Originally, the city was a Berber settlement, well before
the arrival of the Phoenicians about 3000 years ago. According to Ibn A'bd
al-H'akam (ninth century), the Berber tribe Hawarra, a name closely
linked to Zwara, Zwagha and Zwawa by Ibn Khaldun,
established themselves at Leptis Magna and to the south of the Syrtis Major.
After the Romans' destruction of rival Carthage (a mixed city
of mainly Berbers and Phoenician settlers), the three cities of Sabratha (Zawagha),
Tripoli (Oea) and Leptis Magna (Lubda)
were incorporated into the Berber Kingdom of Numidia, before they
were finally engulfed by the Roman invaders, where Leptis Magna became part of
the Roman empire in 111BC.
Owing to the flooding caused by the rise of Lubda Wadi (see
illustration above) the Romans built some engineering structures to protect the
city from flooding. But as these barriers are no longer in place, the city of
Leptis Magna suffered devastating flooding in 1987 and 1988. It took aid workers
several years to restore the site, with the help of the UNESCO, which also proposed
a flood protection project in 1990 to put an end to this ancient problem.
The magnificent theater at Leptis Magna.
The theater was built with money donated by a few rich aristocrats
of the city during the first century AD.
A reconstruction of the theater.
(1) Ima Cavea; (2) Media Cavea; (3) Summa Cavea; (4) Vomitori; (5) Orchestra;
(6) Seats for important dignitaries; (7) Entrance to stage; (8) Stage; (9) Wall
of scenery; (10) Wooden ceiling; (11) Stakes to secure the canvas awning; (12)
The Arch of Septimius Severus
Under the influence of one of its citizens, the Berber Septimius
Severus, who became the first African Roman Emperor, the extraordinary city
of Leptis Magna became an important trading port, and enjoyed a monumental architectural
development, like the beautiful Amphitheatre (dug into
the ground of an old quarry), the colonnaded street, the Severn Forum, decorated
with Gorgon heads, the massive Basilica, the Hippodrome, the Hadrian
Baths, the Temples of Liber Pater, Hercules, Roma and Augustus, the Tiberio Arch,
the Nimphaeum, the Oea Door, and the Palaestra. The existing Arch of Septimius
Severus is a replica of the original arch, which has been moved to Tripoli. The
splendid theater by the sea was also built during the Severus dynasty. Its excellent
museum houses many important pieces of the city's history, like the mythological
Gemini twin Castor and Pollux, some portrait busts found scattered across the
ruins, the two Aphrodites from the baths, and the stone elephant. The city of
Leptis Magna reached the height of its glory just before the first Vandal invasions
in 5th century AD; after which it slowly began to disappear into the corridors
The Libyan Goddess Medusa (the Gorgon) Guarding the Severan Forum.
Evil mortals dare not breach the protected sacred sanctuary
or else be turned into stone. The myth has it that the blood droplets that fell
from the severed head of the Medusa onto the soil were turned into desert snakes.
The Hadrianic Baths, Leptis Magna.
During the second century AD, Rome was in turmoil, where
its emperors degenerated into a state of debauchery
and chaos. In the power struggle that ensued after four years of
civil war, Septimius Severus rose as a formidable leader. Transferring the seat
of power to the frontier provinces, he immediately began to reform the Roman
army and thus expanded the empire to include Mesopotamia, while Numidia was made
a separate province. His reforms in Africa included exempting Leptis Magna, Carthage
and Utica from provincial taxes. Septimius Severus’
sons (Geta and Caracalla),
contrary to their father's advice shortly before his death, began to fight among
themselves and eventually finishing each other, bringing the great Severan
dynasty to an end.
The Statue of Septimius Severus
Lucius Septimius Severus was one of Rome's great emperors.
He ruled the Roman empire from 14 April 193 AD until his death in February 211
AD in York (in Britain). He was of Berber origin and was born in the Berber Leptis
Magna on the 11th of April 145 AD, and as such he became the first foreign emperor
in Roman history. His Berber father Publius Septimius Geta was a wealthy man
who held no political status; while his mother Fulvia Pia was of the Italian
Fulvius gens, who was of a Plebeian origin. After advancing through the customary
succession of offices he first seized power after the death of emperor Pertinax
in 193, deposed the emperor Didius Julianus, and then went on to defeat the generals
Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus in 194 and 197 respectively.
