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IOL, later Caesarea (Cherchel) Algeria.

Capital of Mauretania Caesariensis, Iol—100 km W of Algiers—was one of the small ports that the Carthaginians established on the coast of the Maghreb from Carthage to the present South Morocco, to serve as ports of call for their ships and at the same time as centers of commerce. The site includes a small island very close to the shore which assured it the kind of protection that a seawall would have given it. Another seawall connected to a row of reefs closed the harbor towards the E.

The Punic town no doubt achieved some importance; after the fall of Carthage it was under the control of African dynasties and became the capital of one of their kings, Bocchus, in the time of Julius Caesar. When he died in 33 B.C., Rome annexed his kingdom and then entrusted it to a Berber prince raised in Rome, Juba II, son of an ally of Pompey sent as hostage to Rome, who became a Roman citizen. King of Mauretania, he married Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra of Egypt.

In the course of his reign of some fifty years, he remained faithful to Rome. Cultured, a traveler, an indefatigable writer, he was interested in the arts and applied himself to making Iol, which became Caesarea, a Graeco-Roman town.

After the death of his son and successor Ptolemy, assassinated in Lyon by Caligula in A.D. 40, the town became the capital of the E part of Mauretania, the province of Caesarian Mauretania, and received the rank of colony under the emperor Claudius. The effort undertaken by Juba for its embellishment was continued, and one could see there all the monuments that were the pride of a Roman town—temples, baths, theater, amphitheater. The encircling wall, 7 km in circumference, restored several times, was perhaps begun in the time of Juba. A lighthouse in the form of an octagonal tower was constructed on the islet; the port was prosperous, and the town included numerous inhabitants and foreign visitors.

Of this splendor, unfortunately, not much remains. The town was conquered and plundered at the time of the revolt of Firmus in 364, then in 429 by the Vandals. The modern town, built in the middle of the ancient one, has been an obstacle to systematic research. However, since the beginning of the French occupation, the site with its sculpture and mosaics, found in great numbers, have been the subject of many publications.

In spite of these efforts, the town remains insufficiently known. There are a few indications of the checkerboard city plan, thanks to the preliminary efforts for protection undertaken in the course of recent years. The town walls, studied in 1946, pose more problems; and the monuments are more often simply marked than completely known. The amphitheater, which has been excavated, remains unpublished; the very large hippodrome, which appears clearly on aerial photographs, is known only through old borings. The temples, which have been found on a spur of the mountain to the E of the central esplanade, on the edge of the route from Ténès to the W of the modern town, are too much destroyed to warrant publication even of plans. The baths along the edge of the sea, rather majestic, are also badly preserved. One would scarcely recognize several houses recently excavated. Grouped around peristyles with vast trichinia, they are readily adapted to the terrain and are constructed on terraces on the lower slopes or on the edge of cliffs with views over the sea. They often are preserved for us only in a late form—4th c. A.D.—and traces of the era of Juba are found only in the lower strata. The theater is an exception; still wellpreserved in 1840, it has since served as a quarry. It was set against the slope of the mountain. At the back of the scaena towards the N was a portico, covered over today by a street, where Gsell saw the S side of the forum. Of the rich scaenae frons there remain only traces and several statues, of which two are colossal muses. The orchestra had hater undergone great modification which had resulted in the disappearance of the platform of the stage: an oval arena had been built, intended for hunting spectacles, and a wall was raised between the first row of seats and the cavea to protect spectators from the wild beasts. The sumptuously decorated monument is consequently very much mutilated, but is of interest specifically because of its complex history.

The amphitheater, in the E part of the town, was erected in flat open country. It was not oval but rectangular, with the short sides rounded. The tiers of seats, for the most part missing, were carried on ramping vaults, and the arena floor was cut by two perpendicular passages intended for beasts. It is in this arena that St. Marciana was martyred.

The small island of the lighthouse, which has been excavated in part, has revealed a confused jumble of walls of very different structures and periods. It was surrounded by a robust defense wall. Within were found some traces of Punic occupation, walls and tanks, various remains of houses with mosaics dating from the 1st c. B.C. to the 3d c. A.D., and the pharos, the sturdy octagonal base of which was carefully built of dressed stone and concrete, above a grotto made in the cliff to serve as a sanctuary.

All around the city wall were spread necropoleis where were mingled monumental tombs, sometimes made of opus reticulatum, individual tombs, half-column tombstones and altars for cremation, sarcophagi, and tombs under tiles for inhumation. They have yielded stelae, often simple unpolished blocks set up in front of an urn, sometimes limestone or sculptured slabs with reliefs or inscriptions.

Lastly, the town was provided with water by several aqueducts, subterranean and above ground, one very fine unit of which remains above a valley SE of the town; it comprises three tiers of arcades for a maximum height of 35 m. The whole system is in process of study as is the agricultural organization of the region.

Christianity left few traces. Of one Christian complex that vanished without yielding a plan, there is extant a fine mosaic from an apse—vase, peacocks, and birds—which has been taken to the museum.

Fortuitous discoveries have enriched, in rather exceptional fashion, the Cherchel Museum and also the Algiers Museum. These are principally statues and mosaics, some of which are of very high quality. The whole allows one to perceive something of the splendor of the town until the arrival of the Vandals.


A. Ravoisié, “Exploration scientifique de l'Algérie,” GBA 3 (1846) pl. 21.52; P. Gauckler, Musée de Cherchel (1895); S. Gsell, Atlas archéologique de l'Algérie IV (1902, 1911) no. 16; in Dictionnaire d'Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie III, s.v. Cherchel; Cherchel, Antique Caesarea (1952); M. Durry, Musée de Cherchel, Supplément (1924); P.-M. Duval, Cherchel et Tipasa: Recherches sur deux villes fortes de l'Afrique Romaine XLIII (1946).

For recent discoveries, see: Libyca (1953-1960) and P. Leveau in Revue d'histoire et de civilisation du Maghreb 8 (1970).

For mosaics, see A. Brühl in MélRome 48 (1931), and J. Bérard in ibid. 52 and 53 (1936), and J. Lassus in Bulletin d'archéologie algérienne 1 (1962-65).


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