A colony of veterans
110 km W of Constantine. Founded during the reign of
Nerva, it was called Colonia Nerviana Augusta Martialis
Veteranorum Sitifensium, as attested by inscriptions.
The center was established in a region of friable limestone hills that dominate the plain of the wadi Bou Sellam. The hills are a part of the high plains of the Constantinois, from which they rise gradually. The size of
the area that belonged to the town is not known. To the
E, the existence of settlements just as old as Sétif—Mopth [---] or Novar [---]—suggests that the boundary
was scarcely more than 16 km away. to the S, localities
were established during the 2d c. and referred to as
castella in numerous 3d c. texts (Castellum Dianense,
Citofactense, Perdicense). It is not known whether these
were once connected with Sétif. The W boundary is
In the first half of the reign of Diocletian and Maximian, a new province was created, Mauritania Sitifensis, detached from Mauritania Caesariensis. Sétif was its capital, and the province stretched from the coast to the
Chott el Hodna.
The existence of a Jewish colony is attested by undated texts. The presence of a Christian community in
the town itself is not attested before the second half of
the 4th c. (by funerary inscriptions) or even the beginning of the 5th c. (by the bishops).
At the time of the French conquest the field of ruins
was clearly visible. In the middle stood the walls and
towers of the four-cornered fortress built at the instigation of Solomon at the time of the Byzantine reconquest.
It measured 158 x 107 m and was protected by a rampart
built in large-scale ashlar and by towers placed at the corners and along the sides. The building was partially restored when French troops were installed, and partially destroyed when it was included in a new military quarter.
Beginning in 1843 the colonial center was built over a
part of the ancient town. Thus, for a long time, to write
a history of the town one had to be satisfied with brief
notices and drawings done in the middle of the 19th c.
and with inscriptions discovered by chance. The excavations conducted from 1959 until 1966 permit one to be more precise.
Only a small part of the original Roman settlement
has been uncovered. Probably the center of the colony
was under the Byzantine citadel, where in the past the
theater was discovered and where the forum must have
been located. Only remains of houses have been found,
W of the fortress at the very foot of the walls. Stratigraphic test pits indicate that they must be attributed
to the end of the 1st c. A.D. These houses were themselves destroyed and covered with a layer of fill when
a large temple was built in the second half of the 2d
or beginning of the 3d c. The foundations of the cella
and the peribolus of the temple have been brought to
light. Streets intersecting at right angles have been
found immediately to the N, S, and W of the temple;
they must go back to the same period.
Other discoveries have been made opposite, in an E
necropolis of the 2d c. Funerary stelae and cremation
tombs with grave goods (local pottery, terra sigillata,
lamps) have been excavated. They permit the study of
funerary customs; in particular, one can trace the introduction of new rites—inhumation burials and, above all,
flexed ones—into a context characterized by typically
Roman customs. This can perhaps be interpreted as the
arrival from the countryside to Sétif during the 3d c. of
groups who had preserved older indigenous traditions.
At the end of antiquity the town changed greatly.
New districts must have been built. One of these, to the
NW of the original center, has been excavated. Very
extensive walls enclosed the original town and the new
districts. At the same time, public monuments were
built (circus) or restored (amphitheater). Most of these
constructions date to the second half of the 4th c., though
some are of the period of the Tetrarchy.
The NW district, which has been partially cleared, is
laid out according to a regular plan with streets at right
angles. Test pits have proved that this quarter cannot be
earlier than the second half of the 4th c. and is undoubtedly later than 355. Houses and shops have been
identified. Within a large, very damaged residence small
hot baths happened to be preserved, with a mosaic depicting the Toilet of Venus. In this network of streets,
in fact partially blocking the course of some of them, two
Christian funerary basilicas were erected side by side.
One was built before 378 (probably only a little before),
the other before 389. These dates are provided by mosaic
funerary inscriptions that formed the floors of the central and lateral naves. New inscriptions, dated by the provincial year, were put in regularly until 429, with one text from 471.
Inside the town, inscriptions and older excavations
reveal the existence of other cult sites as well as public
monuments: the amphitheater restored about 297 and
again under Julian, a temple to the Magna Mater restored in 288, a water tower (still visible) where the
town aqueduct ended. Outside the walls, N of the town,
a hippodrome has now been found. It was badly preserved, but its plan is quite clear. The building measures
500 x 80 m. Test pits force one to conclude that this
also was built in the second half of the 4th c. One must
suggest a similar date for the ramparts. The walls are
over 5,000 m long; their outline has been established by
recent excavations and by the 19th c. drawings of Ravoisié and Delamare.
Until now excavations have not elucidated the history
of the town after the 5th c. Even though a necropolis
was found within the ramparts, it consisted merely of
inhumations under flagstones, without grave goods or
inscriptions; thus they cannot be dated. At various points
near the Byzantine citadel, storage pits have been discovered which sometimes contained handmade or (rarely) glazed pottery. Their presence indicates that the site was occupied in the Middle Ages.
S. Gsell, Atlas archéologique de l'Algérie
(1911) 16, no. 364; P.-A. Février, “Notes sur le développement urbain en Afrique du Nord, les exemples
comparés de Djemila et Sétif,” CahArch
14 (1964) 1-47; Fouilles de Sétif, les basiliques du quartier nord-ouest
(1965); with A. Gaspary, “La nécropole orientale de Sétif,” Bulletin d'archéologie algérienne 2 (1966-1967) 11-93; P.-A. Février, “Inscriptions de Sétif et de la région,” Bulletin d'archéologie algérienne
4 (1969); with
A. Gaspary & R. Guéry, Fouilles de Sétif, le quartier
(1970) 1st supplement to Bulletin d'archéologie algérienne