Roman Theatre at Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
Timgad: The Ideal Second-Century Colony in Roman North Africa
Septimius Severus painted tondo / Antikensammlung, Berlin
Lucius Septimius Severus was emperor of Rome between 193 and 211 A.D. And we see him in this extraordinary round painting, on wood, that comes from Egypt and is now in the museum in Berlin, that depicts Lucius Septimius Severus with his family. You see Septimius Severus on the right-hand side of the screen. You see his wife, Julia Domna, on the left, with her famous wig and pearls, and then, down below, their two sons, Caracalla, over here on the right, and Geta, whose face has been erased because of the damnatio memoriae that was voted him by the Senate at his death.
Julia Domna came from Syria. She was the daughter of a priest by the name of Bassianus, and Septimius Severus came from North Africa. He was the third Roman emperor to be from somewhere other than Italy. You’ll recall that Trajan and Hadrian came from Spain, Septimius Severus from North Africa. And after he ascended to the throne, and after he began his reign, and with all the interesting things that he initiated as emperor, he was honored by his hometown, as hometown boys often are, and the city of Leptis Magna was renovated quite significantly during his reign. And it’s to that renovation, and to the history of Leptis Magna in general, and its architecture, that I want to turn today.
Before I do that, however, it’s important for us to get a sense of this part of the world; this part of the world before the Romans took over. We have to not only look at what’s going on in the center of the Empire–that is, in Rome–and what may have been sent from the center out to the periphery, but we also have to understand what was going on in the local area in which that building was built; the local culture, the civilizations that preceded the Roman civilization. And what’s fascinating about provincial Roman architecture is the way in which those two things come together, that is, what comes from Rome to the frontiers, but also the indigenous culture that mixes with what comes from Rome, to make something unique, in the case of each of these provinces.
So it’s absolutely critical for us to understand the area that we’re looking at, and in this case Roman North Africa. Before the Romans got to the northern part of Africa, it was an area that was overseen primarily by Carthage; there was a very significant Carthaginian period in this part of the world. The language was neo-Punic and Berber, before it was Latin, and neo-Punic stays on, even when Latin becomes important here. The Greeks did have some impact, but they didn’t have as strong a foothold in this particular part of the world as they did elsewhere. And then eventually the area is colonized by Rome and begins to be–and Roman colonies begin to be built here, all over the northern part of Africa.
Locations of Timgad and Leptis Magna / Washington State University, Creative Commons
Today we will be focusing on the city of Timgad and then the city of Leptis Magna, both in Northern Africa. Please note that Leptis Magna is right on the coast; in fact it was an extremely important sea port, which is one of the reasons that it grew to the size and significance that it did have in ancient times. Timgad, a little bit further into the mainland of North Africa. When you think of Leptis Magna as a port, you can see the relationship that it had to other major ports in Roman times, specifically Ostia, and how easy it clearly was to send things from one place to another; which again led to the efflorescence of Leptis Magna.
Now the reason I’ve chosen these particular cities–we’re going to be talking primarily about Leptis today–but the reason that I’ve also chosen to look at Timgad is because they make a very interesting contrast to one another. Both of them have extraordinarily well-preserved Roman remains. But they’re interesting to play off against one another because the city of Leptis Magna–and this is extremely important in analyzing it–the city of Leptis Magna had a longer Roman history. It was already–it too had a Carthaginian period, but most important, in this regard, was the fact that the Romans began to build there already in the first century B.C., as we shall see. It was built up under Augustus, then under Hadrian; renovated under Septimius Severus. So there’re not only the local structures and buildings and customs and so on to contend with, but also earlier Roman architecture, by the time we get to the time of Septimius Severus.
Roman ruins of Timgad / Wikimedia Commons
In the case of Timgad, the city was built entirely from scratch. There was nothing on the site when Trajan founded the city as a Roman colony in 100 A.D., and it was at that time that the Romans laid out their ideal plan. And what we’re looking at here is a view from the air of Timgad, as it would have looked after it was laid out by Trajan in 100, as it continues to look today. We are looking down from the air, and we see here one of the best examples that I have been able to show you this semester of the way in which the Romans, when they are left to their own devices, when there are no earlier structures that they need to contend with, no earlier customs on the site, no earlier temples and the like that they need to contend with, this is what they do when they build their ideal Roman city.
Timgad city plan / Wellcome Library
And you can see it is exactly as we described it in the mid-fourth century B.C. at Ostia; that is, a castrum plan. It’s laid out like a military camp — very regular, either rectangular or square, as you see it here. It is surrounded by city walls. It has the two main streets, the cardo and the decumanus, exactly in the center of the city, intersecting with one another at the center of the city, and then right at that intersection, as was customary for Roman town planning of this castrum type, they have placed the forum right at the intersection of those two, and you can see it here also from the air. The forum has a great open rectangular space. It has a basilica. It has a temple on one short end. I’m not going to show you that forum in any–I’m not going to show it to you at all, except for what you see here, but it is similar to others that we’ve seen. We can also see from the air the theater of the city of Timgad, also taking its customary shape, and in this case again very close to the forum.
But as you look at the rest of this from the air, you can see again not only is it a regular- is the whole city a regular shape, but it has been laid out within the city in very regular insulae or blocks, with the streets very straight, as again the Romans were wont to do. The city of Timgad, by the way, is located in the high plains of what is Algeria today, just for you to get your bearings in terms of the modern location of this city. What I hope you can also see, from this view from the air, if you look very, very closely at the individual streets, and especially this one right here, you will see–perhaps it’s clearest over here–you will see that one of the ways in which this however differs from a town like Ostia and the way Ostia was laid out, is although the general layout is comparable, the city streets are lined with columns. We’ve talked about the fact that colonnaded streets–we never see colonnaded streets in Rome or in Italy, but we do see them quite extensively in the provinces. This is an area that is part of the western provinces, but we see them also even more extensively in the eastern provinces. So you see this colonnaded, this very dramatic colonnaded street.
