The view from above

I was having a little look at some of my travel photos recently, ones that I haven’t posted online before and I realized that I am strangely fascinated with what I can see out of the plane window. This is slightly weird because, truth be told, flying actually freaks me out a bit, but I’ve found that focusing on the view of sites and landscapes on the ground, distracts my mind, stopping me thinking about crashing down to my death in a ball of red-hot flames.

Anyway, here are a few views from the cheap (economy) seats.

Syria/Lebanon

Flying over Lebanon, out of Damascus airport, I loved the ripples and curves made by the ranges of hills and mountains in the Bekaa Valley.

Algeria

In Algeria, flying is pretty well a necessity. The country is enormous and the country’s history has left it with a legacy of, frankly, unsafe areas. There are still a few places where kidnapping is a very real possibility, making driving dangerous.

The distance from the Ghardaia region back up to Algiers is over 600km so travelling by road is a bit of a schlep. The flight is an hour and the views are spectacular. The landscape starts as golden desert, peppered with towns north of Ghardaia.

As you get further north, the landscape turns to lush green with lakes and reservoirs.

Flight from Ghardaia to Algiers, Barrage Bouroumi, Mahaizia

Libya

Flying into Tripoli, on the coastal plain were miles of neatly planted olive groves.

The olive trees look very sparsely planted but this is the only way get a good yield of fruit, as the tree roots need space around then.

Iceland

Flying out of Keflavik Airport, Iceland, I flew directly over one of the places where I’d spent much of my time on my first visit.

This is Ásbrú, a former NATO base where the festival ‘ATP Iceland’ was held in 2015. It’s all brightly coloured, crinkly-tin shed, like many of the buildings in Iceland. Simple, functional and not especially decorative.I enjoyed the festival, and I enjoyed Iceland too.

And here’s, not the Blue Lagoon spa, but a similar hot water pool.

The heated water is the outflow from the Reykjanes Power Plant nearby.

France

Flying down to Marseille, I spotted a very exciting looking quarry.

Google maps calls this the Perasso Frederic Paul quarry but I think it’s actually called the Perasso quarry of Saint-Tronc. The Perasso company quarries gravel, concrete and sand from here. http://www.perasso.fr/societe-perasso-marseille/

Germany

Flying into Frankfurt means flying over the extensive forests that surround it. I was struck by the appearance of the motorways immediately adjacent to the airport.

This is where the Bundesautobahn 5 meets Bundesstraße 43 and the Bundesautobahn 3. Not quite Spaghetti Junction, but a striking intersection nonetheless.

London

Living, as I do, in Olde London Towne, I generally fly in and out of London airports, mainly Stansted (because it’s the right side of town for me), Heathrow (because it’s on the tube) and City, (because it’s actually IN London, as opposed to being somewhere in a field in a neighbouring county).

This means that sometimes I get to fly up the Thames. This is absolutely my favourite, even though the approach to City is slightly terrifying. The first time that I was actually aware of this, and actually thought about it properly, was when I was flying back from Damascus. I happened to glance out of the window and thought, “that’s Southend Pier!”. And it was.

Since then, every chance I get, I try to spot cool ‘something-on-Thames’ things.

Here is one of the wind farms in the Thames Estuary

and nearby, the Maunsell Forts at Shivering Sands.

This is not the greatest photo because we were in a raging storm at the time, but this is a cluster of six, originally seven, ‘army’ style WW2 anti-aircraft gun emplacements, situated in the Thames Estuary. The seven individual platforms were originally connected by walkways and were arranged as a cluster of six, housing guns and the seventh housing the searchlight.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to get a bit closer to the forts as The Waverley does a couple of trips each autumn.

Further into town, we fly over some very familiar sights. The Thames Barrier

City Airport

Canary Wharf, the Isle of Dogs, Greenwich and the O2

The London Eye…

…and before I know it, I’m home. 😀

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Age-old cities

Paris.

Just a super-speedy flying visit, but it was nice to be there all the same. But the trouble with super-speedy flying visits  is that, no matter how nice they are, they always leave you wanting more. There’s just not enough time to do everything. I mean, I need to get to Musee Cluny to see the new entrance and walkways around the thermes, and for the winter expo,  Naissance De La Sculpture Gothique. There’s also an exhibition at Cité de l’Architecture et du PatrimoineLe Crac des Chevaliers. Chroniques d’un rêve de pierre, examining the architectural and political significance of the Syrian crusader castle, Crac des Chevaliers. But, in the end, the short time that I had just had to be spent at the brilliant Institut du Monde Arabe for the exhibition Age-old cities: Virtual trip from Palmyra to Mosul

The exhibition takes in four ancient and modern cities affected by recent and ongoing conflict, and presents aspects of them as they are, as they were and as they may be in the future. This is not an exhibition of artefacts  but of images. Using photographs, films and photogrammetric survey footage, taken using drones (carried out by UNESCO), we get a view of the cities as they are today. The use of drones, in particular, reveals the significant damage, destruction even, of whole swathes of the urban environment, with deserted, bombed-out buildings apparently teetering on the brink of collapse and the still-inhabited areas thick with dust and debris. As I’ve been to three of the places featured in the exhibition, I’ve added in a few photos of mine, taken on my visits. Some of the other photos,which were taken in the exhibition, are a bit blurry, as they’re of moving images.

