This dissertation examines the role of architectural patrons in North African cities during the Roman empire. Through a combination of epigraphic and archaeological evidence, I investigate how benefactors impacted the lived experience of inhabitants of Roman African cities. A three-fold theoretical rubric governs the interpretation, using agency theory, reception studies, and phenomenology to uncover the motives behind benefactors’ choices and the visibility of their choices in urban life. Case studies of individual buildings at several cities in North Africa, and a diachronic examination of Thugga, offer glimpses into the nature of euergetism over a period of four centuries.
Architectural donors consciously sought to communicate messages of their own identity—based on gender, familial relationships, and political offices—through buildings. For example, in some cases buildings and their contents communicated information about their donors’ gender identities, creating complex visual messages that placed donors in their social context on both local and regional levels. In other instances, the fragmentary archaeological record hinders our understanding of donors’ gender identities, but topographic, archaeological, and epigraphic clues emphasize repeatedly the complex nature of civic identity in Roman North Africa.
This mixed civic identity can be most clearly seen at Thugga. In the first century C.E., donations in the city’s forum mimicked buildings being erected in Augustan Carthage. At Thugga, construction in the Julio-Claudian period looked both to the provincial capital and to its own pre-Roman history, focusing on the Numidian shrine of the deified king Massinissa as the centerpiece of the Roman civic space. Thugga’s African past contributed to the character of donations throughout the Roman period, particularly of temples. In the second and third centuries C.E., Carthage continued to be an important source of architectural inspiration for Thugga’s benefactors, many of whom were citizens and public officials of the colonia Julia Concordia Karthago.
The role of these public officials at Thugga increased in importance over time. The earliest donors of the city presented themselves as benefactors eager to contribute to the development of the city’s urban landscape and to establish familial traditions of architectural patronage in the city. In the late first century, donations more explicitly connected to public office-holding replaced these traditions of benefaction based on civic duty and familial responsibility. In particular, priests of the imperial cult (flamines and flaminicae) were particularly active in the second and third centuries, and donations not linked directly to public office-holding apparently disappeared by the third century. In the Christian period, euergetism continued, but it was directed toward the Christian community rather than toward the civic life of the city.
Donors employed visual cues, like architectural styles; topographic cues, including proximity and orientation; and epigraphic cues, such as similar phrasing, to explicitly link their work with that of others. Additional response to benefactions came in the form of honorific statues and bases set up in public spaces. At Thugga these honors were reserved for donors whose work had the greatest impact on public life, emphasizing how visible architectural patronage was in the urban landscapes of North Africa.