Biography of Augustine the African
Augustine was born in Tagaste (modern Souk Ahras, Algeria) in 354 and died almost seventy-six years later in Hippo Regius (modern Annaba) on the Mediterranean coast sixty miles away. In the years between he lived out a career that seems to moderns to bridge the gap between ancient pagan Rome and the Christian middle ages. But to Augustine, as to his contemporaries, that gap separated real people and places they knew, not whole imaginary ages of past and future. He lived as we do, in the present, full of uncertainty.
Augustine's African homeland had been part of Rome's empire since the destruction of Carthage five hundred years before his birth. Carthage had been rebuilt by Rome as the metropolis of Roman Africa, wealthy once again but posing no threat. The language of business and culture throughout Roman Africa was Latin. Careers for the ambitious, as we shall see, led out of provincial Africa into the wider Mediterranean world; on the other hand, wealthy Italian senators maintained vast estates in Africa which they rarely saw. The dominant religion of Africa became Christianity--a religion that violently opposed the traditions of old Rome but that could not have spread as it did without the prosperity and unity that Rome had brought to the ancient world.
Roman Africa was a military backwater. The legions that were kept there to maintain order and guard against raids by desert nomads were themselves the gravest threat to peace; but their occasional rebellions were for the most part short-lived and inconsequential. The only emperors who ever spent much time in Africa were the ones who had been born there; by Augustine's time, decades had passed without an emperor even thinking of going to Africa.
Some distinctly African character continued to mark life in the province. Some non-Latin speech, either the aboriginal Berber of the desert or the derelict Punic the Carthaginians had spoken, continued to be heard in dark corners. In some of the same corners, old local pagan cults could still be found. When Augustine became a Christian clergyman, he found Africa rent by an ecclesiastical schism that had its roots at least partly in the truculent sense of difference maintained by the less-Romanized provincials of up-country Numidia, near the northern fringes of the Sahara.
So a young man like Augustine could belong irretrievably to the world Rome had made, but still feel that he was living on the periphery of that world. Augustine set out to make himself more Roman than the Romans and to penetrate to the center of the culture from which he found himself alienated by his provincial birth. But that was only the beginning of his story.
Augustine was born on 13 November, A.D. 354, in Tagaste, a town large enough to have its own bishop but too small for a college or university.[] His parents, Patricius and Monica, belonged to the financially imperilled middle class. They were well enough off to have...