Carthage, the Rome of Africa

Carthage, THE Rome OF AfriCA

Since the establishment of the diocese of Africa in 314, Carthage has remained not only the capital of the province of Africa Proconsularis, but also the seat of the vicarius of Africa. According to Salvianus of Marseilles, in the fifth century Carthage occupied a position in late Roman North Africa equivalent to that of Rome. It had managed to maintain its position since the first century AD, when the first “building boom” reinforced the “Carthaginian gigantism”: the forum on the hill of Byrsa is said to have been one and a half times bigger than the forums of Caesar and Augustus combined! The city of Carthage covered an area of more than 300 hectares, it had a territory with more than 80 surrounding towns and villages dependent on it for tax purposes, and it was the economic power of this hinterland that enabled the “clan of Africans” to be integrated into the commercial networks of the Roman Empire and, from 533 onwards, those of the Byzantine Empire. The city’s skyline with its temples, the impressive baths of Antoninus the Pious, the theatre and odeon to the north-east, and the amphitheatre and circus to the south-west, slowly changed with the construction in the 4th century of the first Christian basilicas to the north (at the Megara necropolis), known by their modern place names such as Mcidfa, Saint Monica and Damous el Karita. Although the days of Tertullian, Saint Cyprian and Saint Augustine are long gone, Carthage was considered the capital of Christianity in Africa because of these unique churches, as well as its local martyrs, influential bishops and theologians. Carthage seems to have had 24 churches, built between the 4th and 6th centuries. Although a city wall was built in the early fifth century, it failed to protect the city against either the Vandals, who conquered it in 439, or the Byzantines. After its final conquest in 698, it became insignificant; for strategic reasons, its central functions were transferred to Tunis and Kairouan.

Modelling Carthage presented a similar challenge to that of the Hispanic capital, Mérida. Covered by a modern conurbation, is little known about the ancient city, despite being three times the size of Merida. The buildings excavated have been placed on the urban grid traditionally accepted by the research community. In this way, the main monuments, the limits of the extension, and the layout of the main arteries and access roads have been used to sketch out an image of the urban landscape, the details of which are still elusive. The same methodological principles were adopted as for the representation of Mérida (scientific selection of the buildings represented, simplified modelling of volumes, transparency, etc.).

The modelling of the city of Carthage in the 5th century remains a draft that will be refined as new discoveries are made. Some buildings, such as the city walls and the forum, are still only imperfectly known. The representation of the extra-mural peripheries posed another difficulty. Apart from the well-known Christian basilicas, this area must have been the site of other activities and major necropolises. Only the known necropolises have been represented schematically.

Miles, Richard, Greenslade, Simon (eds.) (2020), The Bir Messaouda Basilica. Pilgrimage and the Transformation of an Urban Landscape in Sixth Century AD Carthage, Oxford/Philadelphia, Oxbow Books.

Panzram, Sabine (2016), « Ille ecclesiae fundamentum et hic sapiens architectus – Die Erschaffung des Papsttums », Historia, 65, pp. 73–107.

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Bockmann, Ralf (2013), Capital continuous. A Study of Vandal Carthage and Central North Africa from an Archaeological Perspective, Wiesbaden, Reichert, coll. « Spätantike – Frühes Christentum – Byzanz. Kunst im ersten Jahrtausend. Reihe B: Studien und Perspektiven » (37).

Ennabli, Liliane (1997), Carthage, une métropole chrétienne du ive à la fin du viie siècle, Paris, CNRS.

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Invisibles cities
Towns of late antiquity in southern Iberia and northern Africa (300-800)

A Atlas & Iconem exposition

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