Libya Archaeology

Libyan archaeologists

Until the proclamation of independence (December 1951), G. Caputo remained under the direction of the old Italian Superintendence of “monuments and excavations” of Libya, but with him, and with G. Pesce, the activity of scholars should also be remembered British, delegates to supervise the Superintendency from the allied military command in Libya; among the latter, a special place belongs to RG Goodchild and JB Ward Perkins, due to their intense activity.

After independence, the incredibly rapid development that the whole country underwent, meant that archaeological discoveries followed one another, both in the area of ​​modern cities and in the countryside, at an impressive pace. The young Department of Antiquities must therefore be acknowledged for the efforts made, both to save the remains unearthed daily from destruction, and, above all, to sensitize public opinion to respect for the very rich archaeological heritage, whatever civilization it represents.

The result of these efforts was the launch of a law for the protection of antiquities already in 1953, extended and perfected in 1968, which allowed, through expropriation, the extension of pre-existing excavation areas (that of Sabratha, for example) and the creation of new large archaeological parks, such as the one that includes, 30 km E of Tripoli, the maritime villas of the imperial age of Tagiura and which extends for 123 ha. On the operational level, then, the Department, not being able to count on its own technical officers, benefited for almost twenty years from the work of foreign controllers or consultants (thus E. Vergara Caffarelli, A. Di Vita, D. Baramki, T. Bakir in Tripolitania; RG Goodchild in Cyrenaica; MS Ayoub in Fezzan), who also supervised and followed the training on site and abroad of young Libyan archaeologists. For Libya 2017, please check

Obviously, in the very rapid review that follows, only the most significant achievements and discoveries can be recalled.

In Fezzan, the discoveries in the prehistoric field due, above all, to the Italian missions led by P. Graziosi in the Bergiuǧ region, from S. Puglisi and, in the Tadrart Acacus massif, on the border with Algeria (25 ° North-11 ° 30 ‘East), by F. Mori. Since 1955, in numerous explorations, Mori has been able to detect thousands of rock engravings and paintings whose association with anthropic deposits has proved to be of considerable importance for the purpose of a more correct approach to the problems linked to the Saharan prehistoric civilizations. The main phases proposed, related to rock art, are the following: of the great wild fauna or of the Bubalus antiquus ; round heads; of the shepherds; of the horse (from the protohistoric period); of the camel (from historical times). Some datings, obtained using the radiocarbon method, have made it possible to specify, for the first time, the absolute chronology of the pastoral phase around the 5th-4th millennium BC and of the round heads in the period prior to the 5th millennium. The graffiti of the “great wild fauna”, up to now considered “Neolithic”, have been studied by Mori in some superimpositions and proposed for an older chronology that can be placed in epochs corresponding to the European Upper Paleolithic.

For the historical age, in addition to and more than the excavations conducted by MS Ayoub in the heart of ancient Garama, capital of the Garamantes, and in the “royal” necropolis of the same city, located in the wadi el-Agial, it is worth mentioning the excavation methodical of the Garamantic settlement of the Zinchekra promontory, 3 1/2 km SW of Garama. In Zinchekra the mission directed by CM Daniels has brought to light the structures of a large fortified center which in the Hellenistic period was the capital of the Garamantes and remained so until the nearby Garama definitively took its place (the city appears abandoned to the early 2nd century AD).

In Cyrenaica the long years of the direction of RG Goodchild have been rich in discoveries of the highest interest such as eg. the now famous mosaics of the Byzantine basilica of Gasr el-Libia (Theodorias). Ancient Apollonia (Marsa Susa) has been the subject of important excavations and restorations (the Greek theater outside the walls; the city walls; the Byzantine governor’s palace) by both Goodchild and a mission from the University of Michigan which, among other things, he drew up the plan of the ancient city.

