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Dougga: Études d’architecture religieuse 2. Les sanctuaires du forum, du centre de l’agglomération et de la Grande rue courbe

July 2017 (121.3)

Book Review

Dougga: Études d’architecture religieuse 2. Les sanctuaires du forum, du centre de l’agglomération et de la Grande rue courbe

Edited by S. Aounallah and J.-C. Golvin (Collection Mémoires 42). Pp. 620. Ausonius, Bordeaux 2016. €65. ISBN 978-2-35613-147-8 (cloth).

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As Ward-Perkins pointed out in his Roman Imperial Architecture (New Haven 1981), Roman North Africa is “almost embarrassingly rich in monuments” (371). The site of Dougga, ancient Thugga, in Africa Proconsularis, stands out for the magnificence of preserved ancient buildings. Yet despite such richness, only in recent years has this impressive heritage become the subject of comprehensive studies. The book under review details the results of a French-Tunisian collaborative project (1999–2008) aimed at documenting, preserving, and restoring Dougga’s principal religious buildings. It was preceded by a volume edited by Golvin and Khanoussi (Dougga: Études d’architecture religieuse 1 [Bordeaux 2005]) on the Sanctuary of the Victories of Caracalla and those of Pluton and Caelestis. The French-Tunisian research complements the results of another, German-Tunisian, project at this site (see M. Khanoussi and V.M. Strocka, eds., Thugga 1: Grundlagen und Berichte [Mainz 2002]).

This monumental book is lavishly illustrated throughout with high-quality photographs, drawings, plans, sections, and elevations, most of which are printed in color. The amount of material discussed by the archaeologists, architects, and technicians who carried out field research at Dougga is enormous, and for this reason descriptions tend to be short and synthetic—a well-balanced approach that allows the reader to select relevant information and easily follow the discussion. The book is divided into three parts: “Les sanctuaires du forum” (23–280), “Sanctuaires du centre de l’agglomération” (281–389), and “Sanctuaires de la Grande rue courbe” (391–587).

It would be impossible to comment on each chapter in the context of this review. Rather, I focus on the monuments of the forum area, which illustrate the evolution of the civic center from the second century B.C.E. through late antiquity. The first phase is represented by the so-called Numidian agora, of which only scant archaeological traces survive (29–74). Reconstructions are based on a thorough examination of architectural elements, on the evidence recovered from sondages, and on comparative analyses with other buildings dating to this period, such as the mausoleum of Atban. The remains of a building to the west side of where the Capitolium was placed in the Roman period are interpreted as a monument dedicated to Massinissa, for which  a hypothetical reconstruction of the plan and elevation is proposed (fig. 62a–c). Various blocks of Egyptian gorge (cavetto) cornices can reasonably be attributed to this phase, though one should keep in mind that the Roman-period entablatures of the porticoes of Temple B and the Sanctuary of Caelestis still reproduced the shape of this type of molding. This testifies to the continuity of certain pre-Roman decorative traditions in North Africa and beyond—for instance, Egyptian gorge cornices were still popular in the province of Arabia in the second century C.E.

The second notable building phase dates to the reign of Tiberius, during which the layout of this area was significantly altered (75–140), also reflecting the presence of two communities at Dougga: Roman colonists from Carthage and local inhabitants. A building at the western limit of this sector is identified as a temple of Caesar, perhaps converted into a curia in the Antonine period. Two buildings were constructed on the south side of the forum: a large edifice with an altar in the middle, and a small sanctuary (Temple of Saturn?) abutting its west side. The authors argue for the existence of a previously unrecorded arch of Tiberius in the forum on the basis of convincing architectural evidence (100–12). The northern foundations of the monument of Massinissa were left in place, which seems to support the argument that it was converted into a temple with podium.

During the reigns of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, most building activities aimed to create an architectural harmony among the edifices of the forum (141–217). The piazza was bordered by a portico, later restored under Gallienus. The most impressive monument of this phase is, of course, the Capitolium dedicated to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus in 168 C.E. (164–98). The facade of the temple, which never collapsed, is a testimony to the builders’ skills. The refined carving of the limestone columns and entablatures (115–35, figs. 56–60) recalls the marble ornament diffused across North Africa, while the deterioration of the pediment reliefs (fig. 61) demonstrates that these were intentionally erased in the Byzantine period. The presence of pilasters made entirely of stucco is confirmed by the traces visible along the east side of the cella’s opus africanum wall (figs. 67–69), a feature that reminds us of the importance of molded stuccowork in antiquity, though it is preserved only in exceptional circumstances (such as in some Hasmonean and Herodian complexes in Israel). Subsequent building activities in the forum during the third and fourth centuries C.E. are attested mainly by inscriptions (237–58), while archaeological remains allow reconstruction of the layout of Justinian’s fortress, which enclosed the former civic center (265–79).

The sector east of the forum witnessed a major phase of monumental embellishment under Commodus. The “place de la rose-des-vents” was flanked by a sanctuary dedicated to Mercury on the north side and by a majestic market to the south (285–355). The east side was bordered by the sanctuary of Fortuna, which was restored and modified under Severus Alexander in 222–224 C.E. (371–89). The last section of the book engages with a series of buildings developing along Dougga’s arterial road, the Grande rue courbe. The anonymous sanctuary referred to as “Dar Lachheb” was dedicated in 164/5 C.E., and its layout and architectural features are thoroughly described (393–476). The absolute chronology of the other edifices is less certain, but the authors nevertheless manage to highlight their progressive development (477–564). Temple B (Templa Concordiae) belongs to the first phase (Antonine period), to which a theater was annexed after the reign of Antoninus Pius, and the last phase features the construction of Temple C (probably under Caracalla) and Temple A (uncertain date).

While archaeologists and architects are the main intended readership of this book, historians, art historians, students, and general readers will all find plenty of interesting material. For example, the study of buildings is enriched by a detailed commentary on the associated epigraphic evidence. The graphic documentation of inscriptions is particularly well presented, to a high standard probably never reached before. Various sections of the text engage with discussion of local architectural ornament, in particular the pre-Roman elements in the Numidian agora and the decoration of the Capitolium. The principal works of Alexandre Lézine and Naïdé Ferchiou are cited, but surprisingly there are no references to Pensabene’s extensive studies (e.g., “La decorazione architettonica, l’impiego del marmo e l’importazione di manufatti orientali a Roma, in Italia e in Africa (II–VI d.C.),” in A. Giardina, ed., Società romana e impero tardoantico. Vol. 3 [Rome 1986] 285–429; “Architettura e decorazione nell’Africa romana: Osservazioni,” AfrRom 6 [1989] 431–58; “Il tempio di Saturno a Dougga e tradizioni architettoniche d’origine punica,” AfrRom 7 [1990] 251–93). Inclusion of these references would have introduced the reader to important themes such as the relationship between the architectural ornament of Dougga and Romano-Carthaginian art and architecture. However, such omissions are only a relatively minor shortcoming given the excellent quality of the architectural and topographical analyses the book presents. This volume unquestionably will provide a basis for any future research on Dougga and will be a fundamental reference for anyone interested in the architecture, archaeology, and history of this site. It will also serve as an example of what a productive collaboration between archaeologists and architects should look like.

Niccolò Mugnai
University of Leicester
School of Archaeology and Ancient History

Book Review of Dougga: Études d’architecture religieuse 2. Les sanctuaires du forum, du centre de l’agglomération et de la Grande rue courbe, edited by S. Aounallah and J.-C. Golvin

Reviewed by Niccolò Mugnai

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 3 (July 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1213.Mugnai

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