Utica, Tunisia


The ruins of Utica
Shown within Tunisia
Location Zana, Bizerte Governorate
Coordinates 37°3′25″N 10°3′43″E / 37.05694°N 10.06194°E / 37.05694; 10.06194Coordinates: 37°3′25″N 10°3′43″E / 37.05694°N 10.06194°E / 37.05694; 10.06194
Type Settlement
Builder Phoenician colonists
Founded Approximately 8th century BC
Abandoned Approximately 700 AD
Periods Early Iron Age to Byzantine Empire

Utica /ˌjuːtɪkə/ is an ancient city located between Carthage in the south and Hippo Diarrhytus (now Bizerte) in the north, near the outflow of the Medjerda River into the Mediterranean Sea. It is traditionally considered to be the first colony to have been founded by the Phoenicians in North Africa.[1] After the defeat of Carthage by Rome, Utica was an important Roman colony for seven centuries. Today, Utica no longer exists, and its remains are located in Bizerte Governorate in Tunisia - not on the coast where it once lay, but further inland because deforestation and agriculture upriver led to massive erosion and the Medjerda River silted over its original mouth.[2]

Utica's beginnings

Phoenicians trade routes 1200 BC–539 BC

Utica was founded as a port located on the trade route leading to the Straits of Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean, thus facilitating Phoenician trade in the Mediterranean.[3] The name "Utica" is from the Phoenician ˁattiq (identical to modern Arabic ( أُتِيكْ, عُتَيقة) ˁuttayqah and Hebrew עתיק ˁatiq) meaning "old [town]", contrasting with the later colony "Carthage", meaning "new town".[4][5]

The actual founding date of Utica is controversial. Several classical authors date its foundation to around 1100 BC. The archaeological evidence, however, suggests a foundation no earlier than the eighth century BC. Although Carthage was later founded about 40 km from Utica, records suggest "that until 540 BC Utica was still maintaining political and economic autonomy in relation to its powerful Carthaginian neighbor".[3]

By the fourth century BC, Utica came under Punic control, but continued to exist as a privileged ally of Carthage.[6] Soon, commercial rivalry created problems between Carthage and Utica.

Mercenary War

This relationship between Carthage and Utica began to disintegrate after the First Punic War, with the outbreak of rebellion among mercenaries who had not received compensation for their service to Carthage. Originally, Utica refused to participate in this rebellion, so that the Libyan forces led by Spendius and Matho laid siege to Utica and nearby Hippocritae.[7]

The Carthaginian generals Hanno and Hamilcar then came to Utica's defense, managing to raise the siege, but "the severest blow of all… was the defection of Hippacritae and Utica, the only two cities in Libya which had…bravely faced the present war…indeed they never had on any occasion given the least sign of hostility to Carthage.” [7] Eventually, the forces of Carthage proved victorious, forcing Utica and Hippacritae to surrender after a short siege.[8]

Roman Utica

Third Punic War

Utica again defied Carthage in the Third Punic War, when it surrendered to Rome shortly before the breakout of war in 150 BC. After its victory, Rome rewarded Utica by granting it an expanse of territory stretching from Carthage to Hippo.[9]

As a result of the war, Rome created a new province of Africa, and Utica became its capital, which meant that the governor's residence was there along with a small garrison. Over the following decades Utica also attracted Roman citizens who settled there to do business.[2]

Roman Civil War

Utica museum

During the Roman Civil War between the supporters of Pompey and Caesar, the remaining Pompeians, including Cato the Younger, fled to Utica after being defeated at the Battle of Thapsus in 46 BC. Caesar pursued them to Utica, meeting no resistance from the inhabitants. Cato, who was the leader of the Pompeians, ensured the escape of his fellow senators and anyone else who desired to leave, then committed suicide, unwilling to accept the clemency of Caesar.[9] Displaying their fondness for Cato, “the people of Utica...called Cato their saviour and benefactor... And this they continued to do even when word was brought that Caesar was approaching. They decked his body in splendid fashion, gave it an illustrious escort, and buried it near the sea, where a statue of him now stands, sword in hand”.[10] After his death, Cato was given the name of Uticensis, due to the place of his death as well as to his public glorification and burial by the citizens of Utica.[11]

Roman status

Utica obtained the formal status of a municipium in 36 BC and its inhabitants became members of the Quirina tribe.[12] The city was chosen by the Romans as the place where the governor of their new Africa province was resident, but the silting of the port (because of the Medjerda River) damaged the importance of Utica.

During the reign of Augustus, however, the seat of provincial government was moved to a since rebuilt Carthage, although Utica did not lose its status as one of the foremost cities in the province. When Hadrian was emperor, Utica requested to become a full Roman colony, but this request was not granted until Septimius Severus, a native of the Province of Africa, took the throne."[13]

Already eclipsed by the preeminence of Carthage, Utica was faced with the progressive silting up of its port and consequent isolation in the midst of marshy lands. By converting its activity to further cultivation of its agricultural territory, it prolonged its life right up to the end of ancient times....Utica had been endowed from the first century B.C. with the Roman buildings essential to comfortable urban life: forum, temples, baths, amphitheater, circus, in addition to dwellings. Most of these structures were placed in the grid of an orthogonal plan which covered a large part of the city. -Marian Holland

The city and all the area east of the "Fossatum Africae" was nearly fully romanised by the Septimius Severus times. According to historian Theodore Mommsen, all the inhabitants of Utica spoke Latin and worshipped Christianity in the fourth and early fifth century.[14]

Fall of Utica

In AD 439, the Vandals captured Utica, in AD 534 the Byzantines captured it once more. Finally the Arabs were responsible for its ultimate destruction around AD 700. "Excavations at the site have yielded two Punic cemeteries and Roman ruins, including baths and a villa with mosaics". [15]

Diocese of Utica

Roman Utica was a Christian city with an important diocese in Africa Proconsularis.

