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ZAMA (“Aelia Hadriana Augusta”) Tunisia.

Famous for the great battle that ended in Rome's victory over Carthage, the city is cited in all accounts, ancient as well as modern, of the second Punic war. Yet up to the present time its site has not been precisely determined.

A royal city of the Numidian kingdom when it was independent, Zama was the scene of the decisive battle in 202 B.C. when two armies, Scipio's coming from near Carthage and Hannibal's from the Sahel, met in this central region for the great confrontation. The city was left in Numidian territory after the province Africa Vetus was organized, remaining one of the chief cities of the Numidian princes. Loyal to Jugurtha, it did not surrender to Metellus, who failed in his attempt to seize it in 109 B.C. Rallying to Caesar after his defeat of the Pompeians at Thapsus, the city closed its gates to its king Juba, who killed himself in a nearby farm (46 B.C.). After the victors created Africa Nova, the city was rewarded by being made chief city of the province and Sallust was its first governor. From then on its history was the same as that of most imperial cities: an oppidum liberum according to Pliny's lists, it was promoted later, under Hadrian, to a “Colonia Aelia Hadriana Augusta Zamensis Regia,” as is proved by an inscription dated 322 discovered in Rome (CIL VI 1686).

Ancient writers are too brief in their references to the city to clarify its situation. Polybios places it five days' journey from Carthage; Sallust, who lived there, describes it as a citadel built on flat ground and defended more by man's ingenuity than by its natural surroundings. Vitruvius notes that the rampart, which Juba I built, had a double wall. Pliny adds that the waters of the spring had the property of beautifying the road. The Peutinger Table places the statio between Uzappa and Assuras, on the road from Thysdrus to Sicca. Even though the exact location of the site is still undetermined, the region where the events took place is fairly well defined. This is the region of Jebel Massouge, with the plains of Siliana and Sers close by, and the plateau of Rêbaa de Youled Yahia. There is no doubt that this region of fertile plains commanding forced passes was the territory of the Zamenses.

The fact that several epithets were attributed to Zama suggests that there must have been several cities of this name: one “major” or “minor,” another “regia,” and one of these, or another one, that was a colony. If the great city was also royal and later became a colony, there would have been just two Zamas. Four sites have been considered possible for each of these two cities: 1) Sidi Amor Jedid, situated near the Ouadi Mahrouf, 4 km E of Lemsa on a small rise overlooking the valley, contained an inscription mentioning a colonia Zamensis. It was published as Zama Minor, later to become a colony. However, the ruins are insignificant and the geographic position too far E. 2) Jama is a village perched high on one of the N spurs, ringed with hills and deep ravines, that divide the valley of the Siliana from that of the Ouadi Tessa. The site contains many ruins, in particular an aqueduct supplying three huge cisterns that have crumbling arches; a circular building made of large stones, set on a peak and noted by Cagnat; a citadel, probably Byzantine, dominating another peak; and finally in the village itself some more ruined buildings, including one made of rubble, with a spring in the midst of them. An inscription mentioning a Colonia Augustua Zama M was found here and the ancient form of the name Zama is believed to have survived in the name of the present-day village. However, the wildness of the place does not fit Sallust's description, and the site of the ancient city is not located on the Uzappa-Assuras road according to the Peutinger Table. Some archaeologists have suggested this might be great or even little Zama rather than the royal city.

3) Sebaa Biar is to be found near the road linking Maktar and Le Kef, 7.5 km N of Elks. Situated on the Ouadi Masmoudi, it overlooked the road running from Carthage through the valley of the Oundi Meliane and Massouge up to the beginning of the Sers plain at the W end of the Massouge pass, between Uzappa and Assuras. Half in the plain and half on a hillside, it is a site with many ruins (hardly explored, however), with abundant water, as its modern name suggests, and a citadel. In all these respects it would seem to match Sallust's description of ancient Zama.


Louis Déroche, “Les Fouilles de Ksar Toual Zammel et la Question de Zama,” MEFR 60 (1948) 55-105 (with preceding bibliography); F. M. Russell, “The Battlefield of Zama,” Archaeology 23.2 (1970) 120-29MI.


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