Colonnaded street in Timgad / Wikimedia Commons
Arch of Trajan, Timgad / Wikimedia Commons
And I can show you a detail of one of the colonnaded streets of the city of Timgad, as it looks today, and you can see the effect that putting those columns, the punctuation points of those columns, along the way, which actually adds to–makes the vista that one sees from one part of the street to another very, very interesting indeed; as those columns, in a sense, march toward the arch that you see at the end here. I show you that arch, just as the one example of a monument in the city of Timgad. It’s very well preserved. It’s usually called the Arch of Trajan, because Trajan was the one to have founded this particular city, but it is almost certainly not an Arch of Trajan, since we believe it was put up in the late second century A.D. But we still call it the Arch of Trajan, because that’s its conventional name.
Arch of Septimius Severus, Rome / Wikimedia Commons
Above is a detail of that arch, as it looks today. And I think it’s interesting to compare it to another, in this case early third-century arch, the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum, put up to Septimius’ Parthian victories in the eastern part of the Empire, that we looked at last time. And I think you’ll see immediately why I’ve chosen to pair those two, not only because they are roughly comparable in date, but because both of them have a triple bay, triple bays: a central, a very central large arcuated bay, two smaller arcuated bays, one on either side. And since the building that you see here we believe dates to the late second century A.D., and this building is not until the early third century A.D., 203 A.D. to be precise, it is another example–I mentioned this last time; I talked about the fact that the arch in the Roman Forum, the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum, is our first preserved Roman arch with a triple arcuated bay, in Rome, but that there was an earlier example that I showed you in the south of France, at a place called Orange, in what is now Provence, where we seem to have a Tiberian arch — a Tiberian arch that is also tripled bayed.
So I raised the point with you that while we usually think of ideas flowing from the center to the periphery, this may be an instance where certain ideas are developed first in the provinces, and then make their way to Rome. Or it is also possible that there may have been triple-arcuated arches in Rome that no longer survive today, that we don’t know about, that might have been earlier than the early third century. But the fact that here we have another example, in one of the provinces–a completely different part of the world, but the western provinces nonetheless–we have another example of a triple-arcuated bay arch that was put up prior to the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum. So it just makes us think even more so that this idea was floating around the Empire earlier, clearly, than the time of Septimius Severus, and makes it more possible that the idea may have begun in the provinces rather than in Rome itself.
The other major difference between this arch and the Arch of Septimius Severus, in the Roman Forum–well there are two. But the main one is that it relies, for the most part, for its effects, for its visual effects, on its architectonic elements: on its columns, on its niches, on its pediments. The Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome, yes, has projecting columns and the like, but it relies for its effects largely on the figural sculpture that decorates it; that decorates the panels over each of the smaller bays, the frieze, and so on and so forth. That is not true here. This may have had some sculpture. It probably had a quadriga group or a group of statues on the attic. It probably had a statue or two in the niches. But it has no relief sculpture, no figural relief sculpture at all, and relies instead, as I said, on the architectural elements to enliven the surface and to make it an interesting billboard for whoever this was put up to commemorate. We see, for example, these large Corinthian columns on tall bases; the bases are not decorated. And we also see, if we look very carefully, that there were smaller columns. There are capitals still preserved on either side of the niches. So there were smaller columns here as well; an interesting contrast between the larger columns and the smaller columns.
And then if you look very closely at the pediment on the Arch of Trajan, you see that it is an arcuated pediment. Sometimes these are referred to as segmental or arcuated pediments. And you can see that it is not only an arcuated pediment, but it’s a broken arcuated pediment. The bottom is not complete; it’s broken on either side. We’ve seen an increasing taste for these broken triangular or segmental pediments in Roman architecture, this willingness to break the rules of traditional columnar architecture. We see that here. So again, it is–the surface is enlivened through architectural means entirely, which is an interesting phenomenon for this part of the world. You can also see, I think, that the stone that is used here is a local limestone, a wonderful tan color that goes very well with the desert area in which this finds itself. So local stone used in the so-called Arch of Trajan in the city of Timgad.
Leptis Magna in the Age of Augustus
Libyan desert / Photo by Luca Galuzzi, Wikimedia Commons
I talked about the sand, and there’s a lot of sand in this part of the world–this is essentially desert–and we see it especially around the city of Leptis Magna. If Timgad is in modern Algeria, Leptis Magna is in modern Libya, Colonel Gaddafi country. And it is an amazing site. A few words about the history of Leptis Magna prior to the birth of Septimius Severus. It too–well it was, as I mentioned, a port city. It was a Phoenician port actually initially. Then it came under the sway of Carthage, of the Carthaginians. It had some interactions with Greece, but again, just as this area as a whole in this part of Africa that Leptis Magna is located in, was known as Tripolitania. And so we see the Carthaginians holding sway. We see some interactions with Greece, but again it doesn’t take as significant a foothold here as it did in other parts of the Roman world. And then Rome takes over Leptis Magna and makes it a colony, makes the area a colony; Tripolitania is a colony.
And it begins to be built up, as I mentioned to you before, already in the Late Republic and into the Augustan period. We’ll see that there was significant Augustan architecture there that still survives. It was then that architecture was added to by Hadrian, or during the period of Hadrian, during the time, during the reign of Hadrian when there was continued interest in Leptis Magna. And then it was built up and renovated significantly under Septimius Severus; so in the early third century A.D. It continued to thrive throughout the third century, into the fourth century A.D. But in the fifth century A.D. it was attacked; a significant attack by the Vandal tribes. It was devastated actually during that period. But it had a brief renaissance under the Byzantines. A Byzantine wall was added to the city, as well as a church, during that period. In Medieval and Modern times though it was essentially abandoned, and it became a place where treasure hunters did not hesitate to go and take stone and works of sculpture away with them.
