After defeating and destroying Carthage in the 3rd Punic War, the Romans annexed the Carthaginian lands and made them new Roman colonies. Africa Proconsularis began in 146 BC with its capital at Utica, a port city on the Bagrada River that had sided with the Romans in the 3rd Punic War.
The Carthage we usually think of, the Carthage of the Phoenicians for which Hannibal fought and almost won in the 2nd Punic War around 200 BC, was destroyed in AD 146 by Scipio Africanus the Younger (Scipio Aemilianus). His troops worked their way through the city, killing everyone they found and burning the buildings behind them. Of the 300,000 who lived there before Scipio attacked, about 50,000 survived to be sold as slaves. The site of the destroyed city was cursed with the intention that it would never be resettled. (It was NOT salted to make it uninhabitable.)
The location of Punic Carthage was so desirable that Julius Caesar planned to start a Roman colony there. However, he was murdered before he could. His adopted son Octavian, who was later called Augustus, carried out Caesar’s plan and built Carthago there as a colonia for retired legionaries and the poor of overpopulated Rome. He made it the new capital of the province.
At that time, the climate was excellent for growing grain and olive trees, and North Africa became the supplier of almost 2/3 of the grain needed to feed Rome. Most of the remaining 1/3 came from Egypt. To ensure no disruption of the grain supply, the Urban Cohort had a cohort stationed in Carthago. In AD 128, the Urban Prefect, who was commander of the Urban Cohorts in Rome and effectively the mayor of the city of Rome, transferred Glabrio from commanding the XI Cohort in Rome to the XIII Cohort that was responsible for policing Carthage and the area around it.
Artist’s reconstruction of Roman Carthage from https://www.romanports.org/
In this reconstruction, you can see the two artificial harbors that were built by the original Carthaginians. The rectangular harbor was for commercial ships. The circular harbor was once the military harbor of Carthage before the Romans destroyed the city in 146 BC . After Augustus built the new Roman Carthago on the remains of the old city, the circular harbor served commercial ships during Glabrio’s time.
Along the seashore by the harbors and extending some distance past them was the long quay where many ships could dock, including the massive ships of the grain fleet that fed Rome.
On the left, you can see the lagoon where the grain and amphoras of olive oil from Volero’s and Messala’s estates could be loaded onto boats to be taken to the ocean-going ships in Carthago that would carry them on to Rome.
The rectangular complex of buildings atop the hill is the Forum, where the council meets and where Glabrio’s headquarters are located. Between the two, you can see the agora, the large market place with permanent shops around the edge and many stalls set up in the open area.
The amphitheater where the gladiators fought is the large oval building near the west edge of town. Near it is the circus where chariot races were held often. It was one of the largest in the empire, being about 3/4 as long as the Circus Maximus in Rome. Two theaters toward the north edge of town were for plays and concerts.
Where you’ll travel as you read the story
Although Tribune Glabrio has been commanding the XI Urban Cohort in Rome (8 on the map), he’s been transferred to command the XIII Urban Cohort that’s stationed in Carthago (1) to make sure the grain harvested in North Africa reaches the people of Rome. For the one million residents of Rome, two thirds of the grain came from North Africa with most of the remaining third coming from Egypt. Nothing could cause unrest in Rome faster than an interruption of the free or heavily subsidized bread made with that grain, so it made sense for a unit of the Urban Cohort to make sure that didn’t happen.
The labels on the map correspond to the following locations:
(1)Carthago: capital of Africa Proconsularis; rebuilt by Augustus where Phoenician Carthage had been destroyed in 146 BC in 3rd Punic War; 4th largest city in the Empire, population over 300,000. Near present-day Tunis, Tunisia.
(2) Cigisa: town with garrison on the Bagrada River, close to Martina’s estate. Now Sidi Thabet, Tunisia.
(3) Uthina: Small city established by Augustus for retired legionaries (a colonia) from the XIII Gemina Legion with a garrison of the III Augusta Legion stationed there in AD 128. Near present-day Oudna, Tunisia.
(4) Inuca : town on road going southwest from Carthago. Now Gourbis, Tunisia.
(5) Utica: port city on Bagrada River and capital of province of Africa before Carthago was built by Augustus. Utica is only ruins. No longer on the coast where it once was a major port, but further inland because deforestation and agriculture upriver led to massive erosion so the Medjerda River silted over its original mouth. The dashed line is my approximation for the ancient coastline. About 30 km from present-day Tunis.
(6) Ad Gallinacium : military station on the road to Utica.Mare Nostrum: “our sea,” what the Romans called the Mediterranean Sea.
(7) Roma: capital of the Roman Empire, population approximately 1 million in AD 128.
(8) Ostia and Portus: port towns at the mouth of the Tiber, main ports for Rome.
(9) Leptis Magna: major port city in Africa Proconsularis province. Near present-day Khoms, Libya, 81 miles east of Tripoli (130 km).
(10) Pupput: port town south of Carthago. Now Hammamet.
(11) Hadrumentum: port city south of Carthago. Now Sousse, Tunisia.
(12) Puteoli: port city in Italia south of Rome, third major port serving Rome. Now Pozzuoli, Italy.
(A) Bagrada River : Silting has moved the river’s path and the shoreline away from Utica since AD 128. Dashed line is my estimate of the ancient shoreline. Now the Medjerda River.
For a good article on Roman Carthage, seek the article at RomanPorts.org.