Hundreds of inscriptions revealing fascinating tale of ancient city uncovered in Tunisia

The Latin text describes the founding of temples and other public buildings, names inscribed on tombstones and other everyday matters of the bustling city’s inhabitants, telling the story of what was important enough for them, to record it in stone. Mustis Archaeological Project/Facebook

Over 130 Roman inscriptions and a fascinating tale of a city’s evolution have been uncovered by Polish archaeologists in the ancient site of Mustis, in northern Tunisia.

The team from Warsaw University’s Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, in cooperation with Tunisian National Heritage Institute finished their work a month ago and are now publishing their findings.

Mustis, or Musti, was an ancient metropolis with rural suburbs covering the area of over 34 ha. 

It was established by Numidian tribes, which formed an ancient kingdom conquered by the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BC. 

Mustis was an ancient metropolis with rural suburbs covering the area of over 34 ha. Mustis Archaeological Project/Facebook

A Roman colony was founded there, probably for the army veterans commanded by the famous general Gaius Marius. 

The Numidian settlement bloomed into a Roman metropolis with numerous public structures such as temples dedicated to Pluto, Apollo and Ceres, Triumph Arcs, thermae, villas built for the most prominent citizens and later on even an early medieval Christian basilica. Ruins of the buildings stand tall until today.

Professor Tomasz Waliszewski, who leads the mission, told PAP: "Our epigraphic team has already inventoried over 130 Latin inscriptions from Roman times, and there are many more.” 

Mission leader Professor Tomasz Waliszewski said: 'The richness of these inscriptions can also be seen in numbers - we estimate that there are over 500 Latin inscriptions in the Mustis area and nearby - it's really a lot, even for Africa Proconsularis.'Mustis Archaeological Project/Facebook

The Latin text describes the founding of temples and other public buildings, names inscribed on tombstones and other everyday matters of the bustling city’s inhabitants, telling the story of what was important enough for them, to record it in stone.

"The richness of these inscriptions can also be seen in numbers - we estimate that there are over 500 Latin inscriptions in the Mustis area and nearby - it's really a lot, even for Africa Proconsularis,” added Waliszewski.

Africa Proconsularis was a Roman province which covered today’s Tunisia and partially Libya. The region was highly urbanized, with trade routes running from Carthage to Theveste in today's Algeria. 

The team from Warsaw University’s Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, in cooperation with Tunisian National Heritage Institute finished their work a month ago and are now publishing their findings.Mustis Archaeological Project/Facebook

Apart from its significance in terms of communication and transport, the region was very fertile – grain, olive and vines were cultivated there, leading to a rapid enrichment from 1st to 3rd century AD. 

Similar to other Roman outposts in Africa, Mustis, located 120 km from Carhage, suffered a crisis due to Vandal invasion and rule Vandals (5th - 6th century). 

The last excavated objects found in the city come from 12th century, which is suspected to be the end of its decline, though exact history remains unknown.

Apart from the numerous Latin inscriptions, the excavations shed new life on the Roman urbanization of the region. 

Musti or Mustis was an ancient city and bishopric in the Roman province of Proconsular Africa, now in northern Tunisia.Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

The settlers from Italia, rather than build their own cities, lived together with the local populace, building their structures over the already existing ones, leading to a mingling of cultures with Roman as the dominant one.

"Roman remains were simply too spectacular compared to the poor Numidian homes. Perhaps, moreover, we are also wrong and new research will show that the Numidian culture of pre-Roman Africa was much richer, drawing inspiration from the surrounding Punic and Greek world, " wonders Prof. Waliszewski.

The last excavated objects found in the city come from 12th century, which is suspected to be the end of its decline, though exact history remains unknown.Mustis Archaeological Project/Facebook

The ruins of Mustis were popular with travellers from the late nineteenth century, however only limited reconstruction and archaeological work has been done there. 

Three temples and a city gate were partially rebuilt, even though the inscriptions point to the presence of even 11 pagan temples. 

Apart from the numerous Latin inscriptions, the excavations shed new life on the Roman urbanization of the region. Mustis Archaeological Project/Facebook

Epigraphic studies of local Latin inscriptions allowed the researchers to learn more about the city’s history. 

Now Polish archaeologists hope for more thorough examination of the region.