Rezension über:

François Bertrandy: Études sur la 'Confédération cirtéenne', entité singulière de l'Afrique romaine (IIe s. a.C.-IIIe s. p.C.) (= Ausonius-Éditions - Scripta Antiqua; 159), Pessac: Ausonius Editions 2022, 355 S., ISBN 978-2-35613-479-0, EUR 25,00
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Rezension von:
R. Bruce Hitchner
Department of History, Tufts University, Medford, MA
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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R. Bruce Hitchner: Rezension von: François Bertrandy: Études sur la 'Confédération cirtéenne', entité singulière de l'Afrique romaine (IIe s. a.C.-IIIe s. p.C.), Pessac: Ausonius Editions 2022, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 1 [15.01.2024], URL:

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François Bertrandy: Études sur la 'Confédération cirtéenne', entité singulière de l'Afrique romaine (IIe s. a.C.-IIIe s. p.C.)

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This admirably inexpensive monograph is a collection of both new and previously published papers on the modern-named "Cirtan Confederation", the large and evolving territorial circumscription centered on the former Numidian royal capital of Cirta between the late first century BCE and third century CE. The papers are organized into chapters under five themes: territory (1), history (2), economy (3), onomastic and societal studies (4) and religious life (5), each preceded by a brief introduction. The volume also includes a useful foreword, brief historiographical introduction, good maps and a list of ancient literary sources and modern bibliography (though regrettably no index). [1] Since the original publication of some of these papers, there has been much important and relevant new work on Numidia and the confederation which the author takes note of throughout the monograph. All in all, this is an important publication on a "particular entity" which Jacques Heurgon once referred to as a historical hapax (63). Whether this is precisely true or not, the history of the "Cirtan Confederation" is a clear example of the way in which the Roman state asserted its political, juridical, administrative, and cultural control over a provincial society for the purpose of securing its loyalty and extracting its resources.

The great merit of this book is that it brings together Bertrandy's keen insights and perspectives on the Confederation published in papers over the course of his career, as well as many fresh observations in new essays in this volume. There is not space here to elucidate all of them, but this reviewer found Bertrandy's careful studies of its territory and geography in Part I valuable for understanding the impact of the buffer entity created by the Italian mercenary, Publius Sittius, in framing the long-term boundaries of the later Confederation. In the last chapter in Part I (5) Bertrandy argues convincingly, for example, that the Ampsaga River (Oued el Kebir) which served to separate the earlier Eastern Numidians or Massyli from the Western Numidians or Masaesyli, and later the Kingdoms of Numdia and Mauretania did not change following the destruction of the Numidian kingdom by Sittius. In effect, Sittius' enclave arrested King Bocchus II's attempt to expand his Mauretanian kingdom eastward which may have provided a new threat to the new Roman province of Africa Nova.

At the same time Bertrandy reminds us of the curious background to what later became the Confederation. Sittius, a former supporter of Catiline, headed a group of Italian mercenaries who were employed by Bocchus. Sittius used his position to attack King Juba I of Numidia and force the surrender of Cirta and some other unknown "Gaetulian" towns. It was in return for this that Caesar, following his victory over the Pompeians and their Numidian ally Juba in the African War, granted Sittius and his followers territory centered on Cirta which came to be known as the Colonia Cirta Sittianorum cognomine. The origins of the later and juridically unique "Cirtan Confederation" within the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis were thus in part a consequence of a successful private war conducted by Italian mercenaries against the kingdom of Numidia.

In the three chapters on the history of the Confederation in Part 2, Bertrandy elucidates how the territory of the Sittian entity was restructured and incorporated into the empire. The first change took place under Octavian who raised it to the status of a full Roman colony, colonia Iulia Iuvenalis Honoris et Virtutis Cirta governed by duumviri. It is not until the early second century C.E. that the Confederation, as such, emerges with the inclusion of three other towns, now called colonies of Cirta, Chullu, Rusicade, and Milev, something called res publica IIII coloniarum Cirtensium. Each colony paid a contribution to Cirta as part of this arrangement and were governed by praefecti iure dicundo, whose power also extended over a number of smaller castella. It is likewise to the early second century that the new full Roman colony of Cuicul near the frontier with the province of Mauretania, was established and provided with its own territory at the expense of the Confederation. By the early third century, Roman financial, municipal, and religious institutions and values as symbols of power and status had penetrated deeply into the three subordinate colonies and even into the smaller more remote castella, undermining the need for continued direct control by Cirta itself, leading by the mid-third century to the demise of the Confederation and civic autonomy for its former dependencies.

So how should we understand the origins and history of the "Cirtan Confederation"? That is, how did a former indigenous North African kingdom become so deeply infused with documentable manifestations of Roman imperial power in all its forms? Part of the answer must lie in the fact that Numidia had become, from the second century BCE, an ever more strategic source of food (grain) for the city of Rome, making its security and productivity absolutely fundamental to the stability of the capital of the empire. In this regard, the history of the Confederation is not a hapax but a variant on the model of the new Roman colony of Carthage with its large grain-producing pertica which likewise required careful imperial oversight and administration as well as security, again not unlike the Confederation, against perceived threats posed by the Gaetulians to the south, evidenced in the Roman military expansion southward in both regions.

But another and more ambiguous answer to these questions must lie with how we know so much of Cirta's history, such as it is, and as virtually every paper in this volume demonstrates; namely by virtue of the thousands of Latin inscriptions discovered and published in the colonial period. It is chiefly this singular body of documentation that inform us of how the Confederation came into being, functioned and evolved administratively and politically, and eventually dissolved (65-132), how its countryside was organized into saltus, fundi, and farms dedicated to feeding Rome (133-148), how the Confederation attracted migrants from Italy and the Greek East, how Roman-style elites from the Confederation came to prominence even in the imperial capital itself (the Antistii of Thibilis for example), how still others served as patrons and built temples, baths, and other monuments in the Cirtensian towns and castella, how many inhabitants in the Confederation served in the Roman army, how even indigenous peoples prudently pursued Roman juridical identities once incorporated into the system, and how Roman cults and religious traditions including those honoring the emperors, perhaps influenced by Numidian religious customs, penetrated epigraphically across all levels of society (149-336).

I do not mean to suggest here that the history chiefly revealed by these inscriptions is a misrepresentation of the history of the "Cirtan Confederation" - indeed it is this documentation which gives the latter its very identity as an institution - only that the pervasive penetration of and adherence to Roman imperial power it manifests should put us on guard to the possibility that there surely is another largely undocumented history of northern Numidia in the Roman period, that has been subsumed or buried under it; a history revealed, for instance, in the cemetery-sanctuary of El Hofra at Cirta and in the countless silent lives of Numidian people, sometimes only known to us through their non-Roman or African names on funerary epitaphs who resided in the many remote farms and castella throughout the confederation. The very fact that "Numidia" as a new Roman province in the third century comes to replace the Roman legal construction of the "Cirtan Confederation" is perhaps the most powerful indicator that, however rich and informative the Latin epigraphic record is, it cannot be seen as reflecting the whole of Numidia's now largely lost history under the Roman Empire. Rather it yields mainly a story of the Roman political economy in Numidia. In a larger sense, this should remind us, as historians of Rome, that we should remain ever vigilant to the fact that when we speak of the "Roman" history of a region, it cannot possibly reflect, however robustly it may manifest itself and its legacy, the entirety of its historical experience under Roman rule.


[1] It would also have been beneficial to have a list of maps, figures, and tables at the beginning of the volume, as there are some inconsistencies in their citation throughout the work.

R. Bruce Hitchner