dinsdag 13 januari 2015

Portus Magnus

Portus Magnus

Sailing along the coast of the Dahra mountains from the east to the west the Phoenicians came to a large gulf where they have left many traces. It looks like they wanted to pass the Dahra coast as quickly as possible. The basis for their exploration of this gulf was without doubt the mouth of the river Chélif with the river-town Quiza. Anchorage is possible in certain periods of the year near the site of Sour Kelmitou (Wall of Chulimath), 7 km from the mouth of the river Chélif (Χυλωάθ). This place lies just below the ancient town of Quiza (Ptolemeus: Κουίςα). The Phoenicians focused however on several spots further away, especially on: Saint Leu or old Arzew (now: Azru), the mouth of the Macta and the little island(s) in front of modern Arzew.
The classical writers were aware of the good anchorage possibilities in this gulf, for they wrote: Pomponius Mela (I 29): …. As well as an harbour, who is because of its surface, called the Magnus. Plinius (NH V 19,2): Portus Magnus a spatium appellato. In the Periplus of Ps.Skylax the “sand”-island is followed immediately by a gulf with an island called Bartas (Βαρτάς). This must have been the Gulf of Arzew, protected by the Djebel Orouss from western winds.
Saint Leu or old Arzew became later the site of the Roman Portus Magnus, that cover over 30 hectares, but is 2 km distant from the sea. The rectilinear coast line in front of Saint Leu does not offer any shelter to ships, but the Phoenicians were accustomed to pull their ships on the beaches. It would have been no great problem for them, but of course they would look for shelter in the neighbourhood. West from modern Arzew lies the “ilot d’Arzew”, but that is too little to function as a harbour. In the 19th century AD another island was still visible in front of Saint Leu. A.Béard described the coast line from the Macta river to the warehouses of Arzew (Description nautique des côtes de l’Algérie, Paris, 1839, p.166). He sees s small flat island, a bare rock, very close to the beach, that was called the Island Tujisme. That name could be a Berber name: Tu-gisme. In Arabic gismi means ‘massive’, which reminds us of the name Portus Magnus. Tujisme could have served as a breakwater helping to protect the ships on the beach. This breakwater is now vanished, or it has become a part of the harbour-dams of modern Arzew.
The Phoenicians must have used also the mouth of the Macta, or the Sig, or the Oued Tinn. In ancient times it was called the Tasacora or Macsa. At that time this area must have been an inlet from the sea. G.Vuillemot has made here inquiries in the places Sbara, Fornaka and Port aux Poules, but there were no decisive results for a Phoenician or Punic presence.
The Roman town Arzew is located on a plateau 2 km away from the coast. The excavations have not yet reached the pre-Roman levels, but the traces and relics pointing undoubtedly to a Punic culture. In Saint Leu we find an open air sanctuary to the north of the town between the sea and the town. Here they have found the neo-Punic steles NP 78 + 79 and also Latin steles. Furthermore there are urns in holes in a ridge of tuff, which contained burned bones of mummified birds. NP 78 is dedicated to Baal Hammon and a Latin stele has the name of Saturnus. There must have been a sanctuary from the 1st century BC to the 1 st century AD, if not already earlier. Other findings are a fertility symbol, graves with late Campanian pottery (end 2nd century BC). Above the graves were standing steles with sometimes neo-Punic signs. One has found one Carthaginian coin (head of Ceres?), one monumental Punic inscription, an Iberian vase, a bas-relief of a man flanked by two horses.
The Romans left in old-Arzew mosaics, artworks and two houses with a peristyle (gallery of columns) behind. Os course there was also a forum and a temple, but that is all destroyed.

Neo-Punic Inscriptions:
N1 with the names b ‘ l b ‘ l (erratic for b ‘ l ḥ m n?) and b ‘ t ’ (=Beatus?) and m š g w ‘ n.
N2. ndr ’š nd[r] g p w m (or: gṭ’) yšm’’ ql’ (gpwm = name).
Those names in the inscriptions can be found in Names, Jongeling, p.156+158+162+188.
Vuillemot has found also an inscription in St.Leu. These are partly Punic letters, but the meaning is uncertain.

The archaeological site of Portus Magnus (36 hectares) is stretched out as far as Bethioua and is threatened and for a part destroyed by an industrial area. Nowadays the Association for the protection of Roman ruins wants to protect the site and make it accessible for the public and create a museum on the spot. Beautiful plan, but will all of it be realised? In the past many stones from the site were used by the residents of Saint Leu and Bethioua for building activities on their own houses. Not long ago tourists were treated here in a bad way. But it is true: today there is more security and protection. However, so many is already lost.

- Oranie, Vuillemot
- Ricerche Puniche, Bouchenaki
- Names in Neo-Punic, Jongeling
- Itineraria Phoenicia, Lipinski
- Ports, Carayon
- Maison à Peristyle, Rebuffat
- Le champ de stèles de Saint Leu, Gsell
- Sépultures punico-romaines, Vivant
- Vase ibérique du cimetière, Vincent
- La site de Saint Leu, Lassus
- Inscription punique de Saint Leu, Vuillemot
- Saturne Africain, Leglay


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