Sweeties for Helen

My recent eye-kandy mosaic post has proved popular with the Good Lady Wife of one of my volunteering partners-in-crime. She really likes mosaics and getting to see images of some examples that she hasn’t (yet?) seen in person. So, with an eye to crowd-pleasing, here’s some more honey for your eyes all the way from the beautiful land of Tunisia.

El Djem is, rightly famous for it’s stonking great amphitheatre,

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but down the road, there’s also a museum. On the surface it looks like a small local museum.

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Enter the building though, and it quickly becomes apparent that you’re looking at a world-class collection of high quality, often complete Roman mosaics.

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These have all been found in El Djem, in the smart suburban villas that surrounded the urban centre of the Roman city of Thysdrus. In fact, the museum itself is surrounded by the remains of some of these villas.

So, to the mosaics. Here is a gorgeous and beautifully detailed mosaic of the Muses, with their attributes.

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And no respectable Roman household would be quite complete without a few deities.

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And many many fantastical and mythological scenes.

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Including the revels of everyone’s favourite god, Bacchus.

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This fragmentary scene is of the fun and games in the nearby amphitheatre.

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Although gladiatorial combat is the first thing that many people associate with Roman amphitheatres, an important element of the action, usually held in the morning, was the execution of prisoners. With the gladiators there was, and still is, a certain glamour in amongst all the gore, but with the executions there was no glamour at all, only horror, pain and degradation.

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On a less brutal note, I love this beautifully intricate mosaic carpet, with vines, animals, fruits and putti.

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Here are some of the details from among the vines. Elephant, goat, sexy lady, and the eternal struggle between angry fat baby and camel.

The non-representational mosaics are just as lovely.

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It’s no secret that North African mosaics set the bar pretty high, but I leave you with this famous stunner.

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This carpet shows the personification of several Roman provinces, including Africa.

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So, mosaic-fans, if you are looking for a pleasant holiday destination with sun, beaches, lovely welcoming people, good transport links and awesome Roman mosaics, you need look no further than Tunisia*.

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*This post is not sponsored by the Tunisian Tourist Board.

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,

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‘PROVINCIAE NUMIDIAE’. Numidia.

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?

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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:

IMP(ERATORE) CAESARE DIVI F(ILIO) AUG(USTO) PONT(IFICE) MAX(IMO) TR(IBUNICIA) POT(ESTATE) XXIV
CO(N)S(ULE) XIII PATRE PATR(IAE)
ANNOBAL ORNATOR PATRIAE AMATOR CONCORDIAE 
FLAMEN SUFES PRAEF(ECTUS) SACR(ORUM) HIMILCHONIS TAPAPI F(ILIUS) RUFUS 
D(E)S(UA) P(ECUNIA) FAC(IENDUM) COER(AVIT) IDEMQ(UE) DEDICAVIT

Translation:

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,

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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’?

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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Look down at the bottom of the stela.

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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.

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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.

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Some more recent political sloganeering in Tunisia.

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And a final word from football-mad Algeria.

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* 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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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http://www.oliveoilmuseums.gr/ecportal.asp?id=92&nt=18&lang=2

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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(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’.

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And from the Bardo is this beautifully delicate relief.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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And here’s their catch

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Shooting.

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.

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Fishing

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.

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And for fruits de mer

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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.

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All ready for a fish supper in Ptolemais, Libya.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 😉

http://www.livius.org/le-lh/lepcis_magna/macellum.html

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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

http://ghn.globalheritagefund.com/uploads/library/doc_443.pdf 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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).

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.

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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.

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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.”

http://romeartlover.tripod.com/Simitthus.html

This is that marble in its natural state.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

And now for something completely different.

Slonta (4)

What?!

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Erm :/

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Eh?

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Bum!

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

*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rglxw5cbZWY

**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

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Fun and games

Even a cursory glance through this blog will tell you that I’ve been working on a project to digitize the Roman gaming equipment held at the Museum of London’s archaeological archive, the LAARC. Recently I’ve been caught up in a Twitter convo all about Roman gaming boards. You know how these things start; person 1 posts a photo of a gaming board they’ve seen somewhere; person 2 tweets that person 3 is interested in those; person 3 says thanks, and here’s another one; person 4 posts a photo of another one they saw when they were on holiday, etc etc.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the various entertainments available to Roman North Africans. Some of these will be well known, as they leave big showy monuments all over the place. Some of them perhaps a little less so.

Let’s start with something big and showy

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We’ve all heard about Roman amphitheatres, this one at El Djem, and the shenanigans that went on in them. People killing people, people killing animals, animals killing people, animals killing animals, animals and people kill…you get the picture.

