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Lepcis Magna: Port


The lighthouse in a storm. 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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Port

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
The port of Lepcis Magna was situated to the southeast of the old center. It is between a northern mole that runs more or less east-west (in the background) and an eastern pier that protects the harbor against storm wind from the east (foreground). Between them, the Wadi Lebda empties itself into the Mediterranean Sea. The area between the two piers is a little under 350 x 350 m.
On this photo of the eastern pier, you must imagine the part to left as water (like this). The port was built in several stages: during the reign of Nero (54-68), several buildings were erected in the northwestern part, where the northern pier was built to connect a small island with the city itself. This protected the port against the prevailing northern winds.
This is the wall of the quay of the eastern pier, with many stone mooring blocks. It was built by the architects of Septimius Severus (193-211), the emperor from Lepcis. Because wadis are irregular, and can become dangerously violent streams in the winter, the Wadi Lebda was blocked by a dam, and the wadi got another outlet. After Antiquity, the dam collapsed and the area between the two piers was silted up. 
This is the main street on the eastern quay. The buildings must have had at least two levels: after all, there was a colonnade and there were stairs, which must have supported a higher floor. Being at least fifteen meters high, the eastern mole offered much protection.
The shops and warehouses on the eastern pier.

Along the southwestern shore of the port, a temple was dedicated to the Syrian god Jupiter Dolichenus.


The wall on this photo belongs to the line of fortifications that was built by the Byzantine general Belisarius after he had taken Lepcis Magna from the Vandals, who occupied the city from 455 tot 533/4. It is odd to notice that the Byzantines, with their superior navy, feared an attack from the sea.
On the easternmost part of the northern pier, a lighthouse was erected. Inside, the remains of the staircase are still visible. It stood on a small island, but the pier, essentially a body of concrete of 150 m long and 10 m deep, connected it with the land.
The lighthouse on the Arch of Septimius Severus. Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Jona Lendering. The lighthouse on the Arch of Septimius Severus. As it clearly had three levels with high arches, it is estimated that the building itself was about thirty-five meters high.
Not far from the port, the Villa Nile has been excavated, or, to give it a more proper name: the Villa with the Mosaics of the Nile. Nilotic scenes were a very common theme in ancient art, and can also be found in the Villa Selene. However, it is hard to resist the temptation to "read" this part of the mosaic as a picture of the harbor of Lepcis: we can see the northern pier and the Temple of Dolichenus.
Opposite the lighthouse, on the eastern pier, a tower was erected that was probably used to give signals to approaching ships.
Finally, a small temple near the signal tower. It may have been dedicated to watery deities like Neptune or Portunus, although the Capitoline triad (Jupiter, Juno, Minerva) has been proposed as well. Visitors arriving in the Port of Lepcis, could proceed to the center of the city along the Colonnaded Street.

History Texts Photos
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 7 June 2007
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