Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga
Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga

1 Thugga

The ancient city of Thugga is often known by its modern name, Dougga. In this course we will be using the ancient name, Thugga. We are going to start by watching a video sequence, taking occasional notes: it should form about an hour of study time. The next section follows on from the video and introduces further evidence from Thugga.

As you watch, think about how the city compares with other cities you have encountered. Look out for how the buildings and streets are arranged, for buildings such as temples or arches, for architectural decoration and also the language of the inscriptions. Also look out for things that seem different. You will find it useful to refer to the plan of Thugga (Plate 1a and 1b) as you watch the video. Use the pause button and jot down some notes: the first activity is a detailed examination of the buildings in the city. Now watch the first video sequence, ‘Exploring Thugga’.

Please click to view Plate 1a: Plan of Thugga [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . (Adapted from Poinssot, C. (1983) Les Ruines de Dougga, Tunis, Ministere des Affaires Culturelles, Institut National d'Archeologie et d'Arts) (PDF, 1 page, 1MB)

Please click to view Plate 1b: Plan of Thugga continued. (PDF, 1 page, 1MB)

Exploring Thugga (part 1, 8 minutes)

Download this video clip.Video player: Exploring Thugga - Part One
Skip transcript: Exploring Thugga - Part One

Transcript: Exploring Thugga - Part One

This is the city of Thugga, in the ancient kingdom and Roman Province of Numidia. It lies on the slopes of the valley of the Oued Khalled, in a fertile landscape of olives and grain.
The city is well preserved and extensively excavated. We’ll be exploring the remains to investigate how the town developed and what impact Roman occupation had on the city. Thugga was already a flourishing city the 4th century BC. Well before the kingdom of Numidia was added to the Roman Empire, it was a centre of Numidian power.
This is the royal mausoleum of Ateban son of Ypmatat son of Palu, constructed around the beginning of the 2nd century BC by his son Zumar, with Abaris son of Abdastart and Mangi son of Warsacan and the inscription naming them which was torn from the building in 1842 and now lies in the British Museum was written in two languages, Libycan and Punic.
The mausoleum stands on five steps and the lower part is like a house with a window on each side. And pilasters at the corners with lotus flower scrolled capitals.
Above this three further steps rise to a central section with a series of embedded ionic columns around it and surmounted with an Egyptian style moulding.
The upper section, like the lower has lotus flower pilasters at the corners. Above the pilasters is another Egyptian moulding and a pyramid to crown the building.
At each of the four corners stood a winged female figure. And at the top sat a lion. Similar monuments have been found in other parts of North Africa but its details illustrate a fusion of Greek and Egyptian cultural elements which came together in Africa and influenced local expressions of culture.
Clearly Numidia was participating in the culture of the Eastern Mediterranean well before the Roman conquest of Carthage.
Other parts of the city also reveal glimpses of the pre-Roman town - the city walls built of roughly squared blocks with square towers probably date to the late 2nd century BC.
Outside the city walls lay the pre-Roman cemeteries - where bodies were placed, with pottery, in rough stone block chambers, covered by earth mounds.
Within the city itself the irregular plan of the streets goes back to the Numidian city.
Even the Roman period shows no signs of the formal grid layout typical of so many Roman cities. These then are the clearest remains of pre-Roman Thugga. However the city did not suddenly change when the Romans took over Numidia and we can trace the gradual development of the Roman city by studying the surviving buildings and also a remarkable collection / of inscriptions which have been found here.
These inscriptions help us to both identify and date the buildings of the city.
So here we have the Temple of Mercury, which was built in the late second century AD. A long inscription identifies the temple, with its rooms, portico and statues - built by Quintius Pacuvius Saturus, a leading citizen, and his wife Nahania Victoria, an important priestess, according to the will of their son Marcus Pacuvius Felix
Victorianus, at a total cost of 145,000 sestertii. This small temple, dedicated to Augustan Piety, was erected in the first half of the second century AD by Pompeius Rogatus, at a cost of 30,000 sestertii.
These temples surround a square. Engraved on the paving is a wind rose, which marks the points of the compass and the names of the winds, so for example we have the south south – east wind Leuconotus, the south wind, Auster and the south west wind Africus.
The Augustan author Vitruvius describes how to accurately lay out a wind rose and suggests that ideally streets and buildings should be set out to avoid directly facing the North, South, East or West winds.
The wind rose at Thugga matches the description but the layout of the city does not follow the instructions. For example, on the fourth side of the square, the Capitol is aligned to face the south wind.
The Temple is dedicated to the protectors of Rome: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. In the back wall of the cella are three niches, one for each of the divinities. Above the cella doorway an inscription tells us that Lucius Marcius Simplex Regillianus built the temple.
In the pediment is a mutilated relief of the apotheosis of the emperor Antoninus Pius: he is shown being taken aloft by an eagle.
End transcript: Exploring Thugga - Part One
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Exploring Thugga - Part One
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Exploring Thugga (part 2, 8 minutes)

