Portus Magnus, Algeria

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Map showing "Portus Magnus" location on the western coast of Mauretania Caesariensis

Portus Magnus was a Roman port in western Mauretania Caesariensis.[1] It was located near Roman Portus Divinus and actual Oran (Algeria).


Portus Magnus, spatio appellatus, civium Romanorum oppidum. (the locality is called "Portus Magnus", a city of Roman citizens). Plinius

Portus Magnus (Great Harbour) was even named "Arsenaria" under the Roman Empire (the name is the one that can be seen in its former coat of arms).

It has several Roman remains, mosaics, and artworks, which were deplaced to the museum of nearby Oran. During Roman times, the main exports from the area used to be grain and salt.

The city of Portus Magnus stood on a hill overlooking the ancient port. The inhabitants were mostly Roman citizens, working in commerce. The approximately 36-hectare (89-acre) area was paved in part or leveled by landfills. From the ancient city remains some walls and buildings, some cisterns for rainwater, traces of streets and even a small Forum (50 × 40 meters).

Among the buildings there was -next to some Villas- probably a palatial resort of the 3rd century: inside there are remains of colonnades (porticus) and a spa. On one side of the Forum there was a small building that had once some marble countertops and was graced by a statue (like a small "Acropolis"). Behind the Curia there was a temple of unknown dedication and another very large: this second temple was dedicated to Venus, about 120 meters west of the Forum.

File:Coat of arms of Arzew (French Algeria).svg
Coat of Arms of Arzew, during Colonial Algeria showing the name "Portus Magnus"

The Vandals destroyed Portus Magnus in 430 AD. Some evidences of Christian worships showed a small port activity even under the Byzantines, but the Arab conquest at the end of the seventh century seemed to have put a complete end to Portus Magnus.[2]

During the French colonial times were discovered some beautiful mosaics of former Portus Magnus, in the place called Arzew by the French colonists.

See also


  1. Encyclopedie Berbere: Portus Magnus
  2. Some centuries since the Muslim conquests, the port regained some minor importance, as it was noted by the geographer El Bekri: during his description of North Africa (around 1068 AD) he described the Roman ruins as "Arzao", an abandoned Roman port.The Almohads refounded the port in 1162 AD and actually the place is called Bethioua (formerly French Arzew, and also called Vieil Arzew and later Saint Leu)


  • Mommsen, Theodore. The Provinces of the Roman Empire Section: Roman Africa. (Leipzig 1865; London 1866; London: Macmillan 1909; reprint New York 1996) Barnes & Noble. New York, 1996
  • Reynell Morell, John. Algeria: The Topography and History, Political, Social, and Natural, of French Africa. Publisher N. Cooke. London, 1854