Mosul

The exhibition opens with Mosul, a city which I have never visited. On entering the first main exhibition space, I walked into a large-scale panoramic projection of a fly-over of the city as it is now. Now, I’ve seen plenty of drone footage of areas affected by the ongoing conflict but, particularly on a such a large scale, these images of destruction are truly shocking.

Mosul
Mosul

Sitting on the west bank of the Tigris, opposite the Assyrian city of Ninevah, and around 400km north of Baghdad, Mosul has existed as a settlement, at this location or hereabouts, for at least 2500 years (Ninevah is far older). Capture by daesh on 10th June 2014 and only retaken by Iraqi forces, after heavy bombardment, on 21st July 2017, Mosul and Mosulis have suffered terribly as a result of the conflict in Iraq, with women and religious minorities particularly badly affected. The city had been known as relatively diverse, with the Iraqi Sunni Muslim majority sharing the city with Assyrians, Kurds, Turkmens, Shabaks, Yazidis, Armenians and Mandeans. Although many of the city’s Jews left for Israel in the 1950s, there was still a significant Christian population until the arrival of daesh in 2014.

One  of the specific structures zoomed in on was the al-Nuri Mosque. Famous for its leaning minaret (possibly due to the effects of thermal expansion caused by the sun’s heat), the mosque was the focus of pilgrimage and veneration for 850 years. It was the site at which the daesh leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-declared the (so-called) “caliphate” and the daesh flag was flown from the minaret. The mosque was destroyed during the Battle of Mosul in 2017, although there is some disagreement over whether it was destroyed by daesh or by the forces liberating the city.

Still from drone footage of the al-Nuri Mosque, Mosul. 

There is really very little left of the mosque, just the ruin of the domed central hall and the stump of the famous minaret. All the rest is rubble.

As part of the film, we witnessed the digital ‘reconstruction’ of the site. These images are built up using recent photographs from all angles, often people’s holiday snaps (I actually sent some photos of a site in Syria for exactly this purpose), which are digitally stitched together to create a 3d image.

Still from drone footage of the digital reconstruction of the al-Nuri Mosque, Mosul. 

Aleppo

Aleppo Citadel. Photo taken 5th November 2009.

Moving on to Aleppo, again drone footage lays bare the scale of destruction. We tak a fly-over, and through, the ancient souks, part of the ‘Ancient City of Aleppo’ World Heritage Site, now severely damaged,

…and up the ramp to the Citadel.

This really brought back memories of my time there, when it looked very different.

Aleppo Citadel. Photo taken on 5th November 2009.

The walls of the Citadel have clearly sustained damage, and it looked like parts of the interior space had too, although I  found it a bit difficult to orient myself in this complex site.

Leptis Magna

Arch of Septimius Severus              

The section on Leptis (Lepcis) Magna was less of  an agony for me. Although there has been some illegal digging and looting at the site, local residents, working in militias, have tried to stave off the worst of the lawlessness, and there hasn’t been the kind of occupation or intensive bombardment that we have seen at the other sites showcased.

The images I saw looked pretty similar to the way that it looked when I was there 10 years ago. The ancient structures are partial and the site is, largely, a ruin, albeit a very impressive one, but there weren’t obvious signs of recent extensive damage. Nevertheless, the fly-through of the macellum (marketplace) and the virtual reconstruction of the Severan Basilica was pretty impressive and provided a little respite before the final key site featured, one which I knew I would find hard to witness.

Palmyra

Temple of Bel, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.

When I visited Palmyra, and the modern town Tadmur, in late 2009, it was an impressive, pretty well kept ancient site. The main site itself was open for visitor to wander in and look around and it was possible to wander pretty far, as it’s a very large site.

Some people in my hotel were getting up before dawn to go on a camel ride. I, being less interested in camels, got up at the same time and accompanied them for a little way on foot before heading off into the low hills on my own. These hills are the site of the necropolis of Palmyra and I was fortunate enough to have these evocative tower tombs all to myself in the silent, pink, early morning. *

 

 

Several of these tombs were destroyed and/or damaged by daesh in 2014/15.

One of the other notable instances of willful vandalism was the dynamiting of the Temple of Bel (above) and I found myself feeling particularly sad at the images of the theatre and the Temple of Baalshamin, when I found myself standing, virtually, in the rubble of the building.

This was a building in which I had stood, gazing at the beautiful decorative friezes and the carved columns, and thanking my good fortune at having the opportunity to be there.

Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.

Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.

But I couldn’t help but think past the structural damage and the willful and shocking destruction of the ancient temples, to the devastation wrought on the people living in the modern Palmyrene town of Tadmur. I couldn’t help thinking about the people murdered by daesh in the theatre, including Palmyra’s Head of Antiquities, Khaled al-Asaad (January 1932 – 18 August 2015). 

Throughout the exhibition there are short films, talking heads and personal accounts of the effects of all of this destruction on the people living in these cities but, particularly as a visitor whose French is a bit shaky, the focus of the exhibition really is on the effects of conflict on the built environment. The images recorded by drones are largely devoid of people, the streets thst I remember as bustling and busy with the usual comings and goings of the city, are eerily empty of life. A notable exception is a short film documenting the filmmaker’s return to Aleppo to speak with the people still living there.

