سبيطلة

( Sbeitla )

Sbeitla or Sufetula (Berber languages: Sbitla or Seftula, Arabic: سبيطلة ) is a small town in west-central Tunisia. Nearby are the Byzantine ruins of Sufetula, containing the best preserved Byzantine forum temples in Tunisia. It was the entry point of the Muslim conquest of North Africa.

Sbeitla is the capital of the largest delegation in Kasserine Governorate with an area of 1133.5 km2. It is located in 33 km in the west of the governorate, and 264 km to Tunis. It has a population of 23,844 (2014 estimate). Sbeitla is mentioned in Norman Douglas's Fountains in the Sand as being wooded by junipers and Aleppo pines as late as the 19th century, though he found them "bleak and bare" in the early 20th century.

The oldest traces of civilisation in the zone are Punic megaliths and funereal stelae.

The region was inhabited by nomadic tribes until the Legio III Augusta established a camp at Ammaedara. Through the surrender of the Berber leader Tacfarinas, the region was pacified and populated under the Roman emperor Vespasian and his sons between 67 and 69, becoming a bishopric in the Roman province of Byzacena.

Some inscriptions found in the city suggest that the settlement had success along the lines of others in North Africa during the 2nd century, reaching great prosperity through the olive industry, whose cultivation benefited from excellent climatic conditions in the region. The olive presses found in the ruins of the city further bolster this conclusion. The resulting prosperity made possible the construction of a splendid forum and other important buildings.

The city began to decline during the Late Empire, during which the city was surrounded and occupied by Vandals, a fact that is demonstrated by the appearance of temples dedicated to their gods.[citation needed]

The arrival of the Byzantines inaugurated a new period of splendor. In 647, the fields before the city were the site of a major battle between the Byzantines and Berbers of Gregory the Patrician and the Rashidun Caliphate's governor of Egypt, Abdullah ibn Saad. The Battle of Sufetula ended in a decisive Muslim victory, which shook Byzantine control over the region and signalled the beginning of the Muslim conquest of North Africa.

Capitoline temples 
Capitoline temples
Public baths 
Public baths
Arch of Antoninus Pius and Capitoline temples 
Arch of Antoninus Pius and Capitoline temples

The caliph at the time of the battle was Uthman ibn Affan, who set the army under the leadership of Abdullah ibn Saad. At his arrival to Barqa, Uqba ibn Nafi and his troops joined the main army and the two commanders prepared together the plan to conquer Sbeitla. The battle was long and hard, and Caliph Uthman sent reinforcement under the leadership of Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. The three leaders prepared a new battle plan and they finally succeeded in taking Sufetula.

The Muslim conquest marked the end of the diocese of Sufetula, which was however nominally revived as a Catholic titular bishopric.

Photographies by:
Dennis Jarvis - CC BY-SA 2.0
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