyone who has ever been to, or near, a Roman site anywhere in the world, will have noticed that there is always a certain level of recycling in evidence. Sometimes pre-Roman material is recycled in the construction of Roman sites. Sometimes material is reused and recycled during the period of Roman occupation. Frequently Roman sites are used as quarries, with material taken to build later structures (have a look at the Wallquest project, mapping material taken from Hadrian’s Wall (and other places) and used to build churches in the Tyne Valley).

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The particular history of a region can determine how, and why, material is reused. Sometimes some external threat necessitates the reorganisation of space within a city. Sometimes a changing economic situation results in old structures being dismantled and new ones built. Depopulation, war, famine, negative factors, can result in changes to the urban landscape, but equally, these can be the result of  improvements in the fortunes of a city.

Trouble at mill

At a number of North African sites we can see this kind of structure.


These are fortresses built by the Byzantines, often using recycled material from the Roman towns and cities on, or in which they sit. These fortresses were often thrown up very quickly in response to the various crises of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This one at Madauros, was constructed in a hurry in response to the threat from the Numidian tribes attacking the town.


Although the building itself is sound, the stonework is a bit hotch-potch, with a whole variety of stone sizes used in one wall. When you’re in a hurry any decent piece of stone will do. All of this stonework has been taken from buildings in the pre-existing town but some of the reused pieces are pretty obvious.



Some are slightly more subtle, but they’re there if you look.


In Gafsa, Tunisia, there are two pools at the corner of the casbah, fed by nearby hot springs.  I understand that changes to the oasis irrigation methods have resulted in the water supply to the pools being cut off. When I visited, they were empty, but when they were full the local boys had great fun jumping and diving from the steps.


They’re constructed from good Roman ashlar blocks, but these are certainly reused, as a closer examination reveals  that some of the blocks are a little awry. These are fragments of inscriptions which are, in themselves, important as the fragments reveal the existence, somewhere in the town, of a nymphaeum dedicated to Neptune, and that by the time of Hadrian, Gafsa (Roman Capsa) was no longer a civitas  but became a municipium in Trajan’s reign.


All Change

As well as Roman building material being reused in antiquity, sometimes whole buildings are reused, their function changed to suit the changing times or, perhaps, new populations.

At Tipasa, on the Algerian coast, Roman homes were converted in the Byzantine period, into shops and storehouses.


These large amphorae sunk into the floor of the old houses would have held commodities such as olive oil, salted fish or grain.


This is the theatre-amphitheatre at the Temple of Apollo in Cyrene, Libya.


This was originally a Hellenistic theatre with a semi-circular orkestra (dancing floor), but was altered in the Roman period into an oval amphitheatre**. This actually took some doing because the site is on the edge of an escarpment.

This is an aerial photograph showing the site, in which the foundations of the Greek theatre building (scaene) and orkestra are clearly visible, running across the later oval-shaped amphitheatre.

Temple of Apollo Cyrene 

This, slightly later, site adaptation can be seen in the Village of Bled el-Haddar in the oasis of Tozeur in Tunisia. The village itself is pretty unremarkable, sited in part of the palmery a short walk from Tozeur town centre, but the one feature that might interest us here is the minaret of the small local mosque.


It’s built on the foundations of a Roman tower. I’ve no idea what the original structure on the site might have been. Perhaps a watch tower, or even a tower tomb, but there isn’t much left of it. Still, there’s enough to be able to spot the entirely different stonework involved and this represents the scant remains of the Roman town of Tusuros.

Ancient and Modern

Many of North Africa’s modern cities were established on or near the sites of ancient cities and reused Roman material also crops up around these cities. Ancient material incorporated into the fabric of modern life. All over cites, you can see Roman columns. They’re everywhere around the casbahs of Kairouan and Tunis.

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Some have even been repainted.


At Kairouan in Tunisia, established in the 7th century, one of the country’s most important Muslim sites, the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba has been constructed using more than 500 columns brought from Roman sites including Sbeïtla, Hadrumetum and Chemtou and from as far away as Carthage.


Going round the courtyard, you can see columns of different heights, made from a whole variety of materials and with different column capitals.

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Inside the prayer hall are more. Note all the different heights.


Other recycled Roman elements in the mosque include these lintels, used to create an attractive door surround.


And this large column base, which has been reused as a well-head.


The pipes and pumps are modern, of course, but the grooves around the column base are wear evidence of the ropes used to haul up buckets in earlier times.

Similarly, in the macellum at Lepcis Magna, Libya, this market table shows clear signs of use as a well cover. The deep grooves are, again, signs of wear made by the rope pulling over the stone.


At Madauros there is also some quite ‘interesting’, and considerably later reuse of Roman stonework.


