Marciana Trajana Thamugadi was built in A.D. 100 by
Minucius Gallus, legate of the Third Legion which had
been stationed since 81 at Lambaesis (Lambèse), 27 km
farther W. The new city lay on the road going W-E
from Lambaesis to Theveste (Tébessa) then NE to
Ammaedara (Haïdra) and Carthage—the route the Roman army had followed to occupy the S region of the
Maghrib. At this point it was crossed at right angles
by a road coming from Cirta (Constantine) down to the
Created by the army for veterans, the original town
was designed rather like a camp. It was surrounded by
a more or less square enclosing wall, about 355 m on
each side, and had two axes that crossed at right angles.
The N axis, the cardo, climbed gradually until it reached
the E-W decumanus. Here it met the N wall of the
forum and had to continue S 70 m farther W. This
latter section of the road can be seen in aerial photographs because of a peculiar pavement of blue limestone; the other streets are paved with sandstone.
The streets formed a regularly shaped grid of blocks
20 m square, six of them E of the cardo, just five to
the W. As they went N, they continued on either side
of the forum complex. Altogether there were 111 more
or less equal blocks, some occupied by public buildings,
baths or markets, others divided by walls into two or
three individual houses. Leaving aside later modifications to the plan, the total number of colonists, assigned one lodging place each, may be assessed at roughly 200.
Over the four centuries of the colony's life, the surrounding wall was largely torn down; only part of it still stands on the N side; the rounded S-W corner was uncovered in the course of excavations. The original N and
E gates are partially preserved, that of the W having been replaced by a monumental arch.
From its inception, the planners saw to it that the
city would have all the monuments befitting its political
status. For example, the theater, which was not begun
until 160, has its parodoi aligned right along the axis
of the cardo. This makes it seem extremely unlikely that
Timgad was a military camp transformed into a city,
as has been strongly maintained.
The rectangular forum is set apart N of the decumanus but reached by some axial steps. Colonnades surrounded it on all four sides. The open space is 50 x
43 m. Behind the N portico are a series of stalls, obviously shops, backed by more shops that are aligned along the decumanus. Some of these have columned entrances and may be small sanctuaries.
Below, to the E, is a public lavatory. The E side of
the forum is flanked by a basilica measuring 28.50 x
15 m. To the N is an apse (not raised) set between two
annexes, while to the S, in contrast, there is a raised
tribunal decorated with columns; to the E are a row
The S side of the forum is occupied by a row of shops
opening alternately on the square and the street which,
behind the square, climbs toward the theater. Near the
SW corner is a gate that opens onto this street. Here
one finds a complex of buildings, possibly a police station, then the curia. The latter is divided in two by steps and a balustrade; at the rear is a raised platform that very likely was ornamented with statues. Farther N is
a small temple, 8 m square, in front of which is not a
flight of steps but a rostrum. On either side of this
rostrum are plinths dedicated to the victories of Trajan
to whom, as founder of the city, the temple was no
doubt consecrated. Behind the temple was a little colonnaded garden and underneath the temple a room with
a grille—very probably the treasury. Beyond, a
decorated hall, somewhat similar to the curia, formed the
The central piazza of the forum was filled with monuments of which only a few pedestals, fortunately inscribed, remain. Others have been found in the basilica. A number of divinities figure in the inscriptions, in particular Marsyas, who seems to have had a symbolic
importance in the colonies; also most of the emperors,
especially the Seven and Julian, and local notables,
among them the young son of one of the colony's patrons and another patron renowned for his eloquence,
P. Flavius Pudens Pomponianus, called Vocontius. A
sundial was carved on the paving stones. Some of the inscriptions are engraved in script that foreshadows the cursive script of the Middle Ages.
Behind the forum is the theater, its cavea facing W.
Although it has been largely rebuilt, its scaenae frons has
completely disappeared. The theater was believed to be
cut in the hillside; in fact, recent research has shown
that the N section of the cavea rested on concentric
arches. Crowning it was a semicircular colonnade and
on the hill behind that are several anonymous temples.
