Sabratha was the first Roman site visited during the two week tour of Libya in 2005. It is 50 miles along the coast to the west of Tripoli just after the village of Surman, the most important archaeological site in western Libya after Leptis Magna and described as arousing not awe, as in Leptis, but admiration. ‘There is no literary record of its existence before the late fourth century, but it may have been chosen for its small natural harbour as early as the seventh century BC by traders from Sidon’. 2 Ward goes on to say, ‘Sabratha as we see it nowadays is first and foremost a creation of the Roman genius for building cities. The Romans shaped it after the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC, enlarging it to the south and to the west in a grid like pattern recognisable all over the Empire from Britain to Timgad and Leptis.’3 Its greatest period came in the first and second centuries BC when the theatre and the Temple of Hercules were built. ‘This was during the reigns of the four Roman emperors, Antoninus Pius (AD 138-61), Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (AD161-80), Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus (AD 180-192) and Septimus Severus (AD 192-211). Under Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, the extravagant, monumental heart of Sabratha extended further south at the expense of the formerly Punic structures; under Commodus the theatre was built. The city’s wealth depended on the maritime trade in animals and ivory from Africa while it had to defend against invasion from Saharan tribes.’4 Its death-blow came with the Vandals after 455.

The Roman Museum
Just past the entrance to the Roman museum there are two columns of cipollino standing against the walls 4.50 m. high /15.2 Rf, including the concave scotia and small plinth plus Corinthian capital, and with a diameter of .50 m. /1.68 Rf at the bottom of the shaft (Plate 5.1).

Temple of the South
Along the Cardo towards the Forum lies the Temple of the South (or the South Forum Temple) which is just south of 7 on the map. It was excavated in the 1940s but it is still not known to which deity it was dedicated. It has a rectangular courtyard paved with marble, some of which is cipollino (Plate 5.2). There are also three whole or restored cipollino columns, with Corinthian capitals, of about the same size as the ones near the museum, 4 m. /13.5 Rf high and .52 m. /1.75 Rf in diameter (Plates 5. 3 & 5. 4).

Basilica of Apuleius (7 on the plan)
The Basilica of Apuleius was so named because it was where the trial of the Latin writer and philosopher, Apuleius took place. During a speaking tour of Sabratha he married a very wealthy local widow, Pudentilla, and the family who stood to lose their inheritance from her brought a case against Apuleius, claiming that he had ‘caused the death of Pontianus, Pudentilla’s son and had seduced Pudentilla herself’.5 In spite of the scandal which ensued he won his case. In the third century the building was converted into a Byzantine basilica.

The remains of the ancient court consist of 15 or more marble columns standing, six of which are whole and seven broken, as well as more pieces lying on the ground. The complete standing columns are of varying height, from 3.5 m. /11.8 Rf with a diameter of approximately .40 m. /1.50 Rf (Plate 5.5) to 4 m. /13.5 Rf high with a diameter of .50 m. /1.68 Rf. The broken pieces are from 1 m./ 3.37 Rf to 3.5 m./11.8 Rf high with a diameter between .30 m. / 1 Rf and .45 m. / 1.50 Rf. Six or seven of the columns are cipollino, others are probably of prokonesian marble (Plate 5.6).

The Forum (6 on the plan)
‘Post-holes found over the rectangular area at a lower level indicate that an open-air market may have consisted of temporary wooden stalls which could be quickly dismantled and moved in and out on market days. This phase was succeeded by others in which the shops became grander and more permanent, offices eventually springing up to handle the increased import-export business, principally with Ostia, the port of Rome.’6 The earthquake of 365 AD destroyed most of the ancient forum which dates to before 155 AD and the ruins that remain date from the fourth century restoration. Ward refers to ‘porticoes with graceful columns of grey Egyptian granite’ and there is no evidence of cipollino there.

The Curia (11 on the plan)
However the Curia, or Municipal Senate House, which is built just north of the Forum area, ‘towards the end of the fourth century on the site of an earlier curia believed to have been destroyed about 365 AD either by earthquake, or by the Asturiani’, has two rows of columns running from the restored arch, along the portico, of cipollino marble and grey granite. They are restored and not all complete. Those which are complete, with Corinthian capitals and bases, are slightly bigger in height than those at the museum, 4.75 m. /16 Rf high, with diameters slightly smaller than those at the museum, at .40 m. /1.35 Rf (Plate 5. 7).

