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Taucheira/Arsinoe (Tocra)


Taucheira: Greek port in the Cyrenaica, also known as Arsinoe.

This is the so-called "eastern church" of Taucheira/Arsinoe (first page). It might in fact better be called "northern church". Christianity started early in this town: its bishop was present at the Council of Nicaea in 325. This does not mean that paganism was dead: according to Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413), people went to Arsinoe to venerate Cybele (Epistle 3). 

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The apse of the eastern church. The church had three naves.
New walls were built by the emperor Justinian (527-565), who also fortified other cities in Libya and built nearby Theodorias (the overall project is known as Ananeosis). Except for the stretch along the shore, the lower parts of it have survived. It must have have had about thirty towers, of which twenty-three have been excavated. Older stones were reused, like the one on the next photo.
An inscription on which the words Autokrator Kaisar can still be read, the Greek translation of the Latin titles Imperator and Caesar. The massive walls of Taucheira/Arsinoe enabled the Byzantine commander Apollonius, when besieged by the Muslim forces who had invaded the Cyrenaica in 641, to hold out until 645.
The barracks of the Byzantine forces were in the center of the city, on the southeastern side of the main road. as you can see, it was a square building with towers on the corners. It was built in the seventh century, perhaps when Egypt was briefly occupied by the Sasanian troops of king Khusrau II (in 619).
Across the street was the Byzantine palace, where the governor must have resided. In its church some lovely mosaics were discovered. Today, they are exposed to the sun and wind. However, sun flowers, a lizard, a fruit basket, a hare, a dog, tow birds, another fruit basket, and a pelican can still be recognized.
The southwestern part of the main road.
The southwestern gate, seen from the outside. Like its counterpart in the northeast, it was flanked by two pentagonal bastions -pointing forward like the prow of a ship- that must have served as batteries for catapults. However, the foundations are square, which proves that the design of the towers was later modified.
Looking from Taucheira/Arsinoe to the west, through the gate. The road lead to Euesperides (modern Benghazi) and continued to the west, to Lepcis Magna, to Oea, to Sabratha, and -ultimately- to Carthage and the Pillars of Heracles.

We visited Taucheira/Arsinoe in 2006 and although it is small compared to Lepcis Magna and Cyrene, it has the longest history: from the seventh century BCE to the seventh century CE. Even after the Arab conquest, Taucheira remained under Byzantine control. The museum was partly closed, so it is impossible to show more Byzantine mosaics or the early Islamic finds. The archaic ceramics, however, were on display.

Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 1 June 2009
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