You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
drawings is one showing five of the
columns still in place when he visited
it, as also a small portion of the entablature. The palm-trees to the right of the picture have beyond all doubt been added to increase the effect of the pictures. No palm-trees exist within many miles of this place.
Travels in the footsteps of Bruce in Algeria and Tunis, illustrated by facsimiles of his original drawings; by R. L. Playfair - 1877
The place was first visited by the author in 1875, and described in his Footsteps of Bruce. The ruins of Timegad are certainly the most remarkable in the colony, and it is quite pardonable in the French to style them the Algerian Pompeii. Extensive excavations have lately been carried out.
John Murray - Handbook for Travellers in Algeria and Tunis - 1895 (written by R. L. Playfair)
James Bruce was appointed British consul at Algiers in 1763. In 1765 he undertook an exploration of the Roman ruins in Eastern Algeria. He was accompanied by Luigi Balugani, an Italian draughtsman. He was the first European to visit ancient Thamugadi. Later on he acquired fame for his travels to Ethiopia to search for the source of the Nile.
Robert Lambert Playfair was appointed British consul at Algiers in 1867 and in 1875 he visited the locations Bruce had described in manuscripts and drawings. When Playfair first visited Thamugadi archaeological activities were yet to be started. In 1895 he wrote a John Murray handbook where the first results of the excavations were accounted for.
(above) View of the Old Town from the Northern Gate; (below) view from the Theatre
(In January 1887) we passed a pleasant week at Batna, where the railway
ended, and saw the ruins of Timgad, the
finest and most splendid Roman ruins in the world. They
were still unexcavated, and a forest of columns, marking the
site of the forum, stood on a marble platform on the slope
of a mountain and facing a long range of snow-covered crests.
Rev. Archibald Henry Sayce - Reminiscences - 1923
Emperor Trajan wishing to recompense the veterans of the thirtieth legion, Ulpia Victrix, for their participation in the war against the Parthians, established them at Thamugas, not only as being a vast and fertile country, but a position of great military importance, from which they might be able to suppress the turbulence of the neighbouring mountaineers. (..) Thamugas appears to have been of greater importance than Lambaesis; its population was as great, if not greater, to judge by the size of its public buildings, especially the theatre and the area covered by its remains, while its architecture is undoubtedly older and purer. (..) The explanation of this probably is that Lambaesis was the great military station of the country, and that Thamugas was rather the centre of commercial and agricultural activity. Playfair 1877
Timgad is a consummate example of a Roman military colony created ex nihilo as "Colonia Marciana Traiana Thamugadi". It was founded in 100 A.D. by Trajan, probably as an encampment for the 3rd Augustan Legion which, thereafter, was quartered at Lambaesis. Its plan, laid out with great precision, illustrates Roman urban planning at its height. By the middle of the 2nd century, the rapid growth of the city had ruptured the narrow confines of its original foundation. Timgad spread beyond the perimeters of its ramparts and several major public buildings were built in the new quarters: Capitolium, temples, markets and baths.
From the 1982 UNESCO brief synthesis of the outstanding universal value of Timgad.
New neighbourhoods were developed beyond the western gate which was turned into a triumphal arch; they are covered in another page.
It was the custom of the Romans as soon as they had selected the site of a city, to trace two lines at right angles to each other, one from N. to S. and the other from E. to W. These were called Cardo Maximus and Decumanus Maximus; they became the principal streets of the city, and their point of intersection was chosen for the site of the Forum. The traveller alights at the Director's house when reaching Timegad. Immediately in front of him is the North Gate of the city, the termination of the Cardo Maximus. The piers on each side of the gate are in good preservation, but the arch has disappeared. Fragments of a boldly traced inscription which once adorned the attic are lying beside it. From this a paved road, which had a colonnade on each side, leads directly to the Forum. Murray 1895
(above) Inscription of the year 149 celebrating Emperor Antoninus Pius which stood on the Northern Gate; (below) latrines of the small baths adjoining the gate
Thamugadi was crossed by an east-west road from Theveste (Tebessa) to Lambaesis. Theveste was another military town near today's border between Algeria and Tunisia, not far from Sufetula. It retains many important Roman monuments but because of terrorist acts foreigners are advised not to visit it.
