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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Buildings


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

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Book VI

 p361  1 1 Thus were these things done by the Emperor Justinian. And at Alexandria he did the following. The Nile River does not flow all the way to Alexandria, but after flowing to the town which is named from Chaereüs, it then turns to the left, leaving aside the confines of Alexandria. 2 Consequently the men of former times, in order that the city might not be entirely cut off from the river, dug a very deep canal from Chaereüs and thus by means of a short branch made the river accessible to it. There too, as it  p363 chances, are the mouths of certain streams flowing in from Lake Maria.​1 3 In this canal it is by no means possible for large vessels to sail, so at Chaereüs they transfer the Egyptian grain to boats which they are wont to call diaremata,​2 and thus convey it to the city, which they are enabled to reach by way of the canal-route, and they deposit it in the quarter of the city which the Alexandrians call Phialê. 4 But since it often came about that the grain was destroyed in that place by the people rising in sedition, the Emperor Justinian surrounded this district with a wall and so prevented the damage to the grain. 5 Thus were these things done by the Emperor Justinian.

But inasmuch as our account has now led us to Egypt, the close neighbour of Libya, let us now set forth how many things were done by him there also, since this Emperor found all Libya too lying under the power of barbarians and joined it to the remainder of the Roman Empire.

[link to original Greek text] 6 The Nile River, flowing out of India into Egypt, divides that land into two parts as far as the sea. The land, thus divided by the stream, is thenceforth designated by two separate names:​3 7 the region on  p365 the right of the river is called Asia as far as Colchian Phasis, which divides Asia from the continent of Europe, or even all the way to the Cimmerian Strait and the River Tanaïs.​4 8 In regard to this question those who are learned in these matters are in conflict with one another, as has been made clear in the Books on the Wars​5 in the course of my description of the sea called Euxine. 9 And the land on the left of the Nile bears the name of Libya as far as the Ocean, which on the west marks the boundary between the two continents by sending out a certain arm​6 which opens out into this sea of ours. 10 All the rest of Libya has received several different names, each region being designated, presumably, by the name of the people who dwell there. 11 However, the territory extending from the confines of Alexandria as far as the cities of Cyrenê, comprising the Pentapolis, is now the only region which is called by the name of Libya. 12 In that territory is a city one day's journey distant from Alexandria, Taphosiris by name, where they say that the god of the Egyptians, Osiris, was buried. 13 In this city the Emperor Justinian built many things, and in particular the residences of the magistrates and baths.

[link to original Greek text] 2 1 The greatest part of this land of Libya chances to have been desert, which was in general neglected. 2 Yet our Emperor takes thought for this land also with watchful care, so that it might not have the ill fortune to suffer anything from inroads of the Moors who inhabit the adjoining country; and to this end he established there two strongholds with garrisons, one of which they call Paratonium,º7 while the other,  p367 which lies not far from the Pentapolis, has received the name Antipyrgum. 3 And the Pentapolis is removed from Alexandria by a twenty days' journey for an unencumbered traveller.​8 4 In this region of Pentapolis the Emperor Justinian surrounded the city of Teuchira​9 with very strong fortifications. 5 The circuit-wall of Bernicê​10 he rebuilt from its lowest foundations. 6 In that city he also built a bath for the use of the people. 7 Furthermore, on the extreme boundary of the Pentapolis which faces the south, he constructed fortresses in two monasteries which bear the names Agriolodê and Dinarthisum; 8 and these stand as bulwarks against the barbarians of that region, so that they may not come down stealthily into Roman territory and suddenly fall upon it.

[link to original Greek text] 9 There is a certain city there, Ptolemaïs​11 by name, which in ancient times had been prosperous and populous, but as time went on it had come to be almost deserted owing to extreme scarcity of water. 10 For the great majority of the population, driven by thirst, had moved from there long ago and gone wherever each one could. 11 Now, however, this Emperor has restored the city's aqueduct and thus brought back to it its former measure of prosperity. The last city of Pentapolis towards the west is named Boreium.​12 12 Here the mountains press close upon one another, and thus forming a barrier by their crowding, effectively close the entrance to the enemy. 13 This city, which had been without a wall, the Emperor enclosed with very strong defences, thus making it  p369 as safe as possible for the future, together with the whole country round about it.