In Cyrene, the Department oversaw the restoration of the odeon between the Caesarean and the house of Hesychius and provided for the recovery of a superb complex of Greek-Archaic statuary found in 1965-66 E of the Hellenistic walls, in an ancient quarry. It is a kouros, two korai, a sphinx, a grandiose Ionic capital, a marble column and two bronze plates (with gorgoneion and wrestlers) dating back to around the middle of the 6th century BC. Christ. The agora was and is the subject of the methodical exploration of the mission directed by S. Stucchi, the results of which have proved to be of exceptional importance for the knowledge of the various phases of the city from its birth to its abandonment. In addition to significant restorations in the agora – including that of a naval monument of the Hellenistic age – the Italian mission carried out the restoration of the grandiose portico delle Erme, actually xystos of the gymnasium that was later the Caesarean, and above all, it is engaged in the study and reconstruction of the temple of Zeus, one of the most impressive in the Greek world.

In Ptolemais the Department continued the excavation of the city and carried out the restoration of the arch of Constantine, while, as well as in Apollonia and Teuchira (Tocra), an Antiquarium was built in the archaeological area. The results achieved by the American mission operating in Ptolemais in the 1960s have been illustrated in a special volume by CH Kraeling.

A fortuitous but sensational discovery returned to Teuchira in 1963 the stipe of a sanctuary, datable between 600 and 540 BC, very rich in archaic Greek pottery, especially oriental factories. It was classified and studied by J. Boardman and JH Hayes of the British School of Athens, and an English mission is still active in Benghazi, where the decision of the authorities to dismantle the Muslim cemetery of Sidi Krebisc for urban reasons has brought to light a limited but very important feature of ancient Berenice.

GDB Jones was then able to trace the first detailed plan of Euesperides, the ancient Greek settlement so close to Berenice that it was now reached from the outskirts of modern Benghazi and together with JH Little identified Hadrianopolis, the sixth city of the Cyrenaic “pentapolis”, in modern center of Daryanah, between Benghazi and Tocra.

We will fly over the prehistoric discoveries, especially important in the surroundings of Cyrene (Italian mission directed by S. Tinè), in order to detect rather the impetus given by the Department to the study of Islamic monuments, among which to mention, in Cyrenaica, those of Agedabia and of Barq (the Greek Barce, today el-Merg, 30 km S of Tolmeita).

The Department made the most impressive effort in the field of Islamic archeology, however, in Tripolitania with the excavation, 55 km E of Sirte, of the ancient Islamic city of Sort (Punic Charax, Roman Iscina – today Medinet Sultan). In addition to a large stretch of the mud brick walls, 1650 m long, a large mosque and the remains of two forts have been brought to light, all destroyed around the middle of the 11th century, when the tribes of the Bani Hilal and Bani Suleim overwhelmed Sort as they advanced westward.

In the Punic-Roman field, in addition to Leptis and Sabratha, which will be discussed later, the discoveries of numerous coastal villas between Leptis and the ancient Oea, in the territory of Tagiura, should be remembered. Of these, that of the “race of the Nereids” – which recalls the well-known villa of Zliten – gave us a typical example for the plan (terraced on the sea) and for the richness of the mosaics and paintings. These are “pleasure” villas built mainly in the middle or second half of the 2nd century AD. C., which were ruined by the frightening earthquake that at dawn of 21 July 365 shook, together with numerous other areas, also the whole Tripolitania.

In Leptis E. Vergara Caffarelli (1952-61) he conducted extensive excavations in the amphitheater-circus complex, in the city itself (Arch of Marcus Aurelius, Serapeus) and in the seaside district between the old fòro and the western section of the walls of 4th century, where an interesting octagonal construction was brought to light. It is a room belonging to monumental baths whose construction, begun after the earthquake of about 310, following which the outskirts of the city were abandoned, was never finished. In the abandoned neighborhoods there were, among other things, the small baths “of the hunters”, known for the paintings in the frigidarium, which were the subject of a careful study in the early 1950s.