Statue of Trajan from Utica ruins

Indeed, there are more than a dozen bishops documented in Utica. The first, Aurelius, intervened at the council held at Carthage in 256 AD by St. Cyprian to discuss the question of the "lapsi". Maurus, the second bishop, was accused of apostasy during the persecution of 303 AD. The third, Victorius, took part in the Council of Arles in the 314 AD along with Cecilianus of Carthage; he is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on 23 August. Then the fourth, Quietus, assisted at the Council of Carthage in 349 AD proclaimed by Gratus.

At the conference of Carthage in 411 AD -which saw gathered together the bishops of Roman Catholicism and of Donatism- Victorius II took part for the Catholic church and Gedudus for the Donatists. Historian Morcelli added the bishop Gallonianus, present at the Council of Carthage of 419 AD, who -according to Mesnage- instead belong to the Diocese of Utina. Then the Bishop Florentinus, who intervened at the synod at Carthage in 484 AD, was met by the Vandal king Huneric, after which he was exiled.

Faustinianus" participated at the Council of Carthage of 525 AD. He was followed by the bishop Giunilius, an ecclesiastical writer, who dedicated his works to Primasius of Hadrumetum. In the seventh century we have the bishop Flavianus, who assisted at the Council against the Monothelitism of 646 AD; and Potentinus, who was exiled in Spain and intervened at the Council of Toledo in 684 AD.

With the Arab conquest, Utica was destroyed and disappeared even as an independent diocese. Only during the early Renaissance Utica was again a diocese, when the Spanish empire conquered the region for some decades and Pedro del Campo was named bishop of the recreated Diocese of Utica in 1516 AD.[16]


The site of the ruins of Utica is set on a low hill, composed of several Roman villas. Their walls still preserve decorative floor mosaics. To the northwest of these villas is a Punic necropolis, with Punic sarcophagi 20 feet (6.1 metres) below the Roman level.

Currently, the site is located about 30 km from Tunis and 30 km from Bizerte and near cities with four other historical sites:

The House of the Cascade at Utica is typical of most Roman houses excavated in North Africa.


  1. Moscati, Sabatino. The World of the Phoenicians. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1968.
  2. 1 2 “Utica (Utique) Tunisia". The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Stillwell, Richard, Macdonald, William L. and McAllister, Marian Holland. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1976. 5 May 2007. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0006%3Aid%3Dutica>
  3. 1 2 Aubet, Maria Eugenia. The Phoenicians and the West, Politics, Colonies, and Trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  4. פוליביוס, "היסטוריה" (Polybius, "Historiae", translated by: Beyamin Shimron [בנימיו שימרון]; Bialik institute, Jerusalem 1991)p. 102, n. 4.
  5. Walbank, F. W., Astin, A.E., Frederiksen, M.W., Ogilvie R.M. and Drummond, A., eds. The Rise of Rome to 220 BC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Vol. VII of The Cambridge Ancient History.
  6. 1 2 Polybius. “The Histories.” Book 1. Loeb Classical Library. Vol I. 2 May 2007. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Polybius/1*.html>
  7. Walbank, F.W., Astin, A.E., Frederiksen, M.W., Ogilvie R.M. and Drummond, A., eds. The Rise of Rome to 220 BC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Vol. VII of The Cambridge Ancient History.
  8. 1 2 Walbank, F.W., Astin, A.E., Frederiksen, M.W., and Ogilvie R.M., eds. Rome and the Mediterranean to 133 BC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Vol. VIII of The Cambridge Ancient History.
  9. Plutarch. “The Parallel Lives.” Loeb Classical Library. Vol VIII. 2 May 2007. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Cato_Minor*.html>
  10. Cassius Dio. “Roman History.” Book 43. Loeb Classical Library. Vol IV 2 May 2007. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/43*.html>
  11. "Utica (Utique) Tunisia". The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Stillwell, Richard, Macdonald, William L. and McAllister, Marian Holland. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1976. 5 May 2007. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0006%3Aid%3Dutica>
  12. Bunson, Matthew. “Utica.” Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1994.
  13. Mommsen, Theodore. "The Provinces of the Roman Empire. section:Africa
  14. "Utica, Ancient City, N Africa". Columbia Encyclopedia. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Northwestern University Library. 1 May 2007. <http://web.ebscohost.com.turing.library.northwestern.edu/ehost/detail?vid=4&hid=8&sid=275d98f6-98aa-4c9b-8592-907b38a2c47c%40sessionmgr8>.
  15. Dioceses Uticiensis


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