Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna

Severan Basilica, Leptis Magna 2nd century AD.
Severan Basilica, Leptis Magna 2nd century AD.

Leptis Magna was enlarged and embellished by Septimius Severus, who was born there and later became emperor. It was one of the most beautiful cities of the Roman Empire, with its imposing public monuments, harbour, market-place, storehouses, shops and residential districts.

Leptis Magna is a unique artistic realization in the domain of urban planning. It played a major role, along with Cyrene, in the movement back to antiquity and in the elaboration of the neoclassical aesthetic.

Market place.
Market place.
Market place.
Market place.

The Phoenician port of Lpgy was founded at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC and first populated by the Garamantes. The city, which was part of the domain of Carthage, passed under the ephemeral control of Massinissa, King of Numidia. The Romans, who had quartered a garrison there during the war against Jugurtha, integrated it, in 46 BC, into the province of Africa while at the same time allowing it a certain measure of autonomy.

Although Leptis (the latinization of its Phoenician name) was comparable to the other Phoenician trading centres of the Syrtian coast, like Sabratha, after Septimius Severus became emperor in 193, its fortunes improved remarkably. Thanks to him, the renewed Leptis was one of the most beautiful cities of the Roman world. It is still one of the best examples of Severan urban planning.

Thereafter, Leptis felt prey to the same vicissitudes of fortune as the majority of the coastal cities of Africa. Pillaged from the 4th century and reconquered by the Byzantines who transformed it into a stronghold, it definitively succumbed to the second wave of Arab invasion, that of the Hilians in the 11th century. Buried under drifting sands, the city has only been disengaged, piece by piece, over the course of a long archaeological exploration.

Arch of Septimius Severus.
Arch of Septimius Severus.

The city, which was constructed during the reign of Augustus and Tiberius but which was entirely remodelled along very ambitious lines under the Severan emperors, incorporates major monumental elements of that period. The forum, basilica and Severan arch rank among the foremost examples of a new Roman art, strongly influenced by African and Eastern traditions.

The sculptures of the Severan basilica, which remain in situ, and that of the Severan arch, in the museum at Tripoli, are innovative in their linear definition of forms, the crispness of their contours and the angular delineation of their volumes: a comprehensive aesthetic, conceived as a function of the blinding African sun.

The ancient port, with its artificial basin of some 102,000 m2, still exists with its quays, jetties, fortifications, storage areas and temples. Dug under Nero and organized under Septimius Severus, it is one of the chefs d’oeuvre of Roman technology with its barrage dam and its canal designed to regulate the course of Wadi Lebda, the dangerous torrent that empties into the Mediterranean to the west. The market, an essential element in the everyday life of a large commercial trading centre, with its votive arch, colonnades and shops, has been for the most part preserved. The building, which dates from the Augustan period, was transformed and embellished under Septimius Severus.

Warehouses and workshops also attest to the commercial and industrial activity of a city whose large prestigious monuments, arches and gates, original forum and Severan forum, temples, baths, theatre, circus and amphitheatre, only occupy a very small part of the total area.

Forum in Leptis Magna, 2nd century AD.
Forum in Leptis Magna, 2nd century AD.


Photos: Wikipedia

Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus

Unknown, Roman, Rome, A.D. 210 - 220.; with supports: 1800s, Marble.
Unknown, Roman, Rome, A.D. 210 – 220.; with supports: 1800s, Marble.

The inscription on the lid of this sarcophagus identifies its former occupant, Maconiana Severiana, as being from a senatorial family. “To the soul of the deceased. For Maconiana Severiana, the sweetest daughter, Marcus Sempronius Faustinianus, vir clarissimus [holding a senatorial rank], and Praecilia Severiana, clarissima femina from a senatorial family, her parents had this made.” Given the small size of the sarcophagus, Maconiana must have been a child or adolescent.

The front of the sarcophagus shows a Dionysiac revel, culminating in the discovery of the sleeping Ariadne, shown lying down on the right. Abandoned by the Greek hero Theseus, Ariadne awakened to a new life with Dionysos, the god of wine. The goat-legged Pan lifts the veil from her prone figure while satyrs, maenads, and a panther surround the drunken Dionysos.