But fortunately, because of these sands, because these sands shifted over time, with the winds, with the sirocco and so on, they eventually did their job by covering over a good part of the city, which was actually fortunate because it meant that everything that hadn’t already been looted by those treasure hunters was at that point preserved. It stayed covered, for the most part, until around World War II. At that time, in the twentieth century, Tripolitania was essentially a protectorate of Italy. And in, right at the time of World War II, and right after World War II, Italian archaeologists went in and excavated the site, and revealed it in the way that we can experience it, if we visit Leptis Magna today.
Severan Forum aerial view, Leptis Magna / PBase, Creative Commons
Severan Basilica, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
And if we visit Leptis Magna today, we’re going to see sights like this. What I’m showing you is a view from the air of the forum that was put in the time of Septimius Severus, the so-called Severan Forum of Leptis Magna. And you can see that this is another one of these “bigger is better” buildings. It’s extraordinarily large. And you can see that it is not in the best of conditions, that much of it has fallen down. We see extensive fragments of columns and entablatures and arcades and so on and so forth, strewn around the structure today. But there’s enough there that we can get a quite good sense, as we shall see, of what these buildings looked like in antiquity. If one goes to the sculpture depot, on the site, one can also see a host of sculpture; despite the looting, one can also see a host of sculpture that still survives.
Inscription of the Temple of Rome and Augustus, Leptis Magna / Shutterstock
This was an area that was built up under Augustus, and decorated with Augustan sculpture. We see a host of statues–men, women, fragments of body parts, including hands and arms, as you can see over here–at the depot. And this again gives us some general sense of how heavily decorated this town was in its heyday, with sculpture of the imperial family surely, and local magistrates, as well as gods and goddesses.
Leptis Magna city plan / Yale University, Creative Commons
This is a plan of Leptis Magna as it would have looked in the ancient period. If we look at it here, we will see, number one that it is–you can tell very well from this that it was a port city, and that a port was built. You’re seeing the Mediterranean. Then you’re seeing a tributary of that river. And you can see, right below that river, you can see a sort of roughly circular area that was the port of Leptis Magna, not so different from the Port of Claudius, for example, at Portus. And then you see the rest of the city as it was laid out from the first century B.C. until, or through, the time of Septimius Severus. And if you look very carefully you will see a host of buildings. The one that’s right in the uppermost part there, closest to the harbor, is the Old Forum.
If you go down from that, to the left, you will see the theater–that’s easy to pick out–the theater that was put up during the reign of Augustus. And, to the right of the theater, you see two circles there, that is the marketplace that was also put up during the age of Augustus. Down here, you see a very large bath, in the imperial bath type that was built during the reign of Hadrian. And then right above, to the right of the bath, you see the forum, as it was laid out–the forum, the basilica and the temple, as they were laid out during the reign of Septimius Severus. And then down here, to the left of the Hadrianic Baths, there was an arch put up on one of the streets; an arch put up also to Septimius Severus, which we will look at together today.
I want to begin with the Augustan remains. I’m going to show you two Augustan buildings from Leptis Magna. The first is the markets, and the second will be the theater; and they’re very interesting in all kinds of ways. We know that the market building dated precisely to 8 B.C., that is, in the reign of Augustus, 8 B.C. How do we know that? Because there is an inscription on the building that interestingly enough is written in both Latin and then has a neo-Punic translation. So this is a nod, still in the Augustan age, to the Carthaginian segment of the population, who still continue to live there, even with the Roman advent. So 8 B.C.
Augustan Market and Latin/Greek inscription / Wikimedia Commons
And as we look at this, we know, in fact, what was built in 8 B.C. was only part of this. This scheme of having a round or roundish structure, either one or two pavilions in the center of an open courtyard, is actually not special to Leptis Magna. We know this type in Italy. There are examples still preserved, for example, in Campania.
Augustan Market / Wikimedia Commons
But if we look at this pavilion carefully, we see some interesting features. We see that the central element is indeed circular. There’s a circular wall here, that has in it arcuated windows and doorways, that pierce it and open it up. Then around it though, interestingly enough, we see that the staircase, the way in which the columns are arranged, and the roof, make up an octagon, make up an octagon, in the case of both of these pavilions. Now that is very, very interesting, when we talk about what happens first and where, in Rome itself, Campania, central Italy, or in the provinces. Because in this particular instance we are seeing an octagon extremely early. This is 8 B.C., the age of Augustus. We don’t see the octagon used in Rome until the age of Nero — until the Domus Transitoria, sort of, and then fully blown in the Domus Aurea, in the octagonal room of the Domus Aurea. So is this a formulation that begins first in the provinces, and ends up in Rome, or are again there some missing links? Were there octagons earlier in Rome that have no longer survived? It’s an interesting and almost certainly unanswerable question, unless something new is excavated that changes the picture. So for now it looks as if we see an octagon earlier in the provinces than we see it in Rome.
There were no permanent markets here. There were temporary stalls that would’ve been set up daily between the columns, around the pavilions and the columns in the portico. The open portico was not done in 8 B.C., it was not done in the age of Augustus, but was added under Tiberius, Augustus’ successor, between 31 and 37 A.D., as is indicated on your Monument List. And there is a difference in the materials that were used here. And the materials, interestingly enough–and this is very important for our understanding of the evolution of architecture and Leptis Magna–during this period, the age of Augustus, local stone was used entirely. They used a local sandstone and limestone for these pavilions. And then when Tiberius added, or when the outer area, the portico was added, in the age of Tiberius, the columns were made out of a grey stone, but a grey stone that was also local.