The Northern Gate of Thamugadi was the end of the road from Cirta (Constantina) and it had an attic with a large inscription. Near the gate travellers found baths where they could have a rest. The location of baths near a gate can be noticed in many Roman towns, e.g. at Cuicul and Ostia.
Library of Rogatianus: (above) its portico on Cardo Maximus; (below) semicircular hall
Timgad possesses a rich architectural inventory comprising numerous and diversified typologies, relating to the different historical stages of its construction. (..) Timgad illustrates a living image of Roman colonisation in North Africa over three centuries. UNESCO
One of the most remarkable monuments of the Old Town is a library along Cardo Maximus. It was housed in a semicircular hall with recesses, separated by columns, for the scroll cases; in the axis was a statue of Minerva. The hall was adjoined by six other rooms.
The inscription does not contain time references, but from its wording archaeologists believe the library was built in the late IIIrd century. Rogatianus bequeathed a large sum to his hometown (Reipublicae Coloniae Thamugadensium) for the construction of a library (opus bibliothecae) and the money was actually employed for that purpose. In addition to the celebratory inscription, municipal authorities erected a statue to the donor. Sesterces were a brass coin which were often used as unit of account in Roman inscriptions. It was not uncommon to exactly state the money which was poured on public facilities. Emperor Augustus had done so in Index Rerum Gestarum, his spiritual testament in which he listed his accomplishments and made reference to the money he spent on donations and public works, e.g. I paid cash gratuities to the soldiers, and for this purpose I expended four hundred million sesterces as an act of grace.
Western arm of Decumanus Maximus, the urban section of the road from Theveste to Lambaesis, with the Arch of Trajan at its end
The Forum has lately been entirely
unearthed. The Decumanus Maximus had a colonnade
in its entire length, from which the
inhabitants must have enjoyed one of
the most charming views it is possible
to imagine. Murray
The streets formed a regularly shaped grid of blocks, six of them E of the cardo and five to the W and were paved with large rectangular limestone slabs.
Timgad adopts the guidelines of Roman town-planning governed by a remarkable grid system. Timgad thus constitutes a typical example of an urban model, the permanence of the original plan of the military encampment having governed the development of the site throughout all the ulterior periods and still continues to bear witness to the building inventiveness of the Roman military engineers. UNESCO
(above) The Forum seen from the Basilica; (below) the Basilica and behind it the hill with the Theatre
This forum is the building described by Bruce as "the remains of a temple, only a piece of side wall now standing". The passage in his diary regarding the interment of a statue deserves the attention of future explorers. I only regret that his manuscripts were not in my possession prior to our visit. I have a distinct recollection of seeing the mutilated remains of a statue on the spot, which may have been that of Antoninus, and it is very probable that the bust of Faustina may still be where Bruce buried it. Playfair 1877
Colonnades surrounded the rectangular forum on all four sides. It was filled with statues of which only a few pedestals remain. The inscriptions indicate they portrayed a number of deities, some of the emperors and many local magistrates.
The reader needs hardly be reminded that the ancient basilica was a court of justice; the praetor or principal judge was seated in the apse with assessors on either side. A railing separated this from the nave. This peculiar form was so perfectly adapted for Christian worship that it was at once adopted by the western church. The bishop took the place of the praetor in cathedrals and his subordinates in the hierarchy those of the assessors. The altar, like the pedestal and statue of the god among the ancients, was situated before him, separating him from the congregation collected in the nave and aisles; the gallery, when there was one, became the clerestory, and the open court in front, the narthex, in which the unbaptized remained during the performance of religious ceremonies. Murray
The E side of the forum is flanked by a basilica where there is a raised tribunal decorated with columns (you may wish to see that at Pompeii). Rows of shops have been identified on the southern and northern sides of the Forum.
