The French Invasion of Algeria and the Roman Past

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The French Invasion of Algeria

and the Roman Past

Michael Greenhalgh

Department of Art History

Australian National University

Canberra ACT0200 AUSTRALIA

I have long been interested in the ways in which the Middle Ages and the Renaissance re-used Roman antiquities, usually as prestige items connecting the present somehow with the glories of the past, and thereby giving the present some of the past’s authority. Two examples would be the much earlier reliefs on the Arch of Constantine, and the various trophies collected by the Venetians outside St Mark’s in Venice (and including many reused columns displayed on the facade itself). So I was very interested to find one long-running case – the French invasion of Algeria from 1830 – where the Roman monuments and infrastructure were desperately needed for very survival and where, with little doubt, the French would have had to withdraw had there been no monuments to support them. Even in this case, the prestige of the Romans was frequently invoked, and questions directed at the fighting soldier: the Romans conquered Algeria – why can’t you do likewise? The only alternative would have been a radically greater investment from France in money, troops and materiel, and this would probably have been politically impossible and financially difficult.

Beginning with a sketch of the “mentalities” involved, this paper concentrates on the strategic use the French made of three types of antiquities - roads, fortresses, and cisterns and their feeding aqueducts - during the early stages of the occupation of the littoral and expansion into the hinterland, describing in detail what they did to the antiquities to make them serviceable for modern war. After demonstrating how French attempts at colonisation also depended heavily on Roman models, the paper concludes by setting the reuse of antiquities by the French against the broader context of mediaeval and Renaissance reuse and destruction in Italy, and on the mainland of France.

Since the fact so impressed the French, it is appropriate to emphasise here the profusion and near-pristine state of Roman and Byzantine monuments in Algeria upon their arrival. Even after 60 years of occupation Diehl, reviewing the archaeology of Algeria in 1892, marvelled at the cities in the South just as they were left by the Romans - L’Arabe, qui ne bâtit guère, n’avait trouvé nul profit à démolir ces édifices, et dédaigneusement il avait épargné ces cadavres de cités1. The South of Algeria was relatively untouched by the French, the distance from Algiers to the southern border being greater than that in the other direction to Paris. Even today, Algeria is rich in monuments, but characteristically less so in the North, which saw the preponderance of French building and colonising activity and hence of destruction.

We may also anticipate the conclusion to this paper - namely, the disastrous effect the French occupation eventually had on the monuments - by underlining the immense infrastructure they had to build or repair in order to survive the early decades in a largely hostile land. Roman monuments were used where possible, as we shall see; but modern warfare and the demands of 19-century settlement dictated a need for additional infrastructure which required immense quantities of building materials, often at the expense of the easily-available antiquities, which saved tedious quarrying, manpower, money and, above all, time. So few signs of the re-use of antiquities survived the century, being obliterated under improved forts and gun emplacements by strategists who thought they might expect attack by Europeans with cannon, rather that by Arabs with rifles.

Like the Romans (but unlike the Arabs), the French needed roads. Only 25 years after the initial conquest, it was estimated that the French had put into Algeria 5350km of roads “faites ou projetées”; aqueducts totalling 132,941 metres, offering 24,108,310 litres of water daily; and by 1850, 869 bâtiments d’utilité publique tels que fontaines, lavis, abreuvoirs, halles marchés, abattoirs, pépinières, hospitaux, églises, mosquées, écoles, lycées, salles d’asile etc; in addition were built 20 lighthouses; barracks for 40,000 men, and military hospitals for 5,000th. A considerable amount of this building would have been on top of the Roman infrastructure – digging out fountains, repairing cisterns and aqueduct, roads and forts. Much of the material destroyed in the process was stone building blocks (a great loss because they represented the “skeleton” of ancient settlement), and the plentiful inscriptions funerary and civic, by which the Romans had proclaimed the permanence of their civilisation, and which the Byzantines had frequently reused in decorative display by incorporating them in the walls of the fortresses they built.

The Romans and the French as Civilizing Forces

The example of the Romans provided a rationale used with equal force now to laud the French army as the new bringers of civilisation to a savage continent, now to denigrate them for being unable to equal the Roman achievement.

