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VOLUBILIS (Ksar Pharnoun) Morocco.

An ancient city of W Mauretania at the foot of Djebel Zerhoun, 20 km N of Meknès. It is mentioned by Pomponius Mela, Pliny, Ptolemy, the Antonine Itinerary and the Geographer of Ravenna.

Its location has been confirmed by the discovery of numerous inscriptions.

The first traces of occupation go back to prehistoric times. By the middle of the 3d c. B.C. its inhabitants appear to have been open to the influence of the Liby-phoenicians from the Atlantic coast. Evidence that an urban community existed is to be found in the mention, about this time, of suffetes in a Punic inscription. However, the earliest buildings excavated so far do not seem to predate the end of the 3d or the beginning of the 2d c. B.C. Within this period dates the first stage of two pre-Roman houses found in the W quarter. The houses on the S spur seem to be later. This was probably the site of the early acropolis; the N and E sides of its rampart have been uncovered. Near the NE corner of this first city wall a large stone tumulus ca. 10 m high was found to contain several Carthaginian funerary stelai: it perhaps marked the boundary of the settlement. Spread over ca. 15 ha, the settlement had the characteristics of a true city in that it was built according to a regular plan, modified by curves to the E and S to conform with the steep slope of the spur.

The public monuments excavated to date include a monumental altar preserved in the E portico of the Capitolium; two pairs of temples found beneath the paving stones of the forum and 200 m SW; the remains of a large mausoleum to the N; and what is probably the first stage of an indigenous sanctuary, erroneously called a temple of Saturn, which stands E of the ruins. All these monuments seem to belong to the Augustan period, that is, to be contemporary with the reign of Juba II (d. ca. A.D. 23). The abundance of Mediterranean imports—first, Campanian ware then Arretine or Italiote bowls—is evidence that at this time the city was in continuous contact with the Roman world; on the other hand, the Hellenistic influence clearly seen in all these buildings is hardly surprising under a dynasty that united the last of the Lagids with the descendents of Masinissa.

After Caligula disposed of Ptolemy and annexed Mauretania, the inhabitants of Volubilis fought alongside the Romans and in A.D. were rewarded with citizenship and various other privileges granted the new municipium. At this time the city grew rapidly. A large porticoed forum was built over the former monuments in the city center, probably in Nero's reign, and before the end of the century several insulae formed an urban grid to the N. By degrees this was to include the section of the city between the House of the Horseman and the House of the Compass as well as the insula of the House of the Trefoil Pool, much farther E. This orientation was slightly modified in the first half of the 2d c. when the N baths and the insula of the House of Venus were built, and again in the second half of the century with the construction of the NE quarter, which is roughly contemporary with a rampart erected in 168-169. Built with a core of mortared rubble faced with small regular ashlar blocks and 2.35 km in length, the wall has eight gates and is flanked by semicircular towers. It marks the new dimensions of the city, embracing an area of ca. 40 ha, without the suburbs and the necropoleis. The last phase of major construction in the city followed in the Severan era. The forum was completely rebuilt as a rectangular esplanade closed to the W by a raised portico with four cellae opening onto it and, on the opposite side, by a squat basilica with two apses and some adjoining rooms on its E side. The porticoed courtyard of the Capitolium S of it was completed under Macrinus. Erected on a tall podium, this temple probably was peripteral and hexastyle but was clumsily restored in modern times as a four-columned prostyle building. Also from the Severan period is a monumental arch dedicated to Caracalla; it stands at the W end of the great decumanus of the NE quarter. This monument also has been improperly restored; fragments of its sculptural decor are preserved. From then on, the city underwent only minor changes and was finally abandoned between 280 and 285, along with the other cities of the S part of the interior of Mauretania Tingitana.

Aside from the forum area, only a few religious monuments date from the Roman period: a little temple of unknown dedication E of the tumulus, and farther off the indigenous sanctuary mentioned above, which continued to be used up to the 3d c. However, together with the Capitoline triad and the imperial cult, for which there is ample evidence, all the traditional Roman gods were represented at Volubilis, as were Mithras, Isis, and the other Eastern divinities worshiped by a sizable Syrian colony. So far, no traces have been found either of their sanctuaries or of the synagogue, whose existence is known from a Greek inscription. Three medium-sized bath buildings—the forum baths, N baths, and the so-called Gallienus baths—and a small macellum opening S of the forum onto a secondary square (probably a market) comprise the list of public monuments. The many houses belong to two types: the first is frequently to be seen in the old quarters of the S and W and shows the continuing use, or reuse, of pre-Roman houses reminiscent in plan of those at Tamuda or Lixus. The other type, which is especially well represented in the N and NE quarters, is that of the domus adapted to Africa: a peristyle takes the place of the atrium while the private rooms of the home are grouped around an atriolum and court. The many shops and oil presses are often joined with the houses, even the richest ones.

For most buildings stone from the local quarries was used, but also unbaked bricks and mud. Decorative carvings (often rough), painted walls, and many mosaics, uneven in quality, have been found. Most of the marbles disappeared into the lime kilns of the Arab period. Many of the bronzes are of exceptionally high quality. The great Ephebe, perhaps Augustan, the Old Fisherman, and several other famous pieces like the portrait of Juba II could date from the city's pre-Roman heritage; the bust of Cato of Utica, some copies of Greek works, and fragments of imperial or municipal statues obviously date from the Roman period. Thus we can reject the frequently heard suggestion that these pieces are the Moroccan counterpart of the personal collection that Juba had assembled at Caesarea.

Little is known of the history of Volubilis after the Romans abandoned it. A population retaining in 655 a semblance of Roman organization and still Christian went on living in the ruins; the people were converted to Islam during the 8th c. In 788 they rallied to the side of Idriss, the founder of the first Moroccan dynasty who, after staying in the city for some time, transferred his capital to nearby Fez, thus dooming the ancient city to inevitable decline.

The Rabat Museum contains material from the site.


L. Chatelain, Le Maroc des Romains (1944) 139-250; R. Thouvenot, Volubilis (1949)PI; M. Euzennat, “La temple C de Volubilis et les origines de la cité,” Bulletin d'Archéologie Marocaine 2 (1957) 41-64PI; id., “Volubilis,” RE IX A 1 (1960) 864-73; R. Etienne, Le quartier nord-est de Volubilis (1960)PI; A. Jodin, “L'enceinte hellénistique de Volubilis (Maroc),” BAC (1965-66) 199-221PI; R. Rebuffat, “Le développement urbain de Volubiis au second sièle de notre ère,” BAC (1965-66) 231-40P; A. Luquet, “La basilique judiciaire de Volubilis,” Bulletin Archéologie Marocaine 7 (1967) 407-45PI; id., Volubilis (1972).


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