Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ancient Cities 3: Leptis Magna

Severan Basilica, Leptis Magna. Image Souce: Sascha Coachman/Wiki.

Since mid-June, fears have increased that the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magda, on Libya's coastline could be bombed.  There are reports that pro-Gaddafi forces have been using the city as cover for tanks and military vehicles.  By 18 June, the Telegraph reported they assume that NATO forces would not attack them if their equipment is stored in the UNESCO site: "Colonel Gaddafi is using the site as an archaeological shield. Missiles, launchers and troops are, they say, snuggled among columns, corridors and archways. Nato forces – in Gaddafi’s reckoning – won’t bomb them, or his men. Clever. They won’t. But if Gaddafi is holding explosives in this World Heritage Site, a single stray cigarette butt could kick start a sequence that sends it all up in smoke."  The city lies 120 kilometres east of Tripoli, in the district of present day Al Khums. From the Washington Post:
Leptis Magna, Libya’s most important archaeological site, has not been engulfed in fighting as the country’s conflict enters its fifth month. But airstrikes have been carried out nearby, and Libyans on both sides of the battle worry that the U.N. World Heritage Site could sustain damage if rebels in the east push toward Tripoli.

Alarm about the archaeological site soared this week after NATO officials said they could not rule out bombing in the area if Gaddafi’s troops are found to be using it as a military staging ground.

Susan Kane, a professor of archaeology at Oberlin College in Ohio who has done extensive work in Libya, said Libyan contacts she deems credible have told her the government is storing munitions in cultural sites, such as museums and ruins. She said that fighting around Leptis Magna would be a tragedy.

“It’s one of the best preserved ruins sites in the world,” she said. “It’s staggering.”
Leptis Magna was one of the most prominent cities in the Roman empire.  Its high state of preservation means that walking through it is like walking back in time.  Founded in the Bronze Age around 1100 BCE by the Phoenicians, it became part of the Roman Empire in 146 BCE when the Romans defeated Carthage.  Under the Emperor Septimus Severus, who hailed from the city, Leptis Magna became the third most important city in Africa. With Rome's decline, Leptis Magna became a provincial capital in the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century CE.  It was the site of a massacre in 543 CE.  The city was abandoned by the 650s, except for a Byzantine garrison.  Its 1,700 years of habitation ended with the Arab conquest.

An illustration of what Leptis Magna would have looked like. Image Source: Temehu.
Map of the town. Image Source: Wiki.
The Theatre. Image Source: 3xploration.
A reconstruction of the theater. Image Source: Temehu.

Caption for the above image: (1) Ima Cavea; (2) Media Cavea; (3) Summa Cavea; (4) Vomitori; (5) Orchestra; (6) Seats for important dignitaries; (7) Entrance to stage; (8) Stage; (9) Wall of scenery; (10) Wooden ceiling; (11) Stakes to secure the canvas awning; (12) Attic gallery.

Pilasters inside Basilica of Septimus Severus, Leptis Magna. Image Source: Sascha Coachman/Wiki.
Element of Basilica of Septimus Severus, Leptis Magna. Image Source: Sascha Coachman/Wiki.
Image Source: IB Times/Reuters.
The Arch of Septimius Severus at Leptis Magna. Image Source: David Quinn/Wiki.
Statue in the Law Courts theatre at Leptis Magna. Image Source: Horizons Unlimited.
The Forum. Image Source: Sascha Coachman/Wiki.
One of the Medusa heads, Forum in Leptis Magna.Image Source: Sascha Coachman/Wiki.
The Market. Image Source: Robert Bamler/Wiki.
The Marketplace.  Image Source: Sascha Coachman/Wiki.
Street view, from Septimius Severus Arch to Trajan Arch. Image Source: Sascha Coachman/Wiki.
Street view. Image Source: Temehu.
The Hadrianic Baths. Image Source: Temehu.
Latrines, Leptis Magna. Image Source: Sascha Coachman/Wiki.
The Libyan Goddess Medusa (or the Gorgon) Guarding the Severan Forum. Image Source: Workbase Info.
Image Source: Photo Library/Telegraph.
Image Source: IB Times/Reuters. 
Villa Silene. Image Source: Temehu.

Caption for the above photograph: Villa Silene is a private house of a wealthy owner from Leptis Magna, dating back from the Byzantine period. Overlooking the magnificent Mediterranean sea the villa is widely recognised as one of the must-see places in Libya, especially its lavish decorations and the highly detailed and intricate mosaics across the villa's floor, including sea nymphs, animals, geometrical designs and amphora-helmeted pygmies.

Mausoleum of Qaser Duirat, 200 AD., Leptis Magna Museum. Image Source: Temehu.

Caption for the above photograph: The original location of this funerary monument was about 2 kilometres south-west of Leptis Magna city (Lubdah). It was moved to its current location outside Leptis Magna museum for safety reasons, owing to the high voltage pylons which passed by its previous location. This mausoleum is among the best preserved mausoleums and most decorated of all the Mausoleums found in Libya. Among the designs are the zodiacal and astrological signs. The name found inscribed on the monument is half Roman and half Libyan, which indicates that the tomb belonged to a Libyan dignitary, as it was the custom then for dignitaries to keep their Libyan name in order to indicate their ancestry. The structure was dated to 200 AD.

In 2005-2006, a team from the University of Hamburg, including Helmut Ziegert and Marliese Wendowski uncovered an astonishing 30 foot wall of mosaics from the 1st-2nd centuries CE (reports here and here).  Ziegert, incidentally, is known for uncovering the Palace of the Queen of Sheba in 2008 in Ethiopia, and a possible resting place for the Ark of the Covenant, bringing him into Indiana Jones territory (see report here).

From Workbase Info: "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."  More mosaics from the city can be seen here.  Only about one-third of Leptis Magna has been excavated.

Regatta of Cupids, detail. From the Nile Villa at Leptis Magna. Roman, 3rd CE. Mosaic, 380 x 118 cm. Image © Gilles Mermet / Art Resource, NY.

Gladiators' Arena. Image Source: Temehu.

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  1. Thanks for the beautiful photos!

    I suppose it should come as no great surprise though... humans who have no respect for other humans, nor for human life in general, are apt to place great value on any element of human history.


  2. Glad you liked the pictures, Dia. When researching this post, I saw references to several similar cases in the past ten years in which ancient monuments are being destroyed in current conflicts. But for me the big point of interest was the discovery of the Queen of Sheba's palace.

  3. Wow, ToB, I just came back to discover that I made a really stupid word omission - the line should read: "humans who have no respect for other humans, nor for human life in general, are NOT apt to place great value on any element of human history."

    Well, duh... I am such a moron. Hope there was no misunderstanding.

    And hope, also, that you're allowing yourself some time to gather those wild strawberries! :-)


  4. Magnificent pictures. After Libya is free, Leptis Magna could become the basis of a new Libyan tourist industry.

  5. @Dia, NP I think I read the 'not' even when it wasn't there. Strawberries, yes...

  6. @Infidel, yes, I think it already is a very touristed spot. Maybe they control it, but I noticed a lot of tour operators advertising the city on their tours.