Library at Thamugadi (Timgad)




*R. Cagnat, et al. Timgad, une cite africaine sous l'Empire Romain. Paris, 1905. The final excavation report; predates however the discovery of the inscription identifying the library (which is here mostly referred to as the Salle demi-circulaire. Though often repeated, it is not true that Cagnat did not consider seriously the possiblity that the building was a library: the plan identifies the building as "edifice demi-circulaire (bibliotheque?)."

*R. Cagnat. Carthage, Timgad, Tébessa et les villes antiques de l'Afrique du Nord. Paris, 1927. An alarmingly silly book, with mindbendingly circular reasoning as regards the Timgad library.

*Homer F. Pfeiffer, "The Roman Library at Timgad," Mem. Americ. Acad. Rome 9 (1931) 157-65. This later summary takes into account conclusions reached after Cagnat's excavation report, most esp. the evidence from Ephesos and that of the inscription that identifies the building. Reasonably full data and analysis, concentrating on the problems of reconstruction.

*Makowiecka 1978 has a couple of important corrections to Pfeiffer: see pp. 86ff.

*Callmer 1944 pp. 181f.

*Götze 1937, pp. 240f.

L. L. Johnson 1984 pp. 31-40.

P. Romanelli, Topografia e archeologia dell'Africa Romana, Enciclopedia Classica sez. III: Arch. e storia dell'arte classica vol. X: Archeologia t. VII. Torino 1970. P. 203 [from Vössing]

*Strocka 1981 pp. 316f.

*Konrad Vössing, "Die öffentlichen Bibliotheken in Africa," Atti X convegno Africa Romana (1994) 169-183.

Circumstances of construction, date

The inscription that identifies the library reads, Ex liberalitate M. Iuli(i) Quintiani Flavi(i) Rogatiani c(larissimae) m(emoriae) v(iri) quam testamento suo Reipublicae Coloniae Thamugadensium patriae suae legavit opus bibliothecae ex sestertium CCCC mil(ibus) num(mum) curarnte Republica perfectum est. We know no more about the man, but the inscription surely implies a wealthy benefactor, i.e. akin to Pliny's gift to Comum (and somewhat different, it appears from Ephesos). No signs of a grave or the like, although there is (Vössing 173) a statue base indicating that a statue was erected to the benefactor. Note that the inscription implies that Flavius paid for only part of the building, and did not leave money for upkeep in the manner of Pliny. The inscription has been dated to the 3rd century, but that of course is little more than guesswork.


There is a strange unclarity in the scholarly literature as to whether the library faces east or west. The city plan of the excavation clearly shows it facing west. The detailed report and reconstruction by Pfeiffer however in several places makes clear that he thinks it to face east. Since the city plan refers to the north baths above the library and the east gate to its back, Pfeiffer must be mistaken. The building was one of the largest in the city center (together with the theater and forum complex), 25 x 23.5 m, taking up an entire insula, and was impressive though not overly ornate. A U-shaped portico served as entry into a semicircular central room with taletell wall niches. Along the sides were other, square rooms without niches.

An unusual aspect of the construction is the wall at the back, which extends 1.5 m into the narrow (4 m) street though it need not. Makowiecka thinks (and I agree) that this must be deliberate. His analysis is identical to the one at Ephesos, that this deliberately creates hollows at this edge of the exterior wall, a double wall in effect, so as to reduce moisture incursion.

Not enough of the superstructure survives to tell us about light sources. The architecture, which implies a domed roof, seems also to imply a single story; which is confirmed by the lack of any possible accommodation for a stairway.


If a single story (as seems correct), then only the 4 bookcases to either side of the apse are certain [Strocka says 5, mistakenly]. The niches measure 1.25 m wide and .5 m deep (height unknown), with the base .75 m up from the podium that runs below. The design is such that the intersection of semi-circular area with the square front, probably a reflection of a change in roof shape, takes away space that could have otherwise been used for a book-niche.

In a manner analogous to the Celus library, there is a podium running along the perimeter of the room and allowing easy access to the bookcases (which are elevated). The podium is .51 m deep, raised up from the floor to a height of 1.5 m (? check), and made accessible by three steps that likewise follow the circumference of the room.

If the niches were at all similar in height to niches elsewhere, the bookcases could not have accommodated more than 3,000 bookrolls. (Götze says "höchstens 1600 Rollen.") On this question, cf the silly bit from Cagnat 1927, pp. 105f. Cf. also Casson 118: "A small narrow room flanked the apsidal chamber on either side; these almost certainly were for storage of books, since the eight niches of the library proper could not have accommodated much of a collection, even one limited, as was no doubt the case here, to Latin titles alone." (!)

If the analysis here is right regarding the concern for dampness, this seems to me to bespeak an archival rather than lending or use frame of mind. If the armoires were routinely aired in this dry environment, surely there would not be the urgency to raise the bookcases and create a hollow wall projecting into the street! (Celsus is different, since there the library abuts into a hillside.)

The rooms to each side are commonly supposed additional "stacks" and reading rooms or scriptoria; but there is no basis.

Locale and context

The city is laid out in the manner of a Roman camp or fort, with the via decumana maxima as the main street of the city and the cardo maximus as the principal N-S axis. The Cardo runs along the front of the library through the forum and then on along the front of the theater (the three largest buildings in the city center). The library is three blocks away from the Forum, balancing the theater.

The excavators do not report any known temples within the city (there is a temple to the genius of Timgad at the city gate), so the proximity to religious or state structures other than forum and theater is not known. Unfortunately, much of the area immediately adjacent to the library was not excavated.


Photo Gallery