Sabrata was interesting but Leptis Magna much more so, not only because it is larger, but also because this museum provides background information and documentation that makes everything more meaningful to the individual visitor without a qualified guide.
Scholars do not agree on the date of the first Phoenician settlement here, some say as early as 1000 B.C., other believe much later. An early date is plausible for the excellent harbour formed by nature at the mouth of wadi Lebda must have been an irresistible attraction to the first traders to venture on this coast. There no doubt however that the port was part of the Carthaginian Empire from about 600 B.C. to Rome's final victory in 146 B.C.
Roman road leading to the theatre.
Leptis profited handsomely from its trade with Rome of gold dust, ivory, hides and black slaves brought from Equatorial Africa via long and difficult caravan routes through the Fezzan.
Colonnade outside the theatre.
After the Roman conquest, much of the trade remained in the hands of wealthy Carthaginian merchants who financed the construction of public buildings such as the theater built under Annobal Tapapius Rufus in 1 AD.
Work on the theatre continued as it was embellished and improved through the ages, the colonnaded backstage being erected en 144 AD.
The export of olive oil was also an important source of income that made Leptis prosperous and financed the erection this market built in 8 BC by the same Annobal.
Wealthy merchants also paid for the temples to Liber Pater on the left and to Rome and Augustus on the right, built in the Old Forum around 10 AD. ("old" by opposition to the Severan Forum built at the end of the 2nd century).
The small temple in the middle of colonnaded aisles behind the theatre was built by Iddibai Tapapius in 42 AD for the cult to deified emperors such as Caesar and Augustus.
Temple of Serapis with the Severan Basilica in the background.
In the background, the Arch of Tiberius built in 35 AD to honour Augustus' adopted son and successor. In the foreground, the remains of a four portalled arch built in 109 AD to thank Emperor Trajan for having granted Roman civic rights to Leptis citizens.
These large public baths were built around 120 AD and named for the current Emperor Hadrian. In this photo, the big swimming pool in the frigidarium (cold room) of the thermae.
The tepidarium (tepid room), allowed a transition between the frigidarium on the right and the caldarium (hot room) on the left.
The floor of the caldarium was heated by the passage of hot gasses through the spaces revealed in this photo. The Romans had indirect radiant heating long before we did.
The latrines. This this is just one small example of the tremendous retrograde step taken by civilization with the fall of Rome whose citizens knew the virtues of personal hygiene and of public latrines. Ten centuries later, no one washed in Europe; Kings and their Courts went all over the halls and staircases of their fine palaces for they did not have latrines. At that time, perfume was not a luxury but a necessity!
Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, who was born in Leptis in 146, favoured his birthplace with the construction, in the late 2nd century, of magnificent public buildings of which a great forum (of which only a quarter can be seen in this picture), a huge basilica and a 12 km underground aqueduct. The archways in the far wall lead to the Severan Basilica.
This is the south-east end of the great Severan Basilica that was magnificently decorated and whose ceiling was over a 100 feet high.
With the backing of Emperor Severus, Leptis had reached the peak of its fame and prosperity when the thankful merchants of the city paid for the erection of this four-way arch in his honour in 203.
After that, no major construction was undertaken in Leptis except for a colonnaded arcade built in the old forum in 317. The series of social, economic, political and military crises that shook the Roman Empire in the 4th century had their repercussions here. The bitter struggle between Roman Catholics and Donatists had ill effects on the town's capacity to resist the severe raids of the Austurian nomads from the interior in the late 4th century. Weakened Leptis was no match for the Vandals who destroyed its city walls when they occupied Tripolitania in 455. The city further suffered from battles between the Vandals and rebel Berber tribes supported by the Byzantines whose general Belisarius invaded Tripolitania in 533.
Leptis was a shadow of its former self as evidenced by this unadorned gate in the last-stand ramparts built by the Byzantine in the six century to defend a small perimeter around the port facilities from the repeated attacks of rebellious Berber tribes. All that remained outside this wall was abandoned to become stilted up by mud from wadi Lebda and covered by sand from the dunes.
A great city had died, an epoch was over. The Arab army, under Amr Ibn El As, met with little resistance here on their victorious march to the Maghrib in 643...