1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leptis

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LEPTIS, the name of two towns in ancient Africa. The first, Leptis Magna (Λεπτίμαγνα), the modern Lebda, was in Tripolitana between Tripolis and Mesrata at the mouth of the Cinyps; the second, Leptis Parva (Λέπτις ἡ μικρά), known also as Leptiminus or Leptis minor, the modern Lamta, was a small harbour of Byzacena between Ruspina (Monastir) and Thapsus (Dimas).

1. Leptis Magna was one of the oldest and most flourishing of the Phoenician emporia established on the coasts of the greater Syrtis, the chief commercial entrepot for the interior of the African continent. It was founded by the Sidonians (Sallust, Jug. 78) who were joined later by people of Tyre (Pliny, Hist. Nat. v. 17). Herodotus enlarges on the fertility of its territory (iv. 175, v. 42). It was tributary to Carthage to which it paid a contribution of a talent a day (Livy xxxiv. 62). After the Second Punic War Massinissa made himself master of it (Sallust, Jug. 78; Livy xxxiv. 62; Appian viii. 106). During the Jugurthine War it appealed for protection to Rome (Sallust, Jug. 78). Though captured and plundered by Juba, it maintained its allegiance to Rome, supported the senatorial cause, received Cato the younger with the remains of the Pompeian forces after Pharsalus 48 B.C. After his victory Julius Caesar imposed upon it an annual contribution of 300,000 measures of oil. Nevertheless, it preserved its position as a free city governed by its own magistrates (C.I.L. viii. 7). It received the title of municipium (C.I.L. viii. 8), and was subsequently made a colonia by Trajan (C.I.L. viii. 10). Septimius Severus, who was born there, beautified the place and conferred upon it the Ius Italicum. Leptis Magna was the limit of the Roman state, the last station of the limes Tripolitanus; hence, especially during the last centuries of the Empire, it suffered much from the Nomads of the desert, the Garamantes, the Austuriani and the Levathae (Ammian. Marc. xxviii. 6; Procop. De Aedif. vi. 4). Its commerce declined and its harbour silted up. Justinian made a vain attempt to rebuild it (Procop. ibid.; Ch. Diehl, L’Afrique byzantine, p. 388). It was the seat of a bishopric, but no mention is made of its bishops after 462.

Leptis Magna had a citadel which protected the commercial city which was generally called Neapolis, the situation of which may be compared with that of Carthage at the foot of Byrsa. Its ruins are still imposing; remains of ramparts and docks, a theatre, a circus and various buildings of the Roman period still exist. Inscriptions show that the current pronunciation of the name was Lepcis, Lepcitana, instead of Leptis, Leptitana (Tissot, Géogr. comp. de la prov. d’Afrique, ii. 219; Clermont-Ganneau, Recueil d’archéologie orientale, vi. 41; Comptes rendus de l’Acad. des Inscr. et B.-Lettres, 1903, p. 333; Cagnat, C.R. Acad., 1905, p. 531). The coins of Leptis Magna, like the majority of the emporia in the neighbourhood, present a series from the Punic period. They are of bronze with the legend לפקי (Lepqi). They have on one side the head of Bacchus, Hercules or Cybele, and on the other various emblems of these deities. From the Roman period we have also coins bearing the heads of Augustus, Livia and Tiberius, which still have the name of the town in Neo-Punic script (Lud. Müller, Numism. de l’anc. Afrique, ii. 3).

The ruins of Leptis Magna have been visited by numerous travellers since the time of Frederick William and Henry William Beechey (Travels, pp. 51 and 74) and Heinrich Barth (Wanderungen, pp. 306, 360); they are described by Ch. Tissot (Géogr. comp. ii. 219 et seq.); Cl. Perroud, De Syrticis emporiis, p. 33 (Paris, 1881, in 8°); see also a description in the New York journal, The Nation (1877), vol. xxvii. No. 683. M. Méhier de Mathuisieulx explored the site afresh in 1901; his account is inserted in the Nouvelles Archives des missions, x. 245-277; cf. vol. xii. See also J. Toutain, “Le Limes Tripolitanus en Tripolitaine,” in the Bulletin archéologique áu comité des travaux historiques (1905).

2. Leptis Parva (Lamta), 71/2 m. from Monastir, which is often confused by modern writers with Leptis Magna in their interpretations of ancient texts (Tissot, Géogr. comp. ii. 169), was, according to the Tabula Peutingeriana, 18 m. south of Hadrumetum. Evidently Phoenician in origin like Leptis Magna, it was in the Punic period of comparatively slight importance. Nevertheless, it had fortifications, and the French engineer, A. Daux, has discovered a probable line of ramparts. Like its neighbour Hadrumetum, Leptis Parva declared for Rome after the last Punic War. Also after the fall of Carthage in 146 it preserved its autonomy and was declared a civitas libera et immunis (Appian, Punica, 94; C.I.L. i. 200; De bell. Afric. c. xii.). Julius Caesar made it the base of his operations before the battle of Thapsus in 46 (Ch. Tissot, Géogr. comp. ii. 728). Under the Empire Leptis Parva became extremely prosperous; its bishops appeared in the African councils from 258 onwards. In Justinian’s reorganization of Africa we find that Leptis Parva was with Capsa one of the two residences of the Dux Byzacenae (Tissot, op. cit. p. 171). The town had coins under Augustus and Tiberius. On the obverse is the imperial effigy with a Latin legend, and on the reverse the Greek legend ΛΕΠΤΙC with the bust of Mercury (Lud. Müller, Numism. de l’anc. Afrique, ii. 49). The ruins extend along the sea-coast to the north-west of Lemta; the remains of docks, the amphitheatre and the acropolis can be distinguished; a Christian cemetery has furnished tombs adorned with curious mosaics.

See Comptes rendus de l’Acad. des Inscrip. et B.-Lettres (1883), p. 189; Cagnat and Saladin, “Notes d’archéol. tunisiennes,” in the Bulletin monumental of 1884; Archives des missions, xii. 111; Cagnat, Explorations archéol. en Tunisie, 3me fasc. pp. 9-16, and Tour du monde (1881), i. 292; Saladin, Rapport sur une mission en Tunisie (1886), pp. 9-20; Bulletin archéol. du comité de travaux historiques (1895), pp. 69-71 (inscriptions of Lamta); Bulletin de la Soc. archéol. de Sousse (1905; plan of the ruins of Lamta). (E. B.*)