In 1960-61 a mission from the University of Pennsylvania carried out an extensive survey, at the eastern edge of the old fòro in the strata of the Punic Leptis (which appeared no older than the end of the 7th century BC), while from 1962 onwards it was the excavation of the amphitheater (A. Di Vita) has been resumed and completed, the restoration of which is at an advanced stage. The restoration of the grandiose four-front of the Severi is also underway, on which members of the Italian mission of Cyrene have been working since 1970. At the end of the 1960s, a mission from the University of Perugia excavated a temple from the Domitian age between the old fòro and the port, while, with regard to the latter, it should be remembered that in 1972 in the modern port of nearby Homs were found, under the remains of a villa of exceptional grandeur of the 2nd century AD. C.,

In recent years, due to the enlargement of nearby Homs, the discoveries in the necropolises to the West and S of the ancient city, species of chamber tombs, both from the Punic and Imperial periods, almost always very rich in furnishings.

The massive development of Tripoli meant that even the ancient Oea and numerous remnants of its suburbs have come to light. Here I will only mention the late Hellenistic chamber tomb complex of Bab ben Gascir, on the western outskirts of Tripoli, and the area, rich in ancient remains, of Gargaresc, on the eastern outskirts of the city. In it, among other things, a hypogeum with a funerary banquet hall was discovered, dating back to the late 4th century and certainly Christian, given the presence, among the frescoes that adorn it, of Adam and Eve tempted by the serpent. A little further on, on the road to Sabratha, in one of the chamber tombs of the necropolis of the oasis of Zanzur from the age of Claudio-Nero, is the finest pictorial cycle so far discovered in Tripolitania, depicting the journey of the deceased in Hades and episodes symbolizing his faith in a return to the light.

In the late Christian burial ground of En-Gila, a mission from the University of Bologna directed by G. Bovini discovered new inscribed tombs of the 10th-11th century, while the Tripoli Castle, totally restored by Vergara Caffarelli, welcomed in a suitable museum materials from all over Tripolitania, except Sabratha.

In Sabratha a new regio, VI, was excavated by Vergara Caffarelli and in it, since 1962, the monumental mark of a group of chamber tombs from the Punic age was brought to light and rebuilt in its entirety by Di Vita. (the “Punic-Hellenistic mausoleum B”). This is the only example that has survived to date of a Baroque-style monument from the Hellenistic period, even if in the transcription from the Punic world. Two other discoveries that took place in Sabratha in recent years are still worth mentioning: that of a tophet from the 1st century BC. C.-1 ° d. C. which gave hundreds of painted and also sculpted and engraved steles, and the other of a grandiose sub divo area for funeral banquets, with four sigma triclinia and related mensae, with frescoed walls for more than two meters in height and for almost sixty linear meters. It is one of the most impressive frescoes so far found in all of Roman Africa and dates back to the mid-4th century AD. Christ.

For the interior of Tripolitania, then, to remember at least: the corpus of Roman milestones (RG Goodchild); the census of Christian remains in a study on Christian antiquities of Tripolitania (RG Goodchild-JB Ward Perkins); the revision of the remains and the definitive edition of the Byzantine church in the locality formerly Breviglieri near Tarhuna (G. De Angelis d’Ossat R. Farioli); the exploration of the fortress of Gheriat el-Gharbia and its necropolis (A. Di Vita) and, above all, the methodical excavation of the fort and the adjoining town of Bu-Ngem (the ancient Gholaia) by a French mission directed by R. Rebuffat, among whose most significant results is the recovery, to date, of 132 ostraca 3rd century Latins belonging to the archive of the centuria” which constituted the garrison of the fort.

Finally, since the 1950s, the Tripoli pre-desert has been run far and wide by Olwen Brogan, who, with her careful explorations and reports, has greatly contributed to the knowledge of the Punic and Roman remains that dot it.

Libyan archaeologists