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Lepcis Magna: Amphitheater


The amphitheater of Lepcis Magna. Photo Jona Lendering. Lepcis Magna: Phoenician colony, later part of the Carthaginian empire, the kingdom of Massinissa, and the Roman empire. Its most famous son was the emperor Septimius Severus (193-211).
 
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Amphitheater

The Amphitheater of Lepcis Magna was entirely excavated in a natural depression, or a former quarry, in the rocky terrace to the southeast of the city, close to the sea. Behind it, closer to the sea, is the Circus, which is about a century younger. About 16,000 people could be accommodated in the stands. It was about a kilometer from the city.

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An inscription from the amphitheater. Photo Jona Lendering. An inscription, published in L' année épigraphique (1968, #549), tells that the amphitheater was inaugurated by governor Marcus Pompeius Silvanus Staberius Flavinus of Africa, in his third year in office, and that Quintus Cassius Gratus was his deputy. The monument was dedicated to the emperor Nero. This means that it was finished in 56.
One of the entrances of the arena, used for wild animals and gladiators. The lower ranks were for the Lepcitanian elite, and from inscriptions we can deduce that they preferred the southeastern side, where they would enjoy the smooth wind.
The oval arena measures 57 x 47 m. Today, a large part is covered with the stone slabs that once were on the seats, and other pieces of natural stone. Among these stones is an altar for Nemesis, the goddess of doom, and a favorite deity in amphitheaters.
Not far from Lepcis is the Villa Dar Buc Ammera, which contained a large mosaic dedicated to the fights in the arena. A normal show started early in the morning, when animals had to fight against each other, like the bull and the bear to the left. You can also see the execution of criminals thrown ad bestias, the usual item at noon. 
This scene also shows the execution of a criminal. He has been tied to a pole and is brought into the arena, where a hungry panther will kill him. He has a dark skin, and may have been one of the native Garamantes. In the Year of the Four Emperors (69), the inhabitants of Oea had seized the opportunity offered by the civil war to attack the people of Lepcis Magna, and the Garamantes had joined them. Order was restored by general Valerius Festus in 70, and it is possible that the enemies were executed in this fashion.
The gladiators performed in the afternoon. Here, you can see two of them in close combat. They can be identified as a murmillo (left: one greave, helmet's crest) and a thraex (right: high greaves). The fighter to the left appears to have advanced his right leg too far before his left, and has taken a backhanded draw-cut to the back of the thigh as a result. Blood is falling down and he will soon die a painful death, unless he receives a coup de grâce.
The Amphitheater of Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. Model of the amphitheater. Photo Jona Lendering. Temple. Photo Jona Lendering.
Seats
Model Temple
Artemis of Ephesus. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
It is likely that there was some sort of (wooden) portico surrounding the amphitheater. An access to the southeast, once lead to a sanctuary, dedicated to the goddess Artemis (or Diana), as she was venerated in Ephesus.

This is the cult statue, made during the reign of Hadrian and excavated in 1912, and today in the National Archaeological Museum in Tripoli. The cult of this "great mother goddess", who is also mentioned in the Bible (Acts 19), was extremely popular in the ancient Mediterranean world, and it comes as no surprise to find a sanctuary in a great cosmopolitan city like Lepcis.


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© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 22 July 2012
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