The French conquest began with a hesitant and uncertain occupation of the coastal cities of Algiers, Bone and Oran, with Bougie added in 1833. Indeed, the French had invaded Algeria without any clear plan, and found themselves ill-equipped to deal with the guerilla warfare offered by Abd el Kader. For 15 years, this heroic figure blocked French expansion in the province of Oran – that is, all the West of Algeria. The war (it was no less – Algeria cost the lives of 150,000 soldiers in the first 40 years) affected the Roman monuments through the changing strategies of the different French commands. Marshal Valée had constructed heavily fortified defences, often on Roman citadels (e.g. Cherchel, Medea, Miliana), and waited for the enemy. But when Bugeaud replaced him in 1840, he opted for attack, with lightly-armed mobile troops: this highlighted the importance of those Roman forts in the province of Oran (Abd el Kader’s stronghold) which could be used against a guerilla campaign. The French army, harrassed as much by public opinion back home as by the Arabs and Berbers on the ground, needed the example of the Romans as some justification for the feasibility of what they were attempting in Algeria. But not everyone was convinced. Even the generals were not all happy, Desmichels asking in 1839 pourquoi voudrions nous nous engager dans une guerre infructueuse, seulement pour acquérir un peu de gloire et pour annoncer par des bulletins pompeux que nos troupes sont toujours dignes de l’admiration du monde? 2
A large difference between the natives and the French was measured in their attitudes to the Roman remains, the latter believing the very fact that the natives had left the Roman monuments alone was an indicator of their fecklessness and lack of interest in civilisation itself. The usual technique when discussing the matter was to contrast current living conditions of the indigenous populations with the grandeur of the past, as in Dr. Bonnafont’s Réflexions sur l’Algérie, particulièrement sur la Province de Constantine, sur l’origine de cette ville, ... etc, published in Paris in 1846. On the ruins of Tiffech, for example, in the valley of Mersouk-Khaal, he conmared the grandeur of the Roman monuments to the habitations flottantes et fragiles des temps actuels (pp. 8-9, 16-17). The comparison is shot through with irony, because the French were to destroy immense quantities of Roman remains in their occupation of Algeria, and neglect others (such as the Roman bridge at Constantine, which collapsed in 1857, and was not rebuilt)
The stance that the Arabs were children, to be nurtured and helped, had a long life, partly because the French had little knowledge of Arab history. Thus the Arabs were indeed passively, if not actively, interested in retaining the display of ancient inscriptions – the same principle as buying someone else’s ancestral portraits and hanging them in the hall3 - and an action parallel to the Venetian decoration of St Mark’s that cited at the beginning of this paper. And inspection of mosques in Algeria would have underlined the long-established local taste for reusing classical antiquities, especially marble columns. Indeed, going further afield (such as to Tunis, or Cordoba) would have revealed the mediaeval Moslem as a much greater admirer of Roman marble than the contemporary Christian.

There is plenty of evidence that the highest officers encouraged a commitment to the Roman past, doubtless because it was in this context that the French, nurtured on the vitality of Antiquity and the important lessons it could still yield, saw themselves. For example, in 1857 General Durrieu bad his officers to accompany him on a visit to Roman remains in the province of Mascara, 24km from their camp. The account remarks on how Roman occupation est écrite en nombreux caracteres. They searched for inscriptions (i.e. they would have been able to read them), but without success, pour percer le silence de ces tombes colossales. Civilisation, they remarked, est comme le soleil, elle a ses nuits et ses jours, ses plénitudes et ses éclipses. On peut dire des romains qu’ont habité l’Afrique ce qu’on dit des martyrs: Leur cendre fut une sémence4.

Reconnaissance and Materiel: Roman Roads

The Army survived and sometimes prospered on the quality of its documentation and reconnaissances, which were usually high, and frequently set in a well-researched historical context. Officers schooled in the classics were conscious of following in Roman footsteps, and noting down the antique remains that could be of use to a modern army – roads, bridges, aqueducts, cisterns, forts and signalling posts – as well as those signs of antique colonisation which encouraged at least some of their number to believe that a French occupation would be fruitful. A good example of the genre is G. Tatareau’s 72-page Mémoire sur la Province d’Oran, of 25 February 1833. Two years later, he was to produce a book-length account of the same province5.

The French were familiar with Roman roads and their construction, because both French and Italians had conducted excavations on stretches of such roads in France and Italy in the 18 century to try and learn how they were made, so that they could perhaps build likewise. In fact, they decided, Roman techniques were too costly in labour to be employed for anything more than the repair of existing roads. In Algeria, Roman roads abounded, frequently in good or repairable condition. The French badly needed such roads, just like the Romans, for moving their troops, baggage and especially artillery; whilst the local inhabitants used only horses, and generally kept to tracks. Any earlier intelligence was useful, and it is characteristic of the veritable vacuum of modern maps of the area that it was the Tabula Peutingeriana, a mediaeval copy of a map of the Roman world; that came to their aid; so that they were using some sources perhaps 1500 years old in origin. This can be exemplified in Pellissier’s Mémoire sur la Géographie ancienne de l’Algérieth, where he bemoaned the lack of modern maps of Algeria, and suggested using the Tabula Peutingeriana (a late copy of a Roman map) to corrent current efforts - and not vice versa.