Many of the grave markers recovered by French archaeologists excavating the site in the 1930s were used to embellish the wall running alongside the main street. While this does allow a good view of the stones, that view is pretty distorted.   For one thing, not all of the stones would have originally been set in an upright position. The second and third from the left (eg) would have been laid flat on the ground, as they both have bowl-shaped indentations designed to receive libations.


This practice of reuse is visible around the site, as the wall of what will be the new on-site museum also contains reused Roman grave stones and building blocks.


Someone also went further in their recycling zeal as a careful examination of the grave markers reveals that while they may all be Roman stonework, they weren’t all originally grave markers.


This one (above) is a column base which has been upturned and crudely inscribed in order to give it the appearance of a Roman grave marker. Whether this was done in antiquity or (much) later, I don’t know (I suspect the latter) but either way, how odd!

We often frown upon people who treat ancient sites as quarries and builders merchants, but at many sites and in many areas this reuse then forms a revealing part of the continuing story of those sites.


* This area of pavement can be seen at Carthage, Tunisia. It’s been made from little pieces of broken inscriptions.

** There were actually several phases of alteration to the theatre-amphitheatre at Cyrene, chiefly in the construction of the scaenae and the seating (cavea).

The Aqueduct of Nîmes


Yes, it’s big.

‘It’ is the Pont du Gard, the tallest surviving aqueduct in the Roman world, a World Heritage Site and one of the key visitor attractions in the Languedoc. As I was staying in Nîmes , about 20km a way, I took the early morning bus out to the Pont du Gard for a look. Now, apparently, you’re supposed to pay to get in, but when I got there, although the site of the bridge/aqueduct is freely accessible, not another thing was open. No ticket office, no information centre, no shop, no cafe (it was pretty early).

Anyway, I decided to have a good wander round the site and then go back to see about buying a ticket and visiting the museum space later.

The Pont du Gard forms a part of the ~50km long aqueduct which the Romans built to bring water from the  source, the springs of the Fontaine d’Eure near Uzès, to the Roman city of Nemausus, modern Nîmes. The current structure actually consists of the Roman bridge and aqueduct, built in three tiers with the water channel running along the top tier, and an affixed 18th century road bridge (which is now a footbridge).


Taking a proper look at the structure is worth the effort, as it is covered in evidence for its construction, medieval and post-medieval repairs and alterations, and of the later 18th century works.

First the Romans. The total height is about 50m, reflecting the height of the steep-sided river valley of the Gardon river. The arches that make up the tiers are unevenly-sized, as the architect seems to have been building the structure as economically (in terms of time and materials) as possible.


Most of the structure is built in grand appareil, basically big stones, some weighing as much as 6 tons, without mortar. The upper channel for the water (in the images below) was made from petit appareil, small stones, with mortar and lined with ‘malthe’, a waterproof plaster.

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A lot of the stones are only roughly finished on the faces, possibly to cut down on the workload and so speed up construction.


The structure is also peppered with these projecting stones, which were used as supports for scaffolding during construction and repairs.


It also has these pointed ‘cutwaters’ on each of the piers of the lowest tier. They work like the prow of a boat and help to protect the piers from the strong currents, especially in the winter.


During construction, stone blocks were quarried and roughly finished in the nearby quarries and then brought to the site for assembly. Evidence for elements of pre-fabrication is visible, especially in the voisseurs used to construct the arches on the second tier. Individual wedge-shaped stones were cut in order to produce the appropriately-sized arch but these then had to be fitted together in the correct sequence on site. So the Roman builders numbered the stones.

Some just simply numbered I, II, III, IV etc


Some with more specific ‘FR’ – ‘Frons’, front; ‘D’ – ‘Dextra’, right; ‘S’ – ‘Sinestra’, left, etc.


There is also a tantalising grafitti tag on the Pont, the name ‘VERANIUS’.


It’s faint, but it’s there. In his guide to the Roman remains of Southern France, James Bromwich wonders whether this could be evidence of a construction worker taking his shot at immortality, or even the name of the architect.

Later repairs can be seen throughout the structure. I can’t date all the individual bits of repair, but some of the stones, especially voisseurs, are clearly newer, even as new as the most recent repairs carried out on the late ’90s/early 00s. And there is plenty of other evidence for the 18th and 19th century repairs and alterations. The 18th century section especially is covered in etched graffiti left by masons, showing the tools of their trade; hammers, compasses etc. Some of it is quite detailed and ornate (there is also some of this graffiti on the Roman structure).

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Now I don’t really approve of graffiti, but it can sometimes prove a valuable source of information. Here we see names, dates and information about the guilds of mason who repaired the Roman structure and built the 18th century one.

