On the coast 64 km W of Tripoli, the farthest W of the three cities
(treis poleis) that gave the region its name. Traditionally founded by the Phoenicians,
under the Carthaginians it was successively a seasonal trading post and a permanent
settlement. During the earlier empire it prospered and expanded, but in A.D. 363-65
it was sacked by the Austuriani and, though restored, it declined rapidly under
Vandal rule. Reoccupied and refortified by Justinians troops in A.D. 533, it dwindled
and was finally abandoned after the Moslem conquest of A.D. 643. The remains uncovered
comprise large stretches of the built-up area of the ancient city, including domestic
and commercial quarters, and in this respect they are complementary to the intrinsically
finer but more selectively excavated monuments of Leptis Magna.
The siting and development of the city were determined by the possession of a small natural harbor, strengthened in Roman times by a concrete mole, and by the lines of two intersecting roads, the main coastal road (here the "decumanus") and a road running S from the harbor towards Cydamus (Ghadames) and the trans-Saharan caravan route. The irregular plan of the quarter beside the harbor marks the site of the original Punic settlement. On the landward side of this, on the site of an earlier open market place, was superimposed the neatly rectangular Roman forum, an early imperial creation. The city developed from this nucleus. To the S this took place about an orthogonal grid based upon the intersecting axes of the two main streets, and in the 2d c. there was a similar development to the E on a slightly different alignment, based on a change of direction in the line of the decumanus. The area W of the forum awaits excavation. To the S the orderly growth of the city was limited by an irregular line of quarries and cemeteries. The only known fortifications of the Roman period are a short stretch of 4th c. wall at the E end of the excavated area. The Byzantine defenses enclosed a greatly reduced area, some 16-18 ha in extent, around the forum and the original harborside nucleus.
The now visible remains of the forum complex were preceded by two constructional phases: an irregular development of the harborside town to the S, apparently in the 2d c. B.C., which was then swept away to create an open rectangular space occupied only by temporary structures, presumably an occasional market place. In the 1st c. A.D. this was replaced by a permanent, elongated rectangular enclosure extending to right and left of the main street to the S and flanked longitudinally by shops and offices, of which the foundations of some of those along the S side are still exposed. Only three of the surviving public buildings can be shown to belong to this early phase: a large temple, dedicated probably to Liber Pater, which stood in the middle of the E half; a smaller temple at the NW corner, possibly dedicated to Serapis, the slightly oblique alignment of which suggests that it antedates the formal plan of the forum; and along the S side of the W half of the forum a basilica. The basilica (mid 1st c. A.D.) was of the Vitruvian type, with internal ambulatory and entered from the middle of one long side; opposite the entrance was a rectangular tribunal containing a group of imperial statues. The Temple of Serapis was a small, freestanding edifice of native type set in the middle of a porticoed enclosure. That of Liber Pater, though of more conventional Classical plan, was faced with gaudily painted stucco.
During the 2d and 3d c. this complex was gradually transformed. The shops of the W half were replaced by porticos with Egyptian granite columns, and the Temple of Liber Pater was enlarged and framed on three sides within a double portico. Opposite it, at the W end was added (early 2d c.) a capitolium, a broad, shallow pedimental building with three cellas standing on a very lofty podium, of which the central part rose sheer from the forum and presumably served as a rostrum. Along the N side of the W part of the forum was added a curia, of conventional Roman plan. The tribunal of the basilica was transferred to a new range of rooms at the W end of the basilica, and between this extension of the basilica and the capitolium was inserted a cruciform vaulted chamber of uncertain purpose. Other modifications and additions during the later 2d c. were the remodeling of the Temple of Serapis on more conventionally Roman lines and the S extension of the forum complex, replacing earlier houses by two large new temples: one dedicated to M. Aurelius and L. Verus (A.D. 166-69), S of the Temple of Liber Pater; the other, of unknown dedication, S of the basilica, of which it partly suppressed the tribunal. Of all these buildings only the Temple of Liber Pater retained its traditional structure of sandstone, stuccoed and painted; all the rest were built or partially rebuilt in marble during the last 60 years of the 2d c.
The only other large public building in the old part of the city is the public bath at the NE corner of the forum. Beside it is a fine public latrine. Two more temples were situated in the new quarter to the E: one (A.D. 186-93) a conventional prostyle building dedicated to Hercules, the other, of Flavian date and dedicated to Isis, free-standing within an elaborately porticoed temenos beside the sea at the E end of the excavations. This new, 2d c. quarter is dominated by the theater, a late Antonine building of which substantial parts of the cavea and the three orders of the marble scaenae frons have been restored, giving a unique visual impression of the stage of a large but otherwise typical N African theater. The figured marble reliefs decorating the front of the pulpitum include representations of divinities, dancers, and philosophers, scenes from tragedy and pantomime, and a group with personifications of Rome and Sabratha joining hands in the presence of soldiers.
Characteristic of the site are the extensively excavated domestic and commercial quarters. In the early city these were irregular and crowded, with shops and storerooms occupying the frontages of well-to-do houses with mosaics and painted stucco ceilings. There are many indications of upper stories of timber and crude brick. The insulae S and E of the forum illustrate the emergence of more orderly planning, while those of the 2d c. town are neatly squared, many with shallow porticoed frontages, as at Timgad. The roofs were regularly flat, and any building of substance had its own cisterns. On the periphery are several large peristyle houses with fine mosaics, notably the House of the Oceanus Baths near the Temple of Isis. The predominantly commercial quarters along the harbor front include barrel-vaulted warehouses and the foundations of a large basilical hall.
In the later 4th and 5th c. the city underwent many changes. The fate of the individual temples is uncertain, but after the Austurian sack the civil center was restored and remodeled. The forum itself was divided into two by a transverse portico; the curia was restored on traditional lines, though with an arcaded atrium; and the basilica was completely remodeled on the pattern of the Severan basilica at Leptis, with longitudinal naves and two opposed apses. In the 5th c. it was again rebuilt, this time to serve as a church, with a single W apse. Two similar but smaller churches were built between the theater and the sea, a quarter which was probably already largely depopulated, as it certainly was in the 6th c. when the Byzantine defenses were drawn to enclose an area corresponding approximately to that of the early 1st c. city, centered on the forum and the harbor and excluding the later S and E extensions. The basilica underwent a final restoration, with a baptistery installed in the adjoining cruciform building, and a new church, with imported marble fittings and a magnificent mosaic, was inserted between the curia and the sea. Though Arabic graffiti and remains of hovels found in the forum area and in the theater attest some later habitation, effective city life was extinguished by the Arab conquest.
Outlying monuments include an amphitheater, to the E; traces of an aqueduct; remains of several villas, with mosaics and baths, mainly along the adjacent coasts; and extensive though scattered cemeteries. The latter include a towerlike Punic mausoleum of the 2d c. B.C. (and traces of a second), in an area that was later incorporated in the SW outskirts of the town. This was a building of scalloped triangular plan with several superimposed orders crowned by a pyramidal spire. There is also a small Christian catacomb, to the E.
The museum on the site includes Classical sculpture, wall-painting; and stuccos; the marble fittings and mosaics of the Byzantine church; and a large series of domestic bronzes and pottery.
J. B. Ward-Perkins, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Oct 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 8 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
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