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

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Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga

2.7.1 The building of Thugga

In summary, most of the buildings we have dedications for in Thugga are of a Roman type. The exceptions are temples to gods or goddesses who were also worshipped in pre-Roman Africa or at least had strict equivalents, such as Baal and Saturn and Juno and Caelestis. This evidence would seem to suggest that this African city was very receptive of Roman models for building types, therefore fitting best into model 1. Nevertheless the adoption of Roman-style buildings seems to have been gradual, and with the exception of the forum the main Roman-style buildings – the capitol, theatre, baths and circus – were not built until the later second century and the third century. So it would seem that if model 1 fits best, it was a gradual transition rather than an abrupt change.

However, we must remember that we know extremely little about the urban form and building of the pre-Roman city of Thugga. There does seem to have been some survival of the earlier urban form of the city, since to the north-west the city remained largely confined within the Punic city walls and the street plan of the centre of the city may also be a Punic survival. There is also excavated evidence to suggest that a temple to Baal preceded the Severan temple of Saturn. This would seem to suggest that there was some survival of pre-Roman urban forms and buildings, which would fit best with model 2 or 3 suggesting either rejection of Roman forms such as regular grids of streets or co-existence of Roman and pre-Roman urban structures.

The identification of two sectors in the people of Thugga, the Roman pagus and the African civitas, fits well with the third model – separation of indigenous and Roman peoples. However, through time this division disappears as the town grows in status and becomes first a munitipium by AD 205 and then a colonia, suggesting that model 4 – fusion – might be more appropriate. This gradual merging of the communities in the city and their governments runs in parallel with a shifting identity of the donors of the buildings. It is just about possible to discern a shift from Roman donors to a combination of donors where some are Roman and some individuals have African names or descent. This too best fits model 4 – fusion as the result of cultural interaction. Fusion can also be seen in the developed city of Thugga, which by the time it became a colonia combined both African, Roman and Greek cultural influences.

This discussion illustrates the fact that no one model has the power to explain all of our observations. Different models may fit different parts of the evidence, and different models might fit the evidence at different periods of the progress of cultural interaction, so dominance may be followed by separatism and then fusion. This observation underlines the fact that cultural interaction is an ongoing dynamic process.

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