Two photos showing the theater of Sabratha.
The coastal town of Sabratha, or Sabrata , located
about 40 km east of Zuwarah city, is one of the best preserved Roman sites outside
Italy, and one of the world’s best archaeological sites to visit. Its strategic
location by the sea and the magical groves and trees surrounding its impressive collection of buildings, busts and
temples, like those of Isis and Serapis, and the large Corinthian
temple dedicated to Liber Pater, makes the city one of the best Roman destinations
in Libya. Its colonnaded three-floor theatre by the sea is a place directors
dream to see. Sabratha was originally a Berber settlement known as Zwagha,
whose name derives from the ancient Berber tribe Zwagha, who later became
known by various names, like Zwawa(h) and Hawwarah. Both al-Iaqubi (ninth
century) and Ibn A’bd al-H’akam state that during the seventh century
Nafousa occupied the territory of Sabratha. This was further confirmed by al-Bakari
(eleventh century) who informed us that Sabratha was inhabited by the Zwagha
tribe, and that the Berber tribes Nafousa, Zwagha and Zwara were among the tribes
living in the Tripolitania region. Hence the location of present-day Zwara (or
Zuwarah), less than 40 km west of Sabratha.
When the Phoenicians arrived
in the first millennium BC, Sabratha became a trading post, and then was transformed into a majestic
city when the Romans invaded the area. In the second century BC, the distinguished Berber
philosopher and poet Lucius Apuleius, the author of The Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses),
who is wrongly known as Roman despite himself stating in one of his works that
he was half Berber half Greek, was brought to trial in Sabratha before Claudius
Maximus, Proconsul of Africa, in the year 157 BC, and charged with seducing a
wealthy widow by black magic, only to be acquitted as innocent. According to
al-Bakari Sabratha was taken by A’umer Ben al-A’as’ after he
secured Tripoli, and none have survived from its inhabitants except a small number
of natives who fled to the sea, where now its ruins remain.
Temple of Isis, Sabratha, Libya.
The Greeks called the city by the name of Abrotonon,
and its Latin form Habrotonum, according to Pliny, originally meant "grain
market". On neo-Punic coins, the name Sabrata appeared as SABRAT and SABRATHAN.
But since al-Bakari mentions Subratha by the name of Sabra, then
one can easily see the connection between the two, and easily derive the present
The ruins of Sabratha, including the magnificent theatre and
the forum, illustrate the splendour the city enjoyed under Roman occupation.
Beneath the most ancient buildings archaeologists found layers upon layers of
material, separated by thin layers of sand, including the earlier Phoenician
pottery and coins. The Phoenicians to begin with were trading in Sabratha only
seasonally, by pitching their tents and stores and leave when they sold their
goods. But by the 5th century BC, they began to establish permanent settlements,
build houses, and a market square for their traders, which was overlaid by a
Roman development in the first century BC. The Roman period came to an end after
the disastrous earthquake in the year 365 and the subsequent invasions of the
Vandals during the fifth century AD.
Flavius Tuilus Fountain & Statue
The underground chambers found in the site date from the 2nd century BC. The chambers were used for funerary ceremonies and worship - a bit
closer to the dead.
The Mausoleum of Bes (reconstructed, as visible by the missing
The 24m high mausoleum dates from the Punic period, and was dismantled by the Byzantines who used its blocks to build a wall in the 6th century.
Villas & oil presses discovered in Sabaratha
According to the Libyan online newspaper Oea, in an article published on the 17th of May 2010, a number of villas and oil presses were discovered recently in Sabratha. The screen shot (below) shows sections of the newly discovered sites. Without a doubt, most of Libya's archaeological heritage still remains beneath the ground.
References & Further Resources:
Excavations at Sabratha, Volume II. The Finds, Part 1. The Amphorae, Coarse Pottery and Building Materials, by John Dore and Nina Keay; contributions by H. Dodge, D. P. S. Peacock and R. H. Seager-Smith. This is the first report on the finds from K. Kenyon's and J. B. Ward-Perkins' excavations at Sabratha from 1948-1951. A4 format, 298 pages, 72 figures, Arabic summary. ISBN 9780950836355
Excavations at Sabratha, Volume II, Part 2. The Fine Wares, Edited by M. G. Fulford and R. Tomber. 1994. Catalogue and discussion of the fine pottery from K. Kenyon's and J. B. Ward-Perkins' excavations at Sabratha from 1948-1951. A4 format, 224 pp. 48 illustrations. ISBN 9780950836379