the Arch of Trajan

The Sahara buried this ancient Roman city—preserving it for centuries

Once a thriving North African military outpost, Thamugadi was forgotten under desert sands, until a Scottish explorer went looking for it centuries later.

The Arch of Trajan, built in honor of the Roman emperor, dominates the ruins of Thamugadi, located in modern Algeria.
Photograph by IVAN VDOVIN/AGE FOTOSTOCK

It isn’t often that entire cities vanish, but the Roman outpost of Thamugadi did. Founded by the emperor Trajan around A.D, 100, the city, also known as Timgad or Tamugas, was located in the North African province of Mumidia.

Home to veterans of the Third Augustan Legion, Thamugadi flourished for hundreds of years, becoming prosperous and thus an attractive target for raiders. After a Vandal invasion in 430, repeated attacks weakened the city, which never fully recovered and was abandoned during the 700s.

The desert sands swept in and buried Thamugadi. One thousand years would pass before the city received a visit from a team of explorers led by a maverick Scotsman in the 1700s. (See also: This warrior was the best of ancient Rome's 'five good emperors')

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