Forum/Basilica: (above) inscription celebrating Emperor Septimius Severus; (below-left) dedication to Mercury Augustus; (below-right) betting game in the basilica
When Emperor Caracalla ordered the damnatio memoriae (the cancellation of all references) of his brother Geta whom he had assassinated in order not to share the throne with him, he did not expect to achieve the opposite result. Geta was mentioned in very many inscriptions celebrating his father Septimius Severus and the way local authorities modified them aroused the curiosity of archaeologists and historians who most often were able to find out which words had been erased as at the Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome. In the inscription at Thamugadi et P(ublii) Septimi(i) Getae nobil(issimi) Caesaris fratri were replaced by Iuliae Aug(ustae) matr(is) cast(rorum) et
sen(atus) ac patriae a reference to Julia Domna, Septimius' wife.
Several games are rudely engraved on the floors. On the pavement of the portico, opposite the Central Stair, is another with holes for marbles, and a large sun-dial is traced in the Central Court. Murray
Similar carvings can be found throughout the whole Roman Empire, e.g. in Rome, at Qasr al-Azraq in Jordan and Rovigno in today's Croatia.
Another edifice has been identified
as a Temple of Victory, and there are
several Tribunes from which harangues
were made. Murray
The temple is located on the western side of the Forum. Inscriptions on its small terrace make reference to Trajan's victories, so the Forum did not have a Capitolium, a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, a traditional symbol of Rome; this was built in a sort of new forum when the town was enlarged.
The eastern arm of Decumanus Maximus at a short distance from the Forum housed a market. It is made up of two small semicircular courtyards behind an outer building on the street. The latter consists of a row of stalls that form a sort of façade along the Decumanus. Other shops surrounded the two courtyards. A larger market known as Sestius' Market was built in the new neighbourhood.
Latrine near the Forum
A small public latrine was identified to the E of the Forum. In the rubble archaeologists found small stone dolphins that were part of the decoration. In 1916 Albert Ballu, the French archaeologist in charge of the excavations wrote in Guide illustré de Timgad, a guidebook to the ruins of Timgad: Each seat was supported by vertical stones and by partitions in the shape of dolphins which fit together with them. We reconstructed three of these seats, respectively with one, two or three holes. In all there were twenty-six holes.
Over time the seat with one hole, which vaguely resembled a throne and was assumed to grant some privacy (which it did not) became an iconic image of Timgad. You may wish to see other large Roman public facilities at Ostia and Leptis Magna and a small one with individual seats at Uthina.
Home to Planters (Maison aux Jardinières)
A charming house with a direct, albeit hidden access to the Forum is located near its NE corner. It was most likely an official residence, perhaps for the Flamen Augusti, the priest/officer in charge of the ceremonies in honour of the emperors. It might have been used by the Governor of Numidia when he visited the colony. There is evidence that the peristyle was decorated with plants, hence its name.
The Theatre with the Forum in the background
A passage from the Forum gives access to the Theatre, built on the abrupt northern flank of a hill, the opposite side of which slopes towards the S. This monument was of considerable dimensions and intended for the accommodation of nearly 4,000 persons. The auditorium is quite entire, but the scena has disappeared. It is easy, however, to see where it must have been. The building was executed in a substantial manner, generally of solid rubble masonry faced with cut stone of considerable dimensions. (..) This theatre is larger than that of Pompeii, but smaller than most others. Its greatest width is 63.60 metres; that of Pompeii is 60 metres, while the Greek theatre of Taormina is 82.40 metres. Murray 1895
(left-above) The Theatre seen from the stage; (left-below) inscription found on one of the doors of the theatre in which L. Matuccius Fuscinus, Numidian Legate and patron of Thamugadi, celebrates Emperor Antoninus Pius; (right) inscription celebrating the shows paid for by a local benefactor to celebrate Emperor Septimius Severus: also in this inscription the reference to Geta is deleted
The theatre was believed to be cut in the hillside; additional research showed that its northern section towards the Forum rests on arches. It was crowned by a semicircular colonnade behind which archaeologists found evidence of a temple built at the same time as the theatre.
The image used as background for this page shows a relief depicting a bull being led to the sacrifice from a vase at the museum.
Visit the monuments outside the Old Town or move to:
Lol or Caesarea Mauretaniae (Cherchell)
Cirta or Constantina
Castellum Tidditanorum (Tiddis)
Hippo Regius (Annaba)
Archaeological Museum of Algiers