Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Roman Fortress of Ammaedara (Haidra) - Defending Roman Africa

The Fortress of Ammaedara
Protecting Byzantine Carthage from Desert Raiders

Roman Africa

The land acquired for the Roman provinces of North Africa was taken from the Republic of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War (149 BC to 146 BC) was the third and last of the Punic Wars.

The third war was a much smaller engagement than the two previous Punic Wars and primarily consisted of a single main action, the Battle of Carthage, but resulted in the complete destruction of the city of Carthage, the annexation of all remaining Carthaginian territory by Rome, and the death or enslavement of thousands of Carthaginians. The Third Punic War ended Carthage's independent existence
The Legio III Augusta was defending
North Africa.

The new provinces included the ancient city of Carthage as well as Hadrumetum, capital of Byzacena, Hippo Regius. The province was established by the Roman Republic in 146 BC.

Rome established its first African colony, Africa Proconsularis or Africa Vetus (Old Africa), governed by a proconsul, in the most fertile part of what was formerly Carthaginian territory. Utica was formed as the administrative capital.

It is certain that from 30 BCE on, the Legio III Augusta was permanently in Africa, although it was not always stationed in the same camp. An inscription from 14 CE informs us that the soldiers had to build a road from Tacapsa to their winter quarters, which may at this stage have been at Theveste.
Although Africa was usually a tranquil part of the Roman Empire, III Augusta saw action in 17-24, when it fought against Tacfarinas, who had organized several Numidian and Mauretanian tribes in an anti-Roman coalition.

The African provinces were amongst the wealthiest regions in the Empire (rivaled only by Egypt, Syria and Italy itself) and as a consequence people from all over the Empire migrated into the Roman Africa Province, most importantly veterans in early retirement who settled in Africa on farming plots promised for their military service. One historian estimated that under Hadrian nearly 1/3 of the eastern Numidia population was descended from Roman veterans

The region remained a part of the Roman Empire until the Germanic migrations of the 5th century.

Click map to enlarge
The Roman colonization of Northern Africa
Colonization consisted first in a protectorate, then in a direct administration (40-430), divided into four provinces : Africa Proconsularis (Tunisia, East Constantine region, and the Tripolitan region), Numidia (the greater part of the Constantine region), Mauretania Caesariensis (the Algiers and Oran regions) and, from the name of Tingis (Tangier), Mauretania Tingitana. 

The Vandal Kingdom

Roman rule in Africa was interrupted by the invasion of the Vandals from Spain.
The Vandals migrated to Africa in search of safety; they had been attacked by a Roman army in 422 and had failed to seal a treaty with them. Advancing eastwards along the coast, the Vandals laid siege to the walled city of Hippo Regius in 430. 

After 14 months, hunger and the inevitable diseases were ravaging both the city inhabitants and the Vandals outside the city walls, with the city eventually falling to the Vandals, who made it their first capital.

Peace was made between the Romans and the Vandals in 435 through a treaty giving the Vandals control of coastal Numidia and parts of Mauretania. King Geiseric chose to break the treaty in 439 when he invaded the province of Africa Proconsularis and laid siege to Carthage.

The city was captured without a fight; the Vandals entered the city while most of the inhabitants were attending the races at the hippodrome. Genseric made it his capital, and styled himself the King of the Vandals and Alans. Conquering Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Malta and the Balearic Islands, he built his kingdom into a powerful state.

The Western Empire under Valentinian III secured peace with the Vandals in 442. Under the treaty the Vandals gained Byzacena, Tripolitania, part of Numidia, and confirmed their control of Proconsular Africa.

Eastern Roman Troops

Eastern Roman Africa (533 AD to 709 AD)

Roman rule was restored when the Vandal Kingdom came crashing down in the Invasion of North Africa by Belisarius under the Eastern Emperor Justinian.

After the victories at Ad Decimum and Tricamarum Roman rule in Africa was restored in 533 AD and the Vandal people killed, used as soldiers or enslaved.

The Late Roman administrative system, as established by Diocletian, provided for a clear distinction between civil and military offices, primarily to lessen the possibility of rebellion by over-powerful provincial governors.
Under Justinian I, the process was partially reversed for provinces which were judged to be especially vulnerable or in internal disorder.

Capitalizing upon this precedent and taking it one step further, the emperor Maurice sometime between 585 and 590 created the office of exarch, which combined the supreme civil authority of a praetorian prefect and the military authority of a magister militum, and enjoyed considerable autonomy from Constantinople.

