Situated at the point
where the steppe meets the Sahara, the town occupies the
pass between the jebels of Ben Younés and Orbata. This
gives the city a commanding position, overlooking the
great roads which, starting in the heart of Africa and
going across the Sahara, converge here before branching
off to the E, towards the Mediterranean coast, and towards the fertile, populous regions of the N. The many
artesian wells that are to be found among the vast mountainous and desert regions encouraged the growth of
palm trees and at the same time favored the development of a city around its oasis, a city enriched by
caravan trade. But its prosperity goes back even further,
since in prehistoric times the region was the center of a
culture which gave the city its name.
It is not surprising that such a site was occupied continuously. Capsa played a spectacular role in the Jugurthine war (Sallust). Loyal to Jugurtha, it was suddenly overcome in an extraordinary raid carried out by Marius
who, to impress the Africans, had destroyed the city and
massacred its inhabitants. Capsa emerged from its ruins
to become a prosperous town once again. A municipium
under Trajan, it later became a colonia. In the Byzantine
period, when Africa was divided into military districts,
it was one of the two seats of the commander of Byzacena. It was also a stronghold, on the edge of the desert,
responsible for guarding the frontier of the region. A
dedication, fragments of which were reused to build the
pools, commemorates the general Salomon's construction of the rampart in Justinian's reign, at the end of the
first half of the 6th c.; the city in fact took on his surname. Capsa guarded the whole of this region until the
Arab troops of Okba-Ibn-Naffa seized it in 668.
The “Roman pools” are three basins with high walls
of reused ashlar. Set in the open air, around springs rising from the bottom of the pools, they are aligned E-W
according to the direction of the outflow of the water and
connected by underground channels. The W pool consists of two covered rooms. The two largest pools, Ayn
es-Saggaïn (15 x 6.5 m and 3.5 m high) and Aîn Sidna
(19 x 16 m), are built of reused stones, some engraved
with important inscriptions. From the restored text we
know that there was a nymphaeum, under the auspices
of Neptune, probably on the actual site of the pools.
From other fragments we learn that Capsa, still a civitas
in 105 but no longer one under Hadrian, became a municipium in Trajan's reign.
Throughout the whole of the Middle Ages, Gafsa remained a great metropolis in the middle of a region that
had long flourished with its many villages and oases.
Even today, in spite of its decline, Gafsa remains the
capital of Saharan Tunisia, and the modern city stands
on top of the older remains. Very little of the ancient city
has survived, while certain buildings benefited from the
reuse of the old stones—the mosque, which inherited
many columns and capitals, the casbah, whose stones
have since been removed, and especially the pools, which
get their water from the hot springs.
A number of finds have been made in the casbah area;
for example, a large mosaic (4.7 x 3.4 m) was found
300 m E in an undetermined monument. Now at the
Bardo Museum in Tunis, it depicts an amphitheater scene.
C. Saumagne, “Capsa: les vestiges de la
cité latine,” CahTun