Augustine in Algeria

Conference ----  Site Visits  ---- Travelers' Tales  ---- Security Situation

Site visits -- Hippo -- Tagaste -- Madauros -- Calama Three days of the week were devoted to site visits in eastern Algeria.  I was only able to participate in the first two days, but Professor Patout Burns has been kind enough to supply an account of the third.  The agenda took us on the first day to Annaba, site of ancient Hippo Regius, Augustine's episcopal see and place of residence from 391-430.  The second day took us 75 miles up country to Mdaourouch (ancient Madauros), where Augustine attended grammar school (and, incidentally, where Apuleius was born), and to Souk Ahras (ancient Tagaste), where Augustine was born and raised.  Tagaste's archaeological remains have never been excavated and have indeed probably been destructively overbuilt, but Madauros survives because the present-day community is built at about at two-mile distance from the ancient site, which is quite isolated and unspoiled.  On the third day, the group visited Guelma (ancient Calama), site of the bishopric of Augustine's friend and biographer Possidius and site of substantial and interesting archaeological remains.

Modern map of Hippo and its hinterlands: a fuller collection of maps of ancient north Africa is available.

Hippo Regius.   Hippo Regius, so named because it dated from the time of the Numidian kings, sat at the mouth of the Seybouse river at the base of a rich and fertile plain.  Still today, the surrounding countryside is prosperous farmland, pleasant to see in spring time, and marked by grain elevators and other markers of serious and successful farming.  The course of the river has changed slightly since antiquity and there has been substantial alluvial silting to change and extend the coastline.  The most important effect of these changes has been to encourage the local community to resettle gradually away from the site of ancient Hippo, edging north and closer into the shadow of the Djebel Edough.  The two surprises of Hippo for me were the prosperity and lushness of the surrounding country (Tuscan, one observer thought comparatively) and the other was the height of the looming ridge of the Dj. Edough on the west and north of town.  When we were there a week or two after the vernal equinox, the sun was setting behind that ridge and would clearly migrate north behind the ridge as summer progressed.  This means that local perceived sunset will always be an hour or so earlier than astronomical sunset -- the sun disappears behind the mountain ridge well before "setting", and so the site will have long and pleasant summer twilights without direct sun.  I knew the same benefit in southern New Mexico and west Texas as a child and was always grateful for the respite from summer sun.  In deepest winter, however, the sun for Hippo will probably set far enough south of west to escape the mountains and hold its light as long as possible.

The Seybouse is not navigable and never has been:  too narrow, too silted; but it is a mark of the well-watered nature of this coastal plain.  It has always run quite close to the site of the ancient city.

To approach the ancient city from the center of modern Annaba, you drive south from the "cours de la Révolution" (formerly the "cours Jérôme Bertagna", after a dominant local figure of the turn of the last century, pre-revolution), past the Annaba-Guelma railway station, then turn inland between two small rises of land.  Atop one is the small former penitentiary that now serves as the site's museum; on the other is the modern (1881-1900) basilica of Saint Augustine, built in imitation of the modern cathedral of Carthage (and both bear a strong resemblance to Sacre Coeur in Paris). Between the two lies the excavated area of the heart of Hippo, extending from the forum (close under the hill of the basilica) to the "Christian Quarter" at the other extreme.  (There is also an ancient theatre, on the other side of the museum hill, but we were not taken there and, given the security arrangements, individual exploration was not feasible.)

It is worth saying first that the sight is a delight to explore.  We were divided in groups of about 25-30 and taken by turns to the remains, the museum, and the basilica.  We were thus the only visitors of the day, in perfect cloudless cool fresh weather.  The site is well kept, unobtrusively marked and walkwayed, and shows little wear and tear from tourism.  The excavations go back mainly to the work of the French naval officer Erwan Marec, and little has been done (as is true elsewhere in Algeria as well) in the last fifty years. (See E. Marec, Monuments chrétiens d'Hippone (1958), as supplemented by H.-I. Marrou, "La basilique chrétienne d'Hippone, d'après le résultat des dernières fouilles," Revue des études augustiniennes (1960) 109-54, and reprinted in his Patristique et Humanisme (1976), 183-232.)

