Book Review: Incidental Archaeologists: French Officers and the Rediscovery of Roman North Africa


by Bonnie Effros

Ithaka, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2021. Pp. xvii, 371. Illus. maps, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1501761676

Archaeology and Imperialism in French North Africa

Prof. Effros (Liverpool) has produced a very impressive book that combines an account of the pioneering role of French army officers in the recovery of the physical remnants of the Roman era in Algeria, with the story of French imperial expansion in the region from the start of the conquest of the area in 1830 through 1870, and the uses to which archaeology was put in the service of that penetration.

Effros looks at the surprisingly extensive work by some French officers in exploring the ancient Roman past of the region, albeit that they were rather amateurish. She notes that their work, often carried out during active operations, was also often destructive of Algeria’s more recent – Arab Islamic – heritage, and discusses how uncovering the Roman past was used to justify France’s own domination of the area.

Archaeological efforts also furthered imperial penetration in other ways. Studying ancient campaigns and mapping ancient towns, roads, and other remains provided valuable information on resources and military geography.

This is a very interesting work, as Effros has managed to combine a study of the beginnings of archaeology in the region, with some coverage of several military campaigns and punitive – often bloody – expeditions, with a discussion of French imperial policy. She also gives some looks at several interesting people, perhaps none more so than Jean-Luc Carbuccia (1808-1854), a tough campaigner who did some impressive work in mapping ancient sites, and even restoring an ancient tomb, while engaging in some brutal campaigning.

Incidental Archaeologists is an engaging, informative read for interested in archaeology, Roman History, and French military operations and colonialism in North Africa.




Note: Incidental Archaeologists is also available in paper back and e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

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