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North Africa: The Roman Coast (Bradt Travel Guides) Paperback – 10 Jul 2009
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About the Author
Ethel Davies is a photographer and writer with a passion for history. She has travelled through much of the ancient Western and Eastern world, and has chronicled sites in pictures and text.
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Other writers before her have made the same decision, for instance Susan Raven in Rome in Africa and Paul MacKendrick in The North African Stones Speak.
The main text is divided into five parts. Here is a brief overview:
* Part one - Historical background and practical information
* Part two - Morocco
* Part three - Algeria
* Part four - Tunisia
* Part five - Libya
The book ends with a reference section where we find some notes on languages, a list of Roman emperors, a glossary, suggestions for further reading, and an index.
What about illustrations? There are some good colour photos. All photos in the book are taken by the author herself. In addition, there are maps of some of the ancient sites and maps of some of the modern towns which are located near the ancient sites.
This is a guidebook which tells you how to get from A to B when you are travelling in North Africa. It also gives you information about hotels and restaurants in the area. But this is just the beginning. The main focus is on the Roman sites in the area.
This is, in many ways, a good book, and I want to recommend it, but I have to mention a few things which bother me:
(1) There are mistakes and unfortunate statements in the chapter about the historical background and in the presentation of the sites. For reasons of space I can only mention some of them here:
(a) According to the glossary the Roman theatre is a "free standing" building. But the section about the typical Roman town says the Roman theatre is "usually built into an existing incline." Are you confused? The glossary is correct.
(b) The amphitheatre is described as a "circular" building. But the amphitheatre is usually an oval building.
(c) The Latin word SPINA is translated as the "track" of the circus. But this word is used about the long and narrow ramp which divides the track into two parts.
(d) She says the Numidian king Massinissa was "always loyal to the Romans." But he fought for Carthage in Spain for six years (212-206). In 206 he changed sides and from that time he was an ally of Rome.
(e) She says Augustine, the bishop of Hippo Regius, "was killed" during the Vandal siege of his town in 430. But Augustine was not killed. He died of old age.
(f) She claims the circumference of The Tomb of the Christian Woman (which she calls "The Mauretanian Tomb") is 18.5 m. But it is 204 m.
(g) She says the northern gate in Tiddis is "dedicated to or by O Memmius Rogatus." The letter O is wrong. It should be Q which stands for Quintus.
(h) A Latin inscription in the forum of Timgad is quoted like this: "Venare, Lavare, Ludere, Rioere, Occ Est Vivere." But the text says:
OCC EST VIVERE
Translation: "Hunting, bathing, gambling, laughing - that's life!"
(i) A Latin inscription in Bulla Regia is quoted like this: "Venanti Orvum Baiae." But the text says:
Translation: "The bath of the hunters."
(j) She claims The Baths of Julia Memmia in Bulla Regia are "Named after the mother of Alexander [Severus] and niece of Julia Domna, Septimius Severus' second wife." But Julia Domna's niece was called Julia Mamaea. Julia Memmia was in fact the daughter of a local politician named Gajus Memmius Fidus Julius Albius.
(k) She says the theatre in Bulla Regia is "hewn into an existing hill." But this monument was built on arches, because the site is flat.
(l) She says the theatre in Dougga has "three tiers of 19 rows each." But the lower tier has five rows, the middle nine rows, and the upper 15 rows, i.e. a total of 29 rows.
(m) The two churches in Qasr Libya are said to be "from around 450." But they were built when the town was re-founded by the Byzantines in 539. The town was renamed Theodorias. It was named after Empress Theodora, the wife of Emperor Justinian. All of this is unmentioned.
(2) Some sites that belong here are not presented in the book: Banasa (Morocco); Calama, Madauros, Theveste, and Thubursicu Numidarum (Algeria); Kerkounane and Musti (or Mustis) (Tunisia); Ghirza, Villa Silin, and Medinat Sultan (Libya).
(3) Some persons that belong here are not presented in the book: (a) Tacfarinas who fought against the Romans for seven years during the reign of Tiberius. (b) Possidius, bishop of Calama, who was a friend of Augustine and wrote a biography about him.
(4) Sometimes an interesting monument is omitted, sometimes an important event. We never hear about the following: (a) The House of the Ass in Djemila. (b) The East Market in Timgad. (c) The water turbines in Chemtou. (d) The western gate in Ptolemais. (e) Hadrian's visit to Lambaesis and Thuburbu Majus in 128.
(5) Some sites are presented without a map: Lambaesis, Tiddis, and Tipasa in Algeria; Apollonia, Ptolemais, and Tocra in Libya.
I have written to the author and the publisher. I hope these and other flaws will be corrected, if there is a second edition of the book. In spite of the flaws, I believe this book will be a useful tool for anyone who is going to North Africa to visit (some of) the Roman sites in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia or Libya.
May need updating when there is no security left and people cannot travel without risk of kidnap etc. Alas.
Foolishly, although the words 'the Roman Coast' are included in the title, I assumed that there would be more information than just the Roman sites. But there's not much really. Information on the towns is scant (it doesn't feel like the author actually went there) and there is little on hotels and restaurants, particularly budget places. There is not much about getting around the region and the Libya section assumes your guide will sort everything out for you. Go inland at your peril (you may fancy visiting the Sahara while you're there) - information on the rest of the country is squashed into one page.
To be fair, the information on the Roman sites is detailed and comprehensive, and the Roman history and culture sections are interesting and informative.
But if you want it for more than getting off a cruise ship and being chauffeured to the sites, get the individual Lonely Planets instead.
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