He meets the shopkeeper who, despite being surrounded by the dust and debris of countless explosions, still diligently cleans his stock before putting it on display. And there’s the young woman recording a video message on her phone, to send to her sister, who is not in the city.

The young woman doesn’t say anything of any importance, just chats and reads the news and laughs and hopes that she will still be alive tomorrow.

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The exhibition ‘Cités millénaires Voyage virtuel de Palmyre à Mossoul‘ is on at the Institut du Monde Arabe until 10th February 2019.

For updates on the current situations in these regions, follow: @AinSyria ‏ and @AinIraq

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*I had the tombs all to myself except for the small child who chased after me for about half a mile asking for sweets. I had no sweets with me so I gave him a pen. He seemed satisfied with this alternative. I wonder where he is now, and I hope he’s ok. 

 

 

 


 

A legionary fortress in Wales: Who are you?

The Romans were a relatively literate lot. That is not to say that every common man and woman went around spouting Horace but they did leave a remarkable quantity of written information about themselves. Inscriptions, dedications, painted and handwritten notes, monikers, you name it, they left it.

At Isca, Caerleon Roman legionary fortress, we can see a whole range of written evidence for the people who lived and worked there, including the very people who built the place.

Lets start with the Legion which called Isca home, the Second Augustan Legion, Legio II Augusta.

We’ve already seen the terracotta tile in the bathhouse stamped with the moniker of the Legion.

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But the Legion is namechecked again a number of inscriptions recording the dedication or rebuilding of buildings in the fort by units of the Legion.

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This inscription (above), one of the few in Britain cut in marble, records rebuilding at the fortress, although it is not known which building it relates to. It was found later reused as a paving slab.

Individual units of the Legion also left their marks, often recording construction works. These few are from the construction of the amphitheatre.

This records work by the century of Rufinus Primus, from the third cohort.

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And below, (top) the century of Claudius Cupitus (centre) from the fifth cohort, the century of Paetinus and (bottom) the century of Julius Gemellus from the eighth cohort.

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RIB334; RIB340; RIB339

These blocks record sections of work carried out but this less formal inscription (below) looks more like a personal mark, perhaps left by a particularly keen gladiator-fan. It shows symbols of the amphitheatre; the victory palm and the trident of the retarius gladiator, flanked by representations of the shoulder-pieces worn by the gladiators.

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Smaller and more personal inscriptions can be found on objects from the fort.  Living in close proximity with so many other people, individuals often tried to ensure that personal possessions didn’t go walkabout by engraving, writing or scratching the name of the rightful owner into the fabric of the object.

This mortarium, an ever-useful kitchen mixing/grinding bowl, has been etched with the name of, presumably, the owner.

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Ok. That isn’t easy to make out and I have to fess up to not photographing the label. If anyone is in Caerleon and can go and have a look, or if anyone knows, please leave a comment. I’d be very grateful.

Right, here’s one that I did make a note of.

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Compare this one to the one above. The hand is more polished, more formal and, as a consequence, more readable. It even has that little decorative flourish.

It runs:

‘(GENIO FELI)CITER AEL ROMULI’ which is translated as:

‘Good luck to the presiding spirit of the century of Aelius Romulus’ and is presumed as being connected with an annual regimental dinner.

And talking of wine…

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The shoulder of this wine amphora bears the name of the legion, ‘LEG.II.AUG’ and a cursive inscription. This kind of wine jar arrived in Britain, probably from Crete, in the ’50s and ’60.

There is one type of object in the museum which is always of particular interest. An ink writing tablet. These are great. The most well known ones have been found at Vindolanda, up near Hadrian’s Wall, but there are others, from Carlisle, London and here at Caerleon.

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The writing on the tablet is pretty crisp and clear but it’s still tricky to make out as it’s written in a script called Old Roman cursive. Basically Roman handwriting. This should help

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Still none the wiser?

Well it has been dated to the late first century CE and it’s basically a record of works being carried out my men of the legion. Some guards have been sent to fetch the pay (ad opinionem petendam) and parties who are out collecting building material (material). One of the soldiers in charge of the pay-escort is called Ofillio.

Phew!  So there you have a little selection of the written evidence from Caerleon and I’ve managed to get through an inscriptions post without even mentioning gravestones.

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Roman Inscriptions of Britain: http://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/

Roman Trajanic marble inscription from Caerleon: http://education.gtj.org.uk/en/item1/25413

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – The writing on the wall (and the floor and in the street…)

It has often been said that Romans had, and inspired, ‘the epigraphic habit‘. Put (very) simply, they liked to write stuff down. They wrote on scrolls and books, on buildings, in mosaics, on memorials and dedications, on personal objects and on public monuments.

It’s debatable how many people would have been able to read all of this writing but things like personal and place name, and simple phrases of the ‘this is mine’ and ‘I made this’ variety may have been recognizable to many people who may otherwise be considered illiterate*.

To be in a place and see its name inscribed is great. Spending time in North Africa with, often, Arabic overtones to everyday culture, it can be a bit too easy to forget that you are not, in fact, in the Middle East (I’ve heard North African countries referred to as ‘Middle Eastern’ on a surprising number of occasions). So, just to remind us all of where we are…

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This is Africa. OK?

