You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Aqueduct from Ziqua to Carthage seen from Uthina; (inset) section of "Tabula Peutingeriana", a Vth century map of the roads of the Roman Empire; the red dot indicates Uthina (spelt as Uthica); the blue dots indicate Thuburbo Majus and Carthage
We continued our course
along a level turfy plain leaving on our right the magnificent aqueduct
of Carthage. This plain, with these colossal ruins stretching
across it, reminded me strongly of the Campagna of Rome. In three quarters of an hour
we arrived at Udina, built partly in the plain
and partly on a projecting spur of the neighbouring chain of heights. (..) in the Tabula Itineraria
Peutingeriana is marked a place called
Uthica twenty miles from Tunis.
Sir Grenville Temple - Excursions in the Mediterranean - 1835
judging from its remains, must have been both
a large and a flourishing town; and we still see
the ruins of its acropolis, built on an elevated
rock, and containing large vaults which were
used as cisterns and magazines. Temple
Mirage is a word which one easily associates with Africa and I thought of a mirage when in April 2012 I saw some colossal broken columns on a high podium at a great distance while returning by train to Tunis from Thuburbo Majus. My Italian guidebook gave the following description of Uthina, the only ancient town in the area: The ruins are imposing, but difficult to identify. One sees the foundations of towers, of a Byzantine fortress and remains of cisterns, baths and of an amphitheatre, without making any references to a large temple. Before the last restoration/reconstruction campaign in 2007-2012 visitors to Uthina would have only seen the foundations of the forum of the town on a hill ... and on top of it the pink farmhouse that M. Ducroquet, a French colonist, built there in the early XXth century.
(above) View from the Capitolium over the site of the theatre (left) and the Great Baths (right); (below) shepherds and sheep with a penchant for archaeological areas (not the only ones, see the introductory page)
The citadel occupies a very commanding situation; and from it, the village of Sidi Boo-saeed bears north- east, and the Jebel er-Roossas, east-south-east. (..) Two large cisterns supported by square pillars, (..) and still retaining in many parts their coating of strong cement, the ruins of a large palace, some smaller cisterns, vestiges of two temples, an aqueduct, a theatre, and remains of other edifices (..) may also be seen. Temple
National Museum of Antiquities of Algiers: mosaics from Uthina depicting sea creatures
Jean-Baptiste Evariste Charles Pricot de Sainte-Marie, a French diplomat, carried out excavations at Uthina in 1873-1876, before the establishment in 1881 of the French Protectorate over Tunisia. In particular he unearthed the amphitheatre of the town the remains of which Temple had mistaken for those of a large palace. Some of his findings, including a head of Emperor Hadrian, were donated to the Museum of Algiers, a city and country which the French occupied in 1830.
It is a very perfect amphitheatre, with an
elliptical arena; the major axis is about seventy-seven yards in length, and the minor
one fifty-five. Four principal entrances led into it, and these, together with many of
the upper arches, are still in a very perfect condition. No doubt, in the construction
of this, advantage was taken of a natural depression on the top of a mamelon (a dome shaped elevation) in which it is sunk.
R. L. Playfair - Travels in the footsteps of Bruce in Algeria and Tunis - 1877
Less restored section of the Amphitheatre
Today amphitheatres are the most popular Roman monuments and often local authorities promote their reconstruction to increase the attractiveness of an archaeological site. Uthina can be reached in half an hour from Tunis or from the beaches of Yasmine Hammamet, the first tourist destination of the country and this explains why a large effort was made here, rather than in other faraway Roman towns.
Amphitheatre: (above) external ring with semipilasters, a typical feature of Roman architecture which decorates the attic of Colosseo; (below) steps of the seating section with letters; the image used as background for this page shows an arch of the amphitheatre
|Other ancient amphitheatres in this web site:|
The Colosseo of Rome
The Amphitheatre of Albano
The Amphitheatre of Capua
The Amphitheatre of Verona
The Amphitheatre of Pompeii
The Amphitheatre of Catania
The Amphitheatre of Syracuse
The Amphitheatre of Sutri
The Amphitheatre of Alba Fucens
The Amphitheatre of Urbs Salvia (Urbisaglia)
The Amphitheatre of Pola in Istria
The Amphitheatre of Salona in Dalmatia
The Amphitheatre of Arles in France
The Amphitheatre of Bordeaux in France
The Amphitheatre of Nîmes in France
The Amphitheatre of Périgueux in France
The Amphitheatre of Saintes in France
The Amphitheatre of Toulouse in France
The Amphitheatre(s) of Carnuntum in Austria
The Amphitheatre of Trier in Germany
The Amphitheatre of Isca Augusta (Caerleon) in Wales
The Amphitheatre of London
The Amphitheatre of Italica in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Merida in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Tarragona in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Caesarea Maritima in Israel
The Amphitheatre of Carthage
The Amphitheatre of Mactaris (Makhtar) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Djem) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thapsus in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Leptis Magna in Libya
House of the Laberii (late Ist century - early IInd century AD): (above) overall view which shows its large courtyard or garden; (below) hall with the Mosaic with Rural Life and Hunting Scenes
In 1892 Paul Gauckler, a young archaeologist in charge of the Department of Art and Antiquities of the French Administration of Tunisia, began a new campaign of excavations at Uthina. Rather than investigating the visible monuments, he chose an area at the foot of the town which was sheltered from the hot south-eastern winds. His guess was soon rewarded by the discovery of a fine mosaic in a room of the House of the Laberii. He eventually unearthed a series of other rich houses. The finest floor mosaics were moved to the Bardo Museum in Tunis, but recently copies of them were placed at their original location.
