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BANASA (Sidi Ali bou Djenoun) Morocco.

An ancient city of the province of Mauretania Tingitana situated on the road from Tingi to Sala and mentioned by Pliny, Ptolemy, the Antonine Itinerary and the Geographer of Ravenna. Numerous inscriptions confirm the site, which is located where the mausoleum of Sidi Ali bou Djenoun was later built, 17 km W of Mechra bel Ksiri. The ruins are on the left bank of the wadi Sebou, which Pliny (5.5) described as: amnis Sububus praeter Banasam coloniam defluens magnificus et nauigabilis. it probably could be crossed by bridge in the Roman period.

The site appears to have been occupied as early as the 4th c. B.C., perhaps earlier. A Mauretanian village of some size stood there in the 3d-2d c., and it was on this site that Augustus formed a veterans' colony, colonia Iulia Valentia Banasa, during the period between the death of King Bocchus and the accession of Juba II (33-25 B.C.). it may be that this first Roman settlement suffered in the disorders following the assassination of Ptolemy of Mauretania in A.D. 40 and the annexing of his kingdom. The buildings that have been uncovered do not, as a whole, predate the end of the 1st c. A.D. : this is the period of the last stage of the forum, which was rebuilt on earlier remains. On becoming colonia Aurelia Banasa under Marcus Aurelius (the circumstances are unknown but may be connected with disorders that befell the province at this time), the city was laid waste and abandoned in the late 3d c., probably even before Diocletian had evacuated S Tingitania.

The strata dating from before the Roman conquest are buried beneath thick layers of alluvial deposits from successive floods of the wadi Sebou. So far they have been located in limited digs only in the S quarter and, to the N, along the main cardo between the forum and the marabout of Sidi Ahmed el Garge. The first potsherds encountered in the excavations, 10.25 m from the surface, cannot be dated and are not matched by any building. The first structures are 4.5 down, below the Roman stratum: a great number of potter's kilns and what may be remains of dwellings of mud and unbaked brick, which can be dated from the 3d-2d c. B.C. From this time on, even up to the 1st c. A.D., the Banasa potters produced characteristic painted ware, inspired by the Punic and iberian models that were exported rather widely in the region. Also corresponding to these early strata are a number of tombs found SE of the forum. They contained Punic jewels, possibly 6th-5th c. B.C., but the grave gifts are probably later.

The Roman city was built on an overall NE-SW grid plan forming regular but unequal insulae. However, a second, more obviously N, orientation can be made out, especially to the W. it crops up again in the S section beyond the forum and is echoed in the plan of a section of the city rampart found to the SW. Possibly, this second orientation reflects the plan of the Augustan colony, in which case the rampart, which is usually dated from the Late Empire (against all probability), would be that of the colony.

The forum lies in the center of the settlement. A trapezoidal paved piazza (37 x 34 m), it is lined to W and E by porticos and flanked to the N by a rectangular basilica, to the E by a small apsidal hall, and to the S by five cellae fronted by a common portico. These cellae stand on a podium in front of which is a row of stone plinths and statue bases. it is difficult to see a Capitolium in this structure, as some have claimed, yet it is in fact a temple, built on a plan (frequently found in Mauretania, as at Sala in the Augustan era, Volubilis under the Seven, and Cherchel), which, together with the nearby forum, suggests that the architects carried out the idea of a principia of a military camp. Up to now no other religious monument has been found, with the possible exception of a little temple, not identified with certainty, in the SW quarter. Yet from dedications and the presence of a flaminica and seuiri augustales we have proof that the imperial religion flourished; other inscriptions as well as representations of figures attest the presence of the customary gods of the Graeco-Roman pantheon and of isis; also there was a temple of the Mater deum. However, the only public monuments uncovered apart from the forum are baths—these are numerous, five having been found in the only section of the city to be excavated. There is also a macellum, which should be placed W of the forum, where it takes up an entire insula, and not in the NW quarter where the name has been given erroneously to a large domus.

The wealthiest houses in Banasa lack originality; very similar to those found at Volubilis, though not as rich, they are set around a central peristyle according to the traditional plans of W provinces. On the other hand, simpler houses are laid out according to a less regular plan; they are reminiscent of the Mauretanian houses found, for example, at Tamuda and at Lixus. Shops abound in the whole of the excavated section, and several bakeries have been uncovered (recognizable by their equipment) but, not surprisingly in this region traditionally given over to cereal production, only a very small number of oil-making installations.

The poor appearance of these buildings can be explained by the fact that the nearest quarries, which provided only coarse stone, are a considerable distance away. in most cases walls were built of mud or unbaked brick on a base of irregularly shaped stones. Ashlar was reserved for public buildings or for decoration, the poor quality of the latter being amended somewhat, in the 2d-3d c. at least, by mosaic floors, imported marble veneers, or painted frescos, some of which show traces of a design of figures.

Some important objects have been uncovered. Stone statuary is rare and usually crude; that in bronze is represented by minute fragments of large statues and a few statuettes. Epigraphical material is exceptionally rich, the bronze inscriptions being especially noteworthy: these include a dozen military diplomas, four decrees of patronage, and two important legal texts (an edict of Caracalla exempting the inhabitants of Banasa from taxes in 216, and the Tabula banasitana from the period of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, which set forth the conditions under which aliens could be granted the right of the city and the manner in which the consilium principis and the imperial chancellery were organized).

To the SW of the settlement, aerial photography has revealed what probably are traces of a military camp and a small fort of lesser importance; however, no remains of the site can be detected on the ground itself.


R. Thouvenot, Une colonie romaine de Maurétanie tingitane: Valentia Banasa (1941); id., “Une remise d'impôt sous l'empereur Caracalla,” CRAI (1946) 548-58; id., Publications du Service des Antiquités du Maroc 11 (1954) and 9 (1951); M. Euzennat “Chroniques,” Bulletin d'Archéologie Marocaine 2 (1957) 202-5MPI; id. & W. Seston, “Un dossier de la chancellerie romaine: la Tabula Banasitana,” CRAI (1971) 468-90.


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  • Cross-references from this page (1):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.5
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