The back of the sarcophagus shows another Dionysiac scene of winemaking carved in a simpler, flatter style. Panels with related figures flanking the central inscription on the lid. For the Romans, Dionysos was associated with the hope of a better afterlife; thus many sarcophagi show the god and his followers.

Sculpted stone sarcophagi, which came into use in the 200s A.D., soon became symbols of wealth and status. Since Romans favored certain themes for sarcophagi, they were often bought ready-made and then customized by the addition of a portrait of the deceased. The blank face of Ariadne should have been carved as a portrait of Maconiana Severiana. Why it was left blank in this instance is not clear.

Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus : Left side
 Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus : Right side
Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus : Right side

J. Paul Getty Museum  

Portrait Busts of Two Youths


Portrait Busts of Two Youths, Unknown, Gallo-Roman, A.D. 60 – 70, Bronze

Who do these two bronze portrait busts represent? They are very similar in appearance, although one appears slightly older than the other. Both boys have a hairstyle with a distinctive wave across the forehead, which was popular during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. The busts originally had long, separately made locks of hair, which were attached to the back of the heads. Their long locks may indicate that they represent a pair of attendants in a youth organization called the Iuventus, which held special favor under Nero. If so, these busts are the only known portraits of such attendants in the Iuventus and were probably created to be displayed in one of the organization’s shrines.

One bust has an acanthus band at the bottom; while this feature is missing on the other bust, traces of solder may indicate its original presence. Also missing from both heads are the original inlaid eyes made of colored stone or glass paste. The emphasis on the front view, the simplistic treatment of the back of the head, and the overall style indicate that this pair of busts was made in the Roman province of Gaul.

These busts are said to have been found in France along with the Offering Box and the Statuette of Mars/Cobannus. The pieces were probably all displayed together in a local shrine of the Iuventus.

Source : The Getty Museum

Happy Birthday Marcus Aurelius!

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was born on this day in 121 AD
Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was born on this day in 121 AD

Birth of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius by N.S Gill

On this day in A.D. 121, the future Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was born. Marcus Aurelius was the last of the “five good emperors” and was the father of the infamous emperor Commodus.

Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic Philosopher who wrote his Meditations. The following is from the third book of a public domain translation of the Meditations. It tells how to live, even if one is an emperor, modestly and virtuously:

Do nothing against thy will, nor contrary to the community, nor without due examination, nor with reluctancy. Affect not to set out thy thoughts with curious neat language. Be neither a great talker, nor a great undertaker. Moreover, let thy God that is in thee to rule over thee, find by thee, that he hath to do with a man; an aged man; a sociable man; a Roman; a prince; one that hath ordered his life, as one that expecteth, as it were, nothing but the sound of the trumpet, sounding a retreat to depart out of this life with all expedition. One who for his word or actions neither needs an oath, nor any man to be a witness.
Book 3

Full Article: Marcus Aurelius, Marcus Aurelius Introduction, This Day in Ancient History

Statue of the Emperor Octavian Augustus

b14b44e1df669a1d511955ae3811e48bStatue of the Emperor Octavian Augustus


First quarter of the 1st century

H 185 cm

This statue was created after the death of Octavian (reigned 31st BC-14 th AD), during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. The worship of the emperor began even during the lifetime of Octavian (in 27 BC the Senate awarded him the title Augustus: the Holy, divine Son, father of the native land, descendant of Venus and Aeneas), and under his successors this became an official cult. Here the emperor is represented as Jupiter, the supreme God of the Roman pantheon, and this statue is a typical example of Roman sculpture from the time of the Empire. The composition was adapted from the celebrated sculpture of Zeus by Phidias, which allowed the placing of the appropriate attributes in Augustus’s hands: a Nike and a sceptre. The sculptor preserved the emperor’s portrait features, but idealized them to create a formal cult statue.

The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Gold Aureus Of Emperor Caligula


Roman, AD 40
Minted in Rome, Italy; found in southern India

Roman gold goes east

This coin was made in Rome in the first century AD, but was found hoarded together with many others in southern India in the late nineteenth century. How did these coins travel so far from home? We know there were extensive trading links between the Romans and the peoples of the east, including southern India. Roman gold went east in payment for spices and silk. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (AD 23/4-79) tells us that, in his day, over 25 million denarii were spent each year on this trade, equivalent to one million gold coins like this one.

