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Lepcis Magna: Palaestra

Model of the Hadrianic Baths and Palaestra at Lepcis Magna. Museo nazionale della civiltą romana, Roma (Italy). Photo Tineke Meinema. 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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The Palaestra, seen here from its eastern entrance, was a later addition to the Hadrianic Baths (to the left on this picture; in the background on the first photo), perhaps dating from the reign of Commodus. Essentially, it is nothing but a field where men -only men- could perform their exercises. Because they sported without clothes on, it could also be called a gymnasium (from Greek gymnos, 'naked').

As was often the case, the Palaestra of Lepcis Magna was rectangular in shape, with semicircular additions to the short sides, more or less like our stadiums for athletics. The race track had a length of about 100 meters. On hot days, the men could sit and relax in the shade of the porticos that surrounded the field.
The beginning of the race track; bathhouse in the background. Usually, people visited the Palaestra before they went to the bathhouse. Among the exercises they liked were running, wrestling, and several ball games. The first two were useful to get into shape; playing with balls was considered to be good for the lungs, an was absolute necessity for orators.
The race track again, seen from start to finish. In the background, the Nymphaeum.

The model on the first photo can be seen in the Museo nazionale della civiltą romana in Rome.

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© Jona Lendering for
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Revision: 16 June 2007
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