The history of Roman African can be of great importance and significance to those interested in the history of the Roman Empire. We can see a great deal of co-operation, diversity and cultural and social flexibility unlike that of any other empire in humanity’s history.
First let us define what we mean by Africa. In our modern context, Africa is taken to be the continent of Africa. However, Africa in ancient times, Africa was the term for Africa Proconsluaris, or Africa Nevus (New Africa) which largely consists of modern day Tunisia. For this article, I will use the term Africa for Africa Proconsluaris.
The history of the Africa was established long before the Roman occupation, but after Carthage was completely destroyed after the Third Punic War, the Romans re-established the province in 146 BCE. Carthage was rebuilt, and flourished especially in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Through the studying of inscriptions, literary works, art and architecture, we can see distinct native characteristics that did not simply die out after the Roman occupation. Indeed, additionally we find not only African and Phoenician elements of the native inhabitants, but also we find evidence of Roman colonists and settlers, though their cultural history was in fact exceptionally diverse and they were a minority in society by and large. These groups ‘included Latin’s, Etruscans, other Italians, Celts, an increasing array of people of Eastern Mediterranean origin, Jews, individuals from the Danubian provinces and the Balkans’ (Mattingly & Hitchner, p.173).
One of the most interesting archaeological sites in Roman Africa is the town of Dougga, or modern day Thugga, in Tunisia. It is because of the inscriptions from this Roman town that has been able to shed light on the social and municipal life of the Numidians, as well as the Roman colonial policies and the civic organizations in this province.
One of the most impressive ruins in Dougga is the Capitol. This building was built in 166 CE. This building was created mainly as the main temple for the inhabitants to worship in and was dedicated to Juno, Jupiter and Minerva (their Greek counterparts being Hera, Zeus and Athena respectively).
In 168 CE, a great theatre was built, donated by one of the local elite families, for this was a way of increasing their own prestige. The theatre could hold 3500 people, and although this may be a relatively small theatre, it could still hold the local residents. What is interesting in this building is that although it is built in a typically Roman form, the vaults that supported it were built of hollow ceramic tubes, which is a typical Carthaginian method (UNESCO, p.113).
The decline of Roman Africa happened for several reasons. The introduction of Christianity, the struggles Rome experienced with the Berbers and ultimately, with the Vandal conquests in the 5th century CE.
Roman Africa enjoyed a long period of wealth and prestige in antiquity, and from the sources of information left to us, we witness the close interweaving between the local cultures and foreign societies.
Mattingly, David J. & Hitchner, R. Bruce (1995) Roman Africa: An Archaeological Review, The Journal of Roman Studies, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.
UNESCO World Heritage List (1996) Dougga (Tunisia).