One of these had a peribolus around it; and joined to
it, though on a lower plane, was a semicircular annex,
also for religious purposes, which was built at the same
time as the cavea. It is somewhat rare for a Roman
theater to be so closely linked with a place of worship.
Tucked between the N facade of the basilica and the
decumanus is a charming house, the so-called Maison
des Jardinières, which is linked to the forum by a hidden
gate. Built in the space reserved for official buildings,
it is clearly an official residence. Perhaps it was here
that the legate of the legion, who acted as governor of
the province of Numidia, was received when he visited
Still to the N of the decumanus, the second block E
of this house is taken up by a market. Original in design,
it is made up of two small semicircular courtyards surrounded by colonnades that intersect behind an outer
building. This latter consists of a row of stalls. Other
shops surround the two semicircles. The market is joined
to a row of shops that may be said to form the facade
of the forum along the decumanus. The sidewalk facing
it is especially wide, and the area is a continuation of
the colony s commercial center.
Most of the other blocks are taken up by houses. On
the N cardo and the decumanus these are set behind
porticos that are connected to the houses and do not
conform to an over-all city plan. One is reminded of
the regulations Nero laid down for Rome after the
fire of A.D. 64. The other streets are paved with stone
and have no sidewalks. No typical house plan is apparent.
Generally there is a paved courtyard with a portico on one
side or more, and a moderate-sized triclinium opening on
the courtyard, along with other rooms. Some houses had
two stories; others had shops. The best designed houses
are those of later date; nevertheless, the earlier ones sometimes boasted elaborate mosaics.
The bath buildings—14 have been located—take up
sometimes just one block, sometimes two. As may be expected, they are of simple design although consisting of
frigidarium, tepidarium, and caldarium. Some of the baths
may have been laid out at the very beginning of the colony. On the other hand, one of the most remarkable city
monuments, a library set on the N cardo, apparently dates
from the 4th c. It was housed sumptuously in a semicircular room with recesses, separated by columns, for the scroll-cases; in the axis was a statue of Minerva.
The city as thus conceived all at once became too
small. Its plan did not allow for extension. Besides the
forum temple and the theater temple, there were a few
small sanctuaries in the S section of the city, but they
were hardly monumental. If, as one is led to assume, the
forum temple was consecrated to Trajan or Trajan's victories, the city had no Capitol and there was no room
to build one. Thus, almost at the same time as the
theater was built, about 160, construction began SW of
the city on an immense peribolus, larger than the forum,
which served as a frame for an imposing temple. This
temple had not been planned for originally, as the city
was oriented according to surveyors' charts at its foundation and the Capitol was erected along a different axis, no doubt for religious reasons.
The temple podium is 53 x 23 m; it stands back to
back with the W wall of the city. Very tall, it was supported on vaults and ringed with columns 14 m high.
This brought it up to the level of the nearby hills, on
which were a few small sanctuaries. The capitals of the
temple, which are 1.55 m high, are Corinthian and conform strictly to contemporary Roman style. Still majestic
in spite of damage, such a monument is certainly out
of proportion with the original city, tightly packed as
it is inside its enclosing wall.
In fact, 50 years after its foundation, the city had
already burst its bonds. New monumental gates had been
built, at least to the E and W, under the Antonines;
these marked the new city limits: 100 m wider to the E,
almost 400 m to the W.
The new town did not conform in any way to the
grid system of the earlier one. In laying out Trajan's
city at a crossroads, the planners had not taken into
account the direction of the roads that met there. At the
W exit of the city in particular, the road going toward
Lambaesis formed an extremely sharp angle with the
decumanus. It was the same with the road going E toward Mascula and that going S to the mountains. Thus
the suburb that grew up round the colony spread untidily in these directions without any thought being
given to continuing the original grid: there were no
more right-angled roads or regular blocks. Also, the
suburban roads tend to follow the level of the terrain
in the fashion of spontaneous town growth. The peculiar siting of the Capitol and its surrounding wall naturally heightened the relative disorder; outside the wall only a few monuments—the nearest ones—were built
according to the original orientation. Among these are
the N baths and, to the W, the first two monuments of
the street turned avenue—the Temple of the Spirit of
the Colony to the N and the Market of Sertius to the S.