[link to original Greek text] 14 And there are two cities which are known by the same name, each of them being called Augila.​a 15 These are distant from Boreium about four days' journey for an unencumbered traveller,​13 and to the south of it; and they are both ancient cities whose inhabitants have preserved the practices of antiquity, for they all were suffering from the disease of polytheism even up to my day. 16 There from ancient times there have been shrines dedicated to Ammon and to Alexander the Macedonian. 17 The natives actually used to make sacrifices to them even up to the reign of Justinian. 18 In this place there was a great throng of those called temple-slaves. But now the Emperor has made provision, not alone for the safety of the persons of his subjects, but he has also made it his concern to save their souls, be thus he has cared in every way for the people living there. 19 Indeed he by no means neglected to take thought for their material interests in an exceptional way, and also he has taught them the doctrine of the true faith, making the whole population Christians and bringing about a transformation of their polluted ancestral customs. 20 Moreover he built for them a Church of the Mother of God to be a guardian of the safety of the cities and of the true faith. So much, then, for this.

[link to original Greek text] 21 The city of Boreium, which lies near the barbarian Moors, has never been subject to tribute up to the present time, nor have any collectors of tribute or  p371 taxes come to it since the creation of man. 22 The Jews had lived close by from ancient times, and they had an ancient temple there also, which they revered and honoured especially, since it was built, as they say, by Solomon, while he was ruling over the Hebrew nation. 23 But the Emperor Justinian brought it about that all these too changed their ancestral worship and have become Christians, and he transformed their temple into a church.

[link to original Greek text] 3 1 Beyond these lie the Great Syrtes, as they are called. And I shall explain what their form is and why they are given this name. 2 A sort of shore projects there, but is itself divided by the influx of the sea, and being hidden by the water it seems to disappear and to retreat back into itself; and it forms by its curve a very long crescent-shaped gulf.​14 3 The chord of the crescent extends to a distance of four hundred stades,​15 but the perimeter of the crescent amounts to a six-days' journey,​16 4 for the sea, thrusting itself inside of this arm of the mainland, forms the gulf. 5 When a ship driven by the wind or wave gets inside the opening and beyond the chord of the crescent, it is then impossible for it to return, but from that moment it seems "to be drawn" (suresthai)​17 and appears distinctly to be dragged steadily forward.  p373 6 From this fact, I suppose, the men of ancient times named the place Syrtes because of the fate of the ships. 7 On the other hand, it is not possible for the ships to make their way to the shore, for submerged rocks scattered over the greater part of the gulf do not permit sailing there, since they destroy the ships in the shoals. 8 Only in small boats are the sailors of such ships able to save themselves, with good luck, by picking their way amid perils through the outlets.

[link to original Greek text] 9 Here are the boundaries of Tripolis,​18 as it is called. It is inhabited by the barbarian Moors, a Phoenician race. Here too is a city, Cidamê​19 by name; 10 and in it live Moors who have been at peace with the Romans from ancient times. All these were won over by the Emperor Justinian and voluntarily adopted the Christian doctrine. 11 These Moors are now called pacati, because they have a permanent treaty with the Romans; for peace they call pacem in the Latin tongue. 12 Tripolis is a twenty-days' journey from the Pentapolis for an unencumbered traveller.20

[link to original Greek text] 4 1 Next after this comes the city of Leptis Magna,​21 which in ancient times was large and populous, though at a later time it came to be deserted for the most part, being through neglect largely buried in sand. 2 Our Emperor built up the circuit-wall of this city from the foundations, not however on as large a scale as it was formerly, but much smaller, in order  p375 that the city might not again be weak because of its very size, and liable to capture by the enemy, and also be exposed to the sand. 3 At present, indeed, he has left the buried portion of the city just as it was, covered by the sand heaped up in mounds, but the rest of the city he has surrounded with a very strongly built wall. 4 Here he dedicated to the Mother of God a very notable shrine, and built four other churches. 5 Furthermore, he rebuilt the palace, which had been built here in early times and now lay in ruins, the work of the ancient Emperor Severus,​22 who was born in this place and so left this palace as a memorial of his good fortune.

[link to original Greek text] 6 Now that I have reached this point in the narrative, I cannot pass over in silence the thing which happened in Leptis Magna in our time. When the Emperor Justinian had already taken over the imperial authority, but had not yet undertaken the Vandalic War, the barbarian Moors, those called Leuathae, over­powered the Vandals, who were then masters of Libya, and made Leptis Magna entirely empty of inhabitants. 7 While they were tarrying for a time with their leaders on hilly ground not far from Leptis Magna, they suddenly saw a flame of fire in the middle of the city. 8 Supposing that local enemies had got in there, they ran to the rescue with great speed. 9 Finding no one there, they took the matter to the soothsayers, who, by an inkling of what has since happened, predicted that Leptis Magna would soon be inhabited again. 10 Not long after that the Emperor's army came and occupied both Tripolis and  p377 the rest of Libya, gaining ascendancy over both the Vandals and the Moors in the war. However, I shall return to the point at which I digressed from my account.

