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Du culte aux sanctuaires: L’architecture religieuse dans l’Afrique romaine et byzantine

April 2019 (123.2)

Book Review

Du culte aux sanctuaires: L’architecture religieuse dans l’Afrique romaine et byzantine

Edited by François Baratte, Véronique Brouquier-Reddé, and Elsa Rocca (Orient & Mediterranée 25). Pp. 378. Éditions De Boccard, Paris 2018. €89. ISBN 978-2-7018-0442-2 (paper).

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Current research on the history and archaeology of ancient North Africa is generating an impressive wealth of new data and publications every year. The present book collects 22 papers on North African sacred buildings and cults that were originally presented at an international conference in Paris in 2013. The aim is to provide an update of the debate in the previous symposium, Lieux de culte: Aires votives, temples, églises, mosqueés (Paris 2008).

The geographical and chronological frames under consideration are broad, from Cyrenaica to Mauretania Tingitana, and from the second century B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. The volume opens with an introduction by the three editors, who offer brief but useful remarks on the status quaestionis and scope of the new studies on the sacred landscapes of North Africa. The book is divided into three parts: “Les lieux de culte païens: Caractéristiques et évolution,” “Les manifestations des cultes: Pratiques, rites et offrandes,” and “Les phénomènes religieux païens et chrétiens: Origine, développement et survie.” Due to the limited space for this review, I shall focus on a selection of essays from those collected in the volume.

The papers in part 1 deal with the architecture of pre-Roman and Roman sacred buildings. Golvin, Aounallah, and Brouquier-Reddé (17–35) outline the main features of the temples in the forum of Thugga from the Numidian period to the Julio-Claudian era (since the 2013 confernce, fuller discussions of these have appeared in S. Aounallah and J.-C. Golvin, eds., Dougga: Études d’architecture religieuse 2. Les sanctuaires du forum, du centre de l’agglomération et de la Grande rue courbe [Bordeaux 2016]). Ksouri (37–54) describes the architectural and chronological development of the monumental complex located south of the theater at Bulla Regia. The author proposes a hypothetical reconstruction of the elevation of Temple B, based on comparanda from the imagery of coin issues of Juba I (44, figs. 6–8). This hypothesis may be plausible; however, one must be careful not to overemphasize the relevance of such small-size images and their reliability for attempting accurate architectural reconstructions.

As part of Mission Temples, a French-Moroccan project begun in 1995 to re-evaluate religious architecture in Mauretania Tingitana, Brouquier-Reddé, Ichkhakh, and El Khayari (55–66) offer new observations on Temple D in the forum of Volubilis. A comprehensive analysis of this building and of its chronological phases is made difficult by its poor preservation and the scarcity of stratigraphic data. Despite this, it has been ascertained that a large temple with four cellae and an L-shaped portico were built in this area, replacing a pre-Roman complex that featured two twin temples (61–3, figs. 7–11). The authors suggest this construction phase dated from the reign of Antoninus Pius on epigraphic grounds (M. Euzennat and J. Marion, eds., Inscriptions antiques du Maroc, 2: Inscriptions latines [Paris 1982], 377: an inscription mentioning the dedication of a templum cum porticibus by the cultores domus Augustae but whose original provenance and setting are unclear). However, it is probably worth considering that another inscription was also recovered in the forum area (Euzennat and Marion [1982], 498: this records the construction of a [sacred?] building and a portico in 57/58 C.E. by the cohors I Asturum et Callaecorum). In the following paper, Kbiri Alaoui, Bridoux, and Dridi (67–78) reexamine a pre-Roman building from the site of Kouass (northern Morocco), which was traditionally interpreted as a workshop, arguing instead that it might have had a religious function.

In part 2, emphasis is placed on cults and rituals along with observations on the architectural layout of sanctuaries. Kallala, Ribichini, and Botto (113–34) provide a preliminary overview on the recent discovery at Althiburos of a tophet of Ba’al Hammon-Saturn, which underwent a long period of use and transformation from the late second century B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. Temple B (Temple of Saturn) at Volubilis and some of the votive objects associated with it are discussed by Brouquier-Reddé, Ichkhakh, Leclercq, and El Khayari (135–50). This paper supplements the ample literature available on this temple, which has been at the center of research and debate, especially after the study by H. Morestin, Le temple B de Volubilis (Paris 1980).

