Trajan's Arch or Arch of the Gods in a 1765 ink drawing by James Bruce and Luigi Balugani
Towards the north-west of the town, nearly in the axis of the colonnade of the forum from which at all events it formed a striking view, exists the triumphal arch forming the subject of one of Bruce's illustrations, and which is one of the most important monuments of the kind in Algeria. It consists of three openings, the central one thirteen feet eight inches wide and the side ones seven feet two inches; above the latter are square niches for statues. The monument is of the Corinthian order; each front is decorated by four fluted columns, occupying the angles and the spaces between the arches. To each column corresponds a pilaster, both raised on a common pedestal. The entablature connects all the columns and pilasters together, and was itself surmounted by an attic, with an entablature, a portion of the architrave of which now alone remains. (..) The attic, intended no doubt to receive the dedicatory inscription and perhaps also to support sculpture, appears to have extended over the whole top of the building. None of the original inscription remains in place, but fragments have been found below and near the forum. (..) The mass of the monument is of sandstone, but the columns, capitals and bases of the pilasters, brackets and entablature are entirely of white marble, as was also the crowning of the attic; the sides of the attics were certainly covered by slabs, most probably of the same material. The debris from the entablature and the upper part of the building has fallen round the base of the monument, burying it as far as the imposts of the lower arches. M. Masqueray has found amongst the ruins of the Byzantine Citadel an inscription which proves that this building was called the Arch of the Gods, "ARCVM PANTHEVM", and that it was customary to ornament it with statues, some of which may probably still exist amongst the stones and soil with which the base is encumbered.
Travels in the footsteps of Bruce in Algeria and Tunis, illustrated by facsimiles of his original drawings; by R. L. Playfair - 1877
Towards the end of the IInd century, during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, the south-western part of the city walls was pulled down to enlarge the town. The western gate was replaced by a large triumphal arch. The fragments of the inscription of the attic were reassembled: it contained a dedication of the monument to Emperor Trajan who founded Thamugadi for the veterans of Legio XXX Ulpia Victrix. It is very likely that a similar inscription stood on the former gate and that Emperor Septimius Severus agreed to its being rewritten on the triumphal arch (similar to what Emperor Hadrian did in the Pantheon of Rome when he kept the original dedication to Agrippa in the new building).
Trajan's Arch: (left/centre) details; (right) hexagonal base of a statue of Concord erected during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus by L. Licinius Optatianus to celebrate his appointment as "Flamen Augusti", high priest in charge of the ceremonies in honour of the emperors. References to Geta, son of the Emperor were erased by order of Emperor Caracalla, his brother who had him murdered in 211
This imposing monument welcomed visitors to Thamugadi and showed the magnificence of the enlarged town. The design of the arch is similar to that of the arch erected to Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum, the decoration of which however was based on reliefs rather than statues.
The enlargement of Thamugadi outside the city walls began already in 169 when a temple with a very high podium was built along the road to Lambaesis. It was paid for by another Flamen Augusti to celebrate his appointment. The position, similar to that of Pontifex Maximus in Rome, was a lifetime one and a very prestigious one. The Genius of the Colony was a sort of guardian angel of the town. Similar deities were honoured in many places e.g. as Genius Populi Romani on the Arch of Trajan at Benevento and even in a house at Ostia or a tavern at Pompeii. These deities were eventually replaced by patron saints, but the Genio di Palermo survived to the present day.
Outside this arch is the Market-place, a splendid edifice founded in
the 3rd century by a Roman lady
whose statue and dedicatory inscription were found almost entirely uninjured. The former is in the museum.
In front of it was a portico of eight
columns, of which only the bases
remain. This gave entrance to a
large court surrounded by galleries
supported by columns. In the centre
was a fountain.
The end of the court
terminated in a hemicycle surrounded
by seven shops. In front of each was
a stone table, under which the sellers
had to pass, and from behind which
they sold their wares. An annex of
this building is supposed to have been
a smaller market-place destined for a
higher class of purchasers. It opens
out on the main road, and was decorated with four columns.
Sertius' Market: (left) one of the marble counters; (centre/right) inscriptions celebrating the construction of the market and in particular the donations made by Cornelia Valentina Tucciana, wife of Plotius Faustus Sertius, another "Flamen Augusti"
John Murray - Handbook for Travellers in Algeria and Tunis - 1895 (written by R. L. Playfair)
The end of the court terminated in a hemicycle surrounded by seven shops. In front of each was a stone table, under which the sellers had to pass, and from behind which they sold their wares. An annex of this building is supposed to have been a smaller market-place destined for a higher class of purchasers. It opens out on the main road, and was decorated with four columns.
A market having similar counters had already been built at Cuicul, but the decoration of those of Sertius' market is much finer, especially the reliefs with leaves and flowers. They seem to anticipate patterns which were developed at a later time at Philippi and Constantinople. From other inscriptions at Thamugadi and its environs we learn that Sertius owned several farms and in addition had revenues from houses and shops. It appears that municipal authorities allowed him to build a very large house on public land in the new neighbourhood, in recognition of his contribution to the embellishment of the town.
