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Bill Thayer

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Cities in the Sand
Leptis Magna and Sabratha in Roman Africa


(p7) Preface

This book is intended primarily as a pictorial introduction to the personality of two towns. Today they attract only a few curious travelers, but two thousand years ago Leptis Magna and Sabratha teemed with important agricultural and commercial life. It was this very manner of life which made these cities, their surrounding province and all of Africa so important to citizens living in Rome, the capital city of the Roman Empire. Since those ancient days the rougher forces of nature have re-exerted their control over this section of the Tripolitanian coast, knocking great colonnades to the ground, bruising finely carved architrave blocks, and finally smothering all in drifting sand dunes.

In modern times a few mysterious sentinel-like stones encouraged sporadic digging for the sake of recovering an occasional strange inscription or piece of mute sculpture. This, however, was most certainly not the way to discover exactly what lay beneath the sands, and during its control over modern Tripolitania the Italian government encouraged its archaeologists to devote attention to these symbols of Rome's ancient past. For the first time scientific methods of excavation were applied to the ruins of Leptis Magna and Sabratha and eventually authoritative reports began to appear in the indispensable series entitled Africa Italiana. In more recent years work has been done at Leptis Magna and the hinterland of Tripolitania under the auspices of the British School at Rome as well. In a forthcoming publication, the British School will survey in scholarly detail the result of its efforts at Leptis Magna.

From these remarks it will be evident that our present little book cannot pretend to cover all the fine points and valuable details of a scientific publication. Rather can it serve only as a visual lure to attract the attention of the curious reader to a subject of undeniable value and interest.

The author is deeply indebted to John B. Ward Perkins, Esq., for his very kind suggestions concerning the text and illustrations. While studying the latter the reader should be advised that restoration and reconstruction have been restored to by the excavators in order to offer some concept of original forms as well as to protect what original elements still survive.

K. M.


Technical Details

Edition Used



As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if successful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription is being minutely proofread. I run a first proofreading pass immediately after entering each chapter; then a second proofreading, detailed and meant to be final: in the table of contents above, the chapters are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe them to be completely errorfree; or on red backgrounds, meaning that the chapter has not received that second final proofreading. The header bar at the top of each chapter page will remind you with the same color scheme.

The print edition was well proofread; there are few typographical errors. These few errors then, when I could fix them, I did, marking the correction each time with one of these: º. If for some reason I could not fix the error or merely suspected one, it is marked º: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles. Very occasionally, also, I use this blue circle to make some brief comment.

Inconsistencies or errors in punctuation are remarkably few; they have been corrected to the author's usual style, in slightly brighter blue — barely noticeable on the page when it's a comma for example like this one, but it shows up in the sourcecode as <SPAN CLASS="emend">. Finally, a number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic ‑‑> in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any other mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have the printed edition in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is indicated by local links in the sourcecode and made apparent in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this linep57). Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

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Site updated: 17 Jul 07