A reassessment of African stelae with depictions of a goddess, probably Tanit-Caelestis, from the regions of Mactaris and Zama Regia is carried out by M’Charek (151–65). In addition to the numerous examples already published, the author takes into account new discoveries, which are catalogued and illustrated. The paper by Limam (167–85) also deals with the iconography of stelae from central Tunisia, which were decorated with orientalizing motifs: female figures related to fertility, the tree or plant of life, and wreathed solar emblems. Like some types of architectural ornament (Egyptian gorge cornices, Ionic capitals of Punic-Hellenistic tradition, and Alexandrian Corinthian capitals), this repertoire of decorative motifs also seems to have enjoyed a continuity of use in North Africa under the Roman empire.

Among the other papers of this section, Malek (213–30) offers a useful, pictorial review of gardens within African sanctuaries. Starting with case studies from Thuburbo Maius and Timgad, where the presence of a garden was confirmed long ago by archaeological and botanical analyses, the author comments on other examples that appear to fall into this category, such as the Templa Concordiae and the Sanctuary of Dar Lachheb at Thugga. The cases of the Sanctuary of the Victories of Caracalla and the Sanctuary of Caelestis from Thugga, as well as Temple B from Volubilis, remain more speculative.

Finally, part 3 engages more broadly with pagan and Christian cults, looking in particular at the continuity and transformation of sanctuaries. Fantar (259–65) briefly comments on the well-known sanctuary at Kerkouane and on the recovery of Roman pottery and other finds, which would suggest occupation of this building until the fifth century C.E., though with a different function. In a similar vein, Khanoussi (267–75) draws attention to cults and sacred buildings at Simitthus. He focuses on the transformation of the monument of Massinissa first into a sanctuary of Ba’al Hammon-Saturn, then its conversion into a church in the Byzantine period. The sanctuaries of Caelestis and of the Dii Mauri also offer important information on cults in the city’s quarries during the Roman Imperial era.

The most substantial contribution is the essay by Michel (301–36), who looks at Christianity in rural Cyrenaica. Building on the architectural evidence collected in J.B. Ward-Perkins and R.G. Goodchild, Christian Monuments of Cyrenaica (London 2003), the author adds a broad range of supplementary data that was documented by French missions in this region in more recent years. The result is a very useful overview, and this brings to our attention the fact that more efforts should be made toward comprehensive archaeological investigations of rural sites.

In conclusion, the abundance of material discussed in this volume will allow readers to find plenty of information for their own studies, making it a fundamental starting point for further research. One must be aware, however, that the contents of many of these papers are preliminary and will probably be subject to revisions, as they refer to ongoing fieldwork projects, some of which are now published elsewhere. The large number of contributors and texts slowed down the production of this book, with a gap of five years between the date of the conference and the publication of the proceedings. However, the editors and authors deserve credit for including up-to-date references.

The layout of the book is well presented and the typesetting is free of noticeable errors, but unfortunately the quality of images is not always up to standard. In particular, some 3D reconstructions of buildings are reproduced at such a small scale that it proves difficult to perceive many of the details (e.g., 40, fig. 4; 269, fig. 3; 297, fig. 4). At the same time, cross-referencing between the text and the color plates at the back of the volume is not straightforward; perhaps it would have been better to include the plates after the respective essays. Having said that, it must be stressed that these shortcomings do not diminish the value of the book and its relevance for the study of sacred architecture in North Africa. Anyone with an interest in Roman and Byzantine religious buildings and cults across the African territories will recognize the importance of this volume. Students and scholars alike will surely use it as a main reference for years to come.

Niccolò Mugnai
British School at Rome


Book Review of Du culte aux sanctuaires: L’architecture religieuse dans l’Afrique romaine et byzantine, edited by François Baratte, Véronique Brouquier-Reddé, and Elsa Rocca

Reviewed by Niccolò Mugnai

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 2 (April 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1232.mugnai

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