Carthage: Two capital cities | Bir Massouda Site

Carthage: Two Capital Cities

Carthage was founded according to classical tradition in 814/13 BC by Phoenician emigrants from Tyre in present-day Lebanon under the guidance of a princess called Elissa or Dido. Its Phoenician name, Qarthadasht, means "New City" which acknowledged its relationship to Tyre, i.e., Carthage was the new Tyre. To date, archaeological research has not uncovered traces of this city earlier than c. 760 BC. (but see now: new Radiocarbon dates). Thus, the exact date and nature of the foundation remains one of the mysteries of Carthage. The Phoenician city, called Punic by the Romans from the 6th century BC onwards, flourished until its total destruction by these very same Romans at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC.

Carthage in the Punic period
(courtesy Musee de Carthage, KK)

Although the city was officially re-founded as a colony, Colonia Iulia Concordia Carthago, by Octavian (later named Augustus) in 29 BC, recent excavations on the site by the Universität Hamburg indicate an earlier Roman occupation dating to the Late Republican period, perhaps to the time of Caesar in 44 BC. Soon after its re-founding, Carthage became the capital of the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis. In Late Antiquity (4th till 7th centuries AD) Carthage turned into a "Christian Metropolis", as one scholar has recently defined it. Thereafter, the city practically disappears from the historical and archaeological records.

Bir Massouda Site

In the geographical centre of the city three coordinated archaeological missions, under the aegis of the Tunisian Archaeological Service (INP), are investigating a large and surprisingly undeveloped site, which is slightly less than 2 hectares (185 x 100 m). Modern buildings define its northern and southern limits, the local TGM railroad (Train La Goulette à La Marsa) its western border, and the main road, Avenue Habib Bourguiba its eastern edge. The Arab name for the site, Bir Massouda or Bir Messaouda, apparently hints at the animals (snakes) which one is likely to encounter on the site. On a French map of Carthage dating to 1958, but based on an earlier survey of the city, the site is labeled as "Culture", suggesting an agricultural use. Four small structures, called "Gourbis" (huts) occupied the site. At present, no traces of these remain. The largest of these huts, lying in the southern part of the site, shows a remarkable orientation. Its walls align exactly with the orientations of Roman insula walls. Were Roman structures possibly used as its foundations? The rectangular building (c. 17 x 7 m) probably consisted of domestic space in its eastern part and a shed or stable in its western part. Two walls defining an inner-court connected the two parts. Local informants mention the Adel Kader family to have lived here. During the 2000 and 2001 excavations no architectural remains of the gourbis could documented, although many finds could be linked with its occupants.