The Severan Forum
The Severan building program, begun in 190s AD by the emperor
Septimius Severus at Leptis Magna, was widely recognised as the grandest project
of its kind in the ancient world. For further information regarding this project
the reader can refer to "The Severan Buildings of Lepcis Magna",
by J. B. Ward-Perkins. Edited by P. M. Kenrick, with drawings by R. Kronenburg,
and published in 1993. The book is an illustrated architectural study by the
late J. B. Ward-Perkins of the principal monuments of the Severan program, including
the Forum, Basilica, Colonnaded Street and Nymphaeum, based on the research of
Ward-Perkins and his team at Leptis Magna, and prepared for publication by Philp
Kenrick and Robert Kronenburg, with support from the Society for Libyan Studies.
140 pp. 45 plates, 42 figures, Arabic summary. ISBN 9780950836362
Scenes from the city of Leptis Magna, including an ancient
street and the baths.
Have you ever wondered what an ancient street looked like?
An ancient street in Leptis Magna.
Villa Silene is a private house of a wealthy owner from Leptis
Magna, dating back from the Byzantine period. Overlooking the magnificent Mediterranean
sea the villa is widely recognised as one of the must-see places in Libya, especially
its lavish decorations and the highly detailed and intricate mosaics across the
villa's floor, including sea nymphs, animals, geometrical designs and amphora-helmeted
pygmies. Please see our page at Villa
The Leptis Magna Market:
The Ancient Fabric Market of Leptis Magna.
This grand market was originally built in 9 BC, and was later
rebuilt during the reign of Septimius Severus. It must have been a busy centre
of business and commerce, where traders exchanged goods and merchandise between
Africa, Rome and Phoenicia. The harbour (see photo at the top) would have been
one of the busiest in the southern Mediterranean basin. This round structure
is the fabric market, followed (behind in the picture) by the vegetable & fruit
market. One of the main preserved features of these markets are the stone measuring
tools (see below).
Length Measuring Stone
Fabric Measuring Stone From The Fabric Market.
A measuring stone at the Fabric Market. The stone shows different
units of measurements, just as modern rulers do, for measuring fabric lengths.
It is difficult to guess what the small units are, considering fabrics are measured
in long lengths like meters or yards. Imagine you have a bit left in a roll and
that the buyer wants to buy it all. To unfold the entire roll and measure
it meter by meter would seem tedious, but measuring the thickness of the
roll against the small squares (or distances between the lines) the
trader would know exactly how many meters left in the roll. (Please note that
this is only a guess!) The
stone at the top with the Arabic writing (which is also shown in English) does
not belong to the same period; it is a recent addition to inform tourists
of the nature of the stone. What about the standing blocks on each side?
Grain Measuring Holes From The Grain
Stone-dug measuring-holes for measuring grains, Leptis Magna Market.
These holes, which come in different sizes, were used to
measure produce like grains. I presume the larger holes were used for wheat and
barley, often sold in large quantities, while the smaller holes were probably
used for products that are sold in smaller quantities, like beans.
Once the holes are filled with the required product, the
customer places his or her basket under the scales (see above photo), between
the two standing stones supporting the holes (or the scales), and then the trader
pulls the plug and lets the contents fall into the basket below the hole (see
photo below for the hole at the bottom of the hole). Note the two lions guarding
the scales at the top of each supporting stone.
Mausoleum of Duirat Castle
Mausoleum of Qaser Duirat, 200 AD, Leptis Magna Museum.
(Please note that this is an image made of the same mausoleum shown twice
from different sides. In reality there is only one mausoleum.)
The original location of this funerary monument was about
2 kilometres south-west of Leptis Magna city (Lubdah). It was moved to its current
location outside Leptis Magna museum for safety reasons, owing to the high voltage
pylons which passed by its previous location. This mausoleum is among the best
preserved mausoleums and most decorated of all the Mausoleums found in Libya.
Among the designs are the zodiacal and astrological signs. The name found inscribed
on the monument is half Roman and half Libyan, which indicates that the tomb
belonged to a Libyan dignitary, as it was the custom then for dignitaries to
keep their Libyan name in order to indicate their ancestry. The structure was
dated to 200 AD.
The Libyan Gorgon