The forum is large and dramatic, laid out roughly NE/SW, bordered by a roadway but paved and maintained.  Most conveniently, it compares well with the Cours of Annaba and is in both length and width rather larger than what has been the heart of the colonial and post-colonial city of now hundreds of thousands of people.  For a Roman coastal city of a few tens of thousands, it made a dramatic statement. It dates from the first century CE.

The site was pre-Roman in several ways.  The decumanus of the town followed a pre-Roman path and is thus slightly irregular in traditional terms, but the irregularity also follows the lay of the land there at the base of a hill.  (The other pre-Roman fact of note is that the modern basilica stands on a hill that had apparently had an ancient shrine of Tanit in Punic days but then had been given over to cisterns for the municipal water supply.  The latter choice is intelligible purely in urban design terms, but one suspects that the eradication of the Punic shrine -- rather than its syncretic adoption as a Roman place of worship -- reflected the politics of 146 BCE and the Roman determination to eradicate Carthaginian traces.)

The Christian Quarter naturally drew our attention in a sustained way.  The large Christian basilica (nave about 37 meters by 18.5 -- just 2/1 ratio of length to width) that remains outlined on the site is easily envisioned (for a description with floor plan, click here).  The interesting historical question that has yet to be answered and may not be answerable is the date of the construction and thus the identity of the builders.  Was this structure originally the property of the community Augustine belonged to, or was it initially raised by the other faction of the African church?  By 411 and after, it was surely Augustine's, but he tells us remarkably little of the process by which his (initially smaller) community absorbed the larger "Donatist" community of Hippo.  Did the absorption involve moving churches?  There is nothing to tell us.  I found myself at one point in the apse of the basilica with Serge Lancel, the eminent French historian (editor of the proceedings of the Conference of Carthage of 411 at which "Donatism" was finally put under ban, and now also author of a distinguished new biography of Augustine), and asked him how many people he thought the basilica could hold -- oh, he shrugged, perhaps 300.  I might have guessed slightly higher, but I was already looking around and wondering what powers of voice it would take to make oneself heard -- and heard as a spellbinding speaker -- in a space so large without amplification:  one can stand approximately where Augustine stood and sense the shape of the place.

That number should give us all pause.  Ramsay MacMullen, in a characteristically trenchant and uncompromising article ("The preacher's audience," Journal of Theological Studies 40(1989) 503-11, has suggested that the size of late Roman churches necessarily implies that the congregations that gathered were anything but comprehensive collections of all the Christians of a city.  MacMullen argues that it was only the rich and powerful who would attend to hear the elegant bishop's sermons.  The issue is still sub iudice particularly as to the composition of the congregation (there is a long tradition of reading Augustine's sermons as having been cast deliberately for a less cultured and sophisticated audience -- not quite Shakespeare's groundlings, but something in that direction), but it is undeniable that the size and shape of church buildings strongly suggests some algorithm of limitation.

The building was not, evidently, richly built and decorated, and there is discussion whether it was ever properly completed -- a fact which may be explained by its construction in the troubled fourth century. If, for example, it was built by "Donatists" in the years after Julian's rehabilitation of them (362ff), it is plausible that a further reversal in imperial policy may have made it difficult to proceed. (See Marrou's article cited above.) Moreover, if we did not have such an interest in Augustine, then we would give more attention than most do to the quite interesting history of this basilica in Vandal times (roughly 430-534), for there is an interesting series of tombs dating from that period, making it the best known -- from the material remains -- part of this building's history.

The apse of the basilica featured a bench running the length of the semicircular back wall, on which the clergy sat for appropriate portions of the service:  that bench remains almost entirely intact, and so perhaps the closest one can come to Augustine physically is to align gluteal muscles in the same physical space that his once occupied.  To read a few lines of the Confessions there, a matter of a few yards from the spot where they will have been conceived and written, seems perfectly appropriate, though perhaps the lines chosen should be the same ones Petrarch read on Mount Ventoux.  (For a description of the eucharistic ritual at Hippo, click here.)

A few yards beyond the basilica from the forum, one finds the remains of the small baptistry.  The font itself is shallower than we expected (though bear in mind that both testers pictured here are beef-eating modern six-footers), and clearly large enough only for a single candidate at a time to join the bishop or deacon. For a description of that ritual, click here. The surviving columns presumably supported curtains for privacy at the decisive moment.