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Climbing up the embankment on the east bank, you get this fantastic view.


And following the trail along the valley, I came across another chunk of the aqueduct preserved a few hundred metres from the main attraction.


And a close-up of the water channel at the top.


When I was finally driven back to the museum area by the cold, I tried to buy a ticket from the ticket machine AND the Information Office, but was actually told that I didn’t need a ticket (I’m so confused about this but, hey ho, I tried), so I just went into the museum for a look around.

It’s called a museum, but it’s actually more of an exhibition space. there aren’t any real artefacts, but lots of facsimiles and models to demonstrate how the structure was built, its route and how it actually works, some specific features and the history of the site. You could easily spend an  hour or so in there as there’s a lot to look at whether you’re interested in construction techniques, hydrology, engineering. Or if you’re interest is in the historical responses to the structure, there’s an excellent collection of drawings and other images, and even the history of the site as a tourist attraction.

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I had intended to catch the bus to Avignon for the afternoon, but my usual comedy of errors caused me to miss it, so I decided to go back to the Pont to see if I could find some other features that had been eluding me.


In the centre top of the largest arch is this figure.


Ok, it’s a bit tricky to make it out, so here’s the cast from the exhibition centre.


It’s a figure who appears to be carrying out some kind of work. Perhaps a stonemason or quarryman.

I also managed to spot the ‘Pont du Gard Hare’.


Now, any of you who has been hanging out around Romans for any time will twig that this is one of those bizarre phalluses. You know, the ones with wings or noses, chicken legs and small animals riding on their backs. All that malarky. We can giggle and roll our eyes at those funny old Romans but in the past, to spare the ladies’ blushes (?), it was described as an image of a hare. One Federico Mistral even told of a legend in which a man tricked the devil with the use of this hare.

It’s a Roman willy (again, this is the cast from the exhibition).


And so is this (even if it does look like a spanner).


Romans *eyes roll*.

Well although Avignon would have been nice, I was very glad that I’d stayed. In the end, I had about another 3 hours on site, but even that hardly seemed enough! A second comedy of errors meant that I had to walk to the next town, Remoulins, to catch the last bus back to Nimes, but it all ended well and I would say that this was a very successful trip. I believe that there were more inscriptions that I didn’t get to see, but the site would repay another visit, perhaps in warmer weather.

As a little post script, I visited the site in Nîmes where the aqueduct ends.


It’s called the Castellum Divisorium and it’s basically a large circular basin into which the water from the aqueduct empties. There are holes in the side of the basin where the lead pipes which carried the water to other parts of the city were attached.


This is how it works.


Cool huh?

The Elysian Fields

Les Alyscamps is the necropolis of Roman Arles; situated outside the city walls along the Via Aurelia, the main road leading out of the city. The road was lined with tombs and mausolea and was the city’s main burial ground for almost 1500 years. After the Roman period, the necropolis continued to be used and became important in the early Christian era as the Roman Christian martyr,  Saint Genesius and the first bishops of Arles, including Saint Trophimus, were buried there.

So, on a freezing December morning, I went to have a look  at the remaining section of this famous necropolis, l’Allee des Tombeaux, (the avenue of tombs).


The first tomb belongs to (might belong to, I’m not 100% sure) the 15th century Romieu family.

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The tomb is full of Romanesque details.

Further into the necropolis, I started to encounter the neatly placed rows of sarcophogai, many Roman, but also later ones. The 3rd century Saint Trophimus’ remains were originally interred here and the story goes that Christ himself attended Saint Trophinus’ funeral and that the imprint of his knee could be seen on a sarcophagus lid (although whet Jesus would be doing kneeling on sarcophogai is anyone’s guess). By the late 10th century, the relics had been moved to a new site and by 1152, a new (then) cathedral had been dedicated in the centre of town.


This burial ground was where the well-off of Arletan, as well as the not so well off, were interred, so there were a great many fine sarcophogai and inscriptions found here. Many of the best sarcophogai are now in the archaeological museum (here are a couple of examples)



but walking along the road through the necropolis is still a moving experience and there is plenty to see.


Among the remaining sarcophogai, quite a few are decorated with insignia denoting the trade of the deceased person. The key theme here is stoneworking, and many of the people well-off enough to have fine carved sarcophogai were stone masons.



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What we see are images of the tools of the trade.

A square


A plumb-bob

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An axe


And an axe and a mallet



This carved stone, probably the lintel of a tomb and now in the Archaeological Museum, has a full range of tools, including what looks like a chisel.


Other carved elements on the sarcophagai include these fantastic carved heads

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And I’m trying to work out if these two are images of the Master Mason at work (answers on a postcard please).

