Research of the Punic and Roman Sites in Tunisia (November 2009)

Noboru Ogata (Kyoto University)

In this webpage, we offer the records taken during our research trip in Tunisia in November 2009. The research trip was made as a part of our research project headed by Professor Takura Izumi of Kyoto University. We visited around the Punic and Roman sites including Carthage, Utica, Kerkouane and others. These ancient towns were under Carthaginian rule during the Punic period. As usual for the Phoenician colonies, some of these sites were seaport towns, while others were located inland.

Carthage, a seaport town, is considered to be founded early in the 1st millennium BCE by the refugees from Tyre, Phoenicia (modern Lebanon). Being the relay point between Phoenicia and the western part of the Mediterranean, it began to grow after 6th century BCE and formed a maritime empire. Different from other Phoenician colonies, the Carthaginian were also active in land cultivation and founded inland towns. From 3rd to 2nd century BCE, Carthage was defeated and destroyed by the Romans in the Punic War. After the 1st century BCE, however, Carthage and other Punic towns recovered prosperity under the Roman rule.

We saw magnificent colored mosaic pictures in museums. The amphitheater in El Jem is really colossal. But these artifacts are from the Roman era. Settlement remains from Punic era, although we have only limited examples to see, are generally smaller and simpler when compared to those from Roman era. Artifacts from the Punic era include potteries, coffins, and steles with inscriptions. Kerkouane, a settlement ruins on the coast of Cap Bon peninsula, is a precious example of Punic sites without impacts of the subsequent Roman culture, and listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

My task in our project is to examine the location and plan of Punic and Roman towns in the study area using satellite images. Phoenician towns are generally considered to have been seaport towns specialized to marine trade. As for Punic towns within the domain of Carthage, however, this generalization does not seem to apply. Moreover, many Punic towns, except for Kerkouane, were influenced by constructing activities in the Roman era. Therefore, my research scope should be focused on extracting Punic features from the settlement remains.


Synoptic view over the study area using LANDSAT image (ETM+ : May 26, 2005)

November 13 : Flew from Osaka to Tunis via Paris.

November 14 : Made a field trip around Carthage including Museum of Carthage at Acropolis of Byrsa. Carthage is located in the northeastern suburbs of Tunis.

Acropolis of Byrsa located at the center of ancient Carthage. This quarter is town remains from the Punic era.
The sign of Tanit inscribed on a stele. Tanit was one of the most important goddesses in the ancient Phoenician and Punic world. Museum of Carthage

Antonine Bath near the coast from the Roman era.
So called ‘Roman villas’ including remains of streets and buildings

‘Tophet’ or Punic sanctuary at Salammbo. We saw many small stelae of different ages there.
Military harbor of Carthage, having circular shape

Quartier Magon, excavated by the German campaign.
Cistern of la Malga

Bird’s eye view showing the location of Carthage. Elevation is exaggerated by four-fold. In ancient times, Carthage was located near the tip of an arrow shaped peninsula. The sea, once encircled the peninsula is now partly filled up.

CORONA satellite photograph over Carthage taken on May 31, 1972. You can observe the curious shape of the military harbor and the commercial harbor on the image.

Photo available from U. S. Geological Survey

November 11, forenoon : Visited Utica Museum and the town remains of Utica. Founded as a Phoenician colony prior to Carthage, Utica was once a seaport town, and enjoyed prosperity during the Punic and Roman eras. After the sedimentation of Mejerda River piled up its port, Utica was abandoned and it is inland ruins today.

Amphorettes of Attic style. Utica Museum.
Stelae of Punic style. 3rd – 2nd century BCE. Utica Museum

Streets and insulae of the Roman era.
Tiled floor of Maison de la Cascade

Mosaic picture of Maison de la Cascade
Entrance of Maison des Chapiteaux Historiés

Utica’s necropolis (cemetery) of the Punic era located beneath the remains of Roman town.
View of the plain, which once was the sea, from the tip of peninsular highland

Utica and Carthage.
Colored by elevation

CORONA satellite photograph over the trown remains of Utica taken on May 31, 1972. The town was located at the tip of a peninsular highland extending from the southwest to the northeast. Surrounding plain was once the sea, and Utica prospered as a seaport town.

Photo available from U. S. Geological Survey

November 15, afternoon : Visited Bardo Museum in Tunis.

Stele with Punic inscription and image of a priest.
Image of Baal Hammon, the most important divinity in the Punic world

Image of a woman tapping a tympanum.
Mosaic picture depicting Ulysses on a ship

November 16 : On this day, we traveled around Cap Bon peninsula. We visited Nabeul, Kelibia, Kerkouane, El Haouaria and then returned to Tunis.

Town remains at Nabeul.
Lunch at Kelibia

At 14:50, we arrived at the town remains of Kerkouane. Kerkouane was a Punic town that was abandoned circa 3rd century BCE. It is a precious archaeological site in that it was not influenced by the Roman buildings and inhabitation. Accordingly, it was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1985. We also visited the necropolis (cemetery) of the town located in the suburbs.

Northern Tower projecting from the town wall.
Street drawing an arc

Mosaic picture depicting the sign of Tanit at the entrance of a house.
Remains of an altar

Domestic altar depicting a sphinx.
Image of a woman carved on a wooden coffin

Wall paintings in a tomb near Kerkouane.
Necropolis near Kerkouane

WorldView-1 satellite image over Kerkouane taken on June 4, 2009. We can observe that Kerkouane was a small town having a circular shape.

© DigitalGlobe / Hitachi Solutions

November 17, forenoon : Visited an inland site Oudhna (classical name : Uthina), then viewed Roman aqueduct of Zaghouan.

The Capitol of Oudhna.
Landscape viewed from the Capitol

Bath at Oudhna.
The amphitheater at Oudhna

Ruins and a flower.
Roman aqueduct of Zaghouan

November 17, afternoon : Traveled southward and visited Lamta (classical name : Leptis Minor) and its museum. Stayed in Sousse.

Mosaic picture amid weedy Roman town ruins of Lamta.
Terra cotta mask

Stele dedicated to Saturn.
View from a seaside tea house at Lamta

November 18, forenoon : Traveled from Sousse southward to reach El Jem (classical name : Thysdrus). At the museum here, we saw many magnificent mosaic pictures. Then we visited the amphitheater, which is so huge that it may be called Colosseum.

Distant view of the soaring amphitheater of El Jem.
Mosaic picture depicting infant Dionysus

Mosaic picture depicting Dionysus.
Mosaic picture depicting Aeon and other divinities

Remains of a residence. Town remains are next to the museum.
Remains of a residence viewed from the entrance

The amphitheater of El Jem. Yes, it's colossal.
Looking up the structure of the amphitheater of El Jem

Internal structure of the amphitheater.
Souvenir shop next to the amphitheater

November 18, afternoon : Visited the town remains of Thuburbo Majus. Then came back to Tunis and stayed there.

Town remains of Thuburbo Majus.
Temple of Mercury

Market of Thuburbo Majus.
Temple of the goddess Baalat

The Capitol of Thuburbo Majus.
Remains of residences at Thuburbo Majus

Entrance to the sanctuary of the goddess Caelestis.
The Capitol in the setting sunlight

November 19 : Departed Tunis in the early morning and flew back to Osaka via Paris. We arrived at Osaka in the morning of November 20.

Created by Noboru Ogata
Since November 4, 2010 : Updated March 25, 2016