In such good repair were some Roman roads that distances could be measured in Roman miles, on the maps produced by the Service Topographique of the Army. At Oran in 1837, for example, Capitaine d’Etat Major de Martimprey provides a map of the Province, marking ancient cities and roads, and using this measure, with scales in kilometres and leagues alongside it6. Roman milestones survived in large quantities to confirm such scales.

The crucial questions the French had to ask about Roman roads in Algeria were twofold, namely, Could such roads be repaired, and at what cost? and Would they take artillery? The answer to the first question was almost invariably affirmative: repairing Roman roads was cheaper than building new ones. Indeed, the French recognition of the travaux gigantesques frequently needed to build roads helps further to explain their interest in the Roman achievement7. Thus in 1832, Lieut-General Pelet already knew that the Roman road between the bay of Stora (the port) and Constantine (a little over 50 miles) could be repaired8. This was later confirmed, when General Berthezune remarked in a letter of 8 November 1839 that the trip between Stora and Constantine took 4 days, but that le chemin est assez bon et paraît permettre d’y mener de l’artillerie9. Captain Niel notes (with an eye to French commerce) that il est hors de doute que sur plusieurs points de cette traverse on aperçoit la trace des travaux qu’avaient été exécutés des Romains pour l’améliorer - the suggested reason being the coming of prosperity to Russicada (hence to the Stora region as far as Constantine), and the need to transport wheat10.

The answer to the second question, however, depended on the route followed. Whilst Roman roads were splendid on the flat, and able to take the pounding that guns and limbers inflicted, they frequently marched in a straight line over the hills, often involving gradients too steep for artillery to manage. So for most areas of a very hilly country (and, to make things more difficult, generally corrugated East to West), new, linking stretches of road needed to be constructed - another trigger for depradations on any conveniently sited Roman remains, no matter how spectacular. The French possessed one advantage the Romans lacked – namely gunpowder. This meant that they could build near-level roads where the Romans simply had to go over or go round, as Marshall Vallée reports to the Minister of War on 26 Oct 1838, concerning the road from Constantine to Stora: On a suivi dans presque tout le développement qui est de plus de cinq mille mètres le trace de l’ancien sentier Romain ... Dans la suite, il faudra penser à une voie plus large, plus directe, moins ondulée. La Poudre nous permettra de faire à cette égard ce qui eût été presque impossible aux Romains...11

Security behind Roman Walls: Constantine & Philippeville

A glance at the map will show the key position of Constantine in the east of Algeria, while any views of the vertiginous and rocky site of the city will demonstrate its ability to withstand siege. General Clausel’s failed expedition against Constantine, with much loss of life, provoked his recall in 1837. That same year his successor, Danremont, lost his life in that town’s expensive capture. The new commander, Marshal Valée, secured the region by founding Philippeville (on the Gulf of Stora, some 3 miles from the Roman port of Stora) as Constantine’s seaport. For this he was to use the remains of the Roman city of Russicada.

In many instances throughout Algeria, all that needed doing to ancient walls was to make good what the Romans or Byzantines had left behind, which was usually easily visible. So when the Army of Africa camped in the bay of Stora for the first time, in 1838, they took shelter in the remains of the Roman fort at Russicada. renaming it Fort de France. The Roman citadel was still useful: il est revêtu, sur presque tout son contour, avec d’énormes pierres de grès que le temps a dérangées, mais qui, dans leur état actuel, présentent encore une défense respectable12. If the general officers had been reading the Army Mémoires enthusiastically, they would have know that Colonel Pretot had noted in a reconnaissance as early as 1834 that Stora peut redevenir en peu de tems ce qu’il étoit sous les Romains13 - that is, a port guarded by nearby Russicada..
Indeed, the rebuilding of Roman Russicada as Philippeville was quickly undertaken beginning in 1838, in order to protect communications between Constantine and the sea.A still-functioning Roman cistern was cleared, and . the engineers reestablished the Roman fortifications. Chef de Bataillon Niel [later a Marshal of France] went over the ground at Stora (occupied 1838), and re-established both the ring of Roman forts, and the road from Constantine to Stora, still in excellent condition in some parts. On another stretch of the same road at the Oued Baba, he discerned Roman improvement works, perhaps executed when Russicada rose to prosperity14. Niel had no hesitation in invoking the Roman strategy for the defence of Stora, slightly adapted to modern artillery15. The vaults to other Romans cisterns were repaired in 183916, and those below what was to become Fort Royal, holding more than 10,000 cubic metres, were refurbished after 184317.
If Russicada and Stora were one part of the equation, then Constantine itself was the other part. French general officers recognized that surviving Roman remains could help fix their occupation of Algeria. Positive enthusiasm is exemplified by the actions of Marshall Valée who, as part of his plan for the consolidation of the North, sought a strong defensive position by establishing his HQ in the Roman citadel (the Kasbah) at Constantine, the stones of which were still in place. He wrote from there to the Minister of War on 8 Oct 1838 that other blocks were to be used to raise Fort de France, on the highest hill,18 and headed a letter Fort de France only three days later, wherein he notes that he is following the Roman system of separate forts linked by chemins de ronde surrounding the city, and simply building on their foundations19. By 1839, plans were afoot for simply heightening the walls of the Casbah at Constantine, and adding crenellations20. These walls were late Roman and as the Colonel du Génie recognised in 185321. In another section of the same wall, new building was to go directly on top of the Roman wall, while the Roman quarries at Mansourah were opened in 1840, for the light-weight and porous building stone, avec laquelle les Romains ont construit les voûtes des citernes et qui pourra être employé pour celles de l’hopital22.
In a very few years, then, the French had secured the dearly-bought Constantine, in large part by duplicating what the Romans had done, even to simply building up existing walls.