The temple, in particular, is built along the old axes; a
typical tetrastyle temple, it has in front of it a courtyard that follows the same orientation on three sides but on its S side is, as it were, cut into by the oblique road.
Toward the end of the century, under Septimius Severus, the wall itself must have been pulled down, at
least to the S and W. The place where it had been,
with its inner boulevard and sloping ground, was taken
up by houses built systematically to fill the open space
completely without extending the streets of the inside
grid. The gate was also demolished and replaced by a
fine triumphal arch marking the junction of the decumanus and the new avenue.
This beautiful arch has been restored. It has three
openings corresponding to the decumanus and its sidewalks. On top of the two side arches, which are lower,
were tall niches decorated with statues. The facade was
framed with columns supporting an entablature that
arched above the niches, which in turn were flanked by
colonnades. Over all was a high cornice. This noble
monument welcomed visitors to the Numidian capital
and expressed the new splendor of the colony.
At the foot of it a rich citizen, M. Plotius Faustus
Sertius, built a large market at his own expense. It
had a forecourt that extended to the avenue; the facade
was colonnaded, and through it one reached a rectangular courtyard with porticos on all sides and a fountain
in the middle. To the S was a huge roofed exedra fronted
by a row of columns, much taller, set on three steps.
These columns carried arches. At the back of the exedra
were seven radiating stalls, six along the entrance wall.
Around this market is a sizable open space that
stretches to the N and S, between the exedra and the
enclosing wall, and from there to the Capitol. Here, very
probably, was an open-air market. One may perhaps add
to this commercial complex the avenue of Lambaesis, as
it was first reorganized, probably at the same time. It is
350 x 21 m, 6.5 m of the width being highway, the rest
broad colonnaded sidewalks. This magnificent street
climbs in an almost straight line from the new gate to the
arch; it has a grandeur striking in a city that was after
all of only secondary importance.
At the beginning of the 4th c. the city acquired other
monuments that were adapted to the new scale. The
spacious N bath, which measures 80 x 65 m, is arranged
symmetrically. Two sets of large rooms led out, on
either side of a common entrance hall, to a caldarium,
also common to both. The construction is of brick and
is particularly workmanlike and robust. The decoration
has unfortunately disappeared.
In complete contrast to this traditional symmetry is
the extraordinary freedom of plan of the S baths. As
one leaves the city, on this side, the N cardo slants E
as it climbs up to a draw between the hills. It is joined
by the other great avenue which follows the wall and
then skirts the peribolus of the Capitol. The triangle
thus formed was filled with stalls. Farther E, in the obtuse angle of the decumanus, some baths were built, less
spacious than those of the N but quite original. Furnaces
and hypocausts are particularly well preserved.
On the site, of the wall that was torn down at the SW
corner of Trajan's city are its two grandest houses—that of Sertius, the donor of the marketplace, and another called the Hermaphrodite after a mosaic found there.
To the description of the city as it was in the 3d
c. should be added another temple which was located
350 m S of the S baths underneath an immense Byzantine fortress. Consecrated to the water divinities, it had
at the entrance a large pool, then three separate cellae
joined by terraces and stairs. The cellae were richly
decorated with a number of works of art. The heads of
statues of Serapis-Aesculapius and Dea Africa have been
found. A third god is unknown. According to an inscription, Caracalla enriched this sanctuary, in particular by adding some colonnaded gardens, which have been found N of the fortress. This complex was designed to
sanctify a spring, since disappeared—the Aqua Septimiana Felix. This spring had medicinal properties, no
doubt appreciated by Septimius Severus when he passed
through. The source contributed to the city's water supply
along with another one (known today as the Aïn Morri)
and to the recovery of marsh waters accomplished by
means of the filters of an Aqua Paludensis.
