Located about thirty kms north of Tunis, the prestigious ancient city of Utica, today served by the national highway GP8 then a junction from modern Utica, is one of the very first Phoenician trading posts, which was probably founded around 1101 B.C. It would be of Libyan foundation though the currently known archaeological testimonies do not go back further than the late 8th century andearly 7th century BC. Its foundation was part of the trade activities of the Phoenicians of Tyre who were excellent sailors and founders of many other cities, the most famed of which was Carthage.
Elder to Carthage, Utica played for a long time the role of capital for the Phoenician colonies of the western Mediterranean basin before being overshadowed by its neighbor founded at the end of the 9thcentury BC which rapidly rose in power. Associated, sometimes despite itself, with the destiny of its neighboring city, Utica experienced both prosperous times and black times. Remaining independent until the beginning of the 5thcentury, Utica was annexed by Carthage after the latter’s defeat at Himera, in Sicily, in 480 B.C., which forced it to colonize the hinterland. Utica nevertheless retained a certain degree of autonomy.
But at the decisive turning point of the confrontation between Carthage and Rome, it sided with the right side, which, in 146 BC, earned it, after the final defeat of the Carthaginians, the privilege of being granted the status of a free city and to become, for more than a century, the capital of the roman province of Africa. Promoted to a Roman municipiumstatusin 36 BC by Octavian, it became a colony under Hadrian (117-138).Like Carthage and Leptis Magna, Utica was granted the Iusitalicum (Italian law) under Septimius Severus (193-211).This is reflected ina set of privileges, in particular exemption from property tax..
In the Christian era, Utica was made famous for the so-called White Mass or lump (Massa Candida), the name that was given to the crowd of Christians who, following a popular riot put down by the police on August10th258, wasslain in Utica itself. This crowd was called the White Mass, because the corpses, about 300 of them, were hurled into a pit of burning lime and thus reduced to a mass of white powder.After having lived through eras of great prosperity, as shown by the refinement of the remains that have survived the wear and tear of time, Utica went into a gradual but unmistakable decline after the beginning of the retreat of the sea, pushed back by the alluvial deposits of the Mejerda wadi.
There is little evidence of the Phoenician and Punic periods. There are three necropolises from the 7th-5thcenturies in the north-east of the city, from the 5th-4thcenturies in the north-west and the most recent one in the south-east, dating from the 3rd-2ndcenturies BC. The burials have yielded valuable funerary material that provides information on the beliefs and lifestyles of the population and their activities.
Most of the public buildings from the Roman period would date from the 2ndcentury AD, the most significant ones are a forum, thermal baths, a theatre, an amphitheater, a circus, an aqueduct, temples, and above all, sumptuous houses, including the "House of the Waterfall", comprising no less than 34 spaces between living rooms, common rooms, small gardens and other outbuildings that were arranged around a garden surrounded by a peristyle. Next to this residence were the "Treasure House" and the "Hunting House", which was decorated with a large mosaic pavement depicting hunting scenes. The richness of Roman domestic architecture is well documented in Utica, as evidenced by the dwelling structures that have been excavated; they bear witness to the great variety of mosaic pavements in its houses, which were of great splendor.