Refurbishing Roman Forts throughout Algeria

Everywhere they went, the French kept their eyes open for useful materials and forts. At Biskara, no enceinte remained, but a new one could be constructed from the debris; at Tiaret, On a conservé dans l’enceinte provisoire qui suivit le trace de la muraille de l’ancien poste Romain, and simply rebuilt what had fallen down; at Miliana and at Djidjelli, similar making-good took place23. At Djidjelli, for example, in spite of the poor state of the Roman walls, work was set in hand to repair them, including digging down to the foundation: these were found to be in good condition, and so the walls were rebuilt on top of them24 - a procedure already proposed in 184125.

It was frequently remarked that the founding of French settlements on top of Roman ones was far from a coincidence; indeed, just a little excavation could reveal, as at Orleansville in 1844, the walls of the Roman settlement standing up to six metres high, some of them completely buried, with only a few large blocks breaking the surface elsewhere26. Given the date, it is reasonable to assume that the excavation was organised in order to find building materials for the French fortifications or housing. One reason for acting in such a cavailer fashion with the antiquities is that certain aesthetes disapproved of those from the “decline” of Late Antiquity. Thus at Oran, while the more sensitive souls certainly deplored the fate of the amphitheatre, part-occupied by French troops for barracks, part-stripped of marble by “modern vandals”; they were equally pained by the Chateau Neuf, built sometime during or after Late Antiquity, faites de pièces et de morceaux, sans art, sans goût, et sans régularité27 - another excuse for vandalism, of course.
On many occasions, standing Roman forts were marked out for use in case there was trouble during offensive actions. Thus a fort near Mactar was important because on the line the Division would need to take if retreating to either Arzon or Oran28. Characteristically, the rapporteur goes further, admiring the pierres de taille de grande dimension, des fragmens de fortes colonnes, une suite de voûtes le long de l’escarpement, quelques restes encore debout et plusieurs inscriptions, picturesquely arranged amongst the fig trees. At the same time, it was recognised that the very size and quantity of surviving Roman stone blocks meant that the French could plan for expansion. So at Khramis, in 1843, a fort went up on the ruins of a Roman fort, in a well-chosen position; the French defences were smaller than the Roman ones, massive blocks from which were used in the interior buildings to support a second storey should one be needed 29. And frequently, the very existence of Roman ruins was cited as proof-positive of the existence of building materials suitable for the nurturing on the same site of large cities, as at Bougie, where seven layers of city from the Phoenicians onwards were recorded30.
We can trace, sometimes year by year, the depradations of the French on the Roman monuments, because they arer fully detailed in the returns made by the Genie encapsulating their plans for (always) expansion. This sad story will be told in a further paper.

Feeding the Troops: Roman Cisterns, Aqueducts and Granaries

Many of the reconnaissances in Algeria and later in Tunisia marvelled at the quality and extent of Roman remains; and it is likely that the details given therein are often with a view to possible re-use at a later date. It is conceivable that the very existence of Roman water supplies in Algeria came as something of a surprise, in view of Capt. of Génie’s Rapport sur l’utilité des sondes dites anglaises, for the digging of wells and cisterns31. Nevertheless, prudence is all; and in 1837 Lieut-Col Guillemain writing on the Expedition de Constantine to the Minister of War, complained of the impossibility of carrying enough ammunition or provisions, and of the need for fortified provision dumps on the road from Bone to Constantine. He emphasized the need to reuse the Roman cisterns at Guelma, because Guelma semble disposé pour être la première station entre Bone et Constantine32.

