MTK   |   Onlinepublication   |   A01UP2 Collaborative Research Centre 933 of the German Research Foundation.
Material Text Cultures. Materiality and Presence of Writing in Non-Typographic Societies

Late Antique Statue Bases of Lepcis Magna
in their urban context



Subproject A01 UP2
of the CRC933

Lettered and inscribed. Inscriptions in urban space in the greco-roman period and Middle Ages. Late Antique Culture(s) of Inscription in the Imperium Romanum – on the Changes in Communication Structures and Commemorative Media at the End of Antiquity




Heidelberg University: Zentrum für Altertumswissenschaften (ZAW) - Seminar for Ancient History and Epigraphy


City Map, Honoric Epigraphy, Inscriptions, Lepcis Magna, Reuse, Statue Bases, Topology

Lepcis Magna, an old Phoenician settlement, was one of the richest and most populous cities of Roman Africa, probably second only to Carthage and in c. 303 AD became the capital of the newly created province of Tripolitana.

Alongside its lavishly decorated buildings, the city's richness is mirrored also by the number of inscriptions unearthed so far: around 650 in total, a hundred of which date to period 250–425. With funerary epigraphy being virtually unattested and a very limited number of building inscriptions, this figure is essentially made up by honorific texts, thus making Lepcis a privileged field for investigating the practice of honouring emperors and citizens by erecting honorific statues in Late Antiquity. Furthermore, the very good state of preservation of the city's public spaces allows to set the inscriptions that were written on the statue bases in their original context and to read their spacial distribution within the cityscape.

Honorific epigraphy begins in Lepcis as early as the 1st century and it experiences an extraordinary peak during the 2nd and early 3rd century, a stagnation in the course of the following decades and a recovery after the tetrarchic period. The last monument dates to the years 408–423 and shortly after the city rapidly falls into decline and oblivion. Byzantine reconquest meant no rebirth of the city.

In comparison to earlier times when all the major civic/urban complexes hosted a fair number of honorary monuments, the late Roman period is characterized by a contraction in the number of appointed spaces for statue display, now essentially limited to three settings. The vast majority of dedications and all the imperial ones are set in the Forum Novum Severianum, very few in the Forum Vetus (seemingly all related to individuals who promoted restorations in the area) and a limited number in the Macellum, where leading notables involved in the wild beasts trade and donors of games in the amphitheatre were honoured. We must note that several inscriptions on marble panels have been found also in the Theatre, but evidence shows that they did not belong to its decorative apparatus and were instead brought here at a later date to be reused as building material in the dwellings installed over the cavea.

Just like in every other late antique context, reuse was common practice also in Lepcis. Freshly carved supports are virtually non-existent, and honorary texts are almost invariably found on statue bases of the 2nd and early 3rd century used over and over, even up to four times. Architectural left overs – namely column pedestals – were also recycled and turned into statue bases. Defunctionalizing reuse, namely the transformation of inscribed supports into building material, occurs sporadically in this period and is much more common during the later 5th century and Byzantine period.
As far as building inscriptions are concerned, late antique examples of them refer only to restorations and maintenance, as building activity during the 2nd and early 3rd century had been so intense that the city hardly needed any new addition.


The interactive map

When translating a multi-faceted and multi-layered reality such as that of late antique Lepcis into a categorized environment, a certain level of simplification is needed, therefore reference to the written sources for detailed discussion remains indispensable (see I. Tantillo / F. Bigi, Leptis Magna. Una città e le sue iscrizioni in epoca tardoromana, Cassino 2010; as the map itself is a simplified rendering of the city and its buildings, please refer to existing bibliography for detailed maps, e.g. R. Bianchi Bandinelli / E. Vergara Caffarelli / G. Caputo, Leptis Magna, Milano 1964).
The map features all public inscriptions – published so far – produced in Lepcis in the period between 250 and 420 ad (six minor fragments with insufficient data have been left out: HD059617; HD059642; HD059661; HD067591; HD067593; HD059436). It also includes a series of four monuments whose inscription is now lost but which can be nonetheless assigned to the same period (B.L.T. = Bases with Lost Text).
All the relevant data have been collected in a searchable database and grouped in ten fields:

1) EDH ID number: clicking on this number will automatically link with the corresponding record in the Epigraphische Datenbank Heidelberg (EDH). Note that EDH numbers refer to the support and not to the text, thus when two or more inscriptions have been carved on the same base they will all appear in the same EDH record. However, zooming in the map onto a base will allow to see the position of the single texts as well as their specific bibliographical reference (almost always referring to the Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania corpus, abbreviated IRT).

2) Support: in the case of honorific inscriptions the support is always a statue base, but distinctions have been made when the base is an equestrian one, even though in the later period this type of support was used for pairs of standing statues, and when the text is engraved on a panel which was meant to be affixed on a lithic or assembled base (Panel for Statue base).
When the type of text engraved on a plaque cannot be assessed the support is simply labelled as 'Panel'.

3) Material: various qualities of marbles and local stones have been grouped under the two main categories of 'Marble' and 'Limestone'.

4–5) Location and Provenance: in the course of the 5th and 6th century, and to a lesser degree also in the following centuries and in modern times, a certain level of displacement took place. Alongside bases left undisturbed, some inscriptions were moved only few meters, some were reused as building material not far from their original spot whereas others have been taken afar. In the 'Location' field inscriptions were consequentially labelled 'In situ' when they still stand in the late antique position; 'Near late antique position' when we know that it originally stood not far from where it stands now and in that same building; 'Moved in the 4th cent.' or 'Moved in the 6th cent.' when we know the period in which they have been moved and reused. Inscriptions carried to the Museum or now lost have been labelled as such, and unless more details concerning findspots are provided by the literature, their placing on the map must be intended as a mere indication of its provenance and not of its exact positioning.
In the Provenance field are listed the major complexes of the city, with minor buildings being grouped as 'Other'.

6) Reuse: 'Epigraphic reuse' indicates all the instances in which an epigraphic support has been reused as such, engraving new texts alongside older ones, whereas 'Non-epigraphic reuse' refers to subsequent reuses of the stone, generally treated as spolia and converted into mere building material. When both epigraphic and non-epigraphic reuses occur, it is indicated with the label 'Both'.

7) Inscription type: texts are divided into 'Building inscriptions', 'Honorary inscriptions' and 'Sacred inscriptions'; texts referring to the re-arrangement of statuary have been grouped under the 'Other – Conlocavit' category. When a base has been used in Late Antiquity for more than one of these categories, each of them is listed in chronological order (whilst data regarding earlier texts are omitted).

8) Honorand: recipients of honorary dedications are divided in the categories of 'Emperors', 'Imperial office Holders' and 'Local notables'. When a base has been used in Late Antiquity for more than one of these categories, each of them is listed in chronological order (whilst data regarding earlier texts are omitted).

9–10) Lost texts and Total Texts: the first field accounts for the number of erased texts (marked on the map with '?'), while the second for the total number of texts, both erased and surviving, engraved on a single support. When we are not sure whether a text has been erased or not (marked on the map with '(?)'), entries in both fields read '0 or 1', '1 or 2', etc.

Bases with Lost Text (B.L.T.): having lost their original text, these monuments do not appear in any corpus, however evidence shows that they were reused in Late Antiquity as honorary monuments. Essential information about them can be retrieved by clicking on their Identification number.




Heidelberg University
Zentrum für Altertumswissenschaften - ZAW
Seminar for Ancient History and Epigraphy

Prof. Dr. Christian Witschel

Telephone: +49-(0)6221-542233 (secretariat)
Marstallhof 4, 69117 Heidelberg


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