The town Cherchel or Ašrašal lies immediately west of the “Corniche de Chenoua” on the coast of Algeria, about 88 km west of Algiers.
The Greeks named it in antiquity Iol and in Latin it got the name Iulia-Caesarea. The Phoenician name is reconstructed from the Greek Iol -> ’ y - ḥ l = isle of sand. Ps.Scylax’s reference to “the
” suggest the
identification with the islet of Joinville as Sand-island. Is what I find in
many sources really true? How is it then possible, that I find in the
Phoenician and Punic Dictionary by Ch.R.Krahmalkov (OLA 90, Leuven) at page 183
the translation of Phoenician ḥ l = wealth, and not sand! In Hebrew ḥayil =
wealth. On the other hand in Hebrew ḥôl = sand. What is right name for Iol? island
There is no doubt, that this was a Phoenician trading-post. On the islet Joinville in front of Cherchel was the first occupation found. The excavated relics there are dated to the 5th century BC. Nevertheless it must be at least a century older, because the excavation in Cherchel itself has shown, that there are relics from the 6th century BC (pottery and lamps).
See: Approche d’un collection de poteriès puniques (musée de Cherchel), Akila Djellid, Africa Romana 14 (2000).
After the Carthaginian period Iol becomes the capital of the Mauretan kingdom under Bocchus II as a vassal king during the time of Caesar. The successor Juba II reigns this Roman protectorate from 25 BC – 23 AD and he changes the name Iol in
Caesarea. Plinius (NH V,20) and Pomponius Mela
(I,30) are mentioning the town. Pomp.mela I,30: ….. after that Iol at the sea, previously unknown, today famous,
because it was the royal residence of Iuba and it is called now Caesarea.” Juba
II had probably the court poet Grinagoras of Mytilene. The king was married
with Cleopatra Selene. Iol becomes a great Hellenistic centre. The seaport
capital and its kingdom flourished during this period with most of the
population being of Greek and Phoenician origin with a minority of Berbers. In
the neighbourhood lies the royal mausoleum of Mauretania.
It has 185,50 meter in circumference and has a diameter of 60,90 meters. It is
now 32,40 meters in height and has a volume of 80.000 m3. Around it are
standing 60 Ionic columns.
The cult of Baal Hamon is still attested in the 2nd-1st century BC by a Neo-Punic stele found near the Tenes Gate in the western part of the city. Steles from the Roman times, dedicated to Saturn, were uncovered in the same area, showing the continuity of the Punic cult in a sanctuary that certainly comprised a tophet.
In 40 AD follows the annexation by the Romans and
becomes the capital of the province Mauretania Caesaraea. Meanwhile an uprising
by Aedemon is surpressed. Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) gives it the status of
colonia Aelia Tipasensis. A long aquaduct of 28 km delivers water from the
Djebel Chenoun via Aquae Calidae and Sufasar. Caesarea
becomes the birthplace of the Roman emperor Macrinus and the Greek grammarian
Priscian. The town is now surrounded by 7 km of walls. It covers a surface of
In 238 AD we see the first Christian epitaph from the woman Rasena. Marciana is a Catholic saint. She was accused of vandalising a statue of the goddess Diana. After being tortured, Marciana was gored by a bull and mauled by a leopard in the amphitheatre at
The first known bishop was Fortunatus in the 4th century AD. In 372
Caesarea is burned down by the rebel Firmus. It is built
up again. A new bishop comes forward between 372 and 380 AD: Clemens. Around
411 AD Caesarea is a Donatist centre under the bishop Emeritus, but he comes in
confrontation with the Catholic bishop Deuterius and Emeritus is exiled.
Apocorius is the last known bishop in 484 AD. He is sent away by the Vandal
The most famous one is that of Micipsa (KAI 161) by the end of the 2nd century BC, which attests the presence of a sanctuary to this king Micipsa (148-118 BC). Height: 33 cm, Wide: 22 cm. It is on a marble stone and is now in safety in the Louvre museum in
H.P.Roschinski (Die Mikiwsam Inschrift aus Cherchel) in Die Numider made a
translation. The English version could be: Paris
- Sanctuary for the “person”, the living, Mikiwsan, the king of the Massylians
- who brought justice in the lands, the lord of the kings, who brought well-being.
- For him was this memory made at the entrance of the chamber by Yazzam with his gift,
- son of Yuzgagasan, son of Bogud, son of Masinisan, the one placed to the gods,
- as a honourable memory for exactly the glory of his perfection (and) his mighty rank just like the “building”?
- and the priests, who were on all the heights, he assembled for him at that locate(on)
- of the building …..[….] with a flame? ..[….
- …………………………………[ and
- his chiefs he appointed in every settlement; he built in [every] estate [in
- to him belonging densely settled areas a big “building” [ ……
- It was made by Ariš, son of Abdo, son (of ……
The grand-nephew (second cousin) Yazzam makes a statue for Micipsa and installs a cult for him in every settlement of the land. The real work on the inscription and/or statue is done by a person with a Punic name: Ariš.
K.Jongeling mentions the three Neo-Punic inscriptions of Iol in Names in Neo-Punic inscriptions,
N1. NSI 56 (NP 130)
N2. KAI 161 (Micipsa)
N3 Dussaud BAC 1924 cxlvi
The last inscription is already translated in 1875 by Joseph Derenbourg in his contribution : “Sur une nouvelle inscription néopunique de Cherchel” (CRAI 19th year, no 3, p.259-266). The English version could be:
- A permanent memory to the good, intelligent woman. Rosh erected this monument, daughter
- of Abdešmun, son of Azrubaal, for her mother, as a sign of her grief, after was a stele
- for the living, husband of her, Azubaal [the younger] was gone… Hodbaal, daughter of Shaklan,
- her mother, in order to submit during 50 years on the isle of ḥashbar to the prescribed purification
- and she abstained from looking at the water of the reed (kana) and the isle of Dara, to keep herself blessed,
- as she also is compensated, the one that passed away on the age of 80 years.
It looks like someone is going to live as a hermit. J.Derenbourg links the isles of ḥashbar and Dara to one of the Canary isles and to the opposite river Darat. This could be doubtful.
See also: L’inscription néopunique, J.G. Février, Cherchel I RHR cxli p.19-25.
Head of marble, statue of Ganymedes, sfinx, head of a woman decorated by elephant, mosaic, milestones.
Phoenicia, E.Lipinski, Orientalia Lovaniensia
Analecta 127, Leuven, 2004, p.405.
Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, R.Stillwell + W.L.MacDonald + M.H.MacAllister (ed),
Princeton, 1976, p.413-414.
Die Numider, H.G.Horn + C.B.Rüger (ed), Köln, 1979 p.111-116, 227-242, 488-545.
Caesarea de Maurétanie, P.Leveau, Rome, 1984, p.9-13.
De Caesarea à Sherchel, N.Bensedik, Premiers resultats de la fouille du Forum, BAC = Bulletin Archéologique du Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques n.s.19B (1983/85) p.451-456.
Models of Urban Growth, the Cherchel Excavations 1977-1981, BAC n.s.19B (1983/85) p.457-468.
Vulnérability d’un capitale: Caesarea de Maurétanie, L’Afrique Romana V, Sassari 1988, p.253-269.
Rapport preliminaire sur la fouille du forum de Cherchel, Alger.