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THUBURBO MAIUS (Henchir Kasbat) Tunisia.

The site occupies the slopes of a hill in the arc of a circle opening to the W and to an area where the plain of Fahs rejoins the valley of the Kebir river, in the midst of an agricultural region rich in grain production. This double advantage of being at the crossroads and at the center of a fertile region near the capital gave the city an economic and administrative role—surveillance of the roads and collection of taxes—activities which contributed to its prosperity.

For a long time an erroneous interpretation of certain texts and inscriptions had led to the assumption that there existed at Thuburbo Maius a double commune set up by the juxtaposition of a Julian colony, founded by Augustus, and a native city with which it eventually coalesced. Actually, this hypothesis came from a confusion between Thuburbo Maius and Minus, and from having attributed to the former the earlier date of founding. In fact, having become a town inhabited by mercenary soldiers after the fall of Carthage, Thuburbo Maius remained a civitas until its elevation to a municipium by Hadrian and to the rank of colony under Commodus.

These advancements augmented the prosperity of the town, and from this period the principal public buildings and the most beautiful dwellings date. After the general crisis of the Empire in the 3d c., the city experienced a rebirth in the 4th c.; under the impetus of the imperial authority and with the assistance of the municipality, the most important buildings and those most essential to the life of the city were repaired and restored. Thanks to this effort, municipal life experienced a profound transformation. The contrast is striking between the mediocrity of the repairs performed in the buildings and the bombast of the dedications which commemorate their completion. From the time when imperial authority slackened, the town suffered an irremediable decline. The small number and poverty of the Christian edifices are proof of this change, which is further confirmed by almost total absence of all mention in literary sources. With the arrival of the Vandals, the town, left to itself, became a village. The site of Thuburbo Maius was excavated from 1912 to 1936. Aside from the edifices uncovered, a great quantity of objects—in particular inscriptions, sculptures, and mosaics—have been gathered and are preserved at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, where one room is devoted to them. Neither the excavations nor the discoveries, have been completely published.

Built in the 2d c., repaired in the 4th, the forum is bordered on three sides by porticos and on the fourth by a hexastyle prostyle capitol of the Corinthian order; this temple, raised on a high podium, overshadows the plaza. The curia-temple of Peace, opening onto the NE portico, was formed of a court with a peristyle giving on a large hall paved and veneered with marble, which contained an aedicula intended for a statue of Peace. On the SW portico was the Temple of Mercury, dedicated in A.D. 211; its square cella faces a pronaos consisting of a court with a tholos open to the sky. At the S corner of the forum was the market (and its two annexes), a square plaza paved and bordered on three sides by small shops.

Around the forum are several quarters of dwellings including numerous luxurious houses, most of them paved with mosaics which now serve to identify them according to the subject depicted: Neptune, Palms, Theseus. In the NE corner is a house with peristyle, the mosaic of which is signed “Nicenti.”

The SW quarter, excavated between 1915 and 1919, is set between two great baths, a winter one to the NE, a summer one to the SW, and included a group of public buildings and private houses.

The winter baths cover a surface 1600 m square and are surrounded on three sides by streets; they open on a large square at the intersection of two streets. Built in the 2d c., they were restored at the end of the 4th c. To the SW, 150 m from the forum, the summer baths include halls luxuriously decorated with mosaics, paving, and facings of marble, as well as inscriptions and statues. Coupled with the NW facade but independent of it, a semicircular building contains public latrines. Adjacent to the NE side of these baths and serving as a palestra, is a rectangular plaza surrounded by an elegant portico dedicated by the family of the Petronii. To the SE of the palestra is a vast enclosure, overgrown and deteriorated, where an apse survives and where several inscriptions dedicated to Caelestis were found. This enclosure is next to a large area paved with marble, bordered on two sides by porticos with mosaic floors. Still farther to the SE, but separated from this group of monuments by a street, is the temple called Baalit. Its cella is approached by a prostyle tetrastyle pronaos and is elevated on a podium paved with opus sectile of marble. A wall surrounds the sanctuary, straight on three sides, semicircular on the fourth, and pierced with a gate opening on a small square. Between this series of public monuments to the SW and the winter baths to the NE is situated a quarter of private houses. It is crossed by several paved streets, narrow and winding; the two most important go between and border the long insulae and rejoin at the intersection, on which opens the principal entry to the winter baths. Built onto the NW side of these baths, the House of the Victorious Charioteer is richly decorated with mosaics and painted stucco.

More to the W of this quarter, the Temple of Ceres is elevated on sloping terrain at the edge of a public square. It is a temple of Eastern type, without podium. The court (30 x 30 m), preceded by a portico comprising three gates without and bordered within on the three remaining sides by a peristyle, surrounds a square cella paved with mosaic. The discovery of a votive naos and several reused architectural elements carrying symbols of Demeter permitted the identification of this temple. At a later epoch it was transformed into a church; the cella became the baptistery, and in the S half of the court, a church with three naves was installed, utilizing the ancient portico as side aisles. Numerous tombs were placed in the church, one of which revealed jewels. Still farther W, in the outskirts of the town and on the highest point of the site, the Temple of Saturn, explored as early as 1912 and later incompletely excavated, is set on a platform which necessitated navying and earthworks for propping up. The sacred enclosure surrounds the sanctuary, which is elevated on a podium. An apse was added later to the rear facade.

An amphitheater hollowed out of rising ground on the outskirts of the site was excavated between 1930 and 1940. Only the inscriptions that were found have been published. Investigations in 1957 produced an inscription mentioning a temple consecrated to Mercury between 117 and 138. Nearby is an immense cistern, once vaulted in concrete.

To the S of the town, a house with a trefoil apse and heated outbuildings was partially dug. This edifice was paved with a large mosaic decorated with half-figures of animals.

To the W of the house is a district rather regular in plan with large streets and insulae of private houses much fallen to ruin. It has been excavated but is unpublished. The house named the Chariot of Venus, with peristyle, had a main room that was trifoliate and paved with mosaic; among the subjects were a stag hunt, a sea with boats and fishermen, as well as the chariot of Venus, preserved at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. One of the city's three large gates still stands 70 m to the W, constructed of limestone.


Merlin, Le Forum de Thuburbo Majus (1922)P; Feuille in Bulletin Economique et Social (1950) 77-110PI; P. Quoniam in Karthago 10 (1959) 67-79; A. Lézine, Architecture romaine d'Afrique (1963) 91-142PI; M. Maurin in CahTun (1967) 225-54PI.


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