St.Augustine, in Book 6 of his Confessions, tells of a pious man turned on to a rabid bloodlust by his, initially unwilling, attendence at the amphitheatre.  And Seneca describes the particularly gruesome display of criminal executions and the brutalising influence of this form of entertainment on the spectators:

“In the morning, men are thrown to lions and bears. At mid-day they are thrown to the spectators themselves. No sooner has a man killed, than they shout for him to kill another, or to be killed. The final victor is kept for some other slaughter. In the end, every fighter dies. And all this goes on while the arena is half empty.
You may object that the victims committed robbery or were murderers. So what? Even if they deserved to suffer, what’s your compulsion to watch their sufferings? ‘Kill him’, they shout, ‘Beat him, burn him’. Why is he too timid to fight? Why is he so frightened to kill? Why so reluctant to die? They have to whip him to make him accept his wounds”*

One of the Roman things we always hear about in popular culture is ‘Christians being thrown to the Lions’. Well, it’s true that some Christians were thrown to some animals or other, but most of the executions that took place in the amphitheatre were of criminals who had, in some way, threatened the state, you know, murderers, deserters and prisoners-of-war, people making hookie money, and also lower-class criminals.
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I think that I’ll just get all that slaughter out of the way early on. Here, from El Djem Museum, is an example of ‘animals and people killing people’. Ouch!
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This scene (similar in theme to the one above) from the National Museum in Tripoli (formerly the Jamahiriya Museum) purports to show a Garamantian rebel being executed by being torn to pieces by wild beasts.

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And, from the Bardo, Tunis, ‘animals killing animals’.

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This mosaic, again from the Bardo, gives a flavour of how all those animals got to the amphitheatre.

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Exotic wild beasts were rounded up en mass, many from areas in North Africa and shipped to amphitheatres around the Mediterranean for the entertainment of the masses and the promotion of the sponsors. These beast hunts drove some animal species to the brink of extinction in North Africa, so voracious was the appetite for this kind of entertainment. Even ostriches were rounded up and transported to the amphitheatre.

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Some of the animals, as well as the gladiators, seem to have become quite well known. This mosaic from the excellent museum at Sousse (Roman Hadrumentum) reads like an advertisement for the top beasts and bestarii (animal fighters).

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And, of course, no look at amphitheatres would be complete without a quick look at gladiators, so here are a couple of views of the stunning ‘Fallen Gladiator’ mosaic from the Villa Lebda in Libya (now housed at Lepcis Magna). Here we see the victorious gladiator, sitting in a state of exhaustion, beside his defeated opponent.

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While the Roman citizens (and others) enjoyed all this amphitheatrical fun, it wasn’t the most popular public entertainment. The award for that must go to the gee-gees.

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Chariot racing was what really got the populace going, with people following their favourite teams in the same way that they might with Formula 1 racing today.

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(above) From the Bardo, Tunis

It’s this mass popularity, and the political advantage that could be leveraged from it, that inspired Juvenal’s famous ‘bread and circuses’ phrase. Passions ran so high that in Constantinople, modern Istanbul, a dispute between rival fans resulted in a week-long riot that wrecked nearly half the city and left thousands of people dead! They really knew how to enjoy themselves, those Romans.

A visit to the circus at Lepcis Magna in Libya, provides an opportunity to see the scale of the track and to view some features which still exist in situ.

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It’s huge! And that’s without the stands and all the other horse-racey paraphernalia.

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Here are the starting gates

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Here is the view along central reservation, the spina.

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At Lepcis there is still some of the seating in place, but it’s even clearer at the circus at Cyrene, in eastern Libya.

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Images of racing were popular in mosaics and frescos.

Here, from the Villa Sileen, Libya.

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And from the Bardo, some champion horses

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But Romans enjoyed other entertainments too. This is the theatre at Sabratha, Libya. I should say that there is quite a lot of 1930s Italian concrete involved in this reconstructed structure, but it’s still great.

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And here is the theatre at Lepcis. Sitting in the top tier today, we’d have a beautiful view out over the Mediterranean, but when the theatre was in use in the Roman period, the theatre buildings behind the stage would have obscured that view.

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Aside from all this bombastic public entertainment, people in Roman North Africa amused themselves in a range of ways, most of which we would be familiar with today.

There’s drinking.

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Raving it up (with Bacchus).

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Sex.

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Hanging out with their mates.

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And fighting.

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But going back to my starting point, Roman board games.

