LEPTIS MAGNA (Fig 15)
‘Leptis Magna is one of the best-preserved cities of antiquity. It is one of the three famous cities in the Tripoli region (Greek ‘Tripolis’ means ‘three cities). The two other cities are known as Oea (now Tripoli) and Sabratha (67 km. west of Tripoli on the motorway).
Leptis Magna was founded by Phoenician merchants, around the beginning of the first millennium BC. It probably began as a trading station and occasional harbour. The North African coast gave them access to goods from the interior of Africa. The most important reason for the Phoenician choice of Leptis as a trading port was its geographical location, with a natural harbour at the mouth of the valley.
At the end of the sixth century BC., the Carthaginian Empire annexed all the Tripolitanian cities. There were border disputes for some time until the two sides came to a peaceful settlement. Finally the Romans defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars (246-146 BC) and Roman control of the North African states began. Following a period of semi-independence all North Africa came under direct rule of Rome, after the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar. Under the Emperor Augustus and his successors there were struggles between the Romans and local tribes. After Nero died and the battle for the succession which ensued, there were further political struggles for power in the area.
Under the rule of Trajan (98-117AD.) Leptis Magna was classified as a Roman colony. But it was in the time of the Emperor Severus (193-211 AD), who was born in Leptis, that it reached the height of its prosperity, acquiring new and impressive buildings and rights, such as those granted to Italian cities, to the land under its control.
By the middle of the fourth century AD the decline had begun, with incursions by local tribes and sackings of the countryside and the cities. Because Leptis had strong walls it was not destroyed but it suffered from floods and the earthquake of 365 AD. The Romans were replaced by the Vandals in North Africa until the general Belisarius regained it for the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 534 AD. The Byzantine era was ended by the Islamic conquest of Libya in 643-644 AD. 13
The archaeological remains to be found in Leptis date back to the Roman era. There are very few Phoenecian remains apart from some graves found in the area of the Roman theatre and some Phoenecian pottery beneath the old Forum. Some inscriptions in the Phoenician (‘neo-Punic’) language have also been found. This language was used as well as Latin in Leptis. These Roman ‘remains’ include the largest amount of cipollino found in one place. ‘Above all it is a testament to extravagance with abundant examples of lavish decoration, grand buildings of monumental stature, indulgent bath complexes and forums for entertainment at the centre of public life.’14 At its height it is said to have had 80,000 inhabitants.
The Circus and Amphitheatre
The town is built in the manner of other Roman cities with streets running parallel to the two main streets, the Cardo running north to south and the Decumanus west to east. We started our tour with a visit to the Circus or Hippodrome which was used for chariot races and was built by Marcus Aurelius in AD 162-3. It and the amphitheatre are situated 800 metres east of the harbour and have a magnificent view of the coast (Plate 5.21). The amphitheatre is notorious for its fighting with wild animals, either with each other or with humans, and there was a great trade in the supply of these animals for the daily shows. It held up to 20,000 people and was dug out of the hill about a kilometre from the port. There are small pieces of cipollino lying in the amphitheatre, probably from the flooring of the theatre (Plate 5.22).
The Severan Arch (2 on the map)
The arch of Septimus Severus stands at the crossroads of the Cardo and the Decumanus. Built in AD 203 to commemorate the Emperor’s visit to his native city, it consists of limestone with a marble exterior. It was restored by the Libyan Archaeological Society in 1964. There are three pieces of cipollino lying near the arch on the side of the Decumanus (which originally ran between Leptis and Tunis (Carthage) and on to Alexandria). They are approximately .43 m. /1.45 Rf in diameter and the biggest piece is 2 m. /6.75 Rf long (Plate 5.23).
