later IUNCI (Younga）
Situated 45 km S of Sfax and 10 km
SE of Maharès, the site extends for nearly 3 km along
the shore, its sandy mounds of ruins dominated by an
imposing fortress. Visited by 19th c. travelers, the site
remained little explored; only the citadel and a vaulted
cistern had been located before the excavation of three
Early Christian basilicas. Yet this city had a long history.
On the shore of Syrtis Minor, alongside the Carthage-Tacape highway, at the intersection where the major inland route from Sufetula reached the sea, the city owed
its importance to its position on a crossroads opening onto
a port that was well known and reputable in antiquity.
First noted in the 1st c. B.C., it passed uneventfully
through the period of the Empire and was mentioned in
the lists of bishops attending the councils of 411 and 523.
It played a strategic role when Byzantine emperors gave
it a rampart, then a citadel, which provided a refuge for
Jean Troglita's defeated troops; and in the Arabian period
when the Aghlabite emirs, as part of their policy of defending the African coastline, occupied and reinforced
the fortress in the 9th c.
Long believed to be Macomades Minores (in contrast
to Macomades Maiores in Sirtus Major), its identification
was confirmed by the discovery of a milestone in situ.
The name of the site was changed probably in the Late
Empire to Iunci, and according to some historians is the
Qsar-er-Roum described by El Bekri and El Idrisi.
Excavation has revealed three Early Christian monuments of interest. The first church, 300 m NE of the
fortress, is oriented E-NE-W-SW. Rectangular in plan, it
measures 55 x 32 m and terminates at either end in an
apse. The E apse projects outside the general framework
of the building; the W counter-apse is integrated in a rectangular space. The quadratum populi consists of five
naves separated by rows of columns and pillars (28.5 x
25.7 m) opening to the S through a triple doorway onto
a narthex. Parallel to the latter is another narthex which
opens onto three aligned rooms, the middle one (9.8 x
8.8 m) containing the counter-apse at the rear. In front
of this apse is the choir; it is raised over a vaulted crypt
(2.45 x 1.3 m and 2 m high), in the arcosolium of
which was found a small broken reliquary that had held
a pyxis of ivory (badly damaged) decorated with religious scenes. The whole complex—the two nartheces and
the other rooms—was paved with geometric mosaics. The
most noteworthy of these is an emblema 2.8 m square in
the second narthex, opposite the room with the counter-apse; the foreground shows a semicircular facade out of
which flow the Four Rivers of Paradise.
On the other side, to the E, in front of the apse, was
the presbyterium dais. Measuring 6.3 x 5.5 m and raised
0.35 m, it was paved with a geometric mosaic (double
axes) with the epitaph (1 x 0.4 m) of Bishop Quodbuldeus inscribed in black characters on a white ground
above his tomb. The epitaph is now preserved at the
Bardo Museum in Tunis.
Scattered fragments of a mensa of the Coptic type
were found, probably in this same basilica. A number of
fragments of painted or architectural stucco have been
found on the floor of this monument.
The second church is situated 300 m from the shore,
450 m from the fort to the W. With its annexes it measures 78 x 35 m and is 1.5 m below ground. Oriented
NW-SE, it consists of a central nave 8 m wide flanked
by two lateral naves 5.5 m wide that are terminated on
one side by three great projecting apses (the axial ones
with a 7.9 m span and 5.25 m deep; the lateral ones, 6.8
m in span and 7.2 m deep). The trefoil arrangement of
these apses in relation to the transept is an original combination of the Romano-African tradition and Byzantine
influence. In the axis of the basilica, opposite the central
apse and 20 m from the choir platform, is a semicircular
exedra 6.7 m in span and 4.5 m deep designed for the
synthronon. This space was complemented by three
rooms opening onto the NE side. One of them was a
memoria (10.6 x 4 m), also terminating in a raised apse;
it contained a reliquary with the mensa above it, a fragment of which, in ivory-colored marble, has been recovered.
The different floors of this complex were paved with
a variety of mosaics. The central apse (5.25 m deep and
7.9 m in span) was decorated with a mosaic (now in the
Bardo Museum) depicting a tracery of vine leaves curling out of medallions that contained various birds and
bearing the inscription CUIUS NOMEN DEUS SCIT VOTUM
SOLBIT. Likewise, the choir platform, which measured
7.1 x 15.3 m and was raised 0.5 m, was covered with a
mosaic of 6 x 5 panels containing animals and human
figures or geometric motifs with stylized palms, the whole
edged with a floral design. The architectural fragments
apparently were recovered a long time ago.
The third monument, another basilica designed around
a baptistery, is 30 m S-SE of the first. Measuring 32.15 x
10.86 m, it has a quadratum with three naves fronted by
a narthex 4 m wide with a facade built of a masonry of
large blocks, and terminating on the other side in an
apse. In front of the latter, inside the church, is a choir
platform which widens out to measure 2.7 x 6.4 m and
0.55 high. The baptistery was in the rear of the apse and
was oriented N-NE-S-SW, on the same axis as the monument. Measuring 3.75 x 1.37 m, it had four steps. A
fragment of a marble mensa has been recovered along
with a frustum of a small column, and a stone slab with
a design of a Latin cross surmounted by a globe. Many
stuccos and paintings were also found on the mosaic floor
of the presbyterium and choir; most of these are now in
the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
G. L. Feuille, “Le baptistère de Iunca,”
3 (1948) 75-81; P. Garrigue, “Une Basilique
byzantine à Iunca en Byzacène,” MélRome
65 (1953) 173-96P