Leptis Magna - History and Facts | History Hit

Leptis Magna

Khoms, Murqub, Libya

Leptis Magna was once one of the most important African cities of the Roman Empire and is now an impressive archaeological site in Tripoli.

Antara Bate

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Leptis Magna

Leptis Magna (Lepcis Magna) is an incredibly well preserved archaeological site in Tripoli, Libya. Originally founded by the Phoenicians in the first millennium BC, Leptis Magna subsequently became part of the Carthaginian Empire and was then incorporated into the Roman Empire in 46 BC.

Leptis Magna history

Founded as early as the 7th century BC by Phoenicians of Tyre or Sidon, the ancient city of Leptis Magna was later settled by Carthaginians towards the end of the 6th century BC.

The city’s natural harbour at the mouth of the Wadi Labdah facilitated its growth as a major trade centre. It also became a market for agricultural production in the fertile coastland region. In 202 BC, near to the conclusion of the Second Punic War, it passed to Masinissa’s Numidian kingdom, from which it broke away in 111 BC to become an ally of Rome.

Septimus Severus who became emperor of Rome in 193 AD was born in Leptis Magna and hence became a patron of Leptis Magna. He invested heavily in developing his home city, transforming it into one of the most important of Africa’s Roman cities. Most of the remaining structures now found at the site are Roman and originate from the reign of Septimius Severus.

Over the following centuries, however, Leptis began to decline due to the increasing insecurity of the frontiers, culminating in a disastrous incursion in 363, and the growing economic difficulties of the Roman Empire. After the Arab conquest of 642, the status of Leptis as an urban centre effectively ceased, and it fell into ruin.

The ruins of Leptis Magna were pillaged throughout history, though for the most part, they lay buried by sand. Excavations began in the 1920s. At that time the Libyan Antiquities Service, as well as groups of Italian archaeologists, began labouring to preserve and study the site.

Leptis Magna today

Among the many remains found in Severus’ home city, the marketplace, Severan Basilica, the Forum, the Amphitheatre and the Severan Arch represent some of the best-preserved Roman sites in the Mediterranean.

These sites remain visible at the site despite the various invasions that befell Leptis Magna from the fourth century onwards, finally falling to the Hilalians in the eleventh century. Today, Leptis Magna is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Getting to Leptis Magna

Check the official advice of your country’s foreign office before considering travelling to Libya.

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