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
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
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
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
For recent discoveries, see: Libyca
P. Leveau in Revue d'histoire et de civilisation du Maghreb
For mosaics, see A. Brühl in MélRome
and J. Bérard in ibid. 52 and 53 (1936), and J. Lassus
in Bulletin d'archéologie algérienne