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The Roman Theatre at Zilil


[image ALT: A large patch of ground, grass and a few traces of stone, flush with the soil, but in what look like alignments. It is the dubious remains of the Roman theater of Augusta Zilil, in Morocco.]

Photo taken by Andrew Wilson, 3/14/94. © Andrew Wilson 1994. By kind permission.

I remember this hill from when I was 13 and 14 years old. My father was stationed in Tangier and I somehow got interested in archaeology, so wound up joining the Société d'Histoire et d'Archéologie de Tanger, which actually published an occasional journal — I still have a copy — and went on monthly outings in the country.

Among the places we went, a Roman town that we then called Ad Mercurii. I remember looking at a particularly theatre-shaped hill, to be told that no there'd be no theatre there, why it's facing into the sun. (The ultimate source of that idea: Vitruvius, de Architectura 5.3.2.) Two or three years later, I heard that a theatre had indeed been found there. This theatre has therefore become part of my personal mythology.

A few months after I got online, Andy Wilson, a student of Roman water supply and management in North Africa, updated me a bit on the place: it was one of the first benefits to me from being on the Net. To quote him:

". . . the site you refer to as Ad Mercuri (Dchar Jdid, NE of Azila), has now been conclusively identified as the colonia of Zilil (or in some authors, Zilis), from inscribed altars re-used in the 3rd century circuit wall. See:

M. Lenoir
A. Mastino, ed.
"Ab eo XXV in ora oceani Colonia Augusti Iulia Constantia Zilil" in
L' Africa Romana: 4. Atti del IV convegno di studio, Sassari, 12‑14 dicembre 1986
1987, Sassari [French]
pp433‑444.

The theatre is just outside the West gate in the 3rd‑century wall into which the Zilil inscriptions were built. There's not much to see, except the suspiciously theatre-like depression, and the foundations of the stage wall. It may also be mentioned in:

A. Akerraz, N. el Khatib-Boujibar, A. Hesnard, et al.
"Fouilles de Dchar Jdid 1977‑1980"
Bulletin d'archéologie marocaine 14
1982, [French]
pp169‑224

(or other issues)."

Here, by the way, is Pliny the Elder's scant mention of Zilil and some of the other haunts of my childhood, Lixus and Volubilis.


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Page updated: 23 Aug 04