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At the end of this surviving section of the necropolis is the partially runied Church of Saint-Honoratus, Archbishop of Arles (died 429CE).


The dark and marvellously atmospheric space is the place to look out for details that you might not notice at first.

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I’ve never seen so many mason’s marks together in one place. Either lots of masons were being paid for the work, or perhaps they all wanted their own mark to be seen at this important and holy site.

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And I’ve no idea what this ‘pecking’ up in the vaulting signifies.


In one of the side chapels are some giant pottery sherds. Fragments of large amphorae.



This one seems to have had a very neat internal base fitted. No idea why (again, answers on a postcard)


So, if you are planning to make the trip to Arles, under no circumstances should you miss this site.


Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Stoned luuuuuuuve*

No, no, no, this post is not about doped-up hippies at a love-in, we’re going straight for the hard stuff. This is basically just going to be an excuse to drool over beautiful stonework. This might be sculpture, or building stone, worked natural outcrops, gorgeous stone chosen for it’s loveliness, whatever. It’s stone and it’s loved.

I just have to start with my own love, Chemtou, ancient Simittus. Yes, I know, I’ve blogged about it before but I just love it. I’ve been twice and need to go again.


What made the stone from this marble quarry so beloved of the Romans was its colour. Or should I say colours (plural). We’ve all heard of Carrara marble, the Romans’ favourite white marble, but Simmitus provided the yellows, the golds, the reds, even some green and black marble too.


Ancient authors and later antiquarians raved over this lovely stone. In is early nineteenth-century work**, William Lempriere said,

 “The marble of Numidia, as it is described by ancient authors, was of the finest contexture, and used upon the most sumptuous occasions. Solinus calls it “eximium marmor” and Suetonium mentions a column of it that was erected to Julius Caesar, with this inscription, Patri Patriae. The colour was yellow, with red or purple spots or streaks.”

This is that marble in its natural state.


In the quarry are some unfinished, abandoned columns. These may have been left because the stone had faults in it, or it was developing cracks.


Coloured marbles were transported from here to Rome to be used in the Pantheon and other public and private buildings, but here, from Cyrene in eastern Libya, are some smaller examples of what becomes of these kinds of marbles.


Cut into pieces and fitted together to make patterned floors, this technique is called opus sectile.


Here, from the villa Dar Buc Ammera near Lepcis Magna, the opus sectile is combined with mosaic to create this beautiful floor panel.


One of the key uses of all this lovely stone was for the construction, of public and private buildings. This could be pretty utilitarian but we often see stone beautifully worked. In western Libya, these intricately carved columns grace the basilica at Sabratha (left) and the Severan Basilica at Lepcis (right).

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But there are also plain columns made from beautiful stone. These enormous cipollino marble columns are on the beach at Lepcis, having been moved from the Hadrianic Baths for transport to Europe in the 17th century.


Many of these columns were used in the building of the Palace of Versailles, but these ones were abandoned on the beach.


And, made from the same green and white marble, in situ but incomplete, at Bulla Regia in Tunisia,

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Looking too at the column capitals, we can see the intricate working, but these are Roman with a distinct twist. A number of the corinthian column capitals in the Severan Basilica (and other buildings) at Lepcis incorporate a positively Egyptian lotus design. This may reflect the strong influence of Egypt across North Africa, with significant trade routes bringing cultural influences, as well as goods, further west.


And just one very nice touch incorporated into the same building.


Among these tilework courses are cantharus and pine cone designs made from blocks of marble. Nice.

Next, statuary, and North Africa has some beautiful examples of portrait busts and full height statues carved from pristine white marble, although they were often painted in lifelike colours. This bevy is from El Djem, Tunisia, and although statues are often quite idealised, these can tell us so much about clothing and ways of wearing various kinds of robes and wraps.

And gods and kings…well, Emperors.

Unsurprisingly, the Libyan Emperor Septimius Severus features heavily, but there are also have lots of Hadrian and Claudius, as well as lots of others.

And for the dead? Here is part of the necropolis at Cyrene.


This is an enormous necropolis, reflecting the size and longevity of the city, and there are many many rock-cut tombs and sarcophagi in the hills near the city. Some of the burials are in simple sarcophagi, but some of the tombs, cut directly into the hillside, are quite elaborate. They drew on temple design and included inscriptions and decorative elements.



Unfortunately this necropolis is at severe risk from developers at the moment.

And now for something completely different.

Slonta (4)



Erm :/






Ok. I think we’d better leave it there. We’re all stoned enough.


**A Tour from Gibraltar to Tangier, Sallee, Mogodore, Santa Cruz, Tarudant: And Thence Over Mount Atlas, to Morocco: Including a Particular Account of the Royal Harem, &c, William Lempriere