[link to original Greek text] 11 In this city the Emperor Justinian also built public baths, and he erected the circuit-wall of the city from its lowest foundations, and by means both of the baths and of all the other improvements gave it the character of a city. 12 The barbarians who live close by, those called Gadabitani, who up to that time were exceedingly addicted to what is called the Greek​23 form of atheism, he has now made zealous Christians. 13 He also walled the city of Sabrathan,​24 where he also built a very noteworthy church.​b

[link to original Greek text] 14 There are two cities at the extremity of this land, Tacapa​25 and Girgis, between which lie the Lesser Syrtes. 15 There a thing happens every day which is truly wonder­ful. The sea, compressed into a narrow space, forms a crescent-shaped gulf, just as I have said happens at the other Syrtes. 16 The sea comes up on the mainland more than a day's journey for an unencumbered traveller,​26 but towards evening it returns again, leaving the shore there dry as on other coasts. 17 The sailors put out over the mainland, which is temporarily transformed into a sea, and during the day they sail as far as possible by the usual means, but in the late afternoon they make preparations to bivouac as if on land, having certain long poles in readiness. 18 As soon as they observe  p379 that the water is threatening to draw back, with no delay they leap out of the ships holding the poles and dragging them along. 19 At first they swim, and then they stand as soon as the water does not rise above their faces. 20 And they plant the ends of their poles in the earth as soon as it has become dry or is on the point of becoming so, and they set them upright so as to prop up the boat from both sides and keep it upright, in order that it may not fall over to either side and be crushed. 21 On the following day, at early dawn, the mainland again transforms itself into the sea with its rolling waves, and the boats are lifted and float away. 22 The sailors meanwhile remove the poles at just the right moment and proceed to sail once more. 23 This goes on without any variation, but every day the alternation of the elements takes place.

[link to original Greek text] 5 1 After Tripolis and the Syrtes, let us go on to the rest of Libya. 2 We must begin from Carthage, which chances to be the largest and the most noteworthy of the cities in this region, prefa­cing our account with the remark that when Gizeric​c and the Vandals acquired Libya, a device occurred to them which was both pernicious and worthy of barbarians. 3 They reasoned that they would be better off if all the towns of the region should be without walls, so that the Romans might not capture any of them and thus be able to harm the Vandals. 4 So they immediately tore down all the walls to the ground. All the barbarians, as a general thing, are very keen in planning damage to the Romans, and they are very swift in executing whatever they decide upon. 5 Only Carthage  p381 and a few other places were left by them just as they were, for they declined to concern themselves with these, and left them for time to destroy. 6 But the Emperor Justinian (although no man approved of his purpose​27 and all actually shuddered at the undertaking, and only God furthered the project and promised help and support) sent Belisarius and an army against Libya; and he broke the power of Gelimer and the Vandals, killing many and making the rest captives, as I have recounted in the Books of the Wars.​28 7 He restored all the dismantled strongholds in Libya, every one of them, and he also added a great many new ones himself.

[link to original Greek text] 8 First, then, he cared for Carthage, which now, very properly, is called Justinianê, rebuilding the whole circuit-wall, which had fallen down, and digging around it a moat which it had not had before. 9 He also dedicated shrines, one to the Mother of God in the palace, and one outside this to a certain local saint, Saint Prima. 10 Furthermore, he built stoas on either side of what is called the Maritime Forum, and a public bath, a fine sight, which they have named Theodorianae, after the Empress. 11 He also built a monastery on the shore inside the circuit-wall, close to the harbour which they call Mandracium, and by surrounding it with very strong defences he made it an impregnable fortress.

 p383  12 These things, then, were done by Justinian at modern Carthage. In the surrounding region, which is called Proconsularis,​29 there was an unwalled city, Vaga by name, which could be captured not only by a planned attack of the barbarians, but even if they merely chanced to be passing that way. 13 This place the Emperor Justinian surrounded with very strong defences and made it worthy to be called a city, and capable of affording safe protection to its inhabitants. 14 And they, having received this favour, now call the city Theodorias in honour of the Empress. 15 He also built in this district a fortress which they call Tucca.

