Caesarea, Numidia

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Remains of the Forum of Caesarea Mauretaniae

Caesarea in Numidia was an ancient city and bishopric in Roman North Africa. It was a Roman colonia (called Caesarea Mauretaniae) in Roman-Berber North Africa.[1] It was the capital of Mauretania Caesariensis [2] and is now called Cherchell, in modern Algeria.


Antiquity to third century AD[edit]

Phoenicians from Carthage founded a settlement on the northern coast of Africa, 100 km west of the present-day city of Algiers at present Cherchell around 400 BC to serve as a trading station and named the city Iol or Jol.

It became a part of the kingdom of Numidia under Jugurtha, who died in 104 BC and it became very significant to the Berber monarchy and generals of Numidia. The Berber Kings Bocchus I and Bocchus II lived there, as occasionally did other Kings of Numidia. Iol was situated in an area called Mauretania, which was then a part of the Numidian kingdom.

During the 1st century BC, due to the city’s strategic location, new defences were built.

The last Numidian king Juba II and his wife, the Greek Ptolemaic princess Cleopatra Selene II, were forced to flee the other part of Numidian kingdom because the local population disapproved of their king being too Romanized, which caused civil unrest between 26 and 20 BC. Roman Emperor Octavianus Caesar Augustus had intervened in the situation and in 33 BC Rome and divided the Numidian Kingdom into two. One half of the kingdom became a part of the Roman province of Africa Nova, while western Numidia and Mauretania (the second half of the kingdom) became one kingdom in the hands of a Berber prince named Juba II. Although his father was once an ally of Pompey, Juba had lived in Rome under the tutelage of Julius Caesar, learning to read and write Greek and Latin. As he was considered too Roman to rule, Juba and his wife, Cleopatra Selene (the daughter of Marcus Antonius and last Pharaonic queen Cleopatra), were at the mercy of civil unrest when Emperor Augustus intervened. Juba II renamed Iol Caesarea or Caesarea Mauretaniae, in honor of the emperor. Caesarea would become the capital of the Roman client kingdom of Mauretania, which became one of the important client kingdoms in the Roman Empire, and their dynasty was among the most loyal client Roman vassal rulers.

Juba and Cleopatra did not just rename their new capital, but rebuilt the town as a typical Graeco-Roman city in fine Roman style on a large, lavish and expensive scale, complete with street grids, a theatre, an art collection and a lighthouse similar to the one at Alexandria. The construction and sculptural projects in Caesarea and throughout the kingdom were built in a rich mixture of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman architectural styles. The monarchs are buried in their mausoleum, the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania which can still be seen. The seaport capital and its kingdom flourished during this period with most of the population being of Greek and Phoenician origin with a minority of Berbers. It remained a significant power center under Numidian rule with a Greco-Roman civilization as a veneer, until 40 AD, when its last monarch Ptolemy of Mauretania was murdered on a visit to Rome. The murder of Ptolemy set in motion a series of reactions resulting in a devastating war with Rome.

In 44 AD after a four-year bloody revolt, the capital was captured and Roman Emperor Claudius divided the Mauretanian kingdom into two provinces. The province of which Caesarea became the capital was called Mauretania Caesariensis after it. The city itself was settled with Roman soldiers and was given the rank of a colonia, and so was also called Colonia Claudia Caesarea.

In later centuries, the Roman population expanded, as did the Berber population, resulting in a mixed Greco-Phoenician, Berber and Roman population. The city featured a hippodrome, amphitheatre, basilica, numerous Greek temples and Roman civic buildings.[3] During this heyday, the city had its own school of philosophy, academy and library. As a significant city of the Roman Empire it had trading contacts across the Roman world.

Romanization and Christianity center[edit]

Considered to be one of the more loyal of Roman provincial capitals, Caesarea grew under Roman rule in the 1st and 2nd century AD, soon reaching a population of over 30,000 inhabitants.[4] In 44 AD, dng the reign of Emperor Claudius it became the capital of the imperial province of Mauretania Caesarensis. Later, the emperor made it a colonia, “Colonia Claudia Caesarea”. As with many other cities throughout the empire, he and his successors further Romanised the area, building monuments, enlarging the bath houses, adding an amphitheatre, and improving the aqueducts. Later, under the Severan dynasty, a new forum was added. The city was sacked by Berber tribes during a revolt in 371/372 AD, but recovered.