So only local stone used here. No concrete used in this building. This is an entirely stone building, put up in the Augustan period in Leptis Magna. One of the pavilions, very well preserved, as you can see here. And you can see that we are dealing again with a very attractive local sandstone or limestone that is used for the structure, for the central pavilions entirely. And then you can see the contrast between the coloration of that and the grey columns, also local stone that are used for the surrounding portico. If we look at this pavilion, we can see both the central round element that I’ve already described, with its arcuated windows and doorways, on a tall base. We can also see the columns that surround it; and you can tell very well that these are Ionic columns. Some of them are columns; some of them are, in a sense, piers. They’re wider, and those wider ones are at the corners. And it’s interesting to see how the architects have gotten around the fact that they have to turn the corners in this octagon by making these wider and making them splay out on either side. You can also see some stone benches in between some, but not all, of the columns here.
Leptis Magna columns with Corinthian capitals / Wikimedia Commons
I show you the columns of the pavilions, or the macella–by the way, that’s the word in Latin, or macellum, in the singular–the columns, the capitals of the surrounding portico were Corinthian, as opposed to the Ionic ones that are used for the earlier market pavilions. Here’s another detail; this is the one that’s on your Monument List. And although it’s in black and white, doesn’t give you a sense of the coloration of the stone, it’s useful because you can see one of these piers that turns a corner better here, and you can also see that there are striations that make up the flutes of the pilasters that are located in between these arcuated openings on the central element. This is another view that shows you the less preserved second pavilion. You can see here again the color of the stone. You can see the way in which the piers turn the corner here, and get a sense of the remains, a further sense of the remains of the Augustan marketplace from this view.
The Augustan Theater and the Hadrianic Baths at Leptis Magna
Augustan Theatre plan, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
The other Augustan building was the Theater of Leptis Magna, and this theater again also put up in the age of Augustus. It dates specifically to A.D. 1 to 2; so a very early Roman theater, and a quite well-preserved Roman theater. And we should think of it in connection to the other Augustan Roman theaters that we saw, for example, the Theater of Marcellus, in Rome. This one, as we’ll see, better preserved in some of its aspects than the Theater of Marcellus in Rome. If we look at the plan we see some interesting features. We see first of all that it corresponds extremely well to the theaters that we’ve seen thus far this semester; in that sense it’s a conventional building. I should mention that it is not built on a hillside, in the Greek manner, but is built on a hill of concrete.
We’re going to see that very little concrete is used in Leptis Magna, is used in Roman North Africa in general, where the work is primarily of stone, the buildings are made primarily out of stone. Very little concrete. But they did use it here to create a hill, a manmade artificial hill, out of concrete, on which they could rest the seats of the theater, or the cavea of the theater. The seats themselves are done in local stone. And we can also see the other features of the typical Roman theater: the semicircular orchestra; the semicircular cavea; the division of the cavea into these cunei or wedge-shaped sections. We can also see that the stage building–we know quite a bit about the stage building because it’s extremely well preserved in a way that the Theater of Marcellus, of course, is not. We see that it was made up of these three very large niches here, that have columns screening the inside, following the curvature, in fact, of those niches. And you can also see there are architectural elements in the center here that seem to project into that space. And this pretty early, this is A.D. 1 to 2.
So it does give us some sense–when we talked about painting and we talked about the fact that we see things in Roman painting of the Second Style–in particular, 60 B.C., 50 B.C.–that we don’t see in built architecture, and I mentioned at that time it’s conceivable that they are based on lost theatrical sets that were made out of wood. But a building like this, where we do have local stone used for this forest of columns that we see inside these niches–and I’ll show it to you, because it’s well preserved, in a moment–we get a sense of the kind of thing that may have existed, that may have had some impact on some of the paintings that we saw of the Second Style in places like Pompeii and elsewhere.
This is also interesting, because if you look–it’s hard, you can’t really see it in plan–but if you look at the very top of the cavea, the top of the cavea, in the center, was the location of a temple. And that temple was put up to Ceres, the goddess Ceres, C-e-r-e-s, the goddess Ceres; Ceres Augusta, so the Augustan version of Ceres. And that was at the very top, and that makes this temple a type of temple that we have not talked about this semester, and that is what is called a theater temple; a theater that has a temple as an integral part of it. This is not a new idea to Leptis Magna. We know, for example, in Rome that the Republican general Pompey built such a theater in Rome, a temple theater, a theater that had a temple at the apex of the cavea. It is not preserved, although there is enough evidence and fragments and so on for us to get a quite good sense of what it looked like, and it was one of these. So again, ideas that seem to have been developed in Rome first are making their way, in this case, to Leptis Magna.
Notice that the temple at the apex is aligned with another temple that’s located down here, a large, possibly a larger one. And this one seems to have been put up to the divine Augustus, or to a number of divi, and again purposefully aligned with the temple at the top. Here’s something very interesting. We see the porticus in the back; this porticus that we saw, for example, at the theater in Pompeii, the early theater in Pompeii, 80 to 70 B.C., as you’ll remember. We see it here, and you can see that it is not as regular as the porticus in Pompeii. And the reason for that is likely because of the preexisting buildings on this site.
And this is where we see a significant difference with the planning of Timgad. Timgad, again the Romans could just lay this out any way they wanted, because nothing was there and they chose this ideal castrum plan; and the theater and so on, very, very regular. Here they have to contend with earlier structures. They have to design their building keeping those in mind. They certainly don’t want to destroy temples, for example, or shrines of the locals. That would not be good politics, so they don’t. And they have to build their building with that in mind; and so we see some very unusual shapes here. It’s not what they would have done if they could have done differently, but they had to do it, given the reality of the situation.