The next important building is the Capitol or Temple of Jupiter, of which very little now remains, but that little coupled with Bruce's beautiful sketch of it shows that it must have been a very splendid edifice. A large peristyle existed before it, to which access was gained by a flight of six or eight steps. None of the columns are now erect; but splendid fragments, nearly six feet in diameter, lie scattered about. Five are represented as still standing in Bruce's time, supporting a small portion of the entablature; they were of the Corinthian order, and fluted. The foundations and part of the superstructure of the principal facade or entrance to the cella are still in place; this was most powerfully constructed and measures nearly six feet in thickness, the stones varying from three to five feet in length from two to three feet in breadth and twenty inches in height. An attic base, in blue limestone, lying on the spot measures six feet in breadth at its plinth. The most massive parts were built of rubble, encased in cut stone masonry composed of blocks of great size. Playfair 1877
All the elements necessary for the reconstruction of this monument have been found; four out of the eight columns have been laid out on the ground and will soon be erected in their original position. This is a work of considerable difficulty, as each drum weighs 3,600 kilos! (..) The interior of the cella must have been lined with beautiful rose-coloured marble or alabaster. The size and dimensions generally of this monument must have been pretty nearly the same as those of the Pantheon at Rome. Murray 1895
The Capitolium: (left) rear view; (centre) relief on a nearby stone; (right-above) a capital; (right-below) a screen from a church
Because the Temple in the Forum was dedicated to Trajan's Victories, Thamugadi did not have a proper Capitolium, a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, a symbol of Rome where these gods were worshipped on the Capitoline Hill. In ca 160 a large square outside the western walls, a sort of new forum, was designed as a first step to the construction of the temple.
An inscription indicates that the portico of the square was restored in 364-367 by Emperors Valentinian I and Valens. Their names appear also on a basilica at Cuicul which indicates that the historical sites of the pagan towns were still cared for by the first Christian emperors. You may wish to see another very large Capitolium at Uthina, in today's Tunisia.
Public fountain near the Capitol
Thamugadi could rely on three sources of water, the main one being Aqua Septimiana Felix in the southern side of the town. Another source referred to by an inscription was Aqua Paludensis (Marsh Water) which must have come from marshes in the proximity of the town. The water was captured and filtered by a system of underground conduits, which was typical of Persia (qanat), but was not unknown in other arid regions. Water was distributed by a series of fountains at the main crossroads, similar to those at Pompeii.
Great Southern Baths: (above) overall view with a large semicircular latrine in the foreground; (below-left) pool of one of the halls; (below-right) base of a statue of Cornelia Salonina, wife of Emperor Gallienus
Archaeologists have identified 14 bath establishments at Thamugadi; they might not have been operating at the same time, but yet they indicate the importance of this facility for the ancient Romans (read a description of a day at the baths by Seneca). An inscription found at Thamugadi says Venari, lavari, ludere, ridere, occ est vivere (to hunt, to go to the baths, to play games, to laugh, this is to live).
The largest baths of the town were perhaps the last to be built, as they are located in the new neighbourhood. The very large semicircular latrine brings to mind those of the Antonine Baths at Carthage, the largest Roman baths in Africa.
(above) Byzantine fortress; (below) Christian neighbourhood and the Capitolium
The Byzantine Fortress is at some
distance to the S. In all probability it was originally of Roman construction; the regular and careful
masonry of that people can be recognised in some few places; a posterior
restoration by the Byzantines can also
be easily identified, as they invariably
employed the cut stones of the former
buildings, without much regard to
perfect adaptation, using also tombstones and any other material that
came most easily to hand (e.g. at Musti and Thignica). Playfair - 1877
Archaeologists found that the fortress was built on the site of a sanctuary which housed three small temples dedicated to Africa, Serapis and Aesculapius and a large pool of water having healing powers.
Thamugadi became the great focus of religious agitation during the fourth century. Its bishop, Optatus, was considered as the head of the Donatists; he attached himself (..) to a revolt against Emperor Honorius. By means of his soldiery, the Bishop was enabled to exercise great cruelty against the Catholics of his neighbourhood, until in 398 he was involved in his ally's ruin, and died in prison. (..) When Solomon (a Byzantine general) arrived for the first time in 535 he found the city ruined, so that we may assume its destruction to have taken place between these dates. Playfair - 1877
Thamugadi had two Christian neighbourhoods, the largest one being located behind the Capitol. It housed the Donatist cathedral and other religious facilities.
Museum of Timgad: (left) columns; (centre) statue of Venus or perhaps a nymph holding a shell from the Great Southern Baths; (right) statue of an empress or of the wife of a local magistrate
The Department of the Beaux Arts,
which is conducting the excavations,
has constructed a museum from columns and sculptures
found in the ruins. This is not yet
(1895) open to the public, nor are its
contents properly arranged.
No necropolis has yet been discovered, very few tombs, and only one
marble sarcophagus; it was unearthed
near the Director's house. Murray 1895
The management of Algerian archaeological museums has room for improvement. In May 2016 authorities announced that the Museum of Timgad would have been reopened after having been closed for a very long time as a consequence of its pillage in 1994. At the time of my visit in June 2017 it was still closed.
Old catalogues of the museum indicate it housed a very large number of beautiful mosaics which were decorated with acanthus leaf motifs. From the few works of art outside the building one can see that acanthus leaf motifs were often used also in the decoration of reliefs, as at Sertius' Market.
A small sanctuary to Saturn was found near the Great Southern Baths. In its premises and proximity a very large number of stelae was found. The god was portrayed with two other deities representing Sun and Moon (see some of the stelae in the introductory page). The depiction of funerary banquets was very popular in the ancient Mediterranean civilizations (see a fresco at Paestum and a sarcophagus from Cerveteri). The stelae found at Timgad are very small and they were made for the lower classes who could not afford a sarcophagus or a tomb, yet they depicted a funerary banquet, although in a very innovative way. The image used as background for this page shows another small stela.
On May 3 we left Timegad, not without considerable regret that we could not afford to spend a longer time there. We would fain have made some excavations, as there is no more promising field for antiquarian research in Algeria, but the season was advancing, and we were compelled to move onwards. Playfair - 1877
Return to the Old Town or move to:
Lol or Caesarea Mauretaniae (Cherchell)
Cirta or Constantina
Castellum Tidditanorum (Tiddis)
Hippo Regius (Annaba)
Archaeological Museum of Algiers