The image on the front of the coin is of the Roman emperor Gaius (reigned AD 37-41), otherwise known to history by his nickname Caligula (‘Little Boot’). The coin has been cut with a chisel, as were several other coins from the same hoard. Indian traders may have wished to check the coin to see if it was really made of solid gold and not plated. The traders’ version of Buddhism forbade the use of human images and this may be why the coins were defaced.

Bust of Emperor Caracalla

00147201Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, Rome, about 1750 – 1770, Marble

Caracalla, one of the bold and brutal Roman emperors who ruled in the early 200s A.D., murdered his brother in his ascent to power and later was himself assassinated. In this marble bust, he wears a soldier’s cuirass and toga. Turning his head to the left, he focuses on something that apparently does not meet with his approval. He flares his nostrils and furrows his brow, movements perhaps intended to suggest his ferociousness.

In the 1700s, Caracalla’s likeness was known from a bust in the Farnese collection in Rome and then Naples, believed to date from the 200s. Sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi drew on this famous prototype for his marble bust of Caracalla. Carved during a period in which collectors bought sculptures all’ antica, this bust was probably intended for an English collector’s Neoclassical gallery.

Cavaceppi was best known for his restorations of antique sculpture rather than for his rare original works, such as this one. He demonstrated his familiarity with classicism through his skillful drillwork in the antique manner, seen in the handling of Caracalla’s beard and hair. This bust is one of Cavaceppi’s rare signed works.

Source : The J. Paul Getty Museum

Portrait of Vibia Sabina

Vibia Sabina

Vibia Sabina (83-136 A.D.), a relative of Trajan, was married very young to the future emperor, Hadrian. This portrait, made towards the end of her life, around 130 A.D, denotes the intention to create an intemporal image, free of the passage of time. Her hairstyle is not a traditional roman one but is inspired by the imagery of the goddess of Diana. The bust was added in the middle of the first century A.D.

Museo Nacional del Prado

Silver cistophorus of Mark Antony

Roman, around 40 BC Minted at Ephesos, modern TurkeyRoman, around 40 BC, Minted at Ephesos, modern Turkey.

Following the death of Julius Caesar a ‘triumvirate for setting public affairs in order’ was created. One member of the group of three, M. Aemilius Lepidus, soon became marginalised, but the other two, Octavian (Julius Caesar’s elected heir) and Mark Antony, grew in power and in animosity towards each other. In 40 BC, a temporary halt was brought to the breakdown in relations between the two men by a pact made at Brundisium (modern Brindisi). Under the terms of the pact Antony married Octavian’s sister, Octavia.

This silver cistophorus was produced at the mint of Ephesos, in part to celebrate the union. On the reverse appears the standard design of a cistophorus: a chest known as a cista surrounded by snakes. However, a bust of Octavia has been introduced above the cistophorus, which is flanked by Antony’s title, IIIVIR RPC. The front of the coin is also remarkable in its treatment of the portrait of Mark Antony: he is given the ivy leaf crown of Dionysos. This somewhat orientalizing tendency conflicts with the typically Roman series of titles given to Antony: M. ANTONIVS IMP COS DESIG ITER ET TERT, ‘Imperator and Consul designate for the second and third time’.

Source : British Museum

Red jasper intaglio: portrait head of Mark Antony

ps344819_lOn Caesar’s assassination on 15 March 44 BC, Cleopatra had lost her powerful ally. Hearing that Caesar had left nothing for her and their son Caesarion, Cleopatra fled Rome with her child and husband (her second brother, now Ptolemy XIV), returning to an Egypt ridden with famine and plague.

Two men competed to succeed Caesar: his right-hand man and the designated consul, Mark Antony, and Caesar’s adopted son and legal heir, Octavian. In 41 BC Mark Antony began an alliance, as much romantic as military, with Cleopatra. In 40 BC, twin children were born, but Antony deserted Cleopatra for a politically advantageous marriage with Octavian’s sister Octavia. Three years and two daughters later, Octavia in her turn was abandoned for Cleopatra, with whom Antony stayed until their deaths in 30 BC.

The engraver of this intaglio has cut an exceptionally clear profile portrait of Mark Antony with long tousled hair, the locks carefully delineated, and no beard. The nose is hooked, the slightly open mouth down-turned, and the chin prominent. The features resemble those of Antony on some of his coin portraits, and the image ends at the neck. The intaglio may have been used as a seal by one of Antony’s supporters.

