previous next

SUFES (Sbiba) Tunisia.

A city in the great N-S corridor that cuts through the Dorsale chain, with Le Kef and Sbeitla at either end—both important meeting points of the N Tell and the great S steppes. Sbiba, which lies midway between the two cities, is also a crossroads between E and W, with the road leading to Thala and Algeria on one side and, on the other, the road leading to Mactar and the coast over the mountain passes. With this commanding position on an inland route, ancient Sufes stood on a hillside overlooking the plain ringed by the distant Jebel Mhirla and the plateaus of Rohia which flows into the wadi Hatob. Owing to the city's strategic position and its fertile soil, its prosperity survived to the early Middle Ages.

In the Roman period it evidently served the same purpose as a link between Sicca Veneria through Assuras and Suffetula; these connected it with the great route from Carthage to Theveste to the N and the emporia route to the S, as well as the road from Thala and Ammaedara on one side, from Mactaris to Hadrumetum through Aquae Regiae.

A castellum in the early days of the Empire, Sufes became a colonia probably under Marcus Aurelius, and its principal monuments date from this period: the baths, the square reservoir, and especially a great semicircular nymphaeum which obtained its water from an aqueduct that brought water from the wadi Sbiba 9 km away.

The incident of the massacre of 60 Christians in 399 after the smashing of a statue of Hercules is described by St. Augustine, and this enables us to identify that god with the Genius of the city. Various other references to Catholic and Donatist bishops from 256 and 484 up to 883 show that Christianity penetrated Sbiba, and the fact that it triumphed is proved by two basilicas, one with three naves and apse, the other larger (21.6 x 25 m) and with 10 rows of columns; this monument later became the Jemma Sidi Okba mosque.

In the unstable days of the Late Empire the region was one of the great areas of confrontation and Sufes again came into its own as a stronghold on the inland route. Two ramparts erected by the Byzantines and used in the Arabian period are still standing, though now considerably demolished. Hurriedly built, they surround a series of earlier monuments. At one corner is a fortress 45 x 40 m with four corner towers; better preserved than the rest, it seems to have been erected by Salomon, the prefect of the praetoriurn of Justinian (see both CIL VIII, 259 and 11429, which presumably refer to it), to defend the city—still an open city at this time—before it was swallowed up in the great rectangular wall (190 x 110 m) that was put up later.

There are more, and more widespread, ruins at Sbiba than this brief listing of the most easily recognized of them indicates. However, they have never been officially excavated and the rebuilding of the modern village has often been done at the expense of the ruins.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

C. Diehl, L'Afrique byzantin (1896) 196; P. Gauckler, Basiliques chrétiennes de Tunisie (1913) pls. VIII & IX.

A. ENNABLI

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: