The conversation in Rome among scholars of Roman Africa got more and more interesting over the past week. On the Janiculum, David Mattingly continued his Jerome Lectures at the American Academy, with installments on the Roman Army in Africa, on rural communities, and on how cities changed and developed under Roman rule.
Among the many ideas to take away from David’s lectures was the changing role of religion in the first centuries of the Common Era, with the Cult of Saturn attested as a Roman-African hybrid in the former Numidian heartlands of what is now Eastern Algeria and Northern Tunisia–the memorable image for this was a map of Saturn Sanctuaries strung out along the Roman Road westward into Numidia, perhaps echoing the customary route of Roman armies. Meanwhile, in what is now Libya, the role of protection and supernatural power was filled by ancestor worship in sanctuaries such as that of Ghirza.
Things got even more interesting at the Baths of Diocletian, where Philipp von Rummel, Anna Leone, and Ralf Bockman had organzied the conference, Africa – Ifriqiya: Cultures of Transition in North Africa between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, sponsored by the German Archaeological Institute.
A number of distinguished archaeologists from Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya gave lectures, including Fathi Bahri, Maître de Recherches at the Institut Nationale du Patrimoine in Tunisia, and Youssef Aibeche, from the University of Sétif in Algeria, who gave a fascinating paper on the role of cities of Mauretania Sitifensis as mediators of long-distance trade relationships with the desert peoples to
the south, a stunning example of a dynamic which Lisa Fentress and David Mattingly have brought to the attention of English-speaking world.
For those interested in religion, there was a great deal to come away with. Jonathan Conant‘s opening talk explored how cities as centres of power and protection changed across the Roman and Arab period, while Richard Miles discussed how the Emperor Justinian’s attempt to re-establish Roman rule in the Maghreb in the Sixth Century built on and developed the Vandal-period Christian sanctuaries of Carthage.
Ralf Bockman and Corisande Fenwick assessed how power and propaganda were projected in the architecture of urban centres, while Richard Miles explored how the Byzantine re-conquest of Africa drew on and developed Christian cult sites in the region, and Susan Stevens showed how burial sites from the Islamic period document the survival of Christian communities.
All in all, a lively and thought-provoking series of conversations, showing how much there still is to understand about Rome in Africa, and showing that now more than ever, Rome is an indispensable cross-roads for the exchange of ideas across the Mediterranean.