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View of the archaeological area with the street leading to the Forum on the left
The Ruins of the antient Hippo are spread over the Neck of Land, that lyeth betwixt Two Rivers; which, from being near the Banks plain and level, riseth afterwards to a considerable Elevation. They are about half a League in Circuit,
consisting as usual, of large broken Walls and Cisterns; some of which were shewn by the Moors, who have an Interest in
keeping up such a profitable Tradition, for the Convent of St. Augustine. This City, was called Hippo Regius, from being one of the
Royal Cities of the Numidian Kings. For Silius Italicus (a Ist century AD poet) acquaints us, that it was formerly one of their favourite Seats:
and indeed, if a City strong and warlike; commodiously
situated, as well for Trade and Commerce, as for Hunting and
Diversion; that enjoyed a healthful Air, and took in, at one
View, the Sea, a spacious Harbour, a Diversity of Mountains
loaded with Trees, and Plains cut through with Rivers, could
engage the Affections of the Numidian Kings, Hippo had all This to recommend It.
Thomas Shaw - Travels, or, observations relating to several parts of Barbary and the Levant - 1738
But little remains of its former magnificence: a few shapeless masses of concrete masonry, hewn stones, and foundations scattered over, or buried beneath, the soil, and the huge cisterns once supplied with water by an aqueduct are all that time has left. (..) The rest of the day I spent on foot rambling leisurely over the ruins of Hippo and lying on the thick soft turf that covered the vaulted roofs of the ancient cisterns stretched beneath the sheltering foliage of a venerable olive. I enjoyed and sketched by turns the splendid prospect before me.
John Clark Kennedy - Algeria and Tunisia in 1845
Neighbourhood of the villas
Naturally the first excursion that the
traveller desires to make is to the spot
hallowed by the labours and death of St. Augustine.
The ancient Carthaginian Hippo or
Hippone received from the Romans the
name of Hippo Regius; it was created a
colony of the Empire, and with Carthage it was one of the most opulent
commercial centres of Roman Africa.
In 428 A.D. Hippone was besieged
by the Vandals for 14 months. St. Augustine
died during this time, and in 431 the
city fell, and its conquerors reduced it
to ashes, all but the cathedral, which
escaped, together with St. Augustine's
library. The town, which
was partially rebuilt under Belisarius,
was again destroyed by the Arabs in
the year 697.
John Murray - Handbook for Travellers in Algeria and Tunis - 1895
Archaeologists identified the layout of the Roman town in 1935. It is situated to the S of the Arab town which was built after Hippo was destroyed. The site was excavated in part and it is now threatened by the expansion of the modern town. A large road and a railway line have divided the archaeological area into two sections. That which is open to the public cannot be visited in its entirety for safety reasons.
Alluvial deposits have changed the coastline and a neighbourhood of the ancient town with a number of fine houses is no longer by the sea. Archaeologists found several layers of mosaic floors indicating that the buildings were continuously inhabited from the Ist to the IVth century. A very interesting mosaic depicting the ancient town was found in Villa du Front de Mer, a house which had a portico facing the sea.
Fountain of private baths
Because Hippo Regius was a port the wealthy landlords of these houses were able to decorate them with precious marbles (e.g. cipollino) which are rarely seen in inland towns of Algeria. Other large houses have been identified to the south of this neighbourhood, among them Villa Du Procurateur which was the residence of Q. Allius Maximus, legate of the Roman proconsul at Carthage and where the Mosaic of the Four Nereids was found.
(left) Paved street leading to the Forum and in the background the 1900 Basilica of St. Augustine; (right) public fountain which was decorated with a Gorgon, now in the Archaeological Museum of Algiers
The urban layout is not that typical of a Roman town and it is characterized by a broad street which crosses the town from the neighbourhood of the villas (and the ancient harbour) to the Forum. The paving of the street is dated before the Roman annexation of the town in 46 BC.
The market of Hippo Regius had a square layout with shops on all sides and a small round temple in the centre. The decorative elements of the shops, unlike those at Cuicul and Thamugadi are lost. An inscription indicates it was restored at the time of Emperors Valentinian and Valens (364-367); the names of these two emperors are mentioned in inscriptions celebrating restorations or new buildings in other towns of Numidia, e.g. at Cuicul. They could indicate a spell of prosperity in the region during a very troubled period in the history of the Roman Empire which eventually led to the Battle of Adrianople in 378 in which the Roman army was defeated by the Goths and Valens died in the fight.
The Forum is among the largest ones in Roman Africa and it is characterised by a very large inscription on its paved floor. It mentions proconsul C. Paccius Africanus, a Roman senator who gained the trust of Emperor Vespasian and enlarged an existing Forum, perhaps of the time of Emperor Claudius. Paccius Africanus was sent away from Rome because he had some enemies in the Senate.
The Senate, led by its principal members, then framed a form of oath, which was eagerly taken by all the magistrates and by the other Senators in the order in which they voted. They called the Gods to witness, that nothing had been done by their instrumentality to prejudice the safety of any person, and that they had gained no distinction or advantage by the ruin of Roman citizens. (..) This public censure, as it might be called, fell with especial severity on three men, Sariolenus Vocula, Nonnius Attianus, and Cestius Severus, all of them infamous for having practised the trade of the informer in the days of Nero. (..) The Senators then passing to Paccius Africanus, they assailed him in the same way. It was he, they said, who had singled out as victims for Nero the brothers Scribonius, renowned for their mutual affection and for their wealth. Africanus dared not confess his guilt, and could not deny it; but he himself turned on Vibius Crispus, who was pressing him with questions, and complicating a charge which he could not rebut, shifted the blame from himself by associating another with his guilt.
Cornelius Tacitus - The History - Book IV - Transl. by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb
(left) One of the statues which decorated the Forum (see a bronze trophy in the museum); (right) inscription in couplets forming an acronym (CELERIS)
A series of small monuments and statues stood along the sides of the square; inscriptions indicate other statues, now disappeared. In one of the inscriptions Celer, the name of the man to whom the monument was erected is mentioned also in the acronym of a short poem celebrating his deeds:
Portico of the Forum
The two long sides of the Forum had porticoes, the columns of which have been partially reconstructed, and behind these a series of shops and small temples. The base of an equestrian statue stood at the centre of the square until the site was bombed during WWII.
The image used as background for this page shows a detail of the double fluted columns.
(left) Walls of the Northern Baths; (centre/right) statues of Hercules and Minerva which were found there
The town was supplied with water by an aqueduct and had a number of bath establishments. The Northern Baths still retain some of their imposing walls. They are dated early IIIrd century similar to the Baths of Caracalla; they too were embellished with a large statue of Hercules in a moment of repose, which is known as the Farnese Hercules.
Move to the Christian neighbourhood and the Museum or to:
Lol or Caesarea Mauretaniae (Cherchell)
Cirta or Constantina
Castellum Tidditanorum (Tiddis)
Archaeological Museum of Algiers