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‘Libyan’ Forts in South-west Cyrenaica

  • R. G. Goodchild

In his comprehensive study of the Eastern Libyans, published in 1914, Oric Bates devoted several pages to the discussion of certain forts, seen in south-west Cyrenaica by 19th-century travellers, the architecture of which seemed to indicate a native Libyan origin, entirely free from Greek or Roman influence. After repeating the descriptions given by these travellers, and reconstructing plans and sections of two of the forts from the recorded measurements (always a perilous undertaking), Bates concluded that these structures, typified by Gasr el-Heneia near Agedabia, and by several examples near Ghemines, belonged to the ninth or eighth century B.C., ‘the great era of polygonal masonry’.

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1 Oric Bates, The Eastern Libyans (London, 1914), 160 seq.

2 Diodorus Siculus, III, 49.

3 The area between Ghemines and Agedabia was not brought effectively under Italian control until 1923, whilst the bottom of the Syrtic gulf was only pacified in 1928.

4 The archaeological serveys of Gasr el-Heneia and the Ghemines forts were carried out by Messrs M. Ballance, R. McGregor, D. Smith, J. Spaul, and P. Titchmarsh in July, 1950, under the direction of the writer. We are indebted to the Government of Cyrenaica for many facilities, including accommodation at Agedabia and Ghemines, and to the British military authorities.

5 J. Hamilton, Wanderings in North Africa (London, 1856), 175-6.

6 G. Rohlfs, Von Tripolis nach Alexandrien (Bremen, 1871), vol. 11, 39.

7 Itinerari della Cirenaica (Note ed appunti della missione Bodrero, Feb.-Mar. 1919. (Rome, 1920) 76 and fig. 99-101.

8 A. Fantoli, La Libia negli scritti degli antichi (Rome, 1933) pl. opp. p. 140.

9 The ditches which surround the Roman towers and fortified farms of Libya are usually uninterrupted, and bridges must have existed in most cases. Gasr el-Heneia does, however, provide the first evidence of their existence.

10 The thickness of these walls probably indicates that the building had an upper storey, and was a high watch-tower.

11 The plan (fig. 4) was made by Mr John Spaul in conditions of considerable difficulty, owing to lack of light, and to intrusive sand and rubble. The alignments of rooms c, D, and E could only be ascertained approximately.

12 Niches of this type are frequently found in the Roman fortified farms of the Tripolitanian desert area. They probably held lamps.

13 It is, perhaps, unlikely that this small and unlit stable was ever used except in an emergency.

14 A diagonal loop-hole, at the north end of room B, effectively covers the entrance from the outer stable to the ditch.

15 In the absence of any dated tomb-groups or stratified series the coarse wares of Roman Cyrenaica remain relatively uninformative. Mr David Smith, of Durham University, is studying the sherds collected during the Libyan Map expeditions of 1950-1.

16 One pencilled graffito gives the name of Oberleutnant Friederich Von Freiharth and the date 1916. This German Officer must have been one of the enemy agents landed by submarine during the Great War in order to stir up the Senussi against the Italian and British allies.

17 The possibility of these being secondary must be borne in mind. See above, p. 133.

18 Not only the Greek tombs of Cyrene, but also the Roman tombs of Tocra, are almost entirely rock-cut. This rock-cutting tradition seems to have died out during the later Roman period and has not yet been found in a Byzantine context.

19 The Ain Mara Fort, which is evidently the one referred to by Synesius in his description of Hydrax (Letter 67) will be published elsewhere.

20 S. Ferri, ‘ Firme di legionari della Siria nella Gran Sirte ‘, Rivista di Tripolitania 11 (1926) 363-86. (= S.E.G., IX, 773-95).

21 The so-called ‘ Christian basilica ‘ of Agedabia (Romanelli, La Cirenaica Romana (Verbania, 1943), fig. 31) is actually the only surviving fragment of the great early Islamic fortress-palace seen at Agedabia by Pacho and other 19th-century travellers.

22 Procopius, De aedificiis, VI, 2. For Boreum see journ. Rom. Stud., XLI, (1951) (forthcoming).

23 H. W. and F. W. Beechey, Proceedings of the expedition to explore the northern coast of Africa (1821-22). (London, 1828) 244-6.

24 In the Beecheys’ report there are frequent references in the text to illustrations which were not actually published. It appears that H. W. Beechey proposed to publish these in a separate monograph, together with drawings made in Nubia ; but this publication never saw the light of day.

25 Ammianus, XXVIII, 6 ; Synesius, Catastasis and Letters (passim).

26 Journ. Rom. Stud, XXXIX (1949), 81-95, and XL (1950), 30-8.

27 The equivalent Latin term would probably be pacati (cf. Procopius, De aedif. VI, 3) or feoderati.

28 Synesius, Letter 130. (ed. Fitzgerald).

29 During the 1950 expedition native sites, with few traces of romanisation, were found between el-Abiar and Charruba, and also near Martuba, southeast of Derna. The later prehistory of Libya has been sadly neglected, and merits investigation.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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