Beyond the church buildings again, the archaeologists have found remains of fine houses, discovery bearing out what Augustine tells us of the property of the wealthy Julianus that lay next to his church (ep. 99.1).

A short, sharp climb up the adjacent hillside (which some think to have been the site of the ancient citadel of the city) leads to a museum housed in what we were assured is an old penitentiary.  The courtyard building has a functioning well in its center, a presiding cat (who seemed particularly responsible for the small library), and three exhibit rooms.  Two of the rooms house quite remarkable mosaics, samples of which I photographed here -- mosaics of the good life of Roman Africa, markers of the prosperity that good and productive farmland adjacent to a safe harbor could mean. I used to compare Hippo, for my students, with the American cities of Fall River and New Bedford MA -- port cities of some prosperity but little cultural charm, cities from which the cultivated resident would often flee to Boston.  That flight to the cultured metropolis remains an appeal from Hippo, but perhaps one should think rather of Omaha or Des Moines -- capital cities of rich farmlands, proud centers of accomplishment and (absent the threats of drought and war) assured prosperity.  

The modern basilica is of less interest to students of Augustine but of no small interest to the history of French colonialism and modern Catholicism.  Inter alia, it houses what is soberly presented as Augustine's elbow.  The story has it that Augustine's remains were removed from Africa either in the time of the Vandals (430-534) or in the face of the Islamic invasions (taking Carthage in 698) to Sardinia, and thence removed again to Pavia, where they lie today in the same church as the remains of Boethius.  Whatever the truth of that story, it was French colonialism and French Catholicism together than made representations in the nineteenth century that it was only appropriate that some piece of Augustine's remains return to Hippo.  Thus in 1842, an elaborate ecclesiastical pilgrimage from Pavia to Bône (as Hippo/Annaba was then known) brought Augustine's elbow.  (The traveling reliquary from that translation was on display in the lobby of Annaba's theater in a small exhibit during our visit.)  The elbow has now been inserted for veneration in the anatomically appropriate spot in a large carved figure of the saint, recumbent behind the main altar of the basilica.  The church is served to this day by Augustinian priests (the archbishop of Algiers, we were told, numbers about 10,000 catholics in his flock and comes himself from metropolitan France).   Plaques on the side walls of the basilica memorialize various benefactors, including a number of Americans and, in at least one case an entire American military unit from World War II.  (One apology will stand for all here:  we traveling Augustine scholars were acutely aware how ill-informed we were about much local history.  On return to the US, I find that the theatre, for example, is a 1940s reconstruction after bombing that destroyed the nineteenth century house on the same site.)

The time spent in ancient Hippo was remarkable for the company we kept.  Most visitors for the conference knew most of the others by name at least, many by more direct relationship, but still mainly at a distance.  But we had all spent years of our lives working on and thinking about what this man Augustine left behind.  So we found ourselves, rather to our own surprise, in this place of his -- given the difficulties of the trip, many of us I think had never expected to get here -- seeing a place we had never seen but about which we knew a great deal.  And so you would find yourself at one point or another among the remains standing next to someone you barely knew, and conversation would ignite about the finer points of the scene -- both of you knowing what the other would know and initiating a conversation as though it were one that had gone on for years, even if the two of you had in fact never met before.  This sense of extraordinary conversational opportunity continued through the trip -- I think particularly of an hour's seminar on Augustine's family and home that ran back and forth in the front row of seats on one of the busses going up to Mdaourouch, a seminar from which I learned more than I usually learn in formal meeting rooms.

Our visit to the site of Hippo Regius lasted about three hours and ended as sunset began to take the light from us.  But a fair description of ancient Hippo requires at least some mention of what we learned the next day on our bus ride south to Souk Ahras and Mdaourouch.

Augustine's responsibility as bishop of Hippo extended over the churches of the surrounding countryside as well.  As we drove south out of Hippo, it was easy to think about the many small communities that dotted that plain then and now.  (One through which we drove was the birthplace of Albert Camus, whose father worked for a vintner in those parts.)  Hippo was prosperous because of that plain and isolated because of the mountains surrounding it.  A coastal road was picked out to Carthage even in antiquity, but it was not one of the major roman routes -- it was a fairly difficult road and for rapid travel along the coast, boats were more efficient.  Somewhere on that plain was Fussala, the castellum to which Augustine ordained the young man Antoninus as bishop in 411, a mistake he spent the rest of his career regretting.