[link to original Greek text] 6 1 In Byzacium there is a city on the coast, Adramytus by name,​30 which has been large and flourishing from ancient times, and for this reason it won the name and rank of metropolis of the region, since it chances to be first in point of size and, in general, of prosperity. 2 The Vandals had torn the circuit-wall of this city down to the ground, so that the Romans might not be able to use it against them. And it lay conveniently exposed to the Moors when they overran that region. 3 Nevertheless, the Libyans who lived there tried to make provision, so far as they could, for their own safety, and so they made a barricade out of the ruins of the walls and joined their houses together; 4 and from these they would fight against their assailants and try to defend themselves, though their hope was slight and their position precarious. 5 So their safety always hung by a hair and they were kept standing on one leg, being exposed to the attacks of the Moors and to the  p385 neglect of the Vandals. 6 However, when the Emperor Justinian became master of Libya by conquest, he put an exceedingly massive wall about the city and stationed there an adequate garrison of troops, thus giving the inhabitants assurance of safety and enabling them to disdain all enemies. 7 For this reason they now call the place Justinianê, thus repaying the Emperor for their deliverance and displaying their gratitude simply by the adoption of the name, since they had no other means by which they could requite the Emperor's beneficence, nor did he himself wish other requital.

[link to original Greek text] 8 There was also a certain other town on the coast of Byzacium which the inhabitants used to call Caputvada.​31 At that point the Emperor's fleet landed and there the troops first set foot on the land of Libya, when they made the expedition against Gelimer and the Vandals. 9 In that place also God revealed that marvellous and indescribable gift to the Emperor which I have described in the Books on the Wars.​32 10 For although the locality was exceedingly arid, so that the Roman army was very hard pressed by lack of water, the ground, which previously had been completely dry, sent up a spring at the place where the soldiers were building their stockade, 11 for as they dug, the water began to gush forth. So the earth threw off the drought which prevailed there, and transforming its own character became saturated with drinking-water. 12 Because of this circumstance they built a satisfactory camp in that place and  p387 spent that night there; and on the next day they prepared for battle and, to omit what intervened, took possession of Libya. 13 So the Emperor Justinian, by way of bearing witness to the gift of God by means of a permanent testimony — for the most difficult task easily yields to his wish — conceived the desire to transform this place forthwith into a city which should be made strong by a wall and distinguished by its other appointments as worthy to be counted an impressive and prosperous city; and the purpose of the Emperor has been realized. 14 For a wall has been brought to completion and with it a city, and the condition of a farm land is being suddenly changed. 15 And the rustics have thrown aside the plough and lead the existence of a community, no longer going the round of country tasks but living a city life. 16 They pass their days in the market-place and hold assemblies to deliberate on questions which concern them; and they traffic with one another, and conduct all the other affairs which pertain to the dignity of a city.

[link to original Greek text] 17 This then was done in Byzacium on the sea. In the interior of this land and to its farther parts, where barbarian Moors live hard by, he built very power­ful outposts against them, because of which they are no longer able to overrun the Roman dominion. 18 He surrounded each one of the cities with very strong walls, since they stand on the rim of the territory; these bear the names Mammes, Teleptê and Cululis.​33 He also constructed a fort which the natives call Aumetra, and in these places he stationed trustworthy garrisons of troops.

 p389  7 1 In the same way he assured the safety of the land of Numidia by means of fortifications and garrisons of soldiers, each one of which I shall now mention. 2 There is a mountain in Numidia which is called Aurasius,​34 such as chances to be found nowhere else at all in the civilized world. 3 For this mountain rises steeply to a towering height and its perimeter extends to a distance of about three days' journey.​35 It offers no path as one approaches it, having no ascent except over cliffs. 4 But after one gets to the top there is deep soil and level plains and easy roads, meadows good for pasture, parks full of trees and plough-land everywhere. 5 Springs bubble out from the cliffs there, their waters are placid, there are rippling rivers which flow chattering along, and strangest of all, the grain-fields and the trees on this mountain produce crops which are double in size compared with those which are wont to grow in the rest of Libya. Such is the condition of Mt. Aurasius. 6 The Vandals held it originally along with the rest of Libya, but the Moors wrested it from them and settled there. 7 The Emperor Justinian, however, expelled from there the Moors, and Iaudas who ruled over them,​36 and added this mountain to the rest of the Roman Empire. 8 As a precaution in order that the barbarians might not again make trouble by getting a foothold there, he fortified cities about the mountain which he found deserted and altogether unwalled. I refer to Pentebagae and Florentianae and Badê and Meleum and Tamugadê,  p391 as well as two forts, Dabusis and Gaeana; also he established there sufficient garrisons of soldiers, thus leaving to the barbarians there no hope of attacking Aurasius. 9 The district beyond Aurasius, which had not been under the Vandals at all, he wrested from the Moors. There he walled two cities, Fricê and Sitifis.​37 10 At the cities situated in the rest of Numidia, the names of which follow, he set up impregnable defences: Laribuzuduôn, Paraturôn, Cilana, Siccaveneria,​38 Tigisis, Lamfouaomba, Calamaa, Medara,​39 Medela; 11 besides these, two forts, Scilê and Foscala. So much, then, for this.