Augustan Theatre, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
This is a view of the Theater of Augustus at Leptis Magna, as it looks today. You can see once again that the stone of choice is local stone, local limestone and sandstone, for the columns, as well as for the cavea; but again the cavea rests on a concrete foundation. And we can see again what I described before: the three great niches, as well as these square elements, with columns, that project into our space, that give a very interesting scenic view of columnar architecture, that again gives us an idea of perhaps some of those temporary structures in wood, that would’ve had a significant impact on Second Style Roman wall painting.
Augustan Theatre inscription / Wikimedia Commons
This is interesting. This is an extremely well-preserved inscription that comes from the Theater of Leptis Magna, and is still preserved. And we can see here, as in the Market of Augustus that is in Latin, but also translated into neo-Punic, below. And I thought you might be interested in hearing what it says. And it says, and I quote–and I’ll do that in English: “When the father of the fatherland, Caesar Augustus, son of the deified Caesar“–namely Julius Caesar; so this is again one of the ways we know that this is an Augustan building–“was pontifex maximus”–that is, Chief Priest of Rome, because state and religion very closely allied in the Roman period, and Augustus was at one point both Chief Priest of Rome, as well as imperator or emperor–when Augustus was “pontifex maximus, vested with the tribunician power for the twenty-fourth time, being consul for the thirteenth time, a man by the name of Annobal Rufus, the adorner of his country–so he must have commissioned not only this but other buildings as well–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.”
So here we see a good example of the sort of thing that we see often in the provinces; that is, buildings put up in honor of the emperors, during the period in which they reigned, but put up by major local benefactors, who have significant funds at their disposal, who want to do the same sort of thing that anyone who wants to put their name on a building at Yale, preserve their name for posterity, their generosity, their benefaction, for posterity; and at the same time do good by providing the kind of amenities that cities need, like theaters and baths and the like.
Hadrian’s Baths plan, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
I mentioned already that building continued apace during the time of the emperor Hadrian, and the main building that was added to Leptis Magna, during the Hadrianic period, was a very large bath structure; the second largest bath structure preserved in Roman North Africa. And we see it in plan here: the building [bathing] block on the right, and then a view, a fuller view, of the entire bath complex at the left. It dates to A.D. 126 to A.D. 127. Just looking quickly at the plan over here, you can see not only the bathing block, same as we see on the right, but also the palaestra of the structure. And the palaestra of the structure should strike you as very different from any other palaestra. It’s almost shaped like a hippodrome, although it doesn’t have the hairpin shape with one curved and one straight end, but two curved ends. In fact, it might remind you, more than a hippodrome, of the Basilica Ulpia in the Forum of Trajan, with its two curved ends, one on either side, and columns running around the center, and then two radiating apses, up here on the right–on the uppermost part, excuse me.
So a very unusually shaped palaestra. We’ve never seen a palaestra like this before. But perhaps even more interesting than the shape of the structure is the way it’s off axis with the rest of the building. Right? It’s off axis; it’s not lined up axially and symmetrically with the rest of the building. The reason for that is almost certainly the same as we saw with the porticus in the theater, the Augustan theater, and that is something else must have stood on the site that forced them to design this in such a way that it was off center with the rest of the structure. But it actually made it–it makes it more interesting, in a sense, architecturally.
With regard to the bathing block, that is very conventional. You can pick out all the rooms that we’ve become so accustomed to naming in Roman bath architecture. This is an example of the imperial bath type that we’ve seen developed in Rome from the time of Titus, up through Trajan; the Baths of Titus and the Baths of Trajan, the imperial bath type, where we have the main bathing rooms placed in a row, in the center of the structure, axially related to one another. What do we see at the top, with the columns around it, or the bases and then columns above, is the what? Natatio, the natatio. The frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium; caldarium here with its radiating niches, as you can see. So natatio, frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium, all in succession, and then the other rooms symmetrically arranged around them; duplicated, mirror images of one another on either side. In this plan it doesn’t show the frigidarium as if it were triple-groin vaulted, but most who’ve studied this believe that it was.
Hadrian’s Baths, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
Above is a view into the remains of the Baths of Hadrian today. And we see with the Baths of Hadrian a very major change in terms of building stone in the city of Leptis Magna. And that is, while up to this point they were using entirely local stone, all of a sudden, in the time of Hadrian–and it’s not surprising, I suppose, with Hadrian and his era being a time of international travel and the like, internationalism–we see the beginning to import marbles from all over the world for the buildings of Leptis Magna, this being the prime example. We have building stone in this building–we have some local stone in this building, but we also have marble from Greece, marble from Asia Minor, and even marble from Italy, used in the Baths of Hadrian at Leptis Magna, making it a very quite magnificent building, to say the least. So this is a very significant change in the way they are thinking about the building materials used for the structures of Leptis.
Hadrian’s Baths exterior and frigidarium models / Wikimedia Commons
Here is a restored view of what scholars — some scholars at least — believe the frigidarium of the Baths of Hadrian looked like; very similar to what we imagine that the frigidaria of baths in Rome looked like, of the imperial type. Think of the later Baths of Caracalla that we looked at last time, with the same triple groin vaulted scheme, supported by engaged columns on either side, and then very heavily decorated. It could be that those who have thought about this have been too influenced by spaces like the frigidaria in the Baths of Caracalla. Because to do this–we know that very little concrete was used in Leptis Magna to do this kind of building at this kind of scale. To vault this kind of room, at this kind of scale, you would need to use concrete construction.