But then the mountains start.  As we progressed, we began discussing just how badly Augustine must have wanted to make a convert in Hippo in 391 to bring him from his family home in Tagaste all the way down to the coast.  Though the distance is about 60 miles, the climb up whether for man or donkey-riding man would be an appreciable and slow ascent, a matter of several days at best (with what rests along the way?).

Additional images of Annaba/Hippo.

Tagaste.  Augustine's birthplace had the least to offer our visit.  Characterized by Peter Brown as one of those "nuclei of egregious self-respect" that marked the landscape of Roman Africa, the town was a minor municipality in Augustine's time, its grandees (like Romanianus), minor grandees.  The town sits on a ridge above the fairly deep valley of the upper Medjerda river, along whose course (more or less) the main east-west road of Roman Africa ran, linking Carthage to the Cirta/Constantine and the provinces beyond along the coast.  (About halfway from Carthage to Tagaste, a fork in the road trended south to the high plains of Numidia, taking travelers to Theveste/Tebessa, Timgad, and Lambaesis.)  Numerous inscriptions in ancient Libyan and neo-Punic have been found in the area. Today the town surprised ignorant westerners by its size, urban character, and prosperity.  The valley of the Medjerda remains relatively lush and fertile (as in this panoramic view of Tagaste countryside [large and slow to load, taken from a book we were given at the conference]), and the grain elevators remained a feature of the landscape.  We passed through Tagaste briefly on our way south to Mdaourouch, then returned in the afternoon for a brief stay.  We had been cautioned in a lively address by Mme. Nacera Benseddik during conference proceedings in Hippo not to expect archaeological remains:  what opportunity there was for significant work may now have been lost to urbanization.  Instead, we stopped briefly to pay homage to an olive tree.

The site is behind a school on a hilltop in the middle of Souk Ahras.  We debussed on narrow streets and entered an open courtyard where a variety of ancient inscriptions and moderate pieces of stonework were on display, then ascended an open staircase to a smaller outcropping where the olive tree in question was on display.  This, we were assured, was the selfsame olive under which the young Augustine would sit to meditate.  We had heard in Algiers a fascinating paper (see above) on the early modern memory of Augustine in the Maghreb, and my inclination would be to think that this olive tree represents something of that same phase of memory and interpretation.  The olive tree is more "natural" to this locality and suitable for memorialization, but its identification and veneration seems to draw a little from the fig tree of Milan (by which Augustine threw himself down to hear the heavenly voice encouraging him to "take up and read") and the Eden-evoking pear tree of Tagaste that marked Augustine's fall into carnal sin in book 2 of the Confessions.  (It had been our intention to scour the Tagastan countryside for any signs of a pear tree to photograph, perhaps even from which to filch a few half-ripened pears, but the intense urban buildup and the strict control of our movements rendered this unfortunately impossible.)

From our visit to the tree, we were bussed again to the Wilaya (roughly:  town hall) of Tagaste, where crowds of local residents filled the streets to see our coming and going.  Here in a large hall we found refreshments, an exhibit of Augustiniana, and hostesses attired in a variety of forms of -- of all things -- bridal dress, eastern and western.  A brief welcoming ceremony was held in which conference speakers were each recognized by name and given a souvenir plaque with the city's coat of arms (Latin slightly misspelled) -- they are now honorary citizens and have certain tax immunities in consequence, and then after an hour we filed out through the waiting crowds and were bussed away.  It was a moderately surreal experience, inasmuch as a visit to an exhibit of Augustiniana by scholars rarely brings out crowds elsewhere; but we were all conscious as well that we were too ready to take the exhibit for granted.  But for the Islamic authorities of an Algerian town to devote their public space to the memorials of a Christian saint -- even a local boy made good -- surely took courage and determination.  Our presence was thus meant to validate the breadth of vision implicit in making the exhibition at all.  In a country that has seen too many martyrs of every stripe from antiquity to the present day, it was easy both to admire the intent and to wonder what will become of it.

