Fort Gholaia (Bu Njem)

16 May 2009
The Roman fort at Bu Njem; oasis in the distance

The Roman fort at Bu Njem; oasis in the distance

My favorite site in Libya is Bu Njem, ancient Gholaia: a well-preserved fort of the Limes Tripolitanus. Today, this area is arid, but it has not always been that way. By building all kinds of dams, the emperor Septimius Severus changed the entire ecosystem and converted this area into a fertile zone, where sufficient food was produced to feed the soldiers in the fort.

The French archaeologists who excavated the site, first had to remove all the sand, but the rewards were great: besides the remains of the ancient buildings, there were several interesting inscriptions and dozens of ostraca, which document daily life in Gholaia.

My photos have been online since 2006, but I revisited the site last year. The new photos and an improved text are now available here. The satellite photo is also worth looking at: here.


Tobruk (Antipyrgon)

28 April 2009
Tobruk Today

Tobruk Today

Tobruk is best known for the two sieges during the Second World War, but its military significance starts earlier. The importance of the natural port, which is well-sheltered against the northern winds that are prevalent in the Mediterannean world, was already understood by the Byzantine emperor Justinian (527-565), who built a fort on the site, Antipyrgon. It was part of the Ananeosis, the project to reorganize the Cyrenaica.

Only a small part of a wall can be seen today, and if you go there, I’d suggest you devote more time to the war cemeteries. Nevertheless, I made a small webpage on Antipyrgon, which you can find here.

The Will of Ptolemy VIII Physcon

5 January 2009
Photo Marco Prins.

The will of Ptolemy VIII Physcon (Museum of Cyrene)

After a failed assassination attempt in 155 BCE, the ruler of the Cyrenaica, Ptolemy VIII Physcon, announced that he had bequeathed his realms to the Romans. This, he hoped, would be some kind of insurance against future attempts on his life. The text of the inscription is here.

It took some time, however, before the Cyrenaica became a province, because Ptolemy had a son who succeeded him; this Apion had to repeat his father’s promise, and almost eighty years after Ptolemy had announced his will, the Romans accepted the kingdom in northeastern Libya. They might have seized it at an earlier moment, but being occupied with wars in Spain, Africa, Numidia, Macedonia, Greece, Transalpine Gaul, Anatolia plus a civil war between Marius and Sulla, they had other things on their mind.

Apollonia (Cyrenaica)

1 January 2009
Four columns in the Western Basilica

Four columns in the Western Basilica

On of the cities the Greeks founded overseas, was Cyrene; its port was Apollonia, which, today, is a field full of ruins along the shore. The town has the usual theater, some splendidly preserved Hellenistic walls, an acropolis that has never been investigated, a Roman bathhouse, a port that was partially submerged in 365, and a complex palace for the Byzantine governor of the Pentapolis. The city is most famous for its three Christian basilicas, which date back to the fifth and sixth centuries. A very brief history is here, and the links to the photo pages are here.

The Roman Bridge at Cendere

20 December 2008

The bridge from the southwest.

The Roman bridge at Cendere, built by the Sixteenth legion Flavia Firma, is a remarkable monument. It is 118 meters long and was part of the road along the Upper Euphrates that had once been Rome’s eastern frontier, but had become a normal province after Septimius Severus‘ eastern conquests. The bridge has been in use for about eighteen centuries, and it was only very recently that a modern bridge was built next to it. Most tourists will pass along Cendere on their road to Nemrud dagi. I used to have a small page dedicated to this monument, but added twelve photos, available here.

Motya and other Mediterranean towns

15 December 2008

A Greek-Phoenician female mask; Museum Villa Whittaker.

A Greek-Phoenician female mask; Museum Villa Whittaker.

Motya is a Phoenician city, situated on a small island in a lagoon in the west of Sicily. The city was destroyed in 396 BCE by Dionysius of Syracuse, but was not really abandoned: archaeologists have found villas from the fourth century. Still, the island had become more or less empty, and remained so until archaeologists started to dig. They found city walls, a port, sanctuaries, and tombs. The finds are now in museums on the island itself, in Marsala, and in Palermo. You can find the first of three pages devoted to Motya here; a satellite photo is here.

I was also occupied with Assos, in the west of Assos. We visited the site in 2004, and later, we saw many finds in the Paris Louvre and the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul. Everything is brought together on this page.

Slonta in Libya is one of the weirdest ancient sanctuaries, as you will see on this page; for a more regular ancient city, go to Roman Cordoba; and for the delighs of rural life, go to Suq al-Awty, which was part of the Limes Tripolitanus.

The regular reader of this blog will have noted that I am still moving pages. I still have 154 pages to go.

Two little pieces from Libya

13 December 2008
A meadow in the Gebel el-Ahkdar.

A meadow in the Gebel el-Ahkdar.

The Libyan regions known as Gebel as-Soda and the Gebel el-Akhdar are almost each other’s opposite. The first name means “black mountain”, and is a dark, dry sea of basalt where human life is almost impossible. The second name means “green mountain”, and indicates the region directly south of the Mediterranean coast, where the clouds empty themselves, and the rain creates the conditions for agriculture. (And it may be noted that I have now reached 3,300 webpages.)