Hadrian’s Baths, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
So there are two possibilities here. Either they did use it in this building, and used it very well to create a space that was quite comparable to what was being put up in Rome, or it may have been vaulted somewhat differently. But those who’ve studied this with some, who are very knowledgeable about this kind of thing, seem to believe that this was a groin-vaulted building. Now groin vaults can be done out of material other than concrete. We saw some vaulting in Pompeii–not groin vaults but regular vaults–in Pompeii that were made out of wood. But to do it at this scale would be near impossible, and one has to imagine that concrete would have been used. So that’s controversial and we don’t know for sure exactly how this building was vaulted.
Septimius Severus Sheathes Leptis in Imported Marble
Septimius Severus follows the lead of Hadrian, or of those benefactors of Leptis Magna building buildings in the Hadrianic period, by continuing to have the buildings of his renovated hometown sheathed in imported marbles. And in fact it could be said, if Septimius Severus were to boast, as Augustus had before him, that he had transformed the city of Leptis Magna — instead of saying, as Augustus did, that he found Rome a city of brick and left Rome a city of marble, Septimius Severus might have said he found Leptis Magna a city of local limestone and left Leptis Magna a city of imported marble. Because from this time forth all of the buildings that we see in the Severan city of Leptis Magna are made out of imported marble.
We now move to the so-called fountain or nymphaeum of the city of Leptis Magna, which does indeed date to the Severan period. Septimius Severus traveled back to Leptis, once he was emperor of Rome. He was involved in the war in Parthia, so he couldn’t do it right away. He went after the Parthian victory in 203. And in precisely that same year, 203 A.D., Septimius appears to have made his way, along with his wife, Julia Domna, and his family, to the city of Leptis Magna: hometown boy comes back to great parades and the like, for sure.
And it also jumpstarted a major building renovation, as I’ve mentioned, and although we think that the Arch of Septimius Severus, in Leptis was put up to honor Septimius on his visit to Leptis Magna, and probably stood in 203 when he arrived–we date it to 203–the other buildings were begun at about that time, and then some of them were completed by his son, Caracalla, after his death. One of the buildings that belongs to the Severan city is this fountain or nymphaeum, that we believe dates to A.D. 211.
Nymphaeum, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
The palaestra, with its projecting convexity, is there. And we see above the nymphaeum. And you can see how very carefully orchestrated it was in terms of making cities, building cities, building urban areas. The architects have paid a great deal of attention to exactly where they’re siting this fountain, and its relationship to these other buildings, by playing off concavities against convexities and so on. It was a structure that had one large central niche, which we’re going to see had–or one central apse, or a niche–that had in it a series of smaller niches for statuary; probably images of the emperor and the imperial family, as well as important local magistrates, as well as gods and goddesses. In front of it there was what would be the basin where the water went. Water would have flowed out of the center, or out of those niches in between the statuary, into the basin below. And you can see the way it’s been kind of splayed off, to either side, to give it an interesting shape, and to make it seem very welcoming.
Now why did a city like Leptis Magna need a fountain of this magnitude? Well yes it did supply water; it was helpful in that regard. But I think it was much more than that. I think it was viewed as a kind of showpiece for the city. There came a time when every city worth its salt needed to have a showpiece like this, an ostentatious fountain. Leptis was no exception, and so they build such an ostentatious fountain in the Severan period, in Leptis Magna.
Nymphaeum, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
We can see the great niche, or part of the great niche here, with its great apse here, with its smaller niches for statuary, as I’ve described. We can also see that we are dealing here, with regard to the walls, with local sandstone or limestone being used for the wall construction. But all of the columns–and you can see a columnar scheme here on two stories, very similar to the sort of thing that we saw in the theater: a display of columns, and they go into the niches as well, as you can see here, in two tiers. These are made out of marble that is brought in from Asia Minor: Asia Minor marble, so imported marble. And we do believe that the stone carvers who were used to carving this kind of marble, in Asia Minor, were brought in with them to do the carving on the spot. So one of these examples of the use of imported marble in buildings that were put up in Severan Leptis Magna.
Old Forum plan, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
I show you just in passing the plan of Old Forum of Leptis Magna, before we look at the Severan Forum, just so that you know. I show it to you to make a couple of very important points. One, that there was an earlier forum on this site. It was begun in the Late Republic, and continued into the Augustan period. It was laid out very close to the port, which makes a lot of sense. And you can see that like other fora we’ve seen, it had a great open rectangular space. It had a basilica down here, very similar in shape and plan to basilicas we’ve seen, like the one at Pompeii. But it’s interesting both because again it is not exactly square or rectangular in shape; it has one side that is different from that, that’s on the diagonal, and this indicates to us once again that likely there were some remains on the site that had to be taken into consideration when this structure was designed. But otherwise it has a colonnade around it.
It has, in this case, three temples on one end, which is different from what we usually see in Rome, but not unheard of. I didn’t show you an example, but we do know of triple temples in architectural spaces, complexes in Rome, fairly early on, already in the Republic. But we see three of them here, and they’re very instructive. One’s the North Temple; we don’t know to whom that was dedicated. The other is a Temple of Roma and Augustus, which one sees in most Augustan cities. And then over here a Temple of Liber Pater. Who was Liber Pater? Well Liber Pater was a god who was very important to this particular part of the world. So this interesting coming together of Roman gods, local gods, are another indication that we are dealing here with a Roman society that is being laid on top of an earlier society, and that the cultures, religion, architectural practices and so on, of them, merged together to make a very interesting mélange, and we see that again extremely well in this Old Forum.