The Palaestra and the Baths of Hadrian (3 & 4)
The Palaestra was the place for sports and games ‘consisting of a large rectangular area, with semicircular ends surrounded by porticoes decorated with columns of cipollino marble’, and is on the northern side of the Hadrianic baths.15 There are two standing columns of cipollino with collars and Corinthian capitals, approximately .40 m. /1.35 Rf in diameter, 3-4 m. /10.13-13.5 Rf high (Plate 5.24). There is also a large fragment of cipollino, 1.13 m. /3.8 Rf in diameter and approximately 2 m ./6.75 Rf high, leaning at a slant against the walls of the baths with part of its collar remaining (Plate 5.25), and another straighter, with a diameter of 1 m. /3.37 Rf and length of 3 m. /10.13 Rf (Plate 5.26). There are also 2 cut pieces of cipollino columns measuring .70 m. /12.6 Rf in diameter and 1 m. /3.37 Rf long (Plate 5.27).South west of the Palaestra are the famous Baths of Hadrian, constructed in 126-127 AD and remodelled in the time of the Emperor Commodus (180-192) and Septimus Severus. ‘These magnificent baths were built in the same style as the Great Baths in Rome, with the principal halls along a central axis and smaller rooms along the sides. We find first an enclosure on the northern side, an open swimming pool, with its entrance in the middle of the north wall and surrounded on three sides by porticoes with Corinthian columns of rose-coloured breccia. Against the south wall of the pool are huge buttresses. The south wall has four entrances leading to the three main halls; first the cold bath (Frigidarium), the most important of the Roman baths. This is a magnificent hall (30.35 x 15.4 m.) tiled and faced with marble and with an ornate concrete vaulted ceiling resting on Corinthian columns of cipollino marble.’16 There are four very large standing columns of cipollino, two being almost complete. They are 11-12 m. /37.16 - 40.54 Rf high with Corinthian capitals, scotia and plinths, and diameters estimated at more than 1 m. /3.37 Rf (Plate 5.28). Part of this complex included the Latrines which, as in Sabratha, are all made of cipollino marble. The guide book describes the use of the latrines very gracefully. ‘Two separate buildings at the northwest and northeast corners of the baths were toilets, for men and for women, with marble seats beneath which was a channel flushed with water for clearing. The toilets were one of the public amenities of every city; only the houses of the rich had private toilets. There were no individual cubicles and people would sit and carry on discussions’17 (Plate 5.29).
The Nymphaeum (5)
The Nymphaeum is situated on the southwest side of the site, in the area of the baths. It was a temple built by Severus and dedicated to the nymphs. It is a semicircular building, containing a pool and a fountain. Here there are seven standing cipollino columns 4-5 m. /13.5-16.89 Rf high with diameter of between .40 m. /1.35 Rf and .50 m. /1.68 Rf (Plate 5.30).
Nearby is a 6th Century Byzantine church (6) built in the time of Justinian. It has 5-6 cipollino columns 4 m ./13.5 Rf high with a diameter of .43 m. /1.45 Rf. They have collars and Corinthian capitals (Plate 5.31).
The Forum of Severus (8)
The Forum of Severus (also known as the New Forum, to distinguish it from the Old Forum) covers an area of 100 x 60 m. On the southwest side there is a temple of the Italian type, measuring 32 x 22 m. The Leptis Magna guide book again explains that ‘the construction of the columns surrounding the forum is identical to those in the colonnaded Street: cipollino with capitals decorated with the lotus and acanthus, with arches springing directly from them.’ There are two large columns lying on their sides, measuring .87 m. /2.93 Rf in diameter and approximately 6 m. /20.27 Rf long (Plate 5.32).
The Colonnaded Street (7)
The colonnaded Street connects the Baths of Hadrian with the harbour and was the main street of Leptis in the Severan period. It is 500 m. long and 20 m. wide and is said to be one of the most famous monuments in the world. The guide book again; ‘There are 150 columns on each side, all made of cipollino marble and standing on square pedestals, with capitals carved with a motif of lotus and acanthus plants, the Pergamum style from Asia Minor.’ We counted 27 partial or complete standing columns of the biggest found in use on a site so far, from 9 m. / 30.4 Rf high with diameters of up to .90 m. /3 Rf (Plate 5.33). In the aisle connecting the Colonnaded Street with the Old Forum there are 17 with a height of 12 m. /40.54 Rf and a diameter of c. 1 m. /3.41 Rf. Five or six of them are incomplete and there are remnants of another 10 lying in the aisle (Plate 5.34).
