Leptis Magna

Leptis Magna

[lep-tis mag-nuh]

Leptis Magna,(لبدة) also known as Lectis Magna (or Lepcis Magna as it is sometimes spelled), also called Lpqy or Neapolis, was a prominent city of the Roman Empire. Its ruins are located in Al Khums, Libya, 130 km east of Tripoli, on the coast where the Wadi Lebda meets the sea. The site is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.

History

The city appears to have been founded by Phoenician colonists sometime around 1100 BC, although it did not achieve prominence until Carthage became a major power in the Mediterranean Sea in the 4th century BC. It nominally remained part of Carthage's dominions until the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC, and then became part of the Roman Republic, although from about 200 BC onward it was for all intents and purposes an independent city.

Leptis Magna remained as such until the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when the city and the surrounding area were formally incorporated into the empire as part of the province of Africa. It soon became one of the leading cities of Roman Africa and a major trading post.

Leptis achieved its greatest prominence beginning in 193, when a native son, Lucius Septimius Severus, became emperor. He favored his hometown above all other provincial cities, and the buildings and wealth he lavished on it made Leptis Magna the third most-important city in Africa, rivaling Carthage and Alexandria. In 205, he and the imperial family visited the city and received great honors.

Among the changes that Severus introduced was to create a magnificent new forum, and to rebuild the docks. The natural harbour had a tendency to silt up, but the Severan changes made this worse and the eastern wharves are extremely well-preserved, since they were hardly used.

Leptis over-extended itself at this period. During the Crisis of the Third Century, when trade declined precipitously, Leptis Magna's importance also fell into a decline, and by the middle of the fourth century, large parts of the city had been abandoned. Ammianus Marcellinus recounts that the crisis was worsened by a corrupt Roman governor named Romanus during a major tribal raid who demanded bribes to protect the city. The ruined city could not pay these, and complained to the emperor Valentianian. Romanus then bribed people at court and arranged for the Leptan envoys to be punished 'for bringing false accusations'. It enjoyed a minor renaissance beginning in the reign of the emperor Theodosius I.

In 439, Leptis Magna and the rest of the cities of Tripolitania fell under the control of the Vandals when their king, Gaiseric, captured Carthage from the Romans and made it his capital. Unfortunately for the future of Leptis Magna, Gaiseric ordered the city's walls demolished so as to dissuade its people from rebelling against Vandal rule. But the people of Leptis and the Vandals both paid a heavy price for this in 523, when a group of Berber raiders sacked the city.

Belisarius recaptured Leptis Magna in the name of Rome 10 years later, and in 534 he destroyed the kingdom of the Vandals. Leptis became a provincial capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (see Byzantine Empire), but never recovered from the destruction wreaked upon it by the Berbers. It was the site of a massacre of Berber chiefs by the Roman authorities in 543. By the time of the Arab conquest of Tripolitania in the 650s, the city was abandoned except for a Byzantine garrison force.

Today, the site of Leptis Magna is the site of some of the most impressive ruins of the Roman period.

New discoveries

In June 2005, it was revealed that archaeologists from the University of Hamburg had been working along the coast of Libya when they uncovered a 30 ft length of five colorful mosaics created during the 1st or 2nd century. The mosaics show with exceptional clarity depictions of a warrior in combat with a deer, four young men wrestling a wild bull to the ground, and a gladiator resting in a state of fatigue and staring at his slain opponent. The mosaics decorated the walls of a cold plunge pool in a bath house within a Roman villa at Wadi Lebda in Leptis Magna. The gladiator mosaic is noted by scholars as one of the finest examples of representational mosaic art ever seen — a "masterpiece comparable in quality with the Alexander Mosaic in Pompeii." The mosaics were originally discovered in the year 2000, but were kept secret in order to avoid looting. They are currently on display in the Leptis Magna Museum.

References

  • Richard Talbert, Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, (ISBN 0-691-03169-X), p. 35.
  • Detlev Kreikenbom, "Leptis Magna vor der arabischen Eroberung." in Detlev Kreikenbom, Franz-Cristoph Muth, Joerg Thielman (Hrsg.), Arabische Christen - Christen in Arabien (Frankfurt am main u.a., Peter Lang, 2007), 35-54 (Nordafrikanisch / Westasiatische Studien, 6).

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