In later centuries, the Roman population expanded, as did the Berber population, resulting in a mixed Berber and Roman population. The city was mostly Romanized under Septimius Severus and it grew to be a very rich city with nearly 100,000 inhabitants, according to historian Gsell. In about 165 AD, it was the birthplace to the future Roman Emperor Macrinus.

From an early stage, the city had a small but growing population of Christians, Roman and Berber and was noted for the religious debates and tumults which featured the hostility of Roman public religion toward Christians. By the 4th century, the conversion of the population from pagan to Christian beliefs resulted in nearly all of the population being Christianised.

By the 5th century the capital of Mauretania Caesariensis was totally Romanised, according to Theodor Mommsen, one of the 80 cities in the Maghreb populated (and sometimes even created) by Roman colonists from Italy. It remained an extremely loyalist force for the Roman Empire. Additionally, the Romanized city's elite held considerable control of international trade. Although it stagnated for over a hundred years and even lost population, as did most cities in the Roman Empire, it still remained much as it had been since it was founded. Consequently, the Roman Empire largely relied on its North African dominion for essential grain supply and some elite rulers.

It became a target of the Vandals and was finally taken over by them in 429 AD. The Vandal army and fleet burnt the town and turned many of its old magnificent Roman era buildings into Vandal citadels. Although this devastation was significant, the Vandal era saw restoration of much of the damage, an expansion in population, and the creation of a vibrant Romanised Germanic community.

The area and remained in Vandal hands until 533 AD, when the city was captured by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The new rulers used the Greek language (along with Latin), but the Neo-Latin local dialect remained in use by the inhabitants. The city declined. The Roman and the semi-Romanised Vandal population held a stratified position over the growing numbers of Berbers it allowed to settle in return for cheap labor.[5] This reduced the economic status of small freeholders and urban dwellers, especially what remained of the Vandal population, who provided most of the local military forces. Furthermore, the increasing use of Berber workers ground down the Roman population of free peasants. By the 8th century, the city and surrounding area had neither a strong urban middle class of free citizens, nor a rural population of freehold farmers, nor a crack military aristocracy of Vandal warriors and their retinue. It thus succumbed to an Arab Moslem jihad.

Titular see[edit]

There were Caesarea in Mauretania[6], but also a small city called Caesarea in Numidia (near the actual border between Algeria and Tunisia). The second was one of over 120 cities in the Roman province of Numidia that were important enough to become a suffragan bishopric of the Metropolitan of Carthage, but would fade away, plausibly at the seventh century advent of Islam. The ruins of this small Numidian city ruins are in Hammamet (French: Youks-les-Bains) in modern Algeria, but remains a Latin Catholic titular see.

The diocese was nominally restored in 1933 as Latin titular bishopric of Caesarea in Numidia. It has had the following incumbents, partially of the fitting episcopal (lowest) rank, with two archiepiscopal exceptions:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Detailed map of Roman Berber Africa, showing the location of Iol-Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast
  2. ^ Leveau, Ph (1991-04-01). Camps, Gabriel (ed.). Encyclopédie berbère (in French). Éditions Peeters. pp. 1698–1706. ISBN 2857445814.
  3. ^ Leveau Philipe: "L'amphithéâtre et le théâtre-amphithéâtre de Cherchel" (in French)
  4. ^ Leveau, Philippe. "Caesarea de Maurétanie, une ville romaine et ses campagnes" first chapter
  5. ^ Leveau, Philippe. "Caesarea de Maurétanie, une ville romaine et ses campagnes" third chapter
  6. ^ Caesarea Mauretaniae diocese


  • GCatholic
  • Pius Bonifacius Gams, Series episcoporum Ecclesiae Catholicae, Leipzig 1931, p. 464
  • Stefano Antonio Morcelli, Africa christiana, Volume I, Brescia 1816, pp. 114–115
  • J. Ferron, lemma 'Césarée de Numidie', in Dictionnaire d'Histoire et de Géographie ecclésiastiques, vol. XII, Paris 1953, col. 206
  • J. Mesnage, L'Afrique chrétienne, Paris 1912, pp. 406–407