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CUICUL (Djemila) Algeria.

A colony founded by the emperor Nerva, 80 km W of Constantine, in the mountainous region that separates the high plains of the Constantinois from the coast, S of the Babors massif, about 900 m above sea level. The original town was placed on a rocky spur situated between two wadis, the Guergour and the Betame. The site is well protected and has abundant spring water. The high mountains to the N and S did not limit the extension of the city's territory. It is known that to the S the center of Thigillava and its pagus were attached to Cuicul. Thus the town perhaps controlled the N fringe of the high plains, good wheat-growing land. To the W its domain must have extended to the Oued el Kebir (the ancient Ampsaga), the boundary between Numidia and Mauretania. To the E its boundary is not known. At any rate, it is certain that the town never was a member of the confederation of Cirta (Constantine), to which Milev (Mila), some 60 km distant, belonged.

The Roman citizens of the colony, originally veterans, were inscribed in the gens Papiria. But very early, if not from the beginning, there settled at Cuicul families from, for example, Carthage (such as the Cosinii) or from other towns of Africa (of the confederation of Cirta). This is clearly proved by inscriptions concerning 2d c. magistrates.

Through excavations conducted between 1909 and 1957 a great part of the built-up area has been uncovered, and the appearance of an ancient town can be observed. Reading the inscriptions collected in an open-air museum, studying the mosaics set on the walls and floor of a new building, strolling among the ruins, all help one to reconstruct the life of a town of moderate size in Roman Africa.

A large part of the center founded at the end of the 1st c. A.D. has been unearthed. The town was protected by a roughly polygonal enclosure, measuring 400 x 200 m. The S gate, faced with large blocks, is still visible and a part of the course of the ramparts has been traced. Within, the streets are laid out N-S with some attention to regularity; they follow the direction of the gentle slope. Transverse streets link them. The forum was placed in the middle of town, bordering on the cardo maximus. The square itself was built gradually during the course of the 2d c. Its principal components are the porticos bordering the square on two sides, the judicial basilica, the curia, the capitol, and the market placed at the lower end. The basilica was built by the flamen C. Julius Crescens Didius Crescentianus after A.D. 169. The market was donated by two brothers, L. Cosinius Pnimus and C. Cosinius Maximus. The former was duumvir at Cuicul after having held magistracies at Carthage, his native town. Close by the forum is a temple whose cella is situated in a porticoed courtyard.

Several large dwellings with penistyles cluster along the cardo maximus and in the neighborhood of the forum. Part of their mosaic decoration has been preserved. The names of the residences—House of the Ass, House of Castorius, House of Europa, House of Amphitrite—recall the subjects of their decoration or the name of an owner, as revealed by another paving. Most of these mosaics (the Rape of Europa, the Toilet of Venus, foliage with human figures) belong to a late period, the 4th or even the 5th c. They testify to the continued occupation by rich families of the most important houses of the 2d c., and so, after a fashion, to continuity in the urban upper class. Also within the walls are public baths and temples (one of which may have been dedicated to Bacchus). Later, around the 5th c., a Christian basilica was erected.

At an early date, the original settlement proved incapable of containing the increasing population. Construction had to be undertaken outside the walls on both sides, and later on the summit, of a hill that rose to the S. Likewise, to the N a theater was built against the existing slope. Its cavea accommodated 3,000 spectators on 24 tiers of seats. Nearby, after A.D. 169, there stood a triumphal arch. On the other side of the hill, baths were built in the time of Commodus. Later on, under the Severans, a huge irregular plaza was laid out in front of the original ramparts. Porticos occupied two sides. To these was added a temple dedicated to the family of the Sevenans; it survived to most of its original height until the period of modern restoration. Close by there was a temple, presumably to Saturn, the great African deity. Under Caracalla an arch was built opening on the road to Setif. Other arches, fountains, inscriptions, and statues completed the scene.

Beginning in the second half of the 2d c., houses were built outside the walls. Thus, in one later dwelling in the vicinity of the great baths of Commodus, several decorative mosaics have survived. Little by little, the slopes of the hill were covered with buildings.

The existence of a Christian community at Cuicul is attested from the middle of the 3d c. In the first years of the 5th c. the Christians built a good-sized cluster of episcopal edifices at the top of the hill. Two basilicas were placed next to each other. Nearby was a round baptistery, as well as a bishop's mansion and a complicated group of annexes. The richest inhabitants of the town and their kinsmen holding posts in the offices of the governor of Numidia together paid for the paving of one of the basilicas. Bishop Cresconius adorned the other with mosaics, probably in the middle of the 6th c.

At the same time, the rest of the town continued to change. On the Severan square a basilica was built around 364-67, as well as a clothing market. Above all, rich houses (such as the so-called House of Bacchus) were built or decorated with mosaics in a new style. Different schools of mosaicists worked in these residences, as well as in religious buildings. The chronology of these works is still uncertain, but probably most of them are no earlier than the second half of the 4th c.; they may even be of more recent date.

The mosaics of Djemila, by their subjects and compositions, are closely linked to the mass of very original works produced in Roman Africa. Mythological themes, hunting scenes, and geometrical motifs belong to a context well-known elsewhere. But these mosaics have their own distinctive style, especially in late antiquity. The culmination is the great hunting mosaic from the so-called House of Bacchus, expert and well-conceived. Arranged in rows above one another, the scenes depict the combat of men and animals against animals.

One can also discern stylistic differences and evolution in the mosaics of the Christian basilicas. These differences permit the attribution of certain pavings to the 6th c., if not to an even later period.

Djemila is one Numidian center reconquered by the Byzantines where apparently no fortress was built. From other sources it is known that the bishops of the town attended the synod at Constantinople in 553. After that date, the town is no longer mentioned in the texts.


Y. Allais, Djemila (1938); “Le quartier occidental de Djemila (Cuicul),” Antiquités Africaines 5 (1971) 95-120; P-A. Févnier, Djemila (1968) with complete bibl.; see also CahArch 14 (1964) 1-47.


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