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Tucked away in the various museums associated with sites are little gems of evidence about board games and games of chance played at home or in the street. The various blog posts headed “Roman counter culture” give a flavour of the counters and dice found in London, but here are three from Sitifis, modern Setif, in Algeria. The two to the right are made from the vertebrae of fishes.

And gaming boards; here from Timgad, Algeria

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And a couple from Dougga in Tunisia.

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Obviously, now I’m going to be looking for these everywhere I go. If I see any that are particularly special, I’ll add them to this post.

More on Roman North Africa next time.

TTFN

* http://www.historytoday.com/keith-hopkins/murderous-games-gladiatorial-contests-ancient-rome#sthash.PsEKZAw7.dpuf

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Do you know where you’re going to?

 First things first. I should fess up straight away that the title of this new occasional-if-I-can-be-bothered series has been shamelessly plagiarised from a study day I attended at UCL recently. My excuse is that the study day got me thinking about a possible new blog series and it sums up perfectly the relationship between the Empire and its southern provinces.

So for my first post of this if-I-can-be-bothered series, I turn my gaze on the roads and routes of Roman North Africa. I might also bung in a  gateway for good measure. So, where and why did the people of Roman North Africa travel? How did people get from here to there? And how do we know what we know?

Let’s start with the last question. How do we know? Well, amongst others things, we have the late Roman equivalent of the AA Route Planner, the Tabula Peutingeriana, the Peutinger Map (this is just a bit of North Africa, but the map covers the whole empire).

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This is a late Roman work, preserved in a single medieval copy, now housed in the Austrian National Library in Vienna.

Looking at the map, you can see that it isn’t really what we would recognise as a map. It doesn’t purport to be a realistic depiction of space and it doesn’t really show the geographical relationships between places. Rather, it’s a sort of schematic showing how to get to places. A network, if you like. It shows road networks, rivers and mountain ranges. Towns and cities are named and some are indicated by pictorial symbols, incuding images of ramparts, fortifications and turreted buildings. And, crucially, distances between them.

Here’s the section showing the city of Bulla Regia, in Roman Numidia, now in modern Tunisia, and the east-west road running through it.

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And here’s the road.

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It might look a bit rough and ready now, but this was a major road running from Carthage to Hippo Regius (in modern Algeria), and was a good quality paved road. It even had high bevelled curbs to protect buildings from getting bashed by passing carts.

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The site has several well-made roads making up its grid plan.

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Travelling on a  road like this was a significant step up from a dirt track and, with North Africa being such an important region in early Christianity, roads like these made it possible for important figures in the early Christian church to travel around relatively quickly and easily, spreading their word. St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius, for example, passed through Bulla Regia in the late 4th century and had a go at the locals for going to the theatre (and for other naughty things too).

And when St. Augustine went home to Hippo Regius,

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he would have walked on this beautifully paved road.

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The Roman city, an expansion of the earlier Phoenician city, had all the usual mod-Rom-cons, including drainage, a public water supply and properly constructed roads. You can still see the ruts made by countless cart-wheels.

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Roads in the Roman world created the possibility of inter-connectedness. Even a place on the other side of the empire was, theoretically, within reach.

In the ancient world, a significant proportion of long-distance travel was by water; river or sea. This was how the vast quantities of commodities, wheat, olive oil, slaves, etc, were exported from production and distribution sites in North Africa  to other places around the Mediterranean. Another aspect of the connected empire.

The harbour at Apollonia, in the east of modern Libya, was the port of the great Greek, and later Roman city of Cyrene.

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The site is slowly disappearing under the water, the victim of rising sea levels and erosion. Even so, it is still possible to see the remains of the busy harbour. These include harbour-front facilities like storage vats, shops, quays etc,

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and also the major works like moles and sea walls.

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Cyrene, via Apollonia had strong trade links with Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, but also served points along the southern Mediterranean and as far as Rome itself. A key export from this region was Silphium, a now-(probably)-extinct member of the fennel family, which was highly prized in the ancient world.

Before I finish, here’s that gateway.

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This is the Tocra Gate at Ptolemais, also in eastern Libya (western Cyrenaica).

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This was the entrance into the city from the roads to the east and here we can evidence of comings and going. And also of hangings around.

The inner wall of the gateway is covered with etched graffiti,

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some of it not so old, but some very old indeed. Although I frown on vandalism, I still love the idea that we have here the marks of people coming and going over a millennium and a half. Traders and travellers passing though; bored squaddies supposed to be on guard, whittling their names into the walls for posterity to see.

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Markos woz ‘ere.

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If you’re interested in mapping the ancient world, there’s a good round up of resources here – http://isaw.nyu.edu/exhibitions/space/index.html . You can also have a look at the Ancient World Mapping Center.