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Fossa Regia

The Fossa Regia [ the Royal Trench ], also known as the Fosse Scipio, formed the boundary between the province of Africa [roughly modern Tunisia] and the kingdom of Numidia [roughly modern Algeria]. It runs along a chain of hills near Dougga, where there is a line of stones or a low wall and at intervals boundary inscriptions marking the line between the territory of Thugga and the imperial domains. The wall can be traced to the Medjerda. In general it follows very closely the watershed.

At the time of the Third Punic War the Africa of the Carthaginians was but a fragment of their ancient native empire. It comprised the territory bounded by a vague line running from the mouth of the Tusca (Wad el Kebir), opposite the island of Tabraca (Tabarca), as far as the town of Thenae (Tina), at the mouth of the Gulf of Gabes. The rest of Africa had passed into the hands of the kings of Numidia, who were allies of the Romans.

After the capture of Carthage by Scipio (146 B.C.) this territory was erected into a Roman province, and a trench, the fossa regia, was dug to mark the boundary of the Roman province of Africa and the dominions of the Numidian princes. There have been discovered (1907) the remains of this ditch protected by a low wall or a stone dyke; some of the boundary stones which marked its course, and inscriptions mentioning it, have also been found. From Testur on the Mejerda the fossa regia can be followed by these indications for several miles along the Jebel esh-Sheid. The ditch ran northward to Tabarca and southward to Tina. The importance of the discoveries lies in the fact that the ditch which in later times divided the provinces of Africa vetus and Africa nova was at the time of the Third Punic War the boundary of Carthaginian territory.

The government of the Roman province thus delimited was entrusted to a praetor or propraetor, of whom several are now known, e.g. P. Sextilius, propraetor Africae, according to coins of Hadrumetum of the year 94 B.C. The towns which had fought on the side of the Romans during the Third Punic War were declared civitates liberae, and became exceedingly prosperous. They were Utica (Bu Shatir), Hadrumetum (Susa), Thapsus (Dimas), Leptis Minor (Lemta), Achulla (Badria), Uzalis (about 11 m. from Utica) and Theudalis. Those towns, however, which had remained faithful to Carthage were destroyed, like Carthage itself.

The Fossa Regia of Scipio Aemilianas, the frontier first of the Roman province and the Numidian Kingdom, later of the two provinces of Africa Velus and Nova, was discovered in part of its course in 1907. A boundary stone of Vespasian, set up in a place qua Fossa Regia fuit, suggests that the original ditch had been filled up and that the line which it defended was marked by the row of stones which have been traced for a distance of nearly twenty miles. This line is between Henchir-el-Barhala in the north and Djebel Khalled in the south, and follows the natural watershed of the country. Fifteen inscribed boundary stones show that the frontier in one place divided the Civitas Thuggensis from an Imperial domain, the first recorded in Africa. The inscriptions read, with slight variations: CAES N S F R G on the domain side; and on the other: CIV1T THVGG T P PER TIBERINO AVG LIB PRAETOSITO -MESORIBVS.

In what is today Iraq, a canal dug by Trajan's order, passes from the lesser to the greater branch of the Euphrates. This is the Fossa Regia [ the Royal Trench ], or Basilius flumua of the Romans and Greeks, by the Syrians called Nahar-Malca, or the Royal River, through which the emperor Severus passed in his way to Ctesiphon on the Tigris, when he besieged that city.



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