Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other

Lepcis Magna: Theater (1)


Theater. 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).
 
History Texts Photos

Theater

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Theater. Photo Marco Prins. Like so many Greek and Roman towns, Lepcis Magna had a theater. It was partly financed by a man named Annobal Tapapius Rufus, who had earlier built the city's market, the Macellum. The theater, the oldest of Roman Africa, was partly excavated from a low hill, which had until then been used as a cemetery. After the theater of Sabratha, it is the largest south of the Mediterranean.
Theater. Photo Marco Prins. The upper part of the stands was not excavated from the hill, but erected from natural stone, concrete, and bricks. Five flights of steps enabled the people to enter and leave the building, and divided the stands into six segments. On the upper edge, a colonnaded walk was erected, which offered shadow to the higher seats, where the poorer people sat. The front ranks were occupied by the city's rich and famous.
Temple in the theater. Photo Jona Lendering. The monument was completed in 1 or 2 CE, but there were later additions. To the colonnaded walk, which is visible on the third photo, a small temple was added in 35 or 36, dedicated to the goddess Ceres Augusta. The temple can be seen on the fourth photo.The inscription on the semicircular wall on this photo (known as IRT 347) mentions that it was made by Tiberius Claudius Sestius, suffete in 91-92. The pavement was laid during the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161).
Statue of Ceres in the theater. Photo Marco Prins. Today, the cult statue from the temple of Ceres Augusta ('the august grain goddess Ceres') is in the National Archaeological Museum in Tripoli. It has the features of Livia Augusta, the mother of the ruling emperor, Tiberius. An inscription (IRT 269) tells that Gaius Rubellius Blandus, governor of Africa, dedicated the sanctuary, which had been paid for by Suphunibal, "the woman who adorns her fatherland" and daughter of the Annobal Tapapius Rufus who had built the theater itself. The presence of a temple in a theater was an old feature, which can also be seen in the Theater of Pompey in Rome. Originally, Roman conservatives did not like the popular frivolous comedies, and even demolished theaters. By adding temples, these theaters were made sacred monuments that had to be left intact.
Theater. Photo Marco Prins. There were several of these tunnels, cut into the rocky soil underneath the hill in/on which the theater was erected. They allowed the visitors to enter and leave.

There is another possibility, though. Lepcis did not have an amphitheater until 56, and the theater may have served for hunts, executions, and gladiatorial contests, as was common in the Roman world. If this is correct, wild animals, convicts, and fighters may have used the corridors as well before their fatal visit to Lepcis' theater.


Theater. Photo Marco Prins. The main entrance, however, was a road through the open air. Coming from the Cardo, you would arrive at the theater over here, and enter it close to the stage (background). Both the stage and the access were richly decorated with all kinds of statues. All in all, 133 have been identified. Most of them were damaged, others grace the museums of Lepcis and Tripoli.
Statues on the theater. Photo Marco Prins. Two of them, representing Castor and Pollux, survived the barbarian attacks of the fifth century and were rediscovered in near-perfect shape. However, they have been removed because they attracted too much attention from modern-day vandals. These two headless statues, are now placed almost casually in a corridor, apparently being less attractive to damage.
An Apollo from the theater of Lepcis Magna. Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Another statue shows the god Apollo with his lyre. It is now in the National Archaeological Museum in Tripoli. The next photot shows the inscription at the entrance (IRT 323):
IMPeratore CAESARE  DIVI  Filio  AVGvsto PONTifice  MAXimo  TRibvnicia POTestate  XXIV  |  COnSvle XIII  PATRE  PATRIAE  |  ANNOBAL  ORNATOR  PATRIAE  AMATOR  CONCORDIAE  FLAMEN  |  SVFES  PRAEFectvs  SACRorvm  HIMILCHONIS  TAPAPI  Filivs RVFVS  De  Sva  Pecvnia Faciendvm COERavit  IDEMQve DEDICAVIT
(more...)

Theater inscription. Photo Marco Prins. "When the father of the fatherland, Caesar Augustus, son of the deified [Caesar], was pontifex maximus, vested with the tribunician power for the twenty-fourth time, being consul for the thirteenth time, Annobal Rufus, the adorner of his country and lover of concord, priest, suffete, prefect of the sacred objects, the son of Himilco Tapapius, took care to build this at his own expense, and dedicated it."
Theater inscription. Photo Marco Prins. The inscription known as IRT 322, which graces another entrance, has exactly the same wording, although it is adorned with two shaking hands in the center, to stress that Annobal Tapapius Rufus was indeed a lover of Concord. There is a Neo-Punic inscription added, intended for the Lepcitanians.
Theater inscription. Photo Marco Prins. An identical text, IRT 321, now in the museum of Tripoli. The imperial titulary -which did not mean a thing to the Lepcitanian in the street- is missing, but the text is essentially the same.
Theater inscription. Photo Marco Prins. This is the tribunal, the box for magistrates, appropriately decorated with laurel wreaths and cornucopias. According to the inscription, IRT 521 (Lvcivs  CANINIVS  Lvci  Filivs  GALLVS  XVVIR  SACRIS  FACivndis  COnSvl PROCOnSvl PATRONvs DEDICAVIT), it was made by governor Lucius Caninius Gallus, acting as patron of the Lepcitanians. This official was governor of Africa in 8 CE, seven or six years after Annobal Tapapius Rufus had finished the theater itself.
Theater inscription. Photo Marco Prins. This octagonal altar was added later and commemorates the rebuilding of the stage. It is very damaged, but the Neo-Punic inscription can be read, and helps us to reconstruct the incomplete Latin texts (from which, for example, the name of the builder is missing), which are known as IRT 318. The main inscription (next photo):
AUGVSTO
SACRVM
ASPRENAS
PROCOnSvl
DEDICAVIT

Theater inscription. Photo Marco Prins. Which can be translated as "sacred to the emperor" and "dedicated by governor Asprenas". The name of the ruler is missing, but Domitian is meant, because the inscription was paid for by the same Tiberius Claudius Sestius who erected the semicircular balustrade in 91 or 92 after he had received the right "to wear the broad stripe". This means that he had entered the Roman Senate. He was not the only Lepcitanian to have success in Italy: the grandfather of Septimius Severus was some sort of celebrity, praised by the poet Statius, who dedicated a poem to the man from Lepcis (Silvae 4.5). Claudius Sestius presents himself as a Roman, although he still uses the old Punic titles "adorner of his country and lover of concord".
Theater inscription. Photo Marco Prins.
TIberivs  CLAVDIVS  SESTIVS
ORNATOR  PATriae
AMATOR  CONCOR-
DIAE  CVI  PRIMO
ORDO  ET  POPVLVS
OB  MERITA  MAIO-
RVM  EIVS  ET  IPSIVS
LATO  CLAVO  SEM-
PER  VTI  CONCESSIT
ARAM  ET  PODIvm
De  Sva Pecvnia  Faciendvm Curavit
Tiberius Claudius Sestius,
adorner of his country,
lover of concord,
to whom first
the order of decuriones and the people
-because of his ancestors' merits
and those of his own-
granted the right to wear
the broad stripe for ever,
took care to build at his own expense
this altar and stage.

>> to part two >>



History Texts Photos
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 22 July 2012
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other