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.
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.