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Lepcis Magna: Macellum

The Macellum of Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. 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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Map of the Macellum of Lepcis Magna. Design Jona Lendering.
The first Lepcitanians will have used the Old Forum as their market place, but it turned out to be too small when the city started to grow during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus (27 BCE - 14 CE). As a consequence, a second market was built along the Cardo. The process is not unique: in Rome itself, the Fora of Caesar and Augustus were built.
Model of the Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Museo nazionale della civiltÓ romana, Roma (Italy). Photo Tineke Meinema. The new market, built in 9-8 BCE, consisted of a large square, surrounded by a portico, in which two octagonal buildings were placed, which are known to archaeologists as tholoi. (This is a model from the Museo nazionale della civiltÓ romana in Rome.) In the shade, people could sell and buy food. Photo Tineke Meinema
The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. The northern tholos; the next photo shows the remains of its southern twin. According to the inscription known as IRT 319, the money to build a new market was paid by a man named Annobal Tapapius Rufus, a member of the Tapapius family that dominated Lepcitanian politics in those days. The inscription is interesting, because it is one of the first written in Latin (only IRT 481 may be older).

Inscription IRT 319. Photo Jona Lendering.

The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins.

The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins.


Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of the deified one, eleven times consul, fourteen times imperator, in the fifteenth year of his tribunicial powers, pontifex maximus. With the proconsul Marcus Licinius Crassus Frugus, son of Marcus, consul and augur, acting as patron, the flamines of Caesar Augustus being Iddibal Pilo, son of Aris, and Ammicar ...on.., son of Annobal, the suffetes being Muttun, son of Anno, has Annobal Tapapius Rufus, son of Himilcho, suffete, flamen, prefect of the sacred objects, ordered [this building] to be made from his own money, and dedicated it.

The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. The original entrance of the macellum was in the southwest corner, which is a bit strange, because the city itself was in the east. A new entrance, in the south, was added in the Severan age, when the tholoi were rebuilt out of marble.

This table, now in the Museum of Lepcis Magna, was used for measures: you can see the Punic cubit of 51.5 cm, the Roman foot of 29.6 cm, the Ptolemaic cubit of 52.5 cm, and their subdivisions.

The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. In the porticoes surrounding the two tholoi were tables. This one has an inscription, known as IRT 590:

TIberivs CLaudivs AMICVS Marcvs HELIODORVS APOLLONIDES AEDiles MENSAS Pecvnia Sva Dono Dedervnt

which means that these two men were market masters (aediles), and paid for the tables they had ordered to be made.

The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. Any public building was full of monuments for special citizens. This is a miniature honorific arch that may originally have been used to honor a wealthy shipowner, but was later reused as the pedestal of a two-horse chariot for a man named Porfyrius, who is mentioned in IRT 603.
To the lover of his country and his fellow citizens, because, with imperial permission, he donated to his fellow citizens four living beasts with teeth, by order of the Council Most High, they erected this two-horse chariot of Porfyrus, son of Porfyrus.

The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. The feras dentatas, "beasts with teeth", are almost certainly elephants, which were indeed quite a spectacle, because the original North-African elephants (loxodonta africana pharaohensis) had become extinct. The animals killed in the amphitheater must have been the big African bush elephants (loxodonta africana), brought across the Sahara.

The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. On the original triumphal arch are very fine reliefs of two ships. The first of these is clearly a freighter with sails that may as well have been rowed, if the structure on its side is an oarbox. This is the type of ship mentioned in the Fourth Letter of Synesius of Cyrene. The second one is also a cargo ship, although this time it is a galley, and has no sails.
The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. Inscription IRT 628, placed in the Severan entrance, is barely legible because a great deal of the text has been erased in what appears to have been a damnatio memoriae. What is obvious, however, is that the monument was dedicated to a man named Quintus, and that the monument was erected by his mother, Aemilia Victrix, whose name is still legible in lines four and five. The remaining text, which was not erased, tells that she paid for it from her own money, and had received permission of the town council.

Usually, damnatio memoriae was an emperor's risque de mÚtier. It is uncommon, but not unheard of that the memory to a private citizens was cursed; for example, in Britain, this happened to governor Caius Julius Marcus (213; RIB 1265).

The Macellum at Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins. Inscription IRT 468 is now in the Museum of Lepcis Magna. It mentions repairs to the ruined macellum, by Constantine I the Great. It is the youngest inscription from this building, which was certainly abandoned by the fifth century. When Belisarius captured the city in 533, the new wall was close to the Old Forum; the western part of the city remained covered with sand (Procopius, Buildings, 6.4.2-4).

History Texts Photos
ę Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 22 July 2012
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