Even with better roads and resupply by ship from France, water had to be found locally, and Roman cisterns remained a staple feature of French reconnaissances in Algeria and, later, in Tunisia33. For example, a reconnaissance in Tunisia in 1881 noted a Roman city 16km from El Djem with two cisterns34; a series of itineraries from Sousse punctiliously note all antique cisterns en route35; and reconnaissances between Tunis and Zaghouan (this latter the site of still-working Roman fountains) lists cisterns still in use, some lined with de beaux blocs rectangulaires, the largest some 48 feet in length36. Such reliance upoin Roman water supplies was far from new: further up the coast, the cisterns of Carthage were of inestimable help to the Emperor Charles V, camped before the walls of Tunis; and some of these were also still in use in the later 19 centuryth.
Storage for dry goods was also in short supply, as an all-Algeria survey revealed in 1847. Grain storage facilities were everywhere deficient. Anciet silos were commonly used and, at Milianah, even an old Mosque. At Sétif, the Procès-Verbal notes the three Roman towers of the enceinte converted into silos, where jusqu’à présent conservé en parfait état le blé qu’on y a renfermé37.


From the first landings, with which the French government during a fit of ennui tried to distract people’s attention from poor government by filling their eyes with the sight of glamorous foreign adventures38, colonisation was on the agenda, and the existence of Roman remains in areas now desertified was frequently used as a powerful argument in favour of what French colonisation can achieve. But strategy is also part of the equation, and discussions continued about whether the ancient city of Batna, or that of Lambaesis, was the better centre for colonisation, with charts of useable Roman roads forming part of the equation39. Bugeaud himself saw colonisation through Roman eyes, stipulating in 1844 the need for what he calls légions de colons-militaires to settle and anchor the new territory, with the sword and the plough. This is his answer to the political problem of the enormous cost of complete military conquest, the funds for which would never be voted. However, with 10,000 colons-militaires a year, he believed the country’s future could be secured40. Large sums of money were still being expended by 1850, so General de Rumiguy suggested the same solution once more41.

Indeed, the traces of Roman colonisation were there for all to see, and impelled the French toward very grand plans which re-iterated the Roman procedures and achievement without in any way extending or changing them. Thus Chef de Génie Gaubert was intent on learning every lesson he can from the Romans, whom he clearly admired and, and in whose footsteps he was not to proud to follow. Thus at Tlemcen, he observed the widespread ruins: the French could rebuild the city, and re-establish it because it was on a direct line from the Sahara to the sea. At Tikembritt, Roman spolia blocks could be used to build a fort. But what about resupplying it? Was the river navigable that far? Yes, and the Romans provided the answer once more: en examinant avec attention les berges de la rive, tout porte à croire que les Romains s’en sont servis comme point de débarquement. rien n’empêche d’agir comme eux - so why do the reconnaissance completely oneself, when the Romans have already done the work?42
Voices of reason tended to go to Roman example for their rationale. Thus Chef de Génie Devay,writing on 11 April 1844, from Mascara43, put the French efforts into their broader perspective. The French must attach themselves to the soil of Algeria by establishing a prosperity based on agriculture, on Roman lines. In the valley of the Oued-el-Hammam a complete Roman city survived pour attester l'antique prospérité du pays. He went on to discuss the cost of erecting a dam to re-fructify the country around. He had found antique canals and dikes which needed simple refurbishment, noting that such work would help colonisation here. So that instead of the current rage de l'extermination, the French would take a leaf from the Roman book: nous resserrons un à un les divers noeuds de ce réseau colonisateur dont la science politique de Rome avait cru devoir enlacer sa conquête et fortifier sa domination.
However, had the French bothered to enquire sufficiently closely (or indeed to read the Roman and Byzantine historians), evidence was also available from the ruins themselves that establishing colonies was not necessarily going to be easy. There were isolated reports which underlined this fact: in 1856 Captaine de Lambilly could point to the failure of Byzantine colonies - and these actually built on top of Roman ones. It was the Byzantine forts, and older, reused sculptured blocks, which proved his point, namely that the Roman colonies must have failed, because the Byzantines re-built them with earlier spolia44.
Bugeaud’s period of experimentation with military colonisation, from 1841 to 1848, expired with his resignation, and was buried by the chaotic failures of many of those who arrived as a result of the system of land-grants, and then following the 1848 and 1870 revolutions. Together with locusts, drought and cholera, the low quality of many of the settlers persuaded the Emperor that colonisation had hitherto failed, and in consequence a more consistent policy was put in place in 1878, which lasted until 190445. The ancient monuments suffered greatly from the predatory building of the colonists, whose interest in the past which they had acquired by settling in Algeria was generally low.
Prizing Spolia: European Middle Ages, French Algeria

The French commitment to preserving the Roman past of Algeria was tenuous indeed. Given the officers’ education and range of classical interests, not to mention the solid cultural achievements of Napoleon’s earlier attempted conquest of Egypt (namely the magnificent multi-volume Description de l’Egypte, and the Egyptian vogue it provoked back in Europe), this is curious.