Another smaller sanctuary is situated to the N of the
town, 400 m from the great baths. A temple dedicated to
Saturn, it was doubtless very old but was rebuilt at a
later date. It was the favored center of indigenous religion; near it have been found a large number of stelae,
dedicated to the god, which retain the traditional local
style of sculpture. These stelae show how, in a colony
of veterans, traditional religious practices persisted and
a faith was kept alive in the midst of imported Roman cults.
In the 4th c. Christianity was introduced alongside the
pagan cults, but is hard to tell when the latter were
abandoned. At that time the African church was torn by
the Donatist schism, and it is not surprising to find two
sets of Christian buildings at Timgad, both cathedral-like,
one situated behind the Capitol, the other near the NW
corner of the original city. The first is the Donatist center: it has a huge basilica fronted by an atrium, with a
baptistery that appears to be linked to some small baths.
In the nave is a tomb, specially venerated. To the E is a
chapel, oriented in the normal direction for prayer. Surrounding the church are a number of annexes—apsidal
halls, a triclinium, and a house with an inscription bearing the name of bishop Optatus, who was the leader of
the sect at the end of the 4th c. The other basilica is not
so large but has a baptistery and a wide colonnaded
courtyard, this time behind the church. Its link with the
orthodox community is merely hypothetical.
Other churches have been uncovered, one on the Lambaesis road at some distance from the city gate; one
right inside Trajan's city, built on top of a private house
but containing a baptistery; and others behind the Capitol
and, to the S, in cemeteries. However, these date from
the Byzantine reoccupation.
When the Byzantines occupied it Timgad had been pillaged and partly destroyed at the end of the 5th c. by
an attack of raiders from the Aurès mountains. The
Byzantine general Solomon took advantage of these
ruins to assemble the materials necessary to build an
enormous stone citadel, which has been completely
excavated. It is a rectangular structure 112 x 67 m, whose
2.5 m thick walls still stand over 15 m high. Square
towers are set at the corners and in the middle of the
wall faces, one of which, to the N, is divided by the entrance gate. The walls are built of blocks that are reused, simply placed one on top of another with coursed facings. Inside were barracks, two or perhaps three
stories high. In the W section, around the pool of the
old temple, the walls stand on the Roman surface,
paved in opus testaceum. Here are what no doubt was
the praetorium, set between baths of a type far removed
from the Roman model, and an unmistakably Byzantine chapel, vaulted and built of brick.
A few hundred meters S of the fort some very large
Christian cemeteries have been uncovered, with sarcophagi and monumental tombs, but chiefly tombs under roof
tiles. Two chapels have been found there, one of which
was built in the time of Gregory the patrician (641-47)
at the end of the Byzantine period. A few pagan necropoleis have been found along the Lambaesis road.
Timgad is noteworthy for the quality of its works of
art. Apart from the many stelae, so full of life, devoted
to Saturn, there are few statues. Those that have been found are religious images and portraits of noble ladies—local imitations of Roman models, which have a peculiar appeal. The mosaics, of which an inventory has
just been published, are exceptionally significant. Besides pavements with geometric designs or, more rarely,
with figures, there is an astonishing profusion of plant
designs—highly original developments of acanthus leaf
motifs, with scroll patterns forming colored surfaces.
The colors are often extremely delicate, the shadings
A. Ballu, Les ruines de Timgad, antique
(1897), with supplements of 1903 and 1911;
E. Boeswillwald, R. Cagnat, A. Ballu, Timgad. Une cité
africaine sous l'empire romain
(1891-1905); S. Gsell,
Les monuments antiques de l'Algérie
(1901) I & II;
Atlas archéologique de l'Algérie
(1908) 27, no. 225;
M. Christofle, Rapports sur les travaux des fouilles et des
consolidations effectués par le Service des Monuments
historiques de l'Algérie
(1930, 1935, 1938); L. Leschi,
Etudes d'égraphie, d'archéologie et d'histoire africaines
(1957) passim; S. Germain, Les mosaïques de Timgad
(1969). Guides: C. Courtois, Timgad, antique Thamugadi
(1951); J. Lassus, Visite à Timgad
(1969); see also
Bulletin archéologique du Comité, Revue Africaine,
, and C. Saumagne in Revue Tunisienne