Sabratha (Sabrata)

mixed photos of Sabratha
This image of Sabratha is a composition of two photos.


Map of Sabratha's Archaeological Sites

Sabratha Archaeological sites map

Archaeological Map of Sabratha


1. Roman Museum 8. Basilica of Justinian 15. Forum
2. The Entrance 9. Senate House 16. Statue of Flavius Tuilus
3. Byzantine Gate 10. Seaward Baths 17. Basilica of Apuleius
4. South Forum Temple 11. Olive Oil Press 18. Hercules Temple
5. The Basilica12. Old Port19. Cistern
6. Capitolium13.Antonine Temple20. Christian Basilica
7. Serapis Temple14. Liber Pater Temple21. Baths of Oceanus
22. Isis Temple23. Theater24.Punic Museum
25.Mausoleum of Bes26. Byzantine Wall 

Sites of Interest

  • Isis Temple
  • Basilica of (Berber-Greek) Apuleius of Madora (Judicial Basilica)
  • Serapis Temple
  • Sabratha Museum (the Roman Museum)
  • Mausoleum of Bes
  • Basilica of Justinian
  • Forum
  • Theater
  • Seaward Baths
  • Liber Pater Temple
  • Capitoleum
  • Byzantine wall
  • Senate House (Curia)
  • Antonine Temple
  • Amphitheater
  • Peristyle House



a view of Sabratha's three-floor theater
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.

Sabratha: Isis Temple

Temple of Isis, Sabratha.

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 form.

Sabratha view by the sea

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 theater at Sabratha

Sabratha Theater

Flavius Tuilus fountain at Sabratha

Flavius Tuilus Fountain & Statue

a work trench in the archaeological site of Sabratha


Sabratha subteranian

Subterranean Sabratha.

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.


Bes Mausoleum at Sabratha

The Mausoleum of Bes (reconstructed, as visible by the missing blocks).

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.

new discoveries in Sabratha: photo of the scene




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




For more on Sabratha please see our Sabratha Museum