Source: British Museum

Temple of Hadrian


It is one of the best preserved and most beautiful structures on Curetes Street. It was built before 138 A.D by P. Quintilius and was dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian, who came to visit the city from Athens in 128 A.D The facade of the temple has four Corinthian columns supporting a curved arch, in the middle of which contains a relief of Tyche, goddess of victory. The side columns are square. The pedestal with inscriptions in front of the temple, are the bases for the statues of the emperors between 293-305 CE, Diocletian, Maximian, Constantius I, and Galerius; the originals of the statues have not been found yet.

Inside the temple above the door, a human figure, probably Medusa stands with ornaments of acanthus leaves. On both sides there are friezes depicting the story of the foundation of Ephesus – Androklos shooting a boar, Dionysus in ceremonial procession and the Amazons. The fourth frieze portrays two male figures, one of which is Apollo; Athena, goddess of the moon; a female figure, Androkles, Herakles, the wife and son of Theodosius and the goddess Athena. The friezes that are seen today are copies, and the originals are displayed in Ephesus Museum.

Emperor Hadrian was one of the Five of Good Emperors. The Five Good Emperors is a term that refers to five consecutive emperors of the Roman Empire – Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. The term is first coined by the political philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli in 1532. Publius Aelius Hadrianus was born on 24 January AD 76, probably at Rome, though his family lived in Italica in Baetica. Emporor Trajan was his cousin. Hadrian was schooled in various subjects particular to young aristocrats of the day, and was so fond of learning Greek literature that he was nicknamed Graeculus (“Little Greek”).Hadrian was active in the wars against the Dacians and reputedly won awards from Trajan for his successes. Due to an absence of military action in his reign, Hadrian’s military skill is not well attested, however his keen interest and knowledge of the army and his demonstrated skill of administration show possible strategic talent.

Hadrian appears to have been a man of mixed sexual interests. The Historia Augusta criticizes both his liking of goodlooking young men as well as his adulteries with married women.It is belived that he tried to poison his wife. When it comes to Hadrian’s homosexuality, then the accounts remain vague and unclear. Most of the attention centres on the young Antinous, whom Hadrian grew very fond of. Statues of Antinous have survived, showing that imperial patronage of this youth extended to having sculptures made of him. In AD 130 Antinous accompanied Hadrian to Egypt. It was on a trip on the Nile when Antinous met with an early and somewhat mysterious death. Officially, he fell from the boat and drowned.

Hadrian died in 138 on the tenth day of July, in his villa at Baiae at age 62. However, the man who had spent so much of his life traveling had not yet reached his journey’s end. He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate which had once belonged to Cicero. Soon after, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia, close by the almost-complete mausoleum. Upon the completion of the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome in 139 by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138. Antoninus also had him deified in 139 and given a temple on the Campus Martius.

Poem by Hadrian
According to the Historia Augusta Hadrian wrote shortly before his death the following poem:

Animula, vagula, blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos…
P. Aelius Hadrianus Imp.
Little soul, roamer and charmer
Body’s guest and companion
Who soon will depart to places
Darkish, chilly and misty
An end to all your jokes…

Marble portrait of the co-emperor Lucius Verus

Mid-Imperial, Antonine,161–169 A.D., Roman, Marble,H.14 1/2 in. (36.8 cm), Stone Sculpture.
Mid-Imperial, Antonine,161–169 A.D., Roman, Marble,H.14 1/2 in. (36.8 cm), Stone Sculpture.

This fragmentary head comes from an over-life-sized portrait bust or statue of Lucius Verus, co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius (r. A.D. 161–180). At the beginning of his reign, Verus was sent to the East to direct military operations against the Parthians, and although the war was concluded successfully in A.D. 166, his returning troops brought back the plague, which ravaged the Empire for several years thereafter. He is compared unfavorably with Marcus Aurelius by the ancient sources, but the portrait shown here has a leonine majesty that gives little indication of his reputation as an idle and dissolute ruler. It is typical of Antonine style in its use of luxuriant drillwork in the hair and engraved eyes to dramatize the basically naturalistic image.

