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Sabratha


The theater. Photo Marco Prins.The theater Sabratha (Σáβραθα): Phoenician, Punic, and Roman town in northwestern Libya, famous for its theater.

Like Lepcis Magna and Oea, Sabratha was a Phoenician colony that belonged to the Carthaginian empire, but its nature was always very cosmopolitan. In the middle of the second century, it was conquered by the Numidian king Massinissa, and later became part of the Roman empire. Temples, basilicas, and -later- churches are all according to standard Roman designs.

Still, the city retained much of its original nature. For example, the main temple was dedicated to Liber Pater, which sounds (and is) Latin, although the cult was in fact for the Punic deity Shadrapa. During the reign of Augustus, Sabratha still minted coins with Punic legends, and the modern visitor will easily identify two tombs that combine classical and Phoenician elements (not unlike the mausoleums at Msletten, the other Msletten, or the tombs at Ghirza's South Cemetery).
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Neopunic mausoleum. Photo Marco Prins.Neopunic mausoleum
In the second century CE, the city received the rank of colonia. It was perhaps especially flourishing because of its trade with Rome; a mosaic in Ostia proves the existence of a group of sailors who were specialized in the trade between Sabratha and the port of Rome.

Christianity reached Sabratha early: the first reference to a bishop can be dated to 256 (in a text by Cyprian). Although the city was fortified during the Ananeosis, the Arabs conquered the region in 643.

Sights

The theater is Sabratha's most famous monument. It is well preserved, and contains several splendid reliefs. Other monuments are the Neopunic tombs, the temples, the basilica (where the Roman writer Apuleius once had to defend himself against an accusation of sorcery), the bathhouse, several villas, a fountain, and so on. The site boasts two museums: one for Roman art, mostly mosaics, and one for Punic art.

A satellite photo can be found here.


Mosaic in the Seaward Baths. Photo Jona Lendering. The curia, part of the basilica. Photo Marco Prins. Mosaic of a peacock. Photo Marco Prins. Christian inscription. Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic in the Seaward Baths Curia A peacock on a mosaic Christian inscription
Mosaic of the Sabrathan traders in the Piazzale delle Corporazioni, Ostia (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Mosaic of the Sabrathan traders in the Piazzale delle Corporazioni, Ostia.

Literature

  • Antonino Di Vita e.a., La Libye antique. Cités perdues de l'empire romain (1998 Paris)
  • K.D. Matthews, Cities in the Sand (1957 Philadelphia)
  • Erwin Ruprechtsberger, Die römische Limeszone in Tripolitanien und der Kyrenaika, Tunesien - Libyen (1993 Aalen; Limes Museum)
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 28 April 2012
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