Additional images from our visit to Souk Ahras

Madauros.  Augustine was a child of no more than about 14, perhaps younger, when he was sent away from home (with a servant or two for guidance, protection, and support?) to live in Madauros and pursue his education.  Claude Lepelley (another of our conferees) wrote once of how Augustine's story can be read as a Balzacian family novel "avant la lettre", in which Augustine's family sought to acquire at great cost (money and chutzpah -- conf. 2.3.5, 'animositate') an education for their most talented son (it's not clear whether Augustine was older than his brother Navigius, but quite clear that Navigius was always meant for obscurity), an education that would lead him to a career by which the whole family would profit.  So it was that when his career began to show signs of significant payoff, with his appointment to the imperial chair of rhetoric in Milan, his family showed up en bloc (mother, brother, cousins) to see what opportunities for advancement Augustine's own career would offer them.

We do not know why Madauros was chosen, but though small and set off from the beaten track, it had a history of cultural achievement.  The career of Apuleius, surely Madauros' most famous progeny, had marked that achievement two hundred years before Augustine's time, and we have an exchange of letters between Augustine and one of the most cultured men in Madauros (Aug. epp. 15-16) that captures for us something of the pride in heritage that animated the learned citizens of the town.

Madauros lies about 15 miles further south of Tagaste (altitude, 800 meters above sea level), and Augustine and his little entourage could have made the trip in a day, sometime around 360 CE.  But the boy must have been as surprised as we were, whenever he first made that trip, at the change in the landscape.  From Hippo you ascend the mountains of the Medjerda towards Tagaste, then subside again into the valley.  The valley is steep enough that the town of Tagaste stayed up from the valley bottom on the north side, so you descend first from Tagaste further, then rise again on the other side.  But this time as you come to the top of the valley, you find that you are not ascending a mountain, but rather climbing to the high plain.  There is a moment when you come up over a ridge, past farmhouses of a kind you've been passing since you left the coast, and over that ridge the land suddenly opens up into a wide spreading plain of grassland under a great dome of blue sky.   For an old westerner long accustomed to the claustrophobic landscapes of the American east, I felt an immediate sense of relief and exaltation.  The horizon had fled, the sky had enlarged, and the land lay before us still green and inviting.  To be sure, that ridge marks a rainfall line and up on the plains annual rainfalls are a fraction what they are in the Medjerda valley and down to the coast, but it is still far from desert -- the real African desert begins another hundred miles and more farther south.  The wheat fields are now behind us, but this is the land that grew astonishingly prosperous in the third and fourth centuries CE for the growing of olives.  When Augustine went away to Italy, there is a piece of one of his first dialogues that captures the prosperity of Africa in its absence:  through the long winter nights in Italy, they lie awake sometimes talking, but using no light, because oil for lamps is expensive.  In Africa, it was abundant and cheap, but a valued export.  At the heart of the archaeological site of Madauros we came upon the olive press and its associated buildings, surely a significant piece of the prosperity of that town for many years.

Additional images of Algerian landscapes.

At all events, the several hours we spent at Madauros were all played out under this sky and against these horizons, and the photos of buildings and people that follow are most of them marked as well by at least some glimpse of the setting.  We had fine weather throughout our visit, temperatures around 60°F -- more humid in Algiers, pleasanter in Annaba, and extraordinarilyy dry and fresh in the highlands.  There must be days that are less pleasant, but if we learned nothing else on this trip so vividly, it was that Augustine's world was one that could delight the senses in many ways.

We approached Madauros in a roundabout way.  The road from Tagaste branches before you reach the town of Mdaourouch and the left fork would take you directly to the ancient site, but we followed the right fork.  This took us into the town of Mdaourouch, much smaller than Souk Ahras, perhaps a few thousand residents only, where our busses filed through streets thronged with curious residents and past at least one billboard with the painted faces of half a dozen martyrs in distinctive Islamic dress.  The crowd on the streets was almost entirely male -- we noticed one woman, but she was right by the railroad station and may have found herself there for other reasons.   Crossing the tracks, our route doubled back and out of the town 1-2 miles up onto a slightly more elevated part of the plain towards the ancient city.  We pulled up at a point where what we could see where a few modern tents pitched and cars parked by the side of the road, and debussed.

