National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Tunisian Farm BESIDES some sizable cities, among which recolonized Carthage was the leader, Roman Tunisia developed extensive and populous rural settlements, where landed gentry resided in luxurious houses on fertile farms. Several of the Tunisian villas have been uncovered by the French Service of Antiquities, and the Bardo Museum in Tunis is stocked with their treasures. In surprising con trast, Carthage itself, however carefully its site has been explored, has yielded almost nothing to illustrate its thousand years of African supremacy. Archeologists uncovered in one especially fine example of a villa a mosaic floor into which a rather incompetent but ambitious local artist had introduced little scenes from the country life of North Africa in his day. With remarkable vividness, but complete incoherence, he depicted a Tunisian cattle stead and its animals, a horse being watered, a farmer plowing with an ox team, a laden donkey being led to market, hunters on horseback with lances, and a man dis guised under a goatskin driving quail into a decoy net. These scenes, assembled in proper perspective, afford a realistic picture of suburban life near ancient Carthage. A dirt country road, dusty in dry weather, abominably muddy in wet, leads past an adobe wall of whitewashed plaster over sun-dried brick, carried on a hidden base of field stone and protected from disintegration by a cover of straw thatching held down by flat rocks. Within the wall stands a combination cattle shed and house, where the slaves in charge of this corner of the estate may eat and sleep. An olive grove is growing in thin soil close to limestone cliffs across the road, andonasunnier slope just outside the picture there will be grapevines. Every large estate produced its own oil and wine and atleast enough grain to tide the livestock through the winter. Onexport ofoil,wine, and grain the rich province primarily depended. The owner's villa, the plan ofwhich hasbeen unearthed, was quite different from thelittle byre behind thethatched wall in the picture. Around alarge interior garden court were grouped suites of rooms alllaid with exquisite mosaic floors. The composition which adorns theprincipal room, showing cupids at work ingrapevines, haspassed into the handbooks as a specimen of Roman mosaic artatitsmost delicate and charming. The typical villa rusticahad ground-floor rooms equipped for pressing the oil from the olives and storing itinvats. There were rooms with winepresses, connected with cellars where the wine could be laid down injars; cool airy rooms for drying and storing fruit;dry lofts forgrain and straw; a threshing floor outside; and stables forthehorses and cattle. In remote or unsafe districts there was sometimes a fortified compound, andslaves were kept armed. With such an establishment under hisorders, alanded proprietor could expect tobe both busy and prosperous. Nor would he have entertained any qualms forhissocial position and privileges. The dyed-in-the-wool aristocratic Roman despised trade, business, manufacture, and allarts and crafts, no matter howlucrative orextensive. Itwas beneath his dignity to beanything except awarrior ora ruler, or a farmer with slaves todoallthework.