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Volubilis

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Volubilis
Volubilis

Volubilis (also known as Walili in Berberian) is a partially preserved Roman city located in northern Morocco, near the city of Meknes (approx. 35 km). It was the capital of the province of Mauritania, which in 42 CE Emperor Claudius divided into Mauritania Tingitana and Mauritania Caesariensis. Then the city became the capital of the first province.

A vast complex of Roman ruins has been preserved to our times. The city features the remains of defensive walls, a forum, a capitol (which is a copy of the temple of Jupiter in Rome), thermal baths, a triumphal arch and houses. Ancient Roman mosaics are visible in many rooms. Numerous artifacts have been found here, including bronze sculptures.

Ruins in Volubilis.
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The first traces of settlement date back to the Neolithic. In the 3rd century BCE Volubilis was a Punic-Moorish defensive settlement. In the 2nd century BCE the settlement turned into a trading town surrounded by a wall. The city was located in Mauritania, which after 146 BCE – after the fall of Carthage – it became a client state. In the years 25 BCE – 23 CE. The defensive walls were strengthened by the order of the Numidian king, Juba II. Juba came to the throne thanks to Octavian Augustus in 25 BCE. Both he and his son Ptolemy were Romanized kings and often commissioned Roman-style works of art to be built and produced in the city.

The first traces of settlement date back to the Neolithic. In the 3rd century BCE Volubilis was a Punic-Moorish defensive settlement. In the 2nd century BCE the settlement turned into a trading town surrounded by a wall. The city was located in Mauritania, which after 146 BCE – after the fall of Carthage – it became a client state. In the years 25 BCE – 23 CE the defensive walls were strengthened by the order of the Numidian king, Juba II. Juba came to the throne thanks to Octavian Augustus in 25 BCE. Both he and his son Ptolemy were Romanized kings and often commissioned Roman-style works of art to be built and produced in the city.

Location of the city of Volubilis in the province of Mauritania Tingitania.
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In 44 CE, after Claudius’ conquest of North Africa, Volubilis became one of the cities on the outermost tip of the Roman Empire. The greatest heyday of the city took place during the Roman rule in the years 44-285 CE, when Volubilis was the seat of the Roman governor. Then were built, among others basilica, forum, capitol, arch of Caracalla. The city walls were expanded, which in 169 CE have reached a total length of 2.5 km.

After the annexation of Mauritania in 44 CE, the city grew significantly thanks to the wealth and wealth that came from the fertile lands of the provinces and the export of goods such as grain, olive oil and wild animals for gladiatorial shows. At its peak, Volubilis had a population of around 20,000 (a very large population for a provincial town), where the area around the city was also heavily populated. More than 50 villas have been discovered in the suburbs.

The city of Volubilis was the administrative center of the Province of Mauritania, then of Mauritania Tingitana. The agglomeration remained faithful to Rome, despite the revolt in the years 40-44 CE, led by the liberator – Aedemon. As a reward, residents were granted Roman citizenship and a 10-year tax exemption. The city was upgraded to municipium and the governance system was redesigned. They were replaced with Punic suffetes Roman duumvirs (elected every year) or magistrates.
Volubilis located in the southeastern tip of the province was exposed to constant attacks by powerful Berber tribes. In order to protect the city, five forts were built, which were located in the current villages of Ain Schkor, Bled el Gaada, Sidi Moussa, Sidi Said and Bled Takourart (ancient Tocolosida). Sidi Said was the base for Cohors IV Gallorum when Spanish and Belgian cohorts were stationed in Ain Schkor. Sidi Moussa, in turn, was the site of a grouping of the Parthian and Gallic cohorts. The Syrian cavalry was based in Toscolosida.

Panorama of the ruins of Volubilis (looking west). The Phoenician part of the city on the left; in the center the Basilica and the Capitoline Temple; and on the right – the bow of Caracalla.
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Roman geographer from the 1st century CE – Pomponius Mela – in his work “De situ orbis libri III” describes the city as the richest among the smaller agglomerations of Mauritania. The city is also mentioned by Pliny the Elder and the 2nd-century Antonina Itinerarium (register of distances and stops on the roads of the Roman Empire), defining the city as Volubilis Colonia. The city’s population was overwhelmingly Romanized Berbers.

The Romans left today’s Morocco at the end of the 3rd century CE, when Rome was torn by an internal and external crisis. About 280 C.E. Roman rule over most of Mauritania had collapsed. Only part of Mauretania Tingitana remained in Roman hands. In 285 CE Emperor Diocelcian reorganized the remnants of the province. Although the Roman army was in Tingis, it was decided that it would be more profitable to align the border and give up the remnants of Mauritania. The city was constantly developed by the Arabs after the Roman times.

Important buildings in Volubilis

House of Orpheus

The House of Orpheus is the largest building and perhaps one of the most important in Volubilis. There are beautiful floor mosaics with Orpheus with a lyre, nine dolphins and a chariot drawn by a sea horse with Neptune’s wife – Amphitrite, who is the goddess of the sea. Judging by the size of these ruins, it can be concluded that it used to be the home of someone important and wealthy.

Arch of Caracalla

It is located right in the center of Volubilis, on a cobblestone street called Decumanus Maximus, which was once the city’s main road. It was built in 217 CE by order of Marcus Aurelius Sebastenus to honour the Emperor Caracalla and his mother Julia Domna. Originally, at the top of the arch stood a bronze sculpture of a chariot drawn by six horses.

Capitol

The Capitol is an almost identical copy of the temple of Jupiter in Rome. It is decorated with numerous Corinthian-style columns soaring to the sky. North of it once stood a Capitoline Basilica dedicated to Jupiter and his wife Juno, and the goddess Minerva.

Others

House of Venus, House of Ephebe, House of Knight, Palace of Gordian

Sources
  • Encyklopedia sztuki starożytnej, Warszawa 1974
  • Wielka Historia Świata, 2006

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