The Basilica of Justinian (12 on the plan)
The Basilica was built in the fifth century AD well after the earthquake and when Justinian’s general, Belisarius, had regained the coastline, and Ward says that ‘it is a ghastly mixture of spoils from earlier civil and ecclesiastical buildings that had clearly fallen not merely into disrepair, but into total ruin. It has a narthex with six columns, three naves, a raised presbytery, a pulpit and an altar. The apse is missing. The pulpit is especially interesting in that it formed a part of the cornice on the Capitolium’. There are two whole cipollino columns with Corinthian capitals approximately the same size as those at the museum, i.e. 4 m. /13.5 Rf high. There are also slabs on the floor and one very big slab forming the pulpit (Plate 5.8). It’s most outstanding feature is the mosaic flooring which is preserved in a special museum.

The Latrines
As we have seen throughout the story of the export of cipollino to Roman cities, this marble is often used where there is water of some kind, as with the fountains in Corinth and Ostia, the baths and quite possibly the latrines at Ostia and the baths and the crocodile in the Canopus at the villa Adriana outside Rome. The latrines themselves at Sabratha are definitely and very grandly constructed of the green Karystian marble and there are also the remains of four columns (stumps of 1 to 1.5 m. /3.37 to 5 Rf high and with diameter of .40 m. /1.35 Rf of cipollino within the complex (Plate 5.9) The floor itself also contains cipollino.

The Seaward Baths (15 on the plan)
The Seaward baths date from the first and second century AD and are the largest in the city, with a rectangular hall and good mosaics. There are also three fragments of cipollino columns, one very small (.30 m. /1 Rf high with diameter of .35 m. /1.18 Rf), another just over 1 m. /3.37 Rf high and with the same diameter (Plate 5.10).

The Temple of Hercules (19 on the plan)
The Temple of Hercules belongs to the eastern and later part of the city of Sabratha and was completed in the year 186 AD according to a dedication on the architrave of the portico columns. ‘The raised porticoes that ran along the sides of the courtyard were paved in white marble, while the lower walls were covered in red breccia and upper walls were stuccoed and probably painted.’7

There is, however, one complete column of cipollino marble with a Corinthian capital (Plate 5.11).

The Theatre (27 on the plan)
The theatre which is the climax of the visit to Sabratha, in the splendour of its construction, was built in the time of the Severi and has been carefully and painstakingly restored by Italian archaeologists. The only evidence of cipollino is in parts of the marble flooring.

2 Ward, Philip, Sabratha, a guide for visitors, Darf Publishers, London, 1970, p. 21.
3 Ward, Philip, Sabratha, p. 21
4 Ham, Anthony, Libya, Lonely Planet, p.126

5 Ham, Anthony, Libya, p. 130 and Ward, Philip, Sabratha, p.29.
6 Ward, Sabratha, p.30.

7 Ward, Sabratha, p.39.

Maps and Plates

Fig 14.jpg

Fig 14 Plan of Sabratha

Plate 5.1.jpg

Plate 5.1 One of the cipollino columns outside the Museum, Sabratha.

Plate 5.2.jpg

Plate 5.2 Cipollino paving in the Temple of the South, Sabratha.

Plate 5.3.jpg

Plate 5.3 Temple of the South, Sabratha.

Plate 5.4.jpg

Plate 5. 4 Cipollino columns at the Temple of the South, Sabratha.

Plate 5.5.jpg

Plates 5.5 & 5.6 Cipollino columns at the Basilica of Apuleius, Sabratha.

Plate 5.6.jpg

Plates 5.5 & 5.6 Cipollino columns at the Basilica of Apuleius, Sabratha.

Plate 5.7.jpg

Plate 5.7 Columns of granite and cipollino at the Curia Arch and Portico, Sabratha.

Plate 5.8.jpg

Plate 5.8 Cipollino marble pulpit at the Basilica of Justinian, Sabratha.

Plate 5.9.jpg

Plate 5.9 Latrines made of cipollino marble and incomplete and broken cipollino columns, Sabratha.

Plate 5.10.jpg

Plate 5.10 Partial cipollino columns at the Seaward Baths, Sabratha.

Plate 5.11.jpg

Plate 5.11 One cipollino column at the Temple of Hercules, Sabratha.