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

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Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga

2.3 The building of Thugga

So far we have been considering aspects of Thugga without taking into account the chronology of the site and its monuments. The following table lists the public buildings and monuments of Thugga which are securely dated by inscriptions and gives the date (as near as possible) of construction along with an assessment of how African or Roman they are.

Date (AD) Building Roman? African? Reason
late Tiberius (14–37) Temple of Caesar Imperial cult
36–7 Forum and square in front of the temple to the emperor Forum is typically Roman
36–7 Shrine of Saturn Saturn is Roman and Punic god
36–7 Arch Typically Roman monument
30s Temple and statues ? ? No details
30s Temple of Ceres (square plus stone columns) Ceres is Roman and Punic goddess
30s Temple of Concordia Concordia is Roman goddess
Caligula? (37–41) Arch Typically Roman monument
Claudius (41–54) Small shrine of Jupiter Jupiter is Roman god
48 Statue of Augustus Augustus was Roman
54 Market Typically Roman building
54 Small temple ? ? No details
Hadrian (117–38) Two temples of Concordia Concordia is Roman goddess
Hadrian (117–38) Temple of Fortuna Fortuna is Roman goddess
Hadrian? (117–38) Small apsidal temple to Augustan Piety Augustan Piety is a Roman cult but temple is not Roman style
Antoninus Pius (138–61) Portico round forum Forum is typically Roman
Antoninus Pius (138–61) Temple of Minerva Minerva is Roman goddess
Marcus Aurelius (161–80) Capitol Capitol is typically Roman
Marcus Aurelius (161–80) Theatre Theatre is typically Roman
Marcus Aurelius (161–80) Substantial temple ? ? No details
Commodus (180–92) Square and portico by forum Forum is typically Roman
Commodus (180–92) Temple of Mercury by capitol Temple is African style and god is Roman
Commodus (180–92) Shrine ? ? No details
mid 180s Aqueduct attached to southern baths Aqueduct is typically Roman
Septimius Severus (193–211) Large temple of Saturn Temple is African style and god is Roman and African
Septimius Severus (193–211) Arch to emperors Typically Roman monument
Caracalla (211–17) Temple ? ? No details
Alexander Severus (222–35) Circus or race-track Typically Roman building
Alexander Severus (222–35) Temple of Caelestis (semi-circular) Temple is Roman and African style and goddess is African
Alexander Severus (222–35) Triumphal arch to emperor for libertas or tax privileges Typically Roman monument
Alexander Severus (222–35) Temple ? ? No details
Alexander Severus (222–35) Temple of Fortuna Fortuna is Roman goddess
Gallienus (261–8?) Licinian baths Baths are typically Roman and copy the ground plan of baths in Rome
mid third century Temple of Tellus Temple is African style and goddess is African and Roman
264 Portico ? ? No details
Diocletian (284–305) Temple of Genius Patriae Cult is typically Roman
Diocletian (284–305) Portico of temple of Mater Deum Cult is typically Roman

Some of these buildings have survived and been excavated, while others have not. You have seen some of them in the video sequence ‘Exploring Thugga’. The construction of these public and religious buildings is itself one aspect of the Romanisation of the pre-Roman city of Thugga, and we must also remember that the practice of commemorating the dedication of a building with an inscription is itself a very Roman tradition. Therefore, we should perhaps expect this collection of evidence to favour more Roman aspects of the cultural milieu.

Plate 3 illustrates when the main periods of building activity took place. The impression given by the graph is of a high degree of activity in the first half of the first century AD, which drops off rapidly and then rises to a second peak in the second half of the second century before gradually reducing again. This observed pattern roughly corresponds with the broader pattern of building dedications derived from North Africa as a whole (Jacques, 1989, pp. 242–3), although the peak in the first half of the first century is more pronounced at Thugga. This suggests that the pattern at Thugga is not exceptional but part of a wider pattern of development common to Africa, although not necessarily other parts of the empire where similar evidence has been gathered (Duncan-Jones, 1990, pp. 57–67).

Please click to view Plate 3: Graph of building activity in Africa [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . (PDF, 1 page, 0.1 MB).

An attractive possibility in interpreting this evidence is to see the pattern as a first wave of Romanising building dedications in the early first century, establishing a Roman character for the city, and then later a second peak of building dedications as the city flourishes in the later second century along with the rest of Africa. Does this suggestion hold up? We can investigate further by considering two factors: the types of building dedicated and the identity and status of the person(s) who were the dedicants (see Plate 4) (Duncan-Jones, 1990, pp. 178–82).