Severan Forum aerial view, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
The Old Forum was replaced by the New Forum, the new Severan Forum, in the age of Septimius Severus. And that is the single most important building still surviving in the city of Leptis Magna. And I show you once again that view, from the air, of the forum, the Severan Forum, that we believe dates to 216 A.D.; in fact completed by Caracalla in 216 A.D. And now that you know a bit more about Leptis Magna and building practice there, I think you’ll see something that you probably didn’t notice before, when you looked at this image; when we looked at it earlier. And that is if you look at the actual remains of the columnar architecture, for example, from this forum, you will see, very quickly, that we are dealing not with local limestone but with imported marble. If you look at this marble, in the foreground in particular, you can see that it has a pink tint to it. That pink tint tells us that it is granite, pink granite that we know was quarried in Egypt. So we are seeing marbles being brought from all over the world, to be used in the construction of these Severan structures.
Severan Forum plan / Yale University, Creative Commons
A plan of the Severan Forum in Leptis Magna shows it to be a very interesting structure indeed; one that is based on earlier models in Rome, especially the Forum of Trajan, but one that departs from it in all kinds of interesting ways. It’s also interesting to us not only because it tells us what–or it shows us what was being built in Severan Leptis Magna, but it also gives us some indication of what an emperor like Septimius Severus might have built in Rome, if he had built a forum in Rome.
As we look at it here, we see that it is conventional in that it has one great open rectangular space, surrounded by columns, with a temple put up against one of the short walls–in fact pushed up against one of the short walls–dominating the space in front of it. If we look quickly at the plan of the temple, we will see it’s fairly conventional also: plain back wall; single cella, in this case; freestanding columns in the porch; deep porch; single staircase; façade orientation. So very much in keeping with what we’ve seen throughout the course of this semester. You’ll notice also on this side of the structure, the southern side of the structure, a series of shops or tabernae. We’ve seen that in forum design before. Think of the Forum of Julius Caesar where they were placed in exactly that same position.
We see over here the basilica of the structure. I’m not going to describe its plan for the moment; we’ll return to it a little bit later. But what’s interesting about it here is the way in which it is splayed off. It is not axially related exactly to the forum proper. It moves off in a slightly different direction. Would the Romans have done this if they didn’t have to? Certainly not. They probably again had to contend with some sort of earlier building on the site, which forced them to do this. But they’ve done something quite extraordinary, as you can see here. They wanted to make sure that when you were standing in the forum, and looking toward the basilica, that you wouldn’t realize that that basilica was not on axis with the forum. And so they’ve done something extraordinarily ingenious. And what they’ve done is to create this series, this wedge-shaped series of shops that forms the transition between the forum and the basilica, that’s narrow on one end and is wider on the other end.
Severan Forum columns with capitals / Photo by Jorge Tutor, Wikimedia Commons
As you move from the forum, into the apsed area, through columns, into the columns of the basilica, you don’t realize that the basilica is really off axis with the rest of the building. So some ingenious work here on the part of the designers of the Severan Forum.
I’ll come back to the basilica again momentarily. But for the moment, just to stick with the forum proper, we are looking here at one of the entranceways into that forum. And you can see, even in black and white, that we’re dealing with local sandstone or limestone for the walls, but with imported marble for the doorways and for the pilasters. These capitals underscore again this interesting merging of influences, not only from Rome but elsewhere in the Roman Empire. We see these striated capitals on the pilasters up above that are very similar to the sorts of things we see in Egypt.
So this interesting merging of Roman culture, Egyptian culture, for this structure in Roman North Africa. This is a view of the shops, of that wedge-shaped section of shops. We’re standing in the forum, looking back toward the basilica, about to go from one to the other. And you can see that they are in a straight line and that you would not be able to tell, as you were standing in front of them, that the forum was not axially related to the basilica next door.
The Severan Temple and Basilica, the Arch of Septimius Severus, and the Unique Hunting Baths
Severan Forum temple and Medusa relief / Wikimedia Commons
This is a temple that was put up by Caracalla. It’s the temple at the back wall that we looked at in plan just before. It was put up by Caracalla to honor his parents as divi; Septimius Severus and Julia Domna. It’s interesting in a variety of ways. It’s interesting because it is surrounded by an arcade; columns supporting arcuations. We’ve seen an interest in this sort of thing starting to come to the fore at this time. We saw it in late domestic architecture in Ostia. Think of the House of Cupid and Psyche, for example, of the early fourth century. So placing these arcades on columns, with Medusa heads in between them, is something that comes to the fore at this time.
Severan Basilica columns, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
We see that the temple is placed on a very, very tall podium, nineteen feet tall. Why? To raise it up over the walls, so that you could see it from a distance. It’s like when they raised the Capitolium in Ostia also up high so that it could compete with the apartment houses; the same general idea here. Local limestone for the walls, imported marble for the columns.
So we see once again what’s so interesting about some of these provincial cities; this coming together of influences from all over the world, from Greece, from Carthage, from Egypt, and also of course from Rome. Here’s a view of the arcades, the Medusa’s heads very deeply carved, as you can see here; characteristic also of the decorative work of the Severan period. Referring back to the plan, that shows us the basilica, central nave, side aisles, apses on either side, looking very much like the Basilica Ulpia of Trajan in Rome, probably influenced by that. Look also, there’s a wall here–you can walk into the wall at several points–and there are columns decorating that wall, columns that just project into our space. They have no structural purpose whatsoever. The in-and-out undulation of the wall, through the traditional vocabulary of architecture, another sign that we’re moving toward what I’ve called a baroque phase in Roman antiquity.
Severan Basilica / Alamy
This is an amazing view of the remains of the forum and also of the basilica. The basilica is better preserved than the forum. You can see the apses. You can see the preserved columns. You can see the wedge-shaped section of shops here. And you can see again that the basilica has many of its columns better preserved than those in the forum.