Download this video clip.Video player: Exploring Thugga - Part Two
Skip transcript: Exploring Thugga - Part Two

Transcript: Exploring Thugga - Part Two

The temple decoration is very Roman - a well preserved example of the Corinthian order. However, the style of stonework is typically North African -with large vertical blocks supporting smaller horizontals forming a framework infilled with smaller stones.
The Capitol towers above the forum to which it is directly connected by two flights of steps. But here it lies across the end of the forum rather than the usual arrangement with the temple facing the forum, as at Ostia or Pompeii.
The porticoes around the forum were given to the city by another of the leading families of Thugga - the Gabinii.
Macellum The macellum or market buildings, around the square to the side of the forum, were built in AD54 by Marcus Licinius Rufus. Little remains of this, and the basilica and other buildings of the forum have not survived because they were demolished and their stones re-used to build a Byzantine fortress over the forum in the sixth and seventh centuries AD.
On the east side of the city lies the heavily restored theatre of Thugga. It gives a good impression of a theatre building, both the stage and the seating. The seating was divided into different areas by barriers and stairways and could be entered from the top or the sides.
The stage was separated from the seating by a low wall with alternating semi-circular and square niches and two sets of stairs.
The stage had the traditional five entrances, one on either side and three in the back wall.
It was richly decorated with marble columns and articulated with a deep central semi-circular niche and square niches to either side.
Written across the frieze of the stage building a long inscription commemorates the donation of the theatre by Publius Marcius Quadratus in 168-9 AD. A member of the same family who gave the city its Capitol temple.
The inscription tells that he built the theatre with curtains and decorations on the occasion of his becoming Flamen for life, one of the most important city priest hoods.
He paid for these with his own money. He also arranged theatrical games and provided gifts and celebrations for the people.
Overall the inscription above the stage celebrates Publius Marcius’ status and honours and records his generosity towards the city. The theatre has his identity stamped upon it and it serves as an indication of his wealth and power.
Not only was the theatre a place for dramatic productions and spectacles but it was also a venue for display by the elite of Thugga for the theatre itself was used as a setting for statues of prominent citizens.
The statues would have been placed within the seating of the theatre, as this surviving fragment of statue base shows. This base has been repositioned to the side of the stage. It honours Marcus Paccius Silvanus. And again we find a reference to the family Gabini - responsible for building the forum portico.
Amongst other things such inscriptions also tell us about the social and political organisation - here we have a ‘pagus’ of Roman citizens and a native ‘civitas’, in the city of Thugga.
These two groups lived together in the city but had different legal rights and forms of local government with the traditions of the Civitas persisting from the pre-Roman period.
These two communities were united in AD205 when the city was granted the title of municipium. They set up this arch to honour the Emperor Septimius Severus.
Later in the same century another arch was set up on the other side of the city to thank the Emperor Severus Alexander for granting tax privileges. In 261 AD the city received the status of colony.
Beyond the arch is a large temple complex dedicated to Caelestis, the Roman goddess who had the attributes and powers of the pre-Roman Punic goddess Tanit.
At the entrance to the temple complex is a bath for ritual purification before entering.
The temple sits on a high podium and has plain columns with Corinthian Capitals running around all four sides and originally enclosing the cella of the temple.
It’s a common design but the semi-circular enclosure is unique, perhaps connected with the symbol of Caelestis, a crescent moon.
Inscription Around this enclosure ran a colonnade, upon which was an inscription commemorating the dedication of the temple to the goddess Caelistis.
It cost 30,000 sestertii, and was paid for by Quintius Gabinius Felix Beatianus.
There are numerous other temples in the city. This ruined temple on a high podium, set in a rectangular colonnaded enclosure, was dedicated to the goddess Minerva.
And this temple - dedicated to the Roman god Saturn, has a similar enclosure with three cult rooms set across a short side.
Set on the hillside at the outer limits of the city, it’s built over the African temple of Baal and is an example of Roman cults taking over the features of original African religions.
End transcript: Exploring Thugga - Part Two
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Exploring Thugga - Part Two
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Exploring Thugga (part 3, 1 minute)

Download this video clip.Video player: Exploring Thugga - Part Three
Skip transcript: Exploring Thugga - Part Three

Transcript: Exploring Thugga - Part Three

Outside the city walls on this plateau, was Thugga’s circus. Little remains now but the building type is well known from other cities and mosaic representations.
From Thugga itself we have this mosaic of the victorious charioteer Eros, who has just left the starting gate. The writing says he’ll do his best for you along with his horses ‘Amiable’ and ‘Jovial’.
End transcript: Exploring Thugga - Part Three
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Exploring Thugga - Part Three
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus