(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
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
; Feuille in Bulletin Economique et Social
; P. Quoniam in Karthago
10 (1959) 67-79;
A. Lézine, Architecture romaine d'Afrique
; M. Maurin in CahTun