Leptis Magna is currently one of the best-preserved Roman cities. The city was one of the numerous Phoenician colonies and was located on the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean (Tripolitania). From Leptis Magna, the imperial Severan dynasty came from (here the future Roman emperor was born – Septimius Severus, who after ascending the throne in 193 CE extended the city and raised its status.
The city is also known as: Lectis Magna, Lepcis Magna, Lpqy, Neapolis, Lebida or Lebda.
History of city
The city was founded by the Phoenicians, although originally the Berber centre was located in its place. The oldest object discovered in Leptis is a fragment of Corinthian pottery from around 500 BCE, which was found in one of the graves from the Phoenician or Punic period, below the level of the Roman theatre. Leptis was subordinated along with the other two Phoenician colonies, Oea and Sabrat, forming Tripolis, or “Tri-City,” Carthage’s sovereignty. After the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE), in which Rome defeated Carthage, Leptis Magna remained within Carthage but became a disputed area between the former metropolis and the Numidian kings allied with Rome. Ultimately, the city was incorporated into Rome in 146 BCE, when Carthage suffered a defeat in the Third Punic War. In 46 BCE after Caesar’s victory over Pompeians in Africa, Leptis was incorporated into the newly founded province of Africa Nova, whose first governor was the historian Salustius.
The emperor Octavian August (27 BCE – 14 CE) first restored the province and the kingdom of Numidia and gave it to Juba II, as a reward for his help in the war with Antony, to be re-incorporated into Rome shortly afterwards, merged with the province of Africa Vetus into one province of Africa. He sent the Legion of III Augustus to this region, which was inflammatory then.
The town flourished during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211 CE). He came from Leptis Magna and had Berber roots. For understandable reasons, after his rise to power, the city flourished, occupied the largest area in history, and was given the name Leptis Magna, or “great Leptis”. Over time, the city acquired the status of the third African city – after Carthage and Alexandria. In 205 CE Septymiusz Sewer and his family visited their homeland – then he received honours from the grateful inhabitants. One of the most important goals of the emperor was to build a great forum in the middle of the city and rebuild the port, which often became silent.
From the end of the 3rd century CE, the gradual decline of Leptis dates back, which was indirectly associated with the crisis of the Roman state at that time. Due to the desertification of the surrounding areas and the transition of the settled population to a nomadic lifestyle, many parts of the city were abandoned. Ammianus Marcellinus mentions that the city was experiencing a serious crisis especially during the terrible rule of the administrator – a certain Romanus. Faced with the constant invasions of the desert peoples, he demanded that the inhabitants pay adequate amounts to protect their belongings. Those unable to meet the requirements of Romanus turned to the emperor Valentinian for help. In court, Romanus bribed many influential people and, after winning the case, imposed additional fees on “disobedient residents”. The city experienced its short Renaissance period during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Great in the 4th century CE.
In 439 CE, Leptis Magna and other cities of Tripolitania fell into the hands of the Vandals and their king Gaiseric, who recognized Carthage as the capital of his country. At his command, the defensive walls of Leptis Magna were destroyed. In this way, Gaiseric wanted to dissuade the inhabitants from any attempts at rebellion. It is worth mentioning that the later walls of the Byzantine period had a much smaller perimeter than those of the Sewer period.
The oldest preserved monuments from the Leptis area come from the reign of Emperor Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE). These include market square (8 BCE), relatively well-preserved theatre (1 CE), the temple of Roma and Augustus (14-19 CE) and the later Liber Pater. Slightly older objects are Arch of Tiberius (35-36 CE), Arch of Trajan (109-110 CE), Hadrian’s Baths (126-127 CE), renovated and rebuilt by Commodus (180-192 CE).
There are traces of the installation hypocaustum – Roman central heating system. From the Sewer period (193-235 CE) come the most magnificent buildings: Arch of Septimius Severus (193-211 CE), erected apparently hastily, probably before the expected visit of the emperor in 203 CE, a street with porticoes both sides, similar to those found in Syria, connecting the baths of Emperor Hadrian from the Sewers forum, with the Sewers Basilica, the port in its final shape, and the so-called west gate (the name was given to it by archaeologists) and fragments of defensive walls with the largest perimeter (from 250-350 CE). Finally, a small church comes from the Byzantine period, probably from the reign of Justinian I (527-565 CE) and the remains of defensive walls with a working Byzantine gate.
Near Leptis, east of the ruins, there are relatively well-preserved hunting baths from the end of the 2nd century CE, as well as the remains of a circus, amphitheatre, cisterns and a dam that returned the Wadi Lebda west to the Wadi Rsef to prevent flooding in the area of Hadrian’s term and the Sewers forum and silt the port basin.