The Old Forum (15)
At the end of the colonnaded Street is the Old Forum. This area dates back to the 7th century BC and the earliest settlements of Leptis Magna. But it also holds remains from the time of Augustus (30 BC to 14 AD) and the governor, Calpurnius (5 BC to 2 AD). Here there are seven cipollino columns of a smaller size, 4-5 m. /13.5 - 16.89 Rf high and .40 m. /1.35 Rf in diameter, but only one is complete. There are other fragments lying nearby (Plate 5.35).
Down at the seafront, at the end of the Triumphal walk, are two very large columns of cipollino which we were told by the guide had been left by the French who were offered them by the Turks as a gift in the 16th century. They measure 8.64 m. /29.18 Rf long and 1.10 m. /3.7 Rf in diameter (Plate 5.36). The French had found them too big to transport. This serves only to increase one’s admiration for those who, at the height of the Roman marble trade in the first century AD, transported 40 footers from the quarries on Euboea or from the Egyptian desert to North Africa.
Punic Market (21)
Returning from the port and the Forum there is the Punic Market where products from the Leptis farmers and merchants were brought for sale. There is a stone measuring tablet from the 3rd century AD and also a useful reminder of the Roman foot measurement which equals 11½ inches or 29½ cms.
Here there are 10 complete cipollino columns of much smaller size with Corinthian capitals, a height of 3.5 m. /11.82 Rf and diameter of .40 m. /1.35 RF. They have collars top and bottom and several of them are broken. One, with a diameter of .40 m./ 1.35 Rf is lying broken on the ground.
The Drama Theatre (25)
The Drama Theatre, variously described as the biggest surviving theatre in Africa after Sabratha and one of the oldest stone theatres in the Roman world, ‘was built and presented to the Emperor Augustus by the same Hannibal Rufus who built the city market’. 18 The Lonely Planet guide says that ‘Atop the upper stalls of the cavea were some small temples and a colonnade of cipolin columns’.19 We found 12 medium sized complete cipollino columns at the top and sides of the theatre and eight small columns at the top (Plate 5.37). There are also many fragments.
Lazzarini, in the chapter on cipollino marble in his latest book on Greek coloured marble, also refers to columns of green cipollino in the porticus in summa cavea of the theatre.20
13 Leptis Magna, Dar Al Fergiani, London, Tripoli, Cairo, pp.1-7.
14 Ham, Libya, p .136.
15 Leptis Magna, p.13 - 14.
16 Leptis Magna, p. 14.
17 Leptis Magna, p. 15.
18 Leptis Magna, p.24
19 Ham, Libya, p. 144.
20 Lazzarini, L., 2007 Poikiloi Lithoi, versiculores maculae; i marmi colorati della Grecia antica. Storia, uso, diffusione cave, geologia. Etc., Roma, p. 200.
Maps and Plates
Fig 15 Plan of Leptis Magna
Plate 5.21 Entrance to the Amphitheatre, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.22 A fragment of a cipollino column in the floor of the Amphitheatre, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.23 Cipollino in the Arch of Severus, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.24 Cipollino columns at the entrance to the Palaestra, Hadrian Baths, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.25 A large fragment of a cipollino column leaning against the wall of the Palaestra, Hadrian’s Baths, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.26 Second large fragment of a cipollino column leaning against the wall of the Palaestra, Hadrian’s Baths, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.27 Two blocks of cipollino marble, the Palaestra, Hadrian’s Baths, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.28 Two complete cipollino columns and one broken column in the area of Hadrian’s Baths, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.29 Cipollino marble latrines, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.30 Seven standing cipollino columns in the Nymphaeum, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.31 Five - six cipollino columns in the Byzantine Church, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.32 Two cipollino columns and some other fragments lying on the ground in the Forum of Severus, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.33 Cipollino columns standing and lying on the ground in the Colonnaded Street, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.34 The aisle connecting the Colonnaded Street with the Old Forum.
Plate 5.35 Cipollino in the Old Forum, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.36 Large cipollino columns abandoned by the French, Leptis Magna.
Plate 5.37 The Drama Theatre, Leptis Magna