And this one names one of the specific Roman provinces of Africa,

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‘PROVINCIAE NUMIDIAE’. Numidia.

Now that we’ve got the straight, let’s get a bit more specific. Many of the North African cities enjoyed high status. Some were veteran colonies or trade hubs which prospered because of the many trading opportunities available, and several were treated to visits from one Emperor or another.  Never known for their reticence when it came to blowing their own trumpets, the Roman citizens of these cities loved to commemorate any big occasion, visit, achievement or fancy new building with an inscription, and these inscriptions have provided us with the names and statuses of the towns and cities during the Roman period.

Timgad, in modern Algeria, was founded by the Emperor Trajan around 100CE as a veteran colony for Parthian veterans. Its full name, ‘COLONIA MARCIANA ULPIA TRAIANA THAMUGADI.

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And these inscriptions from modern Djemila, confirms its status, ‘COLONIA’, and the Roman name ‘CUICUL’.

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Here, this arched architectural element from a public fountain at Simitthus (Chemtou ) in Tunisia, with a dedication to the emperor Marcus Aurelius from the people of the city – ‘POPVLO SIMITTVENSI’.

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And there is this dedication set up on behalf of the people of the ‘COL[ONIA] SABRAT[A]’ (Sabratha) in Libya, to thank L. AEMILIUS QUINTUS, for his good works on behalf of the city.

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IRT, 111

Spot the city name?

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It looks to me like this monument has been reused, as the inscribed panel looks like an earlier inscription has been chipped away. Perhaps L. Aemilius Quintus had outdone an earlier good citizen.

Other commemorations include this beautifully intact (hopefully still intact) and in-situ dedication to the Emperor Augustus from the theatre at Lepcis Magna, Libya.

CIMG3508

IRT, 322

This reads, in full:

IMP(ERATORE) CAESARE DIVI F(ILIO) AUG(USTO) PONT(IFICE) MAX(IMO) TR(IBUNICIA) POT(ESTATE) XXIV
CO(N)S(ULE) XIII PATRE PATR(IAE)
ANNOBAL ORNATOR PATRIAE AMATOR CONCORDIAE 
FLAMEN SUFES PRAEF(ECTUS) SACR(ORUM) HIMILCHONIS TAPAPI F(ILIUS) RUFUS 
D(E)S(UA) P(ECUNIA) FAC(IENDUM) COER(AVIT) IDEMQ(UE) DEDICAVIT

Translation:

When Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of the deified (Caesar), chief priest, was ()holding tribunician power for the twenty-fourth time, consul for the thirteenth, father of the country, Annobal, adorner of his country, lover of concord, flamen, sufete, in charge of sacred things, son of Himilcho Tapapius Rufus, saw to the construction at his own expense and also dedicated it.

So the building has been, quite properly, dedicated to the Emperor, but Annobal, the man who stumped up the cash, also gets his big-up, “adorner of his country, lover of concord, flamen, sufete, in charge of sacred things, son of Himilcho Tapapius Rufus”. And just to emphasize that ‘lover of concord’ bit,

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As the Roman administration established new, and extended existing trade and communications networks across Africa, road signs and distance markers increasingly became a feature. Here are three examples, the first from near Simithus (Chemtou) in Tunisia, and the second found on the road from Oea (Tripoli) to Fezzan, but currently in the National Museum of Antiquities, Tripoli, Libya, and the third from Cuicul (Djemila) in Algeria.

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The other thing that Romans liked to commemorate was themselves. Grave markers are an important source of information about individuals living, especially, in the towns and cities. There are loads of these at various sites (I was going to say ‘hundreds’ but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s ‘thousands’). We have to be a little bit careful with these because, in the first place, the wording on grave markers can be quite formulaic. We still see “rest in peace”, “went to sleep” on many gravestones now and these kinds of standard phrases were also common in the past. Secondly, the wording on gravestones is not necessarily decided by the deceased person themselves (although it sometimes does seem to be). Gravestones are, for obvious reasons, set up by those people surviving the deceased; family members, friends, etc., and they can sometimes say as much about those people as about the deceased person.

With that in mind, here’s a “rest in peace” inscription from Hadrumentum (Sousse in Tunisia), dedicated to the Christians, ‘CHRISTIANI CIVES HADRUMENTINI FRATRIBUS‘ interred in one of the four large catacombs of the city. Can you pick out ‘DORMIUNT IN PACE’?

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Inside the catacombs each burial niche could have had its own personal dedication with some being more formal than others. This fragment of a scratched dedication survives in-situ.

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While this complete, and much smarter, inscription has been removed to the Sousse Museum.

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The presence of the group inscription seems to suggest a strong shared identity as Christians alongside their individual and familial identities.

My other favourite memorial is this carved and inscribed, in Greek, tombstone from Ptolemias, in eastern Libya.

The grave marker of Hermes the gladiator

This is the memorial to the gladiator, Hermes, ‘ЕΡМНϹ‘. He is shown in his ‘stage’ costume as a Retiarius; a lightly-armed gladiator who carried a trident and net. The ‘net-fighter’ made up for his lack of armour and heavy weaponry by being quick and agile, so our ЕΡМНϹ reflects some of the attributes of the divine Hermes – fast, lithe and cunning. Protector of athletes and as tricky as you like.  The inscription tells us that he won eight of his bouts but he seems to have died in the ninth. Still, he must have made a few bob otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to pay of this lovely tombstone.

Many military roles survive, but in the case of this one you can see that some references have been erased.

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These are references pertaining to the Third Legion Augusta, which was stationed at Lambaesis in modern Algeria. Its name has been erased because it backed the losing side in one of the many succession squabbles that went on during the Empire (the side they backed was, arguably, the ‘right’ side, but the winners get to write the histories, eh?).

With Roman culture came an increase in urban living. That’s not to say that North Africa didn’t already have its own cities before the Romans. It did. Many of the cities we may now think of as Roman had their origins much earlier, either as Pheonician or Numidian towns and cities. However, Roman culture did push an idea of urbanization which meant that more and more people lived in closer and closer proximity. This lifestyle necessitated a greater emphasis on personal security and one manifestation of this was the practice of people writing their names on their personal possessions. Here are two pot-sherds from the museum at Timgad, Algeria.

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We see examples of this on military sites in Britain, where large numbers of men (it is usually men) find themselves living in close proximity and want to prevent their stuff from getting nicked. The inscriptions are usually of the ‘ This bowl belongs to…’ type, but they do vary.

Most of these inscriptions we’ve seen so far have been in Latin, with a little bit of Greek thrown in, but here are a few bilingual inscriptions and inscriptions in scripts which I can even begin to decipher.

To start, I’ll go back to that dedication at the theatre at Lepcis. Here’s a closer look at some of the text. The bottom 2 lines are written in Neo-Punic and are a literal translation of the Latin above.

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Here’s some more Neo-Punic. This is a building dedication of the Forum at Lepcis Magna, Libya, to  the Emperor Claudius.

Building dedication of the Forum to Claudius

IRT, 338

Look down at the bottom of the stela.

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These few lines of Neo-Punic basically repeat what the Latin says (you can see the transcriptions and translations in the IRT site). This shows just how compact a script Neo-Punic is compared to Latin. It’s a semitic language and the inscribed form has no vowels.

This stone, now in the Archaeological Museum in Algiers, is written in a local script, Numidian? Berber Tifinagh?  Anyway, I have no idea what it says.

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There is also this stone from Chemtou in Tunisia, written in Libyco-Berber. The museum has a handy guide to the script which, to be honest, hasn’t made me any wiser.

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And so, to bring the epigraphic habit up to date…

(or almost up to date. Obviously this sort of thing is no longer de rigeur in Libya)

The Colonel. Pre-2011, Libyan towns, cities and highways were peppered with billboard posters like this one, commemorating the revolution of 1969, which brought Colonel Ghaddafi to power.

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Some more recent political sloganeering in Tunisia.

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And a final word from football-mad Algeria.

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* I must confess that I am one of those near-illiterates who can pick out names and the ‘this is mine’ and ‘I did this’ stuff, but I’ve had help for this post from the brilliant ‘The Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania‘ website created by King’s College, and also the scarily extensive Epigraphic Database Heidelberg.

NB. I’ve been a bit rubbish at putting all the references in for these inscriptions (with links to the appropriate website) as I’ve been going along, but I’m working on it so if you’re particularly interested in one of them, do check back, as I’ll add in as many of them as  I can find as quickly as I can.

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Nom nom

North Africa is one of several regions known as the breadbasket of Rome. In the Roman world, regions that were able to produce the vast quantities of foodstuffs needed to keep the empire working became extremely wealthy, and the already high status families from these areas became increasingly powerful. Members of families from Spain and North Africa even got the top job!

One of the most important commodities produced in North Africa was olive oil, so we’ll start with some olive oily stuff.

Oil’s well that ends well

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This mosaic, from Tabarka but now in the Bardo Museum, shows a North Africa fortified farmstead and estate surrounded by olive trees, interspersed with grape vines. Parts of a mixed farming economy.

To harvest the olives, workers would bash the trees with long poles so that the ripe olives would fall to the ground, where they would then be gathered up by others. To be honest, I can’t confirm that this fellow is gathering olives, but he’s gathering something, that’s for sure.

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Olives are still grown extensively in these areas. This image of neat rows of olive trees was taken out of the window of the train from Tunis to El Djem. The field may look half empty, but in olive growing, tree spacing is key to a good crop yield.

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To extract the olive oil, they would have used a press like this one at Madauros, Algeria.

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If you’re not familiar with this kind of press (it’s a lever press), this may all look a bit random, so this diagram may help to explain how it works. It’s in Italian, but non-italian-speakers (like me) can look at the pictures.

olive oil  press

http://www.oliveoilmuseums.gr/ecportal.asp?id=92&nt=18&lang=2

The first stage involves crushing the olives using an olive mill like this one at Tipasa, Algeria, making it easier to squeeze out the oil.

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The pre-crushed olives are then loaded into circular baskets, which are stacked up on the pressing bed (this one is at Sufetula (Sbeitla), Tunisia) to be squeezed for their oil. The groove helps the oil to run into the collection tanks next to the pressing bed.

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These presses (below) are the best preserved Roman presses in North Africa found, together with the remains of the building in which they stood,  at Sufetula (Sbeitla) in Tunisia. You can get an idea of the scale by the man sitting on the wall next to the left hand orthostat (upright standing stone). They’re pretty big.

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I love this little mini press at Tipasa. It’s about 60cm (-ish) in diameter.

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I wonder if someone just had this at their home or village, maybe they had just a handful of trees and pressed their own oil for their local needs. The technology scales up or down pretty easily, so it’d work.

And this is where they put all that lovely olive oil once it’s ready.

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Amphorae were pretty standard storage and transport vessels for a range of commodities such as olive oil, garum, salted fish, preserved fruit, wheat and others.

There are sherds all over the place on the ground at the various sites. As I went round I was looking for any particularly interesting bits and bobs, and on the beach at Nabeul, Tunisia was this amphora base.

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(REMEMBER! Just because there are loads of sherds on the ground, that doesn’t mean that you can help yourself. Take only photographs, not artefacts).

The fruits of the earth

Agriculture was big business in North Africa and estates produced a whole range of commodities in addition to olives, with a major crop being wheat. These reliefs from Ghirza (now in the National Museum of Antiquities in Tripoli) record sowing and reaping of the crops on estates in the Tripolitanian pre-desert. The pre-desert is an arid environment so the people farming these areas used large-scale irrigation techniques to ‘green the desert’.

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And from the Bardo is this beautifully delicate relief.

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Wheat formed a major element of the economy, particularly in the areas of Tunisia and Algeria which were centuriated; divided up into large estates, including imperial estates. This was wheat production on an industrial scale.

There were also vegetables and fruits, these are in the National Museum of Antiquities, Tripoli (formerly the Jamahyria Museum).

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These grapes and pomegrantes are in the Museum at Lepcis Magna. From the style, they look like they might be from Ghirza.

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Trade in these commodities took place in the markets of the coastal emporia, many of which were originally established as Pheonician trading centres.

There is a particularly fine market, macellum, at Lepcis Magna, built in 9-8 BCE, which consisted of a large square  market-place surrounded by a portico, with two octagonal buildings known as tholoi. This is the surviving southern tholos.

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Within the macellum there are tables and benches from which goods were traded. Then, as now, prices, weights and measures were strictly regulated and many of the tables have these built-in measures for checking that the correct quantities were being sold for the correct prices.

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Here are some other examples from Timgad, Djemila and Tiddis in Algeria.

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In the Bardo, in Tunis, is another type of measure called a modius.

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To grind the wheat there are several  difference types of mill. This hand mill from Latrum, Libya.

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And a reconstructed version of the same type at Chemtou, Tunisia. The wheat goes in the top and drops down between the stones. Then the ground flour collects in the reservoir under the stones.

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And here, from Carthage, Tunisia, are several quern stones of difference sizes and materials. There would have been a top and bottom stone and the wheat was ground between them by rotating the upper stone over the lower. The central hole is for the spiggot linking the two stones and the smaller hole at the side is for a handle.

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Huntin’, shootin’ n fishin’

Hunting features on many mosaics and reliefs from North Africa, sometimes the hunting of animals destined for the arena, sometimes for the pot. The boars hunted in this mosaic from the Bardo (below) could have been destined for either.

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And here, in an in-situ mosaic from Bulla Regia, Tunisia, is a detail of another boar hunt.

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This small relief of a bird hunt, also from the Bardo, really shows the technique for driving the birds into nets.

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And here’s their catch

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Shooting.

No guns, of course, but this lovely late-fourth century mosaic from Carthage (now in the Bardo) shows contemporary shooting from horseback. These hunters must have been skilled horsemen, notice there’s no saddle or stirrups. The rider would have controlled the horse with his knees.

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Fishing

Having direct access to the Mediterranean coast, the North African provinces have produced lots of evidence for fishing and related activities during the Roman period. These views of net fishing are from the Bardo.

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And for fruits de mer

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And from Nabeul, these little nets look like lobster pots

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And, actually, I think that it would be safer for this man if he didn’t catch these giant fish.

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All ready for a fish supper in Ptolemais, Libya.

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And talking of fish, as well as consuming fish fresh from the sea, the other hugely important fish product was garum; Roman fish sauce.

A major garum production site in Tunisia was Neapolis, modern Nabeul.

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The tanks you can see in the centre of the image would have been used to produce the garum (see my earlier post about Nabeul for info about garum production and use).

These are the tanks at Tipasa on the Algerian coast. There are still traces of the plaster lining in the tanks.

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This is the end

Obviously once all of this lovely food has been produced everyone tucks in, but food has also always been culturally and socially important. A way of displaying wealth and status; a way of entertaining friends and guests; and a way of marking important life-events. Births, marriages and deaths all involved foods, then as now. As this is the end, I’ll leave you with death.

Several of the reliefs already posted above actually come from tombs on which individuals (or their heirs) display the sources of the deceased’s wealth. As it is often from agriculture, that is what is shown.

But food also featured in funerary and commemorative rituals themselves. This grave marker has a vertical stone with an inscription, but also a base with bowl-shaped indentations. Into these would be poured libations of (eg) olive oil, spring water, or offerings of grain would be left to the spirits of the departed.

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So there you are. A little look at the grub of Roman North Africa. If you wish to leave a libation, pop it in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box 😉

http://www.livius.org/le-lh/lepcis_magna/macellum.html

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Reuse, recycle and renew.

Anyone who has ever been to, or near, a Roman site anywhere in the world, will have noticed that there is always a certain level of recycling in evidence. Sometimes pre-Roman material is recycled in the construction of Roman sites. Sometimes material is reused and recycled during the period of Roman occupation. Frequently Roman sites are used as quarries, with material taken to build later structures (have a look at the Wallquest project, mapping material taken from Hadrian’s Wall (and other places) and used to build churches in the Tyne Valley).

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The particular history of a region can determine how, and why, material is reused. Sometimes some external threat necessitates the reorganisation of space within a city. Sometimes a changing economic situation results in old structures being dismantled and new ones built. Depopulation, war, famine, negative factors, can result in changes to the urban landscape, but equally, these can be the result of  improvements in the fortunes of a city.

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At a number of North African sites we can see this kind of structure.

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These are fortresses built by the Byzantines, often using recycled material from the Roman towns and cities on, or in which they sit. These fortresses were often thrown up very quickly in response to the various crises of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This one at Madauros, was constructed in a hurry in response to the threat from the Numidian tribes attacking the town.

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Although the building itself is sound, the stonework is a bit hotch-potch, with a whole variety of stone sizes used in one wall. When you’re in a hurry any decent piece of stone will do. All of this stonework has been taken from buildings in the pre-existing town but some of the reused pieces are pretty obvious.

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Some are slightly more subtle, but they’re there if you look.

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In Gafsa, Tunisia, there are two pools at the corner of the casbah, fed by nearby hot springs.  I understand that changes to the oasis irrigation methods have resulted in the water supply to the pools being cut off. When I visited, they were empty, but when they were full the local boys had great fun jumping and diving from the steps.

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They’re constructed from good Roman ashlar blocks, but these are certainly reused, as a closer examination reveals  that some of the blocks are a little awry. These are fragments of inscriptions which are, in themselves, important as the fragments reveal the existence, somewhere in the town, of a nymphaeum dedicated to Neptune, and that by the time of Hadrian, Gafsa (Roman Capsa) was no longer a civitas  but became a municipium in Trajan’s reign.

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All Change

As well as Roman building material being reused in antiquity, sometimes whole buildings are reused, their function changed to suit the changing times or, perhaps, new populations.

At Tipasa, on the Algerian coast, Roman homes were converted in the Byzantine period, into shops and storehouses.

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These large amphorae sunk into the floor of the old houses would have held commodities such as olive oil, salted fish or grain.

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This is the theatre-amphitheatre at the Temple of Apollo in Cyrene, Libya.

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This was originally a Hellenistic theatre with a semi-circular orkestra (dancing floor), but was altered in the Roman period into an oval amphitheatre**. This actually took some doing because the site is on the edge of an escarpment.

This is an aerial photograph showing the site, in which the foundations of the Greek theatre building (scaene) and orkestra are clearly visible, running across the later oval-shaped amphitheatre.

Temple of Apollo Cyrene

http://ghn.globalheritagefund.com/uploads/library/doc_443.pdf 

This, slightly later, site adaptation can be seen in the Village of Bled el-Haddar in the oasis of Tozeur in Tunisia. The village itself is pretty unremarkable, sited in part of the palmery a short walk from Tozeur town centre, but the one feature that might interest us here is the minaret of the small local mosque.

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It’s built on the foundations of a Roman tower. I’ve no idea what the original structure on the site might have been. Perhaps a watch tower, or even a tower tomb, but there isn’t much left of it. Still, there’s enough to be able to spot the entirely different stonework involved and this represents the scant remains of the Roman town of Tusuros.

Ancient and Modern

Many of North Africa’s modern cities were established on or near the sites of ancient cities and reused Roman material also crops up around these cities. Ancient material incorporated into the fabric of modern life. All over cites, you can see Roman columns. They’re everywhere around the casbahs of Kairouan and Tunis.

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Some have even been repainted.

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At Kairouan in Tunisia, established in the 7th century, one of the country’s most important Muslim sites, the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba has been constructed using more than 500 columns brought from Roman sites including Sbeïtla, Hadrumetum and Chemtou and from as far away as Carthage.

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Going round the courtyard, you can see columns of different heights, made from a whole variety of materials and with different column capitals.

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Inside the prayer hall are more. Note all the different heights.

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Other recycled Roman elements in the mosque include these lintels, used to create an attractive door surround.

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And this large column base, which has been reused as a well-head.

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The pipes and pumps are modern, of course, but the grooves around the column base are wear evidence of the ropes used to haul up buckets in earlier times.

Similarly, in the macellum at Lepcis Magna, Libya, this market table shows clear signs of use as a well cover. The deep grooves are, again, signs of wear made by the rope pulling over the stone.

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At Madauros there is also some quite ‘interesting’, and considerably later reuse of Roman stonework.

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Many of the grave markers recovered by French archaeologists excavating the site in the 1930s were used to embellish the wall running alongside the main street. While this does allow a good view of the stones, that view is pretty distorted.   For one thing, not all of the stones would have originally been set in an upright position. The second and third from the left (eg) would have been laid flat on the ground, as they both have bowl-shaped indentations designed to receive libations.

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This practice of reuse is visible around the site, as the wall of what will be the new on-site museum also contains reused Roman grave stones and building blocks.

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Someone also went further in their recycling zeal as a careful examination of the grave markers reveals that while they may all be Roman stonework, they weren’t all originally grave markers.

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This one (above) is a column base which has been upturned and crudely inscribed in order to give it the appearance of a Roman grave marker. Whether this was done in antiquity or (much) later, I don’t know (I suspect the latter) but either way, how odd!

We often frown upon people who treat ancient sites as quarries and builders merchants, but at many sites and in many areas this reuse then forms a revealing part of the continuing story of those sites.

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* This area of pavement can be seen at Carthage, Tunisia. It’s been made from little pieces of broken inscriptions.

** There were actually several phases of alteration to the theatre-amphitheatre at Cyrene, chiefly in the construction of the scaenae and the seating (cavea).

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Stoned luuuuuuuve*

No, no, no, this post is not about doped-up hippies at a love-in, we’re going straight for the hard stuff. This is basically just going to be an excuse to drool over beautiful stonework. This might be sculpture, or building stone, worked natural outcrops, gorgeous stone chosen for it’s loveliness, whatever. It’s stone and it’s loved.

I just have to start with my own love, Chemtou, ancient Simittus. Yes, I know, I’ve blogged about it before but I just love it. I’ve been twice and need to go again.

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What made the stone from this marble quarry so beloved of the Romans was its colour. Or should I say colours (plural). We’ve all heard of Carrara marble, the Romans’ favourite white marble, but Simmitus provided the yellows, the golds, the reds, even some green and black marble too.

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Ancient authors and later antiquarians raved over this lovely stone. In is early nineteenth-century work**, William Lempriere said,

 “The marble of Numidia, as it is described by ancient authors, was of the finest contexture, and used upon the most sumptuous occasions. Solinus calls it “eximium marmor” and Suetonium mentions a column of it that was erected to Julius Caesar, with this inscription, Patri Patriae. The colour was yellow, with red or purple spots or streaks.”

http://romeartlover.tripod.com/Simitthus.html

This is that marble in its natural state.

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In the quarry are some unfinished, abandoned columns. These may have been left because the stone had faults in it, or it was developing cracks.

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Coloured marbles were transported from here to Rome to be used in the Pantheon and other public and private buildings, but here, from Cyrene in eastern Libya, are some smaller examples of what becomes of these kinds of marbles.

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Cut into pieces and fitted together to make patterned floors, this technique is called opus sectile.

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Here, from the villa Dar Buc Ammera near Lepcis Magna, the opus sectile is combined with mosaic to create this beautiful floor panel.

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One of the key uses of all this lovely stone was for the construction, of public and private buildings. This could be pretty utilitarian but we often see stone beautifully worked. In western Libya, these intricately carved columns grace the basilica at Sabratha (left) and the Severan Basilica at Lepcis (right).

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But there are also plain columns made from beautiful stone. These enormous cipollino marble columns are on the beach at Lepcis, having been moved from the Hadrianic Baths for transport to Europe in the 17th century.

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Many of these columns were used in the building of the Palace of Versailles, but these ones were abandoned on the beach.

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And, made from the same green and white marble, in situ but incomplete, at Bulla Regia in Tunisia,

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Looking too at the column capitals, we can see the intricate working, but these are Roman with a distinct twist. A number of the corinthian column capitals in the Severan Basilica (and other buildings) at Lepcis incorporate a positively Egyptian lotus design. This may reflect the strong influence of Egypt across North Africa, with significant trade routes bringing cultural influences, as well as goods, further west.

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And just one very nice touch incorporated into the same building.

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Among these tilework courses are cantharus and pine cone designs made from blocks of marble. Nice.

Next, statuary, and North Africa has some beautiful examples of portrait busts and full height statues carved from pristine white marble, although they were often painted in lifelike colours. This bevy is from El Djem, Tunisia, and although statues are often quite idealised, these can tell us so much about clothing and ways of wearing various kinds of robes and wraps.

And gods and kings…well, Emperors.

Unsurprisingly, the Libyan Emperor Septimius Severus features heavily, but there are also have lots of Hadrian and Claudius, as well as lots of others.

And for the dead? Here is part of the necropolis at Cyrene.

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This is an enormous necropolis, reflecting the size and longevity of the city, and there are many many rock-cut tombs and sarcophagi in the hills near the city. Some of the burials are in simple sarcophagi, but some of the tombs, cut directly into the hillside, are quite elaborate. They drew on temple design and included inscriptions and decorative elements.

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Unfortunately this necropolis is at severe risk from developers at the moment.

And now for something completely different.

Slonta (4)

What?!

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Erm :/

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Eh?

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Bum!

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Ok. I think we’d better leave it there. We’re all stoned enough.

*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rglxw5cbZWY

**A Tour from Gibraltar to Tangier, Sallee, Mogodore, Santa Cruz, Tarudant: And Thence Over Mount Atlas, to Morocco: Including a Particular Account of the Royal Harem, &c, William Lempriere