Leptis Magna: Its Magnificence

Africa | | November 19, 2010 at 4:14 am


Leptis Magna is also spelled as Lepcis Magna. It is the largest city of the former region of Tripolitania. It is situated nearly 62 miles toward the southeast of Tripoli, which lies along the Mediterranean coast of the country of Libya. Leptis Magna is separated by a distance of 2 miles from present-day Al-Khums. Leptis Magna is a fine example of Roman architecture. It was awarded World Heritage Status by UNESCO in 1982.

The region was founded in early 7th century BC. Phoenicians of Tyre or Sidon discovered the region. The city was later inhabited by the Carthaginians. This was toward the end of the 6th century BC. The city had a natural harbor near the mouth of the Wadi Labdah. This eased the growth of the city to a mighty trade region of the Mediterranean and trans-Saharan areas. Leptis Magna served as a market for agricultural produce in the fertile regions along the coast. Toward the end of the Second Punic War, the city became part of the Numidian kingdom and was ruled by Masinissa. In 111 BC Leptis Magna broke away to become Rome’s ally.

In the first century AD there was retention of legal and cultural traditions of Punic. Punic language became the official one. The city was renowned for its municipal constitution. Roman emperor Trajan authorized Leptis to be a ‘colonia’, which was a community with complete citizenship rights. Emperor Septimius Severus birth was at Leptis Magna. He gave the city ‘jus italicum’, which meant freedom from land and property taxes. He also became the city’s patron. Under his authority, a unique and ambitious building plan had been initiated. The harbor was further improved and was enlarged artificially in the first century AD. During the course of the next few centuries, Leptis Magna saw a sharp decline due to the insecurity over its frontiers. A catastrophic incursion followed in 363 AD. The economic problems of the Roman Empire added to its woes. When the Arabs conquered the city in 642, Leptis Magna declined as an urban centre and fell into further ruin.

Until the initial decades of the 20th century, Leptis Magna preserved Punic structures in traces. This was near the amphitheatre’s excavated shell. The ancient forum served as the city’s heart during the early Roman era. The city then expanded toward the west and along the coast. Some of the existing structures include baths that are well preserved. The surviving monuments, which are the largest, are those constructed during the reign of Emperor Severus.

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