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MACTARIS (Mactar) Tunisia.

The very extensive site occupies a plateau which rises 900 m above the valley of the wadi Saboun in the central massif of the Haut Tell. The capital of a vast agricultural zone, it was on an important route of passage between the region of dry steppes to the S and the region of vast grain-producing plains to the N.

A city of the kingdom of the Massylii, not conquered by Carthage but profoundly influenced by it, it fell under Roman domination. This transformed and developed it still more but without entirely destroying its strong Punic-Numidian character. Political, artistic, and religious elements of this Romanization are found throughout the remains scattered over the site. It was elevated to the rank of colony under Marcus Aurelius. From this period date the largest and grandest of its monuments, which bear witness to its prosperity.

After the crisis of the 3d c., the effort at restoration begun by the emperors was followed by the Christian ferment; the restored monuments which have been converted in the cult areas are numerous. With the Byzantines, life revolved around the several improvised fortresses in the midst of the ruins of the city. With the arrival of the Hillalians, life contracted markedly because of insecurity.

Since there is no mention of the site in ancient sources, only the study of the archaeological remains permits the retracing of the history of the city. Abandoned since the 11th c., the site was pointed out and visited by the great travelers: Temple, Pelissier, Guerin, Tissot, Cagnat, and Saladin. It was excavated only intermittently in 1893-94, in 1902 and 1912, but more intensively between 1944 and 1956. Several excavations were undertaken towards 1960, and the conservation of several monuments is now in progress.

The pre-Roman remains that have been discovered include the tophet and sanctuary consecrated to Baal Hammon, erected near the ravine of Bab el Aïn and overturned either during the construction of the arch of that name or simply by natural erosion; many stelae engraved with Libyan and Punic inscriptions were found there. Several megalithic necropoleis were scattered in various places on the site.

Along the periphery of the site, but at a distance from one another, are a pyramidal mausoleum and the mausoleum of the Julii, both built on a grand scale. Between them is an important necropolis which extends to the foot of the arch of Bal el Aïn, a triumphal gate with one bay marking the N entrance of the town and dominating the wooded ravine of a stream. It is presently in process of restoration. Next to the arch is an amphitheater of moderate size, recently excavated, next to the so-called Church of Rutilius, which has almost entirely disappeared. Within the town two forums were excavated between 1947 and 1956: the first an old square, vast and without porticos, limited on two sides by streets, one of which led to the second forum 100 m E. Paved, surrounded by a portico, it was dominated by a monumental arch dedicated to Trajan. This arch gives access on the S side to another small area, said to be of the Severan era, which marks the bounds of the quarter of houses contiguous to the basilica of Hildeguns, from the name engraved on an epitaph found on the ground of the central nave.

The Temple of Liber Pater faces the old forum, which it dominates. An irregular trapezoid in plan, it was built on an earlier edifice, and on it was erected a Christian church. It is known to have been elevated on a podium which shielded a double superimposed crypt, the one hollowed out of the rock, the other built in a cradle-vault. The sanctuary was probably prostyle. A frieze on the architrave, on which were sculptured some illustrated scrolls of an episode of the Bacchic cycle and of statues of Dionysos, identified the temple.

The neo-Punic sanctuary of Hathor Miskar, identified by several long inscriptions which commemorated the dedication of the temple by an association of citizens called Mizrakh, was excavated in 1893. To the NE of the forum of Trajan this sanctuary rose on a podium with a crypt, and consisted of a cella preceded by a pronaos and surrounded by a portico built in grand style. It was ultimately converted into a Christian building.

The Temple of Apollo and Diana at the W periphery of the site, N of the pyramidal mausoleum, was excavated in 1947. In the midst of a vast precinct surrounded by a rectangular portico, this peripteral temple stood facing E; constructed before the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it no longer exists except for the sub-foundations.

The existence of temples and cults of other divinities is attested by inscriptions or sculptures, such as those of Magna Mater, Neptune, Rome and Augustus, and Ceres, whose documents have been found in divers locations on the site.

The quarter called the School for Youths, excavated in 1946-55, is an ensemble of structures that are complicated by numerous transformations. A large paved vestibule gives access to a court surrounded by a portico of the Corinthian order carrying an inscribed frieze. On the sides and to the N open areas with mosaics. On the W side is a basilica-shaped hall with three naves and an apse, also paved with mosaic, next to a group of structures among which are small baths. To the S a narrow passage opens on a quatrefoil building with troughs, and a mausoleum of Julia Bennata, which is preceded by a mosaic court and surrounded by a small Christian cemetery. The School for Youths, an association aristocratic and military in character, having Mars as patron but distinct from the army, was influential in the Romanization of the city.

Several public baths have not been completely excavated; the great baths to the SE including a palaestra in the process of restoration and the baths to the N.

Apart from these edifices of known function, several other monuments of unidentified use have been uncovered. One “with apses and arcades” was investigated in 1909-10 and mistakenly described as a water-tower in connection with the huge aqueduct which rises to the W. Another vast structure of three well-preserved rooms paved with geometric mosaics, including troughs in two semicircular walls, was probably a market.

An archaeological museum recently built at the approaches to the site houses numerous objects (mosaics, sculptures, inscriptions, and ceramics) found in the course of the excavations.


G. C. Picard, Civitas Mactaritana (1958)PI (=Karthago 8; of 1957, but pub. 1958).


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