Please click to view Plate 4: Statue of an unknown patron of the city of Thugga wearing a toga and a mural crown, third century. Bardo Museum, Tunis. (PDF, 1 page, 1.8 MB).

If we look first at the buildings from the first half of the first century, we see that most of them were temples. The earliest is a ‘temple of Caesar’; we know no more, but it was probably a temple dedicated to Julius Caesar or Augustus: a more Roman and politically laden monument would be hard to imagine. The following three monuments – the forum and square in front of the temple to the emperor, a shrine of Saturn, and an arch – were all dedicated by one Postumius Chius. We have little to go on, but his name does not rule out the possibility that he was a Roman citizen or a freedman. The forum and arch at least are clearly in the Roman urban tradition; the former is of major importance to city life and represents the formal creation of a Roman-style town centre. The third building, the shrine of Saturn, is slightly more ambivalent because Saturn was both a Punic and a Roman deity.

The next monument, a temple and statues, was restored by Licinius Tyrannus, who also built the temple of Ceres (a popular goddess introduced to Carthage in 396 BC), and his wife built the temple of Concordia (the goddess of Peace). Licinius Tyrannus was a freedman of Marcus Licinius Marcius, and the temple of Ceres was dedicated to the health of Marcus Licinius Rufus, his patron. The small shrine of Jupiter dedicated in the reign of Claudius bore an informative inscription. The shrine was built and jointly paid for by L. Iulius L.F. Crassus, a name suggesting that his family may have gained citizenship under Julius Caesar. Part of his career is listed, and he was military tribune in the Twenty-first Legion Rapacis, as well as a duovir and a duovir quinquennalis – the most senior civic position. He is also described as patronus pagi: that is, patron of the community of Roman citizens at Thugga. The shrine was also paid for by another citizen, C. Pomponius L.F. Restitutus. Thus we have a distinguished soldier and leader of the Roman community donating a shrine to the most important of Roman gods, Jupiter. So far all the donors seem to have been freedmen or Roman citizens, but in AD 48 one Iulius Venustus dedicated a statue of Augustus. Not an extraordinary act in itself, but we also know that Iulius Venustus was the son of one Thinoba, an office holder in the civitas of non-Roman citizens in Thugga. We do not know the hows and whys of this, but it clearly demonstrates a beginning of Africans performing typically Roman civic acts. It also demonstrates the adoption of a Roman form of name by Iulius Venustus, as opposed to the traditional African form of ‘X son of Y’, as on the Punic mausoleum. Despite these clearly Roman traits, we know from other inscriptions that the political organisation of the civitas survived, and it was governed by officials with the Punic title of suffete rather than the Roman magistrate.

In AD 54 we again encounter M. Licinius Rufus – this time donating the market – and he is described as patronus pagi and also as a cavalry commander in Syria. In the reign of Hadrian (117–38) a pair of temples was dedicated to the deities Concordia and Frugifer and Liber Patus by the brothers M. and A. Gabinius. They are further described as sons of the manager of imperial estates around Thugga and also as patronus pagi et civitatis, meaning patrons of both the Roman citizen pagus and the ‘indigenous’ civitas. So by the second century we begin to see the same individuals playing a leading role in both the citizen and non-citizen communities. Later donations are by members of some of the families we have already encountered – the Licinii and the Gabini – but monuments are also dedicated by other families (particularly the Marcii) and individuals. The temple of Mercury by the capitol, which seems to have some elements of an African temple plan, was built in the reign of Commodus (180–92) by Q. Pacuvius Saturus and his wife Nahania Victoria, according to the will of their son M. Paccuvius Felix Victorianus (see Figure 3). Here we have a couple, one with an apparently Roman name and the other with a clearly non-Roman praenomen. This suggests the possibility of a marriage between citizens of whom one (at least) has an African name. By AD 205 in the reign of Septimius Severus the city of Thugga had received the status of a municipium liberum, which would have ended the division between the pagus and the civitas and so united the people of the city and given them the same civic and legal rights.

Activity 2

Which of the four models of cultural interaction do you think best fits the evidence you have encountered in Thugga? Write down your choice (or choices), and note down the evidence which supports your choice.


You may have found that one or more of the models fitted the evidence, or that some parts of the evidence fitted one model but others fitted a different model. Don't be surprised by this because our models are just that – models. They are not full-blown explanations or exhaustive interpretations. They are intended to be aids to interpretation, to stimulate thought, open possibilities and debates. I am not going to provide a detailed discussion here of how the evidence from Thugga fits the models. There is, though, more discussion later in this section when the models are reviewed in the light of the further evidence you are now going to look at.


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