El Djem’s other amphitheatre

Romanists. When you think of the amphitheatre at el Djem (always assuming that you do think of the amphitheatre at el Djem), do you think of this..?

p1170260 That’s unsurprising really. I mean, look at it. It’s completely outrageous.


Displaying all the overblown bombast, the showy “look at me, look at me” that we’ve come to know and love not just from Roman emperors, but from new, slightly precariously situated Roman emperors. In this case it was Gordian I, who was emperor for the blink of an eye in 238CE and ended up hanging himself when it all went horribly wrong.

While in Tunisia I went to El Djem to see an amphitheater but, being a rather contrary sort, I snubbed the frou frou above* and instead went and hung out by the train tracks looking at this litter strewn hole in the ground.


This earlier amphitheatre, amphitheatrum minus, was built in the early second century CE, possibly by public subscription, and although smaller than its better known successor, it still held around 9000 spectators (Bomgardner, 2000, p. 146). Obviously this is the other type of amphetheatre. Rather than being built up from the ground to dominate the skyline, this is cut into a hill (a very small hill) and used the slope for the rake of the seating area (cavea).

I have to say that when I spotted what was left of this amphitheatre, I was delighted. There’s loads. Look.
Stair cases


Terracing for the raked seating




an entrance way


It’s all there, as clear as day.

I’m well aware that hanging around insalubrious parts of town and rummaging about in what appears to be turning into the town dump is not everyone’s idea of holiday fun but, on this occasion at least, it worked for me 😀


Lastly, if you happen to be in El Djem, visiting one or other of the amphitheatres, on no account should you miss visiting the archaeological museum. It doesn’t seem to get that much press but it’s full of really high quality mosaics, in excellent condition (many are complete), and the collection includes this famous beauty:



* I did actually visit the showy number too, but on a different occasion. It’s big.

Bomgardner, D. L., (October 2000). The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-16593-8.


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