Leptis Magna: All to Know About One of the most Ancient City in Libya
Leptis or Lepcis Magna, also known in antiquity, was a prominent city of the Carthaginian Empire and Roman Libya at the mouth of the Wadi Lebdam in the Mediterranean. Originally a 7th-century BC Phoenician foundation, it was greatly expanded under Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193–211), who was a native of the city.
The 3rd Augustan Legion was stationed here to defend the city against Berber incursions. After the legion’s dissolution under Gordian III in 238, the city was increasingly open to raids in the later part of the 3rd century.
Diocletian reinstated the city as the provincial capital, and it grew again in prosperity until it fell to the Vandals in 439. It was reincorporated into the Eastern Empire in 533 but continued to be plagued by Berber raids and never recovered its form
Lepcis Magna is a World Heritage site on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa in the Tripolitania region of Libya. Originally founded by the Phoenicians in the 10th Century BC, it survived the attention of Spartan colonists, became a Punic city, and eventually part of the new Roman province of Africa around 23 BC.
As a Roman city, it prospered, boasting Emperor L Septimius Severus as one of its sons and benefactors.
Sacked by a Berber tribe in 523 AD it was abandoned and quickly reclaimed by the desert. Although it provided a source of building materials to various pillagers throughout history, it was not excavated until the 1920s.
Since then the incredible remains of this city (one of the best-preserved Roman cities) have attracted less attention than they deserve – especially since the political situation in Libya has made travel to the site difficult and tourism a virtual impossibility.
In 1994 a new excavation of part of the site was started by a team of professional archaeologists from a variety of academic and research institutes around the UK. Led by Dr. Hafed Walda of Kings College London, and sponsored by the Society for Libyan Studies (established as a British Institute Abroad in 1969 and based at the Institute of Archaeology in London), this team has been conducting excavations of a building by the theatre for two seasons.
In order for better control of the city, the Roman Republic sent to Leptis Magna a small garrison, and since then the city started to grow and was even allowed to create its own money, which at that time were actually coined.
As the Wadi Lebda meets the Mediterranean Sea, continued thriving even until the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, who incorporated the city and the surrounding area into the Empire, as part of the Province of Africa. As mentioned previously, Emperor Septimius Severus made sure that the city would become an even bigger and better one with the ambitious building program which was initiated.
Over the following centuries, Leptis Magna remained in a pretty calm state, however, it became to decline due to the increasing insecurity of the frontiers, culminating in a disastrous incursion in 363, and the growing economic difficulties of the Roman Empire.
Due to the immense importance, the city was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1982, however, with the war conflict that destroyed the nation, it is not so safe to visit the ruins and the state of the city should improve too as the situation improves bit by bit.
Fun Fact About the Arch of Septimius Severus in Leptis Magna
The Arch of Septimius Severus is a triumphal arch in Leptis Magna, located in present-day Libya. It was commissioned by the Libya-born Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. The arch was in ruins but was pieced back together by archaeologists after its discovery in 1928.
Recent activities on the Leptis Magna was its location being used as a cover for tanks and military vehicles by pro-Gaddafi forces during the First Libyan Civil War in 2011.
When asked about the possibility of conducting an air-strike on the historic site, NATO refused to rule out the possibility of such an action saying that it had not been able to confirm the rebels’ report that weapons were being hidden at the location.
Even though intense war took place, archaeologist assured that the Leptis Magna, along with nearby Rasaimergib Fort and the western Tripolis of Sabratha, had “so far seen no visible loss” from either fighting on the ground or bombings conducted by international forces.
In the midst of the Second Libyan Civil War and the disappearance of governmental and international support for the site, people living in the area organized to voluntarily protect and maintain Leptis Magna.
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