Leptis Magna ‘Greater Leptis or Lebdah’ (photos) is one of the former major North African cities, which located on the Mediterranean coast at the mouth of Wadi Lebdah, a natural port 3 km east of the Khoms city, which is 120 km east of Tripoli, the capital of Libya. Lebdah city was one of the most prominent cities in North Africa in the era of the Roman Empire. It also classified by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on the list of World Heritage Sites in Libya since 1982.
Foundation of the city
Lebdah area was home to some human groups in prehistoric times, as evidenced by some stones found on the banks of the Ramla Valley. It appeared as a natural harbor used by Phoenicians sailors and merchants during their trade trips in the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians founded the Leptis Magna city, which named ‘Lepcis’ in Latin, by the end of the 7th-century BC (around the time of the Carthage foundation). The founders were people from the Phoenician city, Tyre (Sur), worshiper of the goddess Ishtar and the god of the universe(earth), which the word ‘earth’ came from it. These two deities were not worshiped before in Libya, even in the other Libyan cities like Oia and Sabratha, this indicates that the people of Sur city were brought it with them to the greater Lebdah. However, the commercial port quickly grew to become one of the important Mediterranean basin, which later contained the Lighthouse of Lebdah, that was built by the Roman Emperor, Septimus Severus around the year 200 BC. And now Lebdah is one of the most beautiful archaeological sites in the Mediterranean region, and it is also one of the largest remains of Roman cities in the world.
History of the city
The Phoenicians were able to quickly urbanize the city due to the fertility of its land, its mild climate and its habitability. And because it has a safe and navigable port and located near Ain Kaam River, which is slightly to the east of it, also the good relations between the people there and the Phoenicians increased the developments of the area in a very quick way. A big accident was mentioned by Herodotus at the mouth of Wadi Kaam River (Cinyps), in the late sixth century BC where the Greeks were concentrated mainly in Cyrenaica (Burca), a group of them led by the Spartan prince, Dorieus tried to establish a colony at the mouth of the river ‘Cinyps’ Ain Kaam River, taking advantage of the delay and decline that Lebdah suffered from at that time. And they got what they want. The Carthaginians feared the leakage of Greek influence west of Sirte, and soon after they attacked it, destroyed its colony, expelled the Greeks and seized Lebdah and its surroundings. And they returned to it what it had lost of its buildings and civilizations. The king of the Carthaginians settled between Great Sirte and Small Sirte, and he called this area ‘Amporia’, and it became part of the possessions of Carthage. Whereas Lebdah remained the main center of the region between the two Sirtes, with internal independence, and remained under the rule of the Carthaginians until the early second century BC.
Market Place in the City
In the early second century BC, it became a follower of the Numidians in the period between the Punic Wars, which are a series of three wars between 264 and 146 BC fought by the states of Rome and Carthage. Its affiliation to the Numidians was as a formality, because it was limited on the payment tribute. In 111 BC, it sent a delegation to Rome, seeking friendship and alliance with it to get rid of the rule of the Numidians, and in 107 BC Rome provided it with four battalions of soldiers to fight the Numidians. It appeared that it could not overcome them, and remained under their nominal sovereignty, with internal independence until the Romans occupied it in 42 BC, and the rule of the Numidians ended. Its coasts became part of Roman Africa, while the interior remained under the authority of a ruler from Numidia until the early 3rd century CE, where a line of defense was established against the people of the south and they called it ‘Lemes Tribolitanus’. Lebdah was subjected to the raids of the Garamantes between 24 and 17 BC, with the help of some other tribes from the south, due to the Oia ‘Tripoli’ appeal over a dispute erupted between it and Lebdah due to the kidnapping of cattle and the assault on some people. They attacked Lebdah, defeated it and ravaged its suburbs, its people were forced to take refuge in the city walls until Valeriovisto realized them with his army and expelled the Garamantes. He returned to the city its reassurance and the importance that it had lost as a convoy station that were connecting the Mediterranean coast to the south and Sudan. In 146 AD, one from the noble families in Lebdah called ‘Stemio Sever’, appeared and assumed its throne and took care of its affairs, he spread knowledge and security in it, and took over the pursuit of the aggressors from the southern tribes until he kept them away from it. He provided it with the basics of a good life, including the means of development and progress in it. In recognition of this reformer man’s work and his sincerity, the people called themselves ‘Stemyans’ after the name Stemio, and became famous for that.
Grandeur wealth of the City
The location of the city is distinguished by its proximity to important agricultural areas such as the three heights of (Tarhuna, Al-Sanbas River and Wadi Kaam) As an indication of its wealth and richness, that the Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar imposed a tax on it for supporting his opponent, Pompey, who defeated him in 48 BC, amounted to three million pounds of olive oil annually. Despite this unfair tribute, Lebdah flourished and reached a great affair in the second century AD, especially when one of its sons, Septimius Severus (193 AD - 211 AD) ascended the throne of the Roman Empire, Whom his family's rule of the empire extended to 235 AD. During this period, the city witnessed its greatest expansion, as it built the the Suwariyya Square, the Iwan Al-Suwarya (Bazilka), the Baptized Street, the Triumphal Arch of Septimus Severus and the Lighthouse of Lebdah. The old square and the ruins of the temples around it and adjacent to the harbor, was the center of the city before its expansion in the Roman era. In these places we track the growth and expansion of the city by examining the successive dates in which the luxurious public buildings were erected, such as the Punic Market Building that stablished in 8 BC, the Semicircular Theater in first year BC and the Kalkidicum building in 11 AD - 12 AD, then the construction of other buildings continued during the first and second centuries AD, among which were the Baths of Emperor Hadrian (built between 126 AD - 127 AD) and renewed during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus.
Emperor of Roman Lebdah, Septimius Severus
In the 3rd century AD, the time of Emperor Septimius Severus, 193 AD to 211 AD, and Alexander Severus, 222 AD to 235 AD, Lebdah has reached a great level in civilization and urban progress, its people were a mixture of Libyans, Carthaginians, Romans and Greeks, and its population reached 80,000. During this era, Oia ‘Tripoli’ did not reach anything that would enable it to compete with Lebdah in power, but by the 4th century, Dakyanus ordered to give Oia the title of state, and began to compete Lebdah. Between 363 and 366 of the 4th century AD, the Asturianans attacked the governorate of Lebdah and inflicted severe damage on it, especially in the city, its conditions worsened and began to decline until the Vandals coveted it. In 455 AD, the Vandals occupied it and destroyed it, they did not care about it and left it in chaos, plundering extended to it from the Berber tribes residing in and around the city, the largest of which is the Luwata tribe. During this period, it was hit by a great flood from the Ain Kaam Valley, which broke bridges and walls, and had the worst effect in paralyzing the workforce, and despair seeped into the souls of the ability to reform. Then the sands covered it and its affairs were neglected until the spirit of rebellion and greed spread among the tribes around it. By 533 AD these chaotic tribes turned the city into devastation, until the Byzantines coveted to occupy it. Their occupation was the beginning of a new era for its urbanization and the recovery of some of its lost civilization, it took the seat of the military ruler, Justinian whose reformed much of what the corrupts had spread to it in the previous era. Roman architecture and decoration were added to it, which increased its magnitude and beauty. After Justinian, the country began to decline, and to walk into devastation again. In 643 AD, the first Arab pioneers of the Islamic conquest reached it, Nothing found in Labdah of urbanization except the remnants of its great palaces and magnificent houses, in addition to some mixture people of different races living in these ruins.