The Middle Ages in Europe, who displayed their Roman heritage with pride and elan whether it was found locally or imported, incorporated antiquities both into their city walls and into the life of the streets. In 1830 many French cities still retained orf had only recently lost their late Roman or reworked mediaeval walls – Narbonne, Bordeaux, Langres, Nimes – with plentiful spolia, displayed for public admiration. But the march of modernisation – clean air, modern fortifications to cope wityh modeern artillery – ensured that old walls came down, the boulevardes converted into bosky promenades, and very few antiquities from tghe old walls collected into museums built to house them.

In Algeria, apart from giving French settlements on top of Roman remains inspiring Roman street-names, and collecting together into small museums those antiquities not commandeered for Paris, there are no campaigns for any comparable display of antiquities. Algeria in the decades after the initial landings was often too dangerous to cultivate the arts of peace; and new techniques of fortification, and new types of artillery, put the ancient Roman and Byzantine enceintes in urgent need of renewal. Thus the army would survive, but at the cost of the destruction of antiquities. Nevertheless, it is easy to believe that some prime opportunities were missed, apparently through a lack of heroic arrogance - the kind of bombast that had inspired Napoleon. Thus when the ruins of a Temple of Diana were uncoverd at Sétif, the blocks were simply laid out on a boulevard, without any thought of reusing them in any modern construction. And when the Porte Napoleon was to be finished (that is, a reworking of the existing Roman double archway: original project dated 20 Oct 1853), the Directeur des Fortifications poured cold water on the idea of having the date in Arabic numerals, which he thought vulgar; and he thought the idea of a crowning eagle was un ornement prétentieux, qui dans l’exécution risque d’être grossier et ridicule46. Lack of enthusiasm, downright hostility (il faut en finir avec cette porte47), and difficulties in finding suitable blocks (as well no doubt as the need to spend money on essentials rather than decoration) reduced the project from columns, to pilasters, and finally to simple arches, with no decoration at all. What a lack of panach!


In 1892 Diehl, reviewing the study of archaeology in Algeria48, could deplore the ravages wrought by the French,so much more extensive than those under la barbarie musulmane: the archaeologists were in continual struggle against the colonists; but in fact tous, maçons, entrepreneurs, colons, ingénieurs des ponts et chaussées, officiers du Génie, et jusqu’aux administrateurs eux-mêmes, ont rivalisé de zèle destructeur, with the result that Lambaesis, intact in 1844, had already lost one of its two ancient forts, and had a prison built on the remains of the other in 1848, whilst temples and nymphaea had been carelessly demolished, and inscriptions hammered out to reuse the stones - with the result that over half the inscriptions collected by Renier49 had now disappeared. Elsewhere, the same story: in 1840 the theatre at Cherchell was nearly intact, but was now only a hole. In 1873, the amphitheatre had seven ranks of seats - ten years later, all had been pillaged. When the Constantine-Batna road was built, spolia were used, and over 300 inscriptions disappeared in the work. Getting around laws for preserving antiquities was easy: when a law was promulgated resiling to the State monuments and inscriptions, they simply went around and se hâtaient d’effacer sur les pierres tout signe d’antiquité, afin de conserver des matériaux utiles dont ils se jugeaient les propriétaires légitimes. Indeed, Diehl claimed to have seen in government offices at Algiers long and methodical lists of Roman monuments which could be quarried for building stone. Even trophies taken for Paris were treated badly: Diehl notes the story of 12 marble statues, acquired by a French consul in the South, which were shipped to Toulon for the Louvre, on a French warship. They languished in the Arsenal for 35 years, and only got to their destination a la suite d’une réclamation formelle. The French occupation of Algeria was therefore disastrous for the monuments precisely because they could not survive without reusing the Roman infrastructure of the country.

