previous next

CIRTA (Constantine) Algeria.

The name appears in texts from the 3d c. B.C. when the town was a capital of King Syphax. Later it became Massinissa's capital and the center of the kingdom which he organized in the E part of modern Algeria and W Tunisia. The town is cited by ancient authors several times, in particular in connection with the war which Jugurtha conducted against the Roman people. After Caesar's victory at Thapsus in 46 B.C., the town and the territory around it were given to an adventurer, P. Sittius, a companion of Caesar and a native of Nocera in Campania. His hold upon this prize, which extended between Africa Nova and the territory of Bocchus, was undoubtedly brief. Later attached to the province of Africa, to which it belonged until the reign of Hadrian, the town and its environs then came under the control of the legate of the Third Augustan Legion, which was in garnison at Lambaesis.

The town of Cirta had become a Roman colony, probably as early as the time of Sittius. At the beginning of the 2d c. it was the capital of a curious administrative district, one of those anomalies common to the administrative history of Africa. It was the capital of the confederation of the IV colonies, the three others being Rusicade, Chullu, and Milev. Its magistrates and municipal assembly were those of the confederation. On the other hand, Cirta itself possessed castella distributed throughout the area of the High Plains and to the N of the region: Castellum Mastarense, Elephantum, Tidditanorum, Cletianis, Thibilis, Sigus, etc. After the dissolution of this confederation, Cirta recovered its role as a capital when it headed Numidia Cirtenses (created under Diocletian) and, later, all of Numidia. At that time it changed its name to Constantina in honor of the emperor who restored it to its splendor after a siege undertaken by the usurper Domitius Alexander.

Constantine was an important center of the Christian community as early as the 3d c. It became the chief town of an ecclesiastical district and was an important city until the end of antiquity. Although many ancient cities disappeared during the Arab Middle Ages, Constantine survived. The mediaeval built-up area, and later that of Turkish times, covered the pre-Roman and Roman constructions. The growth of the town after the French conquest was scarcely more favorable to the preservation of monuments—the entire necropolis of the Koudiat was razed in order to build new districts. What we know of the ancient town is from inscriptions and occasional chance finds rather than from surviving monuments.

The ancient town occupied a plateau of trapezoidal shape, well protected to the E and to the S by the deep canyon of the Rhummel, and to the W by another sheer slope. One approached the town from the SW by a spur which linked the center to the hill of the Koudiat. (A part of the material from the necropolis there is kept in the Constantine Museum.) However, the settlement certainly expanded beyond the plateau in ancient times. In the last few years a dwelling has been identified down towards Sidi M'cid. It is relatively well dated by Campanian pottery, and thus must have been occupied at least during the 1st c. B.C.

Outside the town, a large number of Punic and Neo-Punic inscriptions, as well as some Greek and Latin ones, found in the locality of El Hofra, demonstrate the existence of a sanctuary dedicated to Saturn and reflecting the influence of Punic civilization on the capital of the native kingdom of Massinissa. Some inscriptions are dated to years of the reign of this sovereign and of his successors; the stones are deposited in the museum.

In the town itself, little remains visible. A rampart or embankment wall built of ashlar with embossinents is preserved inside the military citadel. At the time of the conquest, cisterns and temples were identified, always within the Casbah. In addition, the remains of bridges can be seen in the canyon of the Rhummel. Piers and arches of the aqueduct which fed the town stand upstream in the valley.

The Constantine Museum has collected a certain number of artifacts from the town. Also some inscriptions can be seen there. Many items in the museum collection come from sites in the vicinity (Tiddis, Kalaa des Beni Hammad, or ancient towns of the High Plains).


S. Gsell, Atlas archéologique de l'Algérie (1911) 17, no. 126; H. G. Pflaum, Inscriptions latines de l'Algérie II (1941) no. 468; A. Berthier and R. Charlier, Le sanctuaire punique d'El Hofra à Constantine (1955). See also Recueil des notices et memoires de la société archéologique de Constantine.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: