West of Carthage

Last week I visited the Medjerda valley in western Tunisia where Moheddine Chaouali and Philipp von Rummel are conducting stunning archaeological excavations in an atmosphere of inspired collaboration.

Bulla Regia, the extra-mural basilica

Moheddine, in a gesture reminiscent of Saint Augustine, showing where Bulla Regia fits into the Roman Road system of Africa proconsularis.

Moheddine is changing our understanding of  the late Roman, Vandal, and Byzantine phases of Bulla Regia, a substantial market town where St Augustine preached vituperatively (in Sermon 301) against the still-lively tradition of theatrical shows and games.

Moheddine is excavating the Christian basilica to the west of the city, which dates from the fourth to sixth century, and which he discovered in 2010.Augustine praised the neighbouring town of Chimtou–ancient Simitthus–for having put away the scandalous pagan rituals which the denizens of Bulla still enjoyed.

Chimtou, looking south-west toward the Roman city

In 2012, the joint German-Tunisian excavations directed by Philipp von Rummelare shedding new light on the relationship of the town to the massive quarry which produced the yellow Chimtou marble prized all over the empire.and especially in Rome.

Philipp high above Chimtou, on the foundations of the Temple of Saturn

But standing with Philipp on the foundations of the massive Temple of Saturn which dominates the vicinity, looking down over the Roman prison camp which supplied condemend prisoners to work in the mines, it was hard to imagine that the old gods were ever really forgotten.


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