How, then, do we square this truly monumental disaster with the high level of interest amongst French officers for the antiquities of Algeria from the beginning of the conquest? As we have seen, the reporting of the historical context was required in engineering project submissions; but nobody required officers to go exploring for inscriptions and statues. Part of the answer lies in the interest in the national past in the 19 century, which grows apace with the development of archaeology; and in Algeria this was only partly an acquired past, because of the proud heritage of the monuments of Provence, not to mention self-identification of the French conquerors with their Roman forbears. Another perhaps lies in the contemporaneous preparation of the military Carte de France in 1841, which required the filling of predetermined chapter headings by the officers concerned. Just when officers in Algeria are recording Roman and Phenician monuments, their colleagues at home are sketching dolmens, Roman camps, and chateaux along the Loire.
So the conclusion must be the same paradoxical connection that affets tourism and antiquities today – namely that their popularity (for whatever reason) is a powerful force for their destruction. But the characteristic that distinguishes 19thth-century attitudes from those of the Middle Ages is precisely the 19th century’s disinclination to incorporate them into modern constructions for decorative or emblematic reasons. The French army’s use is much more pedestrian and, because of the numbers of troops to be serviced, much more destructive. It is difficult not to imagine what the Roman and Byzantine fortresses of Algeria would have looked like today had Napoleon been in charge – or, indeed, that Pageant-Master of the French Republic during the Revolution, whose genius he recognised, namely Jacques-Louis David. Paris today bears many signs of Napoleon’s triumphalism: with the broader canvas of Algeria on which to work, the Roman triumphs of her monuments would surely have been melded with contemporary needs, in an echo of the exploitation of their antique heritage by mediaeval Italian City-Republics.

1 C. Diehl, Les Découvertes de l'archéologie française en Algérie et en Tunisie, Paris 1892 (extrait de la Revue Int. de l'Enseignement 15th aout 1892.

th Archives de la Guerre, Vincennes, 1K214/131: Appendice au Cours d'Histoire Militaire de l'Algérie. 6 Lecons. Document marked Ecole Impériale Spéciale Militaire 1855-6". pp. 44-5.

2 H227, General Desmichels, Réflexions sur l'état actuel de l'Algérie, sous les rapports militaires et politiques suivies d'un nouveau système d'occupation de ce pays, 7th October 1839, fol 7r.

3 Gustave Boissiere, L'Algérie Romaine, 2nd rev. aug. edition, 2 vols, Paris 1883, p.644, pp.121-2.

4 MR882.2, Succession de Colonjou, Algérie: une promenade militaire dans le tell, en 1857, p.9.

5 MR1316, item 12;1316 item 6, G. Tatareau, Voyage dans la Province d'Oran, 5 September 1835, 266 pages plus index .

th MR1314 item 16, 7 August 1843, 121 pages, written at Sousse.

6 MR881: Journal des Expéditions dans la Province d'Oran depuis l'expédition de Mascara ... 1835-1836-1837.

7 MR882.2 Lieutenant Grangez, Mémoire historique et militaire sur la ville de Blida, June 1848, 30 pages. cf. pp.2-3 for the work required around Blida.

8 Papiers Pelet, supplement, Algérie 1832-1850, carton 1319.

9 ibid.

10 H227 Mémoires divers: 1839: Reconnaissances faites dans la province de Constantine en 1837, 1838 & 1839, 1839, 69 pages. cf pp.49, 53.

11 Génie en Algérie, 1H58: Correspondance, 1838: Rapport sur les Travaux exécutés au Fort de France et dépendances, pp.7-8.

12 Archives du Génie, Article 8 Section 1 Algérie, Mémoires généraux, 1843, carton 5: Colonel Vaillant, Rapport sur l'établissement de l'Armée d'Afrique près de Stora, 10 Oct 1838, p.3.

13 MR1314 item 33: Colonel Prétot, Notices sur divers points du littoral de la Régence d'Alger,

considérés dans leurs rapports avec la conquête, le commerce et la colonisation ultérieure du pays, 7 January 1834, pp.63ff.

14 H227 Mémoires divers: 1839, Reconnaissances faites dans la province de Constantine en 1837, 1838 & 1839, 1839, 69 pages; see pp.49, 53.

15 Archives du Génie, Article 8 Section 1 Algérie, Mémoires généraux, 1843, carton 5: Le Commandant Niel, Reconnaissance sur Stora, 13 April 1838, pp.3-4.

16 Archives du Génie Art 8 Sect 1 Philippeville, Carton 1, 1839-40, 2 Mémoires by Brincard, dated 1839.

17 H230 bis, Mémoires divers 1844-59: Notice sur le manque d'eau à Philippeville et à Stora et sur les travaux à éxecuter pour y rémédier, 1843, p.2.

18 Génie en Algérie, 1H58: Correspondance, 1838, Dispatch to Minister of War 8 Oct 1838 from Marshal Valée, at Constantine, p.5.

19 Génie en Algérie 1H805: Constantine: Plan and elevation of the fortifications of Constantine, 1838, with the breach in the wall made by the French.

20 Génie en Algérie 1H805: Constantine: 1 oct 1838, Note explicative du projet d'organisation de la casbah, by Vaillant, Directeur des Fortifications.

