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ALTHIBUROS (Ebba Ksour) Tunisia.

Situated in W Tunisia, on the Sra Ouartene, a high plateau between the two grain-growing plains of the Zouarines and the Thala. The ancient city was at the confluence of the Oum-el-Abid and Médeina, at the outlet of the Fej el Tamar, the only natural way onto the road from Le Kef to Theveste. The fact that its history goes far back in antiquity was proved by the discovery of several pre-Roman documents, one of which, a Neo-Carthaginian inscription now in the Louvre, mentions a Sanctuary of Baal Hammon.

A city of Berger tradition, it came under the influence of Carthage; under the Roman Empire it remained an indigenous civitas until it was raised to the status of a municipium by Hadrian: municipium aelium hadrianum augustum althiburitanum. Only later was it granted the ius Italicum. The town, long since abandoned in favor of Ebba-Ksour, an agricultural center in the plain, lay outside the main route of circulation from Le Kef to the S; thus its most important ruins have been largely preserved. Thanks to 18th c. travelers and to a few sporadic excavations we have some knowledge of the city's history.

The forum (44.6 x 37.15 m over-all) is a paved esplanade (23.35 x 30.8 m) surrounded by a portico with 10 x 12 columns raised on a step 6.9 m wide. On the NW side of the portico there is a row of aediculae, some religious in function: a statue of Minerva was found in one. To the SW is the capitol, separated from the forum by a small square closed to the W by a Hadrianic triumphal arch (now destroyed). Part of the facade is still intact, to a considerable height. Built of large blocks, it was Corinthian, prostyle, and tetrastyle. It had a central cella (8 x 7.5 m), two smaller cellae flanking it, and a pronaos on a stylobate 3 m high that was reached by a broad staircase. A low enclosing wall surrounded the temple. During the excavation of 1912, some fragments were found of the dedication that complemented those documents noted above, making it possible to identify the capitol with certainty and to date it to 185-191. The white marble head of a statue, probably of Juno, was also recovered.

A second temple stood on the other side of the forum to the NE, opposite the capitol. All that remains of it is the podium and some architectural fragments. Also Corinthian, it was tetrastyle. The cella was ringed with a wall giving onto two lateral corridors on the sides. According to an inscription found nearby, it apparently dates from 145. At the E corner of the forum, near this temple, is a complex of buildings, the most noteworthy of which is a house with a peristyle of 16 columns set up on dados carved with various motifs. The floors of the four porticos are paved with geometric mosaics that vary in design from one bay to the next. Opening onto these galleries were rooms of a NE wing and a large room, possibly a triclinium, where apparently a geometric mosaic, now at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, was discovered.

On the SE side of the public square, SW of the house just mentioned, is another, quite different quarter. Among somewhat confused remains, the most interesting structure is a building (10 x 7 m) which probably was a factory. It consists of a rotunda, two courtyards whose walls hold several series of niches, and some ground-level basins that were installed at a later date. A monumental fountain 4 m square stands S of this area, at the end of a paved street that continues the esplanade between the capitol and the forum. It is constructed of large blocks. On each of two of its sides a niche is framed by large pilasters above a molded stylobate with a basin. In the course of excavating this sector many inscriptions were found that originally came from the forum and elsewhere and were reused.

Outside this excavated city center are some other monuments which, although not excavated, are notable for their size. First among these is a theater. Its cavea (57.5 m in diameter) is ringed with a wall, several of whose arcades are still standing among many fallen blocks. According to an inscription, it apparently was built before A.D. 172. On the other side at the entrance to the site is a fairly well-preserved triumphal arch, standing in the fields. An inscription on its entablature dates it from the 4th-5th c. Its arcade is 11.25 m long and has an arch 7 x 5.25 m. Finally, on the outskirts of the city and on the hilltops can be seen a few mausolea; that called Ksar Ben Hannoun, to the W, has a cella 3.2 x 2.5 m with an inscription on the entablature.

Three other private buildings that have been uncovered add to the interest of the site: A large villa, the House of the Muses, stands on the right bank to the W. Its rooms and apartments, arranged around a peristyle, are noteworthy for their many and varied mosaic floors. Two rooms are important: the triclinium, which has a mosaic floor of sea scenes (badly damaged) and the apsed exedra at right angles to it, whose floor has a design of the muses (also damaged). The peristyle is paved with geometric mosaics.

Another house, the House of the Fishing Scene, stands on the other side of the wadi Oum el Abid, on the left bank fairly close to the capitol. The rooms, badly damaged, are arranged around a peristyle paved with mosaics. One of the rooms has two symmetrical apses at each end and is paved with a mosaic representing a fishing scene with the head of Oceanus depicted at either end. The floor of an adjacent room has two panels of imbricated mosaics.

The Asklepeia monument, so-called after the mosaic inscription in the axial room, whose function is still undetermined, is remarkable for the originality of its plan, the harmony of its architectural arrangement, and the quality of its mosaic floors. Strictly symmetrical in plan, the monument has a long gallery terminating at either end in two corner turrets. The facade has several windows on either side of an impressive entrance on axis. This corridor opens onto a large square room flanked on either side by a basin with a horseshoe-shaped passageway running around it, making a sort of atrium tuscanicum. This great vestibule gives onto a peristyle equipped with a complete hydraulic system. Framing both sides of this peristyle are two large symmetrical oeci along with their adjoining rooms. The main wing, to the NE at the rear, consists of a series of rooms arranged symmetrically on either side of the Asclepeia room located in the axis, opposite the principal entrance. All these rooms were paved with beautiful mosaics.


A. Merlin, “Forum et maisons d'Althiburos,” Notes et Documents, VI (1913).


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