Two exarchates were established, one in Italy, with seat at Ravenna (hence known as the Exarchate of Ravenna), and one in Africa, based at Carthage and including all imperial possessions in the Western Mediterranean. The first African exarch was the patricius Gennadius.

North Africa was an important economic and military addition to the Empire.  The provinces provided grain shipments, tax revenue and soldiers.

During the successful revolt of the exarch of Carthage Heraclius in 608, the Amazigh comprised a large portion of the fleet that transported Heraclius to Constantinople.

Roman rule continued until the final conquest by invading Muslim Arab armies in 709AD.

Byzantine Fortress of Ammaedara

Fortress Ammaedara

The Byzantine fortress was built about 550AD on the orders of the Emperor Justinian.

The fortress was one of many defensive strongpoints built by the Romans looking to protect the more valuable coastal zone, cities and agriculture against raids and armies coming from the Sahara Desert or invasion by the Moors.

Originally the Legio III Augusta was stationed in Africa.  No trace has been found of their camp.  It is suspected that the Fortress Ammaedara may have been built on the site of the legion's camp.  The only evidence of this is circumstantial.  It comes maily from the headstones of the legion discovered in the military cemetery east of the city.

The fortress is said to be the largest of its kind in North Africa. The original measures were 200 metres by 100 metres, and with walls as high as 10 metres. Parts of this still stand.

Inside the fortress are a chapel and a church.

One of the earliest Roman settlements in North Africa, Haidra in Tunisia contains the remains of the Roman city of Ammaedara. Well off the beaten track, Haidra – also called Hydrah – attracts few tourists and even the archaeological excavations have been few and far between.

Founded in the first century AD, Ammaedara was originally a legionary outpost, used by the Third Legion Augusta during their campaign against the rebellious Numidian leader Tacfarinas – a deserter from the Roman auxiliaries who led his people in an uprising against Rome during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.

After the defeat of the rebellion, Ammaedara was settled by veterans from the campaign and grew into a thriving Roman city. Indeed, remains of the cemetery of the 3rd legion have been identified on outskirts of the site.

It is unclear as to whether a pre-Roman settlement existed at Haidra. Though the foundations of a Punic temple to Ba'al-Hamon were found near the site, there is little additional evidence of a major settlement.

The Romans ruled the region until the Vandal invasions of the 5th century AD and the ruins of Haidra contain evidence of the period of Vandal rule as well as the subsequent Byzantine period which followed after Justinian’s successful re-conquest.

Today Haïdra contains a number of interesting ruins dating from the various periods in the city’s history. The fortress acted as a defensive stronghold for the newly conquered Byzantine lands.

Dating to around the same period is the Church of Melleus which is in a reasonable state of preservation with a number of surviving columns and interesting inscriptions from the 6th and 7th centuries on the paving stones. Evidence of the Vandal period survives in the form of the Vandal Chapel - dating to the reigns of King Thrasamund and King Hilderic in the early 6th century AD.

The Fall of Ammaedara

There is no record of major military actions involving Ammaedara.  This is not surprising considering its purpose was mostly to discourage fairly minor raiding parties coming in from the deserts or the Moorish lands to the west.

But an inland fort looking south and west would have been cut off as Arab armies marched overland from Egypt to invade Carthage in the late 600s.  Any troops stationed there could have either been withdrawn to defend Carthage itself or they would have surrendered to the Muslims having been cut off from help.

The ancient Roman city of Ammaedara was abandoned and the area renamed Haidra in Arabic.  Even today it remains basically a rural crossroads with only 3,000 people.

La Citadelle Byzantine d'Ammaedara


Remains of the Byzantine Fortress

The south side of the Byzantine Fort. These
walls were easily 20-25 feet high.

Underground Baths

Underground Baths

The structure called "Vandal chapel" has paving stones with
crude inscriptions of 6th century Vandal kings. The chapel
by itself is small and uninteresting, but it is one of very
few remains from this period. 

The Basilica of the Martyrs stands alone to the extreme east at Haïdra.
Its layout can be made out, and the apse is in fair condition.

This is one of the numerous gravestones inside the church.
The majority are in Latin, but there are also several in Ancient Greek.

(Vandal Kingdom)      (Exarchate of Africa)      (Africa - Roman province)

(crc-internet.org)      (isaactunisia)      (looklex.com/tunisia/haidra)     

(looklex.com)      (historvius)      (ammaedarahaidra)     

(Haidra)      (panoramio)      (paris-sorbonne.fr)

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