21 Ibid., 20 Feb 1853, Mémoire sur la place de Constantine by L. Baron, Colonel du Génie. pp.5ff for a Historique de la Place; p.7 for the Casbah.

22 Génie Algérie 1H805: Constantine: Apostilles for 1840 Projets, p.4.

23 MR H229, General Charon, Mémoire militaire sur l'Algérie, 1848, pp.344, 187-9, 275ff.

24 Génie en Algérie, 1H922: DjiDjelli, considérations générales, fortifications de la place 1840-1876:

Mémoire to Minister of War from Villeneuve, 2 regiment Legion Etrangere, 21 jan 1842, p.2 for a report on the abundant stone; ibid., P.Durand de Villers, Lieut de Génie, 24 august 1849, Djidjelli: Mémoire générale sur les emplacements occupés par les troupes, pp.8-9 for overview of the state of the Roman walls.

25 Génie en Algérie, 1H922: DjiDjelli, considérations générales, fortifications de la place 1840-1876: Mémoire sur l'état actuel de la place, sur les travaux exécutés en 1840 et sur ceux que l'on propose pour 1841, Captain du Génie Mally, april 1841.

26 MR 1315 item 3: Considérations militaires sur les nouveaux établissements de la province d'Alger, 1 February 1844. by M. de Lallemand.

27 MR1316 item 13: Mémoire descriptif et militaire sur Oran et ses environs..., November 1839, by de Granout, 52 pages; p.19 for quote.

28 MR1316 items 14-15: Lieutenant Malroy, Mémoire d'une reconnaissance de positions défensives sur la Macta, 2 November 1839, 9 pages & envoi.

29 MR1315 item 4, Mémoire sur le Levée à la Boussule des environs du Camp de Khramis des Beni Ouracs, by Capitaine Koch, October 1843, p.2.

30 1H47: Génie en Algérie, letter of 23 Sept 1836 from Colonel of the 45th at Bougie.

31 Génie en Algérie: 1H501, 19 march 1830.

32 Génie en Algérie, 1H400: Affaires générales, expéditions et reconnaissances, note on the Expédition de Constantine to the Minister of War, January 1837.

33 cf. the Tunisian reconnaissances in MR1321B, MR1322 & MR1323.

34 MR 2H43, Journaux des Marches et Opérations (JMO) des Grandes Unités (1881-1883) Tunisia. 48e Regiment d'Infanterie Ier Battaillon, p.10.

35 MR1322 Tunisie: Service des Renseignements mai 1885 - mai 1886.

36 MR1322 28 May 1880, Caidat de Mornak, p.72.

th MR1323 Caidat de la Marsa, 26 November 1886, pp.49-51, for notes on Carthage, especially on its cisterns.

37 Génie en Algérie, 1H415: Bâtiments militaires; cf. also the Travail relatif aux moyens d'emmagasinement à créer dans les diverses places de la Division d'Alger, undated.

38 S. H. Roberts, The history of French colonial policy 1870-1925, London 1929, p.176.

39 MR59-60/1317 Lieutenant Champion de Nansouty & Sub-Lieutenant Durun, Mémoire sur Batna et Lambaessa, avec les recherches historiques, 13 August 1847, 33 pages and plans & croquis.

40 H229, Rapport de M. Bugeaud [Marechal, duc de l'Isly] sur les moyens d'affermir et d'utiliser la conquête de l'Algérie, 15th January 1844, p.8.

41 H229, 30 March 1850, General de Rumiguy, Algérie: Organisation des colonies militaires, p.1.

42 Génie en Algérie: 1H756: Tlemcen 1 June 1847, Projet d'établissement militaire et agricole sur la basse Tafna.

43 Génie en Algérie, 1H403, Reconnaissances, expéditions 1844- 1847, Reconnaissance de l'Habra, pp.3, 11, 14;

44 MR1317/100-101, Capitaine de Laubilly, Mémoire sur Ain Beida et ses environs (Province de Constantine), 16 October 1856, 41 pages. 23ff.

45 Roberts, French colonial policy, p.216.

46 Génie en Algérie, 1H910: Place de Sétif, 1839-1903: Apostille du Chef de Génie, Fortifications, projets pour 1853: Couronnement et fermeture de la porte Napoléon.

47 Génie en Algérie, 1H910: Place de Sétif, 1839-1903, Apostilles du Directeur, 1855/6 projects, p.7.

48 C. Diehl, Les Découvertes de l'archéologie française en Algérie et en Tunisie, Paris 1892 (extrait de la Revue Int. de l'Enseignement 15th aout 1892, pp.10-19.

49 Leon Renier, Inscriptions romaines de l'Algérie, Paris 1855.

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