Paul Gauckler was also in charge of the development of a national archaeological museum inside a palace of the Bey of Tunis and the mosaics from Uthina were placed (and still are) in one of its finest halls. The elaborate motif of four kantharos (jars) from which a grapevine grows with Cupids and birds harvesting it can also be seen in mosaics at Thysdrus and Ippona. It will be eventually adopted also for Christian works of art, e.g. at Uppenna, at S. Costanza in Rome and at Qabr Hiram in Lebanon. The central medallion portrays young Dionysus next to a bearded slave who presents on his behalf a grape to King Ikarios, seated on a throne. The scene is very calm in contrast with the animation of the 28 Cupids who are busily working in the grapevine.
The economy of Roman Tunisia was based on agriculture and the Laberii had no doubt large estates; the central part of this mosaic depicts scenes related to farming and breeding; they provide interesting information on the tools and equipment which were used at the time. These scenes are surrounded by others showing some more pleasant aspects of countryside life: playing the flute, hunting a boar, pushing partridges into a net and horse hunting a she-lion.
Countryside life was depicted also in other mosaics and in particular in that of Dominus Julius (late IVth century) which was found at Carthage. The capturing alive of wild animals with nets was a profitable economic activity, probably not at Uthina, but in less farmed areas of Northern Africa, as shown in a mosaic at Hippo Regius.
(above) Museum of Bardo: small mosaic from House of the Laberii depicting Fox and Hare Hunting; (below) Villa del Casale in Sicily: detail of the Mosaic of the Little Hunt showing a scene of fox hunting; the mosaics at Villa del Casale were most likely made by craftsmen from Tunisia; notice the similar depiction of symbolic vegetation and shadows and the white background
Extensive farming activity in Tunisia and Sicily led to the disappearance of boars, deer, wolves and other big wild animals. The rich, similar to what occurred in England in the XVIIth century with the increase of arable land, turned to hunting small animals with the help of trained hounds.
Baths of the Laberii
Gauckler associated the large house with a nearby, but not adjoining, small bath establishment where he found a mosaic with the inscription MASVRI IN PRAEDIS LABERIORVM LABERIANVS ET PAVLINVS which he translated as Masurius (made this mosaic) in the premises of Laberianus and Paulinus Laberii. Based on the inscription Gaulkner gave a name to the villa and the baths.
(above) House of Industrius; (below) details of its floor mosaics
Overall Gauckler identified four large houses and sixteen smaller ones with a total of 75 floor mosaics. That of Industrius was named after an inscription on a mosaic which was thought to indicate the name of the mosaic maker. The geometric mosaics were usually left on the site.
The excavation campaigns by Gaulkler led to some very interesting findings, but after he resigned from his post in 1905, Uthina was forgotten. The land where it stood was bought by a French colonist and no other archaeological activities were carried out until 1992 when the area was acquired by the Tunisian State. Initially archaeologists focussed on the maintenance of the main monuments after such a long period of neglect. In 2007-2012 the neighbourhood of the houses was thoroughly investigated and a public bath establishment was unearthed near the Laberii properties.
The subject was a very popular one and similar mosaics were found at Villa del Casale and Leptis Magna. Mosaics were initially meant exclusively for the decoration of floors; they actually were a technique for making them waterproof. At a later time this feature led to the use of mosaics for the decoration of the walls of fountains, as shown by a house of Herculaneum and of baths. Their use was expanded in Christian time to the decoration of tombstones and baptismal fonts (in Tunisia) and to that of ceilings and walls of mausoleums or churches (in Italy).
Archaeological activity was still going on in 2019 and parts of the baths were still to be excavated while safety measures were not yet in place to allow visitors inside them. From the outside however one could see a very interesting latrine with seven seats arranged in a manner which promotes socialization, rather than ensuring privacy. This usage of making the latrines a finely decorated part of Roman baths where people could have a chat was very common, see the latrines at Sabratha, Leptis Magna and Ostia.
Another large bath establishment was identified in the eastern part of the town. The imposing ruins which were unearthed are those of the underground facilities beneath the bathing halls, similar to what occurred at the Antonine Baths of Carthage. Their layout was such that the calidarium (hot room) had a south-west exposure in order to enjoy long hours of sunshine, in line with a practice which can be noted in other Roman baths, e.g. at Thugga and at Terme di Caracalla. The baths were built and enlarged approximately at the same time as the amphitheatre.
Uthina was supplied with water by an aqueduct which captured the water of three springs in the mountain to the south-east of the town for a total length of 10 km.
Great Cistern at the Forum
The water was stored in seven cisterns outside the town and in a very large one near the Forum, which supplied water to the Great Baths. Aqueduct and cisterns were built in the IInd century together with the other main public monuments of the town.
Capitolium: reconstructed front; (inset) an ancient capital
The Forum of Uthina was located at the top of the hill; it must have had a porticoed square, a basilica and other public buildings, but the ravages of time and the construction of Ducroquet's farming facilities and lodgings will require a major effort by archaeologists to identify and unearth its original aspect. Insofar work has concentrated on partially reconstructing the front of the Capitolium, a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the gods who were worshipped on the Capitoline Hill and which was a symbol of Rome.
The Capitolium stood on a very high podium, similar to that of Ostia and to achieve this objective an artificial terrace was built on the edge of the hill which made it visible from afar. Archaeologists were not able to find much of the original material and therefore the overall effect of the reconstruction is not as convincing as that carried out at Thuburbo Majus.
Floor mosaic with Solomon's knots near the Capitolium
Plan of this section:
Aphrodisium and Sullectum
Sidi Ghrib Roman Villa
Thapsus and Leptis Minor
Mosaics in the Museum of Bardo
Mosaics in the Museum of Sousse