The first sight was a welcoming archway run up for the occasion with foliage and two national flags.  We walked through this with the lack of selfassurance with which moderns perform ceremonial gestures, and found a welcoming party waiting for us with bullhorn, speeches, and costumes.  What we also saw beyond the welcomers was more surprising:  first a row of robed musicians aligned along the road, eight or so horsemen in costumes of Ottoman times -- extras from "Lawrence of Arabia", with sabers and old breech-loading shotguns.  Beyond them, a second costumed musical group, again with percussion instruments of various kinds.  As we walked forwards, the musicians played and danced, and then the riders took turns welcoming us with shotgun blasts into the air -- startling at first, then festive.  The bandsmen would be with us throughout our visit, but while the visitors explored the ruins, the horsemen adjourned below to an open field between ancient and modern towns.  There in the course of the mid-day we could see them, most of a mile off, performing impromptu horseback races to a large and appreciative crowd -- we would hear a gunshot and look up from ancient stones to see two riders scampering on quarter horses a few hundred yards or so to victory or defeat.

For the crowds were large and appreciative.  Perhaps 1500-2000 people had come out for the day, mostly but not exclusively young people, walking out from the town to observe the goings-on.  All our touring of the ancient site and the festivities that followed were played out with this crowd held back a hundred yards or so from the perimeter.  (Beyond the ancient site lay open countryside, with only the sight of a few distant policemen at intervals along the ridge to separate us from the long reaches of vision towards the south.)  When the open-air banquet was ending, the security forces relaxed the perimeter and a sudden stampede brought our spectators to within a few feet, and the more venturesome boys would then infiltrate our crowd, to see the Europeans and Americans more closely, or to filch a couple of apples from the bowls on our tables.  Their curiosity was palpable, but they were at the same time very timid and shy, whether or us or of the security officers who would occasionally chase one or two away, it was hard to say.

The ancient remains of Madauros have been excavated and preserved with clarity and are a joy to visit.  Two later buildings -- Byzantine in date-- have overbuilt parts of the site, but not in a way that materially reduces access to the ancient remains.  In particular, a small Byzantine fortress (dated 535, that is to the reign of Justinian, by the "Guide Bleu") was built on and around the ancient "theater" (Prof. Dorothea Weber -- seen here on the site with Professors Serge Lancel and Konrad Vössing -- observed that this space marked as such could not have indeed been a theater but was more likely an odeon, hence very probably a place in which the young Augustine would at least have heard rhetorical and poetic performances and perhaps delivered them himself) -- the same conversion of place of spectacle to place of defense occurs elsewhere, as at Bosra in Syria, where a very large theatre now lurks unsuspected inside a dark and forbidding fortress.  The chief sights are the ancient baths (in best state of preservation), the oil press, two churches (now mere outlines of foundation stones in the grass), and the forum/odeon complex inside the fortress.  Given the lay of the land and the way we approached, most of the visitors wound up gravitating to this last site, not least because it offered views back over the crowds of spectators, the horse races, and the town of Mdaourouch.

Additional images from our visit to the archaeological site

After a couple of hours' exploration, our hosts began discreetly urging us to move towards the low tents that we had passed on entering the site.  There we found that we were to be guests for a traditional banquet al fresco.  Ottoman sofas for some of us, plastic chairs for others, piles of cushions for others (who found their agility and aptitude for decorum challenged).  An array of costumed servers and hostesses stood by each tent, though the polyester in the fabrics and some aspects of the footgear suggested that this was a spectacle rather than a naively authentic native ritual.

The food was the best we had in Algeria -- a fresh salad, a soup, then roast lamb -- in this case dozens of whole lambs on the gridiron, roasted in the open air, each one brought to a separate table outside our tents.  We were encouraged to come forth and attack the lambs.  Literally:  there was for a few minutes the spectacle of dozens of sober European and American scholars tearing roasted lamb carcasses to bits and devouring the results.   The sight did not lend itself well to photography, not least because the many visiting photographers had at that moment fingers covered with fat and grease, but I am told at least one distinguished scholar has been recorded in a carnivorous and unpublished moment.  Paper napkins sufficed for most, but silver vessels, pitchers, and soap were available for a more traditional ablution afterwards.

Couscous slathered with honey made the next course, followed by the bowls of fruit (oranges, apples, and huge and succulent dates) that were dessert for us throughout our stay in Africa.