Severan Basilica north apse / Alamy
I show you here the north apse with these very heavily decorated pilasters, on either side, and these very tall columns–this is very interesting because it seems to have had no purpose whatsoever than just to stand there and look good–two colossal columns on tall bases, with Corinthian capitals, and then a lintel on top of those, and then griffins, and then another lintel on the top.
What was the purpose of this? Did it have some kind of religious purpose? Well this is a civic structure, so unlikely. It’s just a decoration, among other decorations, but using architectural elements in toto. The piers are very, very interesting. They’re eaten away, dematerialized by their sculpture; as you can see here, light and dark accentuated. And if you look at the details of them, you will see that one of them, or a couple of them, have scenes of the Twelve Labors of Hercules. Remember, this was a building that was completed by Caracalla. Is it a stretch to say that Caracalla might have wanted to have Herculean imagery here, as he did in the Baths of Caracalla, or the benefactor who helped build this might have had that in mind as well, to make that connection?
Arch of Septimius Severus, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
I want to mention just in passing the Arch of Septimius Severus. It’s more a work of sculpture than it is of architecture, and it has a lot of figural scenes that are interesting for their iconography. But I just want to make passing reference to it, because it is the one building that I mentioned that we do believe was put up in 203, and ready for Septimius’ visit to the city. It also is interesting because it was made at the same time as the arch in Rome, the Parthian Arch in Rome, 203 A.D., and also celebrates Septimius Severus’ victories over the Parthians. That’s exactly what it celebrates, and those scenes are alluded to in the figural sculpture.
But it is very different from the arch in Rome, because it is a tetrapylon. I mentioned the tetrapylon when we went over the paper topics; the four-sided arch, the purpose of which is to span two streets that cross at that–that intersect at that particular point, so that traffic can go through the arch, going both ways. It’s really quite ingenious, and we see the tetrapylon does not take off in Rome, but is very popular in the provinces, and we see it here. We also see as we look at this structure, and it has been–by the way, it had fallen down completely but has been re-erected, although the sculpture on it is casts, and the original sculpture in the museum. But we do see here something very interesting, and that is that they have used the broken triangular pediment here. You can see the way the pediment is broken apart, and used only in part here, which is something we do not see in Roman arch design.
Arch of Septimius Severus and pier detail / Wikimedia Commons
Arch of Septimius Severus chariot frieze / Wikimedia Commons
Arch of Septimius Severus concordia frieze / Wikimedia Commons
Here’s a view of it from the side, where you can get a sense of the drama of those broken triangular pediments, as well as the way in which this structure was completely covered with sculpture, and you can see some of that sculpture also dematerializing the arch, in a way very similar to the piers that we saw also in the basilica. And I just show you quickly two details of the figural sculpture that we see there honoring Septimius Severus and his two sons in a triumphal chariot. And then on another frieze Septimius shaking hands with his elder son, Caracalla, as if giving him power. Geta stands in the center; Geta’s still alive and not erased on this monument here, and Geta’s standing here. And then this wonderful image of Julia Domna, with her fabulous wig, standing next to them and looking on. But look at this figure here. Who is this? Hercules with his club, standing right behind the shoulder of Caracalla. So once again this very close association between Caracalla and his alter ego.
Hunting Baths, Leptis Magna / Wikimedia Commons
Hunting Baths axonometric view / Wikimedia Commons
This is the so-called Hunting Baths at Leptis Magna. They date to the late second to early third century A.D. I show you an axonometric view from Ward-Perkins. They’re very well preserved. This bath is interesting in all kinds of ways, but it’s interesting primarily because it’s a private bath, not a public bath; we’ve looked at so many public baths this semester. What do I mean by a private bath? Not one individual. I suppose one could call Hadrian’s baths in his villa private, in that they were for his private villa.
But here a private bath within a city, a private bath, not for a single individual but a group of individuals, a guild of men, whose profession we believe it was to collect animals, wild animals, in the wilds of Africa, and send them to Italy; that was their business, send them–to feed, in a sense, the amphitheaters of Rome and the rest of Italy. That was their job. They probably made quite a fortune doing that. And they got together and built for themselves this wonderful bath, which you’re going to see right near the sea, where they could kick back and relax and hang out with each other. And what a place it was. And what’s interesting about it is although we have seen that concrete was not used extensively in Leptis Magna, it is used for this building, and this building is much more innovative for that reason than most of the other structures we’ve seen, even those that honor Septimius Severus, like the arch, like the forum, and like the basilica.
Hunting Baths interior / Wikimedia Commons
What do I mean by innovative? You can see the way in which concrete has been used here, to its utmost. You enter into the structure. The forecourt is an octagon, the entrance vestibule is an octagon. From the entrance vestibule, you go into the tepidarium, which you can see has a segmented dome, a kind of pumpkin dome, influenced by those earlier ones of Hadrian, into the caldarium over here, which is large and barrel vaulted. The frigidarium, also barrel vaulted here, as you can see. But what makes these rooms particularly exciting architecturally, and different than anything we’ve seen–in fact, unique–is that not only can we see the shapes of these vaults, these concrete vaults, on the inside when we stand here, but also from the outside; the shapes are visible from the outside as well.
You can see from the outside that this was a barrel vaulted room; you can see from the outside that this was a barrel vaulted room; and you can see from the outside that this one had a segmented dome. We haven’t seen that in other architecture. Yes, you can get a little glimmer of it; when you look at the frigidaria of the great imperial baths in Rome, you can get a sense of the groin vaults from the outside, sort of. But not in the way that you can here. This is very revolutionary, very different, and very special to this particular building.