Source : The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On This Day In Ancient History

Bust of Commodus as Hercules, Sculpture,180-193 AD, Marble, cm 133

Emperor Commodus was born on 31. August 161 AD at Lanuvium

(The bust is one of the most famous masterpieces of Roman portraiture and depicts the emperor in the guise of Hercules, whose attributes he has been given: the lion’s skin over his head, the club in this right hand, and the golden apples of Hesperides in his left hand as a reminder of the Greek hero’s feats. The incredibily well-preserved bust is placed on a complex allegorical composition: two kneeling Amazons (only one is well-preserved) besige a globe decorated with the signs of the zodiac hold aloft a cornucopia, which is entwined with a pelta, the Amazons’ characteristic shield. The celebratory intent that, through a wealth of symbols, imposes the divine cult of the emperor, is further underlined by the two marine Tritons flanking the central figure to express his apotheosis. The group was recovered in an underground room of the Horti Lamiani complex, where it had probably been hidden. Source : Musei Capitolini)

Bust of Salonina Matidia

Salonina Matidia, Roman bust (marble), 2nd century AD, (Musée du Louvre, Paris).
Salonina Matidia, Roman bust (marble), 2nd century AD, (Musée du Louvre, Paris).

Salonina Matidia (4 July 68 – 23 December 119) was the daughter and only child of Ulpia Marciana and wealthy praetor Gaius Salonius Matidius Patruinus. Her maternal uncle was the Roman Emperor Trajan. Trajan had no children and treated her like his daughter. Her father died in 78 and Matidia went with her mother to live with Trajan and his wife, Pompeia Plotina.

Between 81 and 82, Matidia married a suffect consul and former proconsul Lucius Vibius Sabinus. Sabinus died in 83 or 84. Matidia bore Sabinus a daughter called Vibia Sabina, who would marry the future Roman Emperor Hadrian. Matidia was very fond of her second cousin Hadrian and allowed him to marry Vibia Sabina.

In 84, Matidia married for a second time to an otherwise unattested Roman aristocrat called Lucius Mindius. Matidia bore Mindius a daughter called Mindia Matidia, commonly known as Matidia Minor. Mindius died in 85.

Matidia later married suffect consul of 88, Lucius Scribonius Libo Rupilius Frugi Bonus. Matidia bore Frugi a daughter called Rupilia Faustina. Faustina would go on to marry the Roman Senator Marcus Annius Verus, to whom she bore one daughter and two sons. Through her children, she would become the grandmother of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and his wife Faustina the Younger.

Matidia often traveled with her uncle and assisted him with decision-making. Like her mother, Matidia was honored with monuments and inscriptions in her name throughout the Roman Empire. On August 29, 112, she received the title of Augusta.

When Trajan died in 117, Matidia and Plotina brought the emperor’s ashes back to Rome. In 119 Matidia died, whereupon the Roman Emperor Hadrian delivered her funeral oration, deified her and granted her a temple and altar in Rome itself.

Source : Wikipedia

Did gladiators always fight to the death?

Image: aeduard/
Image: aeduard/

Hollywood portrays Roman gladiatorial contests as brutal, unruly duels that ended when one of the combatants killed the other. But in reality, gladiators didn’t always fight to the death. These ancient Roman athletes were highly trained professionals who made their living fighting, not dying. And since gladiators were expensive to prepare and maintain, killing off mass numbers of them would have been a bad business decision for the lanistae who owned and trained them. Occasionally, sponsors would pay extra to stage a fight to the death, compensating the lanista for any lost gladiators. But more commonly, gladiatorial bouts simply had to have a decisive outcome, meaning that one of the contestants was wounded or his endurance gave out.

Successful gladiators could become major stars of the Roman world, and those who were slaves could sometimes be freed after winning a certain number of matches. Some surviving gladiators became trainers themselves after their fighting days were over. In 2007 scientists discovered an 1,800-year-old graveyard at the Roman city of Ephesus, Turkey, containing thousands of bones and tombstones identifying the remains as those of gladiators. Some of the skeletons showed evidence of healed wounds, suggesting that gladiators received medical treatment, and one seemed to belong to a retired fighter. Not surprisingly, other skeletons showed signs of violent deaths, including blows from weapons such as tridents, hammers and foot-long swords. (Hammers, though not used in the arena, were used to deliver offstage death blows to fighters who were too seriously injured to survive.) There is no question that gladiatorial combat was a dangerous business, but contrary to popular myth, it did not always end in death.

Article : History