At this point, the musical groups that had greeted us began to filter into the space among the tents.  The rather more polished and westernized group (I'm not sure why I had that impression) began first, and were quickly joined by dancers male and female from amid the customed staff, and then a few of the more venturesome members of the visiting community joined as well.  The effect was striking and the enthusiasm of musicians and dancers quite evident.  Given that we had no program of events, it all had a quite spontaneous and exhilarating air about it that must have taken a great deal of planning to arrange.  The second band, whose members were older and less histrionic perhaps, shortly joined in with a performance of their own.  It was about this time that the outer perimeter keeping the crowds back was dropped and the area around the tents became crowded and convivial.  Much of the film shot that day was used in that last half hour.

Additional images from the festivities.

Eventually we were herded back to our busses.  This time we left by the direct route, going away from the ancient city without revisiting the modern town, and we made our way back to Tagaste/Souk Ahras for the visits described above.

Guelma, et al.:   On April 7, the group left the Hotel Seybouse in Annaba, bound for the town of Guelma, the Roman town of Calama, where Augustine's colleague and biographer, Possidius, had been bishop.  At mid-morning, we were greeted by what had become the customary gathering of local dignatries and by the local Scouts, boys and girls alike in their blue uniforms.  After words of welcome, we were treated to a snack consisting of pastries, soft-drinks, milk (for the first time) and fruit.  Small cups of strong coffee were available for the hardy.

Calama had a theatre and Guelma has gone to some efforts to restore it. We entered through the rear of the stage and were struck by the condition of the building, which is in better repair than the smaller theatre which we had seen at Madura on the day previous.  The stage is covered with a wooden floor, with appropriate statues in place along its back wall. The seating has been well restored and the wall behind is now complete.

Two small rooms, just off the choir area in front of the stage, now house an extensive collection of grave stele, each about half a meter tall. They range in time from the Lybian through the Roman period and attest to the richness of the pre-roman remains in this part of Algeria.  Two additional museum rooms were accessible to the right and left of the stage itself.  These exhibited statues and decorated columns which had been found on the site.

The center of the town is an open-air archeological park in which various forms of ancient objects, all in stone, are displayed amid new plantings. Most were funerary objects of one sort or another, ranging from stele dedicated to Tanit and inscribed in ancient Lybian letters, to Christian monuments.  Among the latter was a funeral mensa marked with a Christogram incised, evidence of the Christian practice of feasting with the dead, either the martyrs or the family ancestors or perhaps the revision of family history after conversion to Christianity, since in both cases the christogram is clearly added to an existing inscription.  Augustine had worked against this practice, suggesting that the deceased would be helped more by the giving of the food to the poor rather than offering it to the dead, who could certainly not enjoy it.

Program of a current conference on the virtual university and the virtual library at the University of Guelma

After leaving Guelma, we made a detour to the Roman city of Thibilis, beautifully situated in a valley.  The welcoming delegation included a greater range of people, as we were greeted not only by administrators but by local farmers, and the ubiquitous scouts.  This time, we each had the opportunity to shake every hand.  These Algerian men have a striking custom of touching their right hands to their hearts before greeting each of the visitors coming down the receiving line.

The site itself showed signs of having been cleaned especially for our visit and we were restricted to a small part of it.  A Byzantine church on the hillside facing the main gate overlooked the town; the ruins of its facade provides a good view of the whole.  The paving of the modest forum remains intact and the footings of the temples are still in place.  We did not have the opportunity to visit the ruins of the pre-byzantine church, which we were later told has a baptistry still in place.

The final archeological stop in eastern Algeria was a Roman piscina or swimming pool, some thirty meters in diameter and about one and one-half meters deep.  The wall was formed in stone, with a gently sloping concrete bottom. Stairs were set into the wall and the water channel for filling the pool was still evident.  Water was being pumped into the pool at the time of our arrival (and our departure).  If the structure is still in use, it had clearly stood empty through the winter months. We were again treated to a welcoming repast, complete this time with a kind of curdled milk which tasted like the beginnings of cheese.  Scouts were everywhere in evidence, with one group singing throughout the visit.

Additional images from the final day's visits.

Back into the buses and we were off to a fairwell luncheon as guest of the Wali of Annaba.  During the meal, we were entertained by a musical group which differed significantly from those we had enjoyed at Madura on the prior day.  This ensemble of some dozen men played a great variety of stringed instruments, both bowed and plucked, in addition to the drums and flutes we had heard before. Some of the pieces were sung by one or more of the players.

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