[link to original Greek text] 12 There is a city on the island Sardô, which is now named Sardinia, called by the Romans Traiani Forum. 13 This Justinian has supplied with a wall which it did not have before, but instead it lay exposed to the island​40 Moors, who are called Barbaricini,​41 whenever they wished to plunder it.

[link to original Greek text] 14 And at Gadira,​42 at one side of the Pillars of Heracles, on the right side of the strait, there had been at one time a fortress on the Libyan shore named Septum;​43 this was built by the Romans in early times, but being neglected by the Vandals, it had been destroyed by time. 15 Our Emperor Justinian made it strong by means of a wall and strengthened its safety by means of a garrison. 16 There too he consecrated  p393 to the Mother of God a noteworthy church, thus dedicating to her the threshold​44 of the Empire, and making this fortress impregnable for the whole race of mankind.

[link to original Greek text] 17 So much for these things. There can be no dispute, but it is abundantly clear to all mankind, that the Emperor Justinian has strengthened the Empire, not with fortresses alone, but also by means of garrisons of soldiers, from the bounds of the East to the very setting of the sun, these being the limits of the Roman dominion. 18 As many, then, of the buildings of the Emperor Justinian as I have succeeded in discovering, either by seeing them myself, or by hearing about them from those who have seen them, I have described in my account to the best of my ability. 19 I am fully aware, however, that there are many others which I have omitted to mention, which either went unnoticed because of their multitude, or remained altogether unknown to me. 20 So if anyone will take the pains to search them all out and add them to my treatise, he will have the credit of having done a needed work and of having won the renown of a lover of fair achievements.45

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Modern Mariut, the ancient Lacus Mareotis.

2 Trans-shipment of grain in Egypt is mentioned in several papyri, which call it the διέρασις (or διαίρασις) τοῦ δημοσίου πυροῦ; in the documents in which reference is made to the vessels into which the grain was transferred, they are called (p363)διεράματα (cf. F. Oertel, Die Liturgie, Leipzig, 1917, p130). The spelling in the present passage may be an error of the author or of a copyist. Procopius' evidence, which has not been used in connection with that of the papyri, confirms Oertel's interpretation against the belief of Preisigke (Wörterbuchs.v., followed by Liddell-Scott-Jones, Lexicons.v.) that a διέραμα was a hopper for lading grain into a vessel. The references to the evidence of the papyri have been supplied by Professor H. C. Youtie.

3 In, Procopius, saying that opinions differ as to the boundaries between Asia and Europe, states that some people maintain that the Nile flows between Asia and Libya.

4 Modern Don.


6 The strait of Gibraltar.

7 Also called Ammonia.

8 About four hundred miles.

9 Modern Tokra.

10 Or Hesperus, modern Benghazi.

11 On the coast of Cyrenaica, modern Tolometa.

12 On the coast; probably modern Tabilbê.

Thayer's Note: I've found no trace, online or off, of Tabilbê; but modern scholar­ship and aerial photography seem to place Boreum elsewhere, identifying it with a place called Bu Grada.

13 About eighty miles.

14 Modern Gulf of Sidra.

15 About fifty miles.

16 About 120 miles.

17 A modern etymology connects the name with the Arabic sert "desert," a term now applied to the whole coast here bordering the Sahara. On the danger to sailors, cf. St. Paul's narrative of his experience, Acts 27.17.

18 That is, Tripolitana.

19 Modern Ghadames.

20 About four hundred miles.

21 Modern Lebida.

22 Lucius Septimius Severus, A.D. 193‑211.

23 I.e. pagan.

24 Modern Tripoli Vecchia.

Thayer's Note: No. Sabratha — the correct spelling — is 70 km from Tripoli, of which the so‑called "Tripoli Vecchia" (old Tripoli) is only the older quarter. The Roman town of Sabratha is a different place, then: uninhabited, and pretty well preserved. For comprehensive details on the ancient city, see Cities in the Sand: Leptis Magna and Sabratha. The book includes excellent photographs of the remains of Justinian's Basilica there: Plates 96‑97.

25 Modern Cabes.

26 About twenty miles.

27 Cf. WarsIII.x.2.

28 Book III.

29 I.e. the province Africa Proconsularis.

30 Hadrumetum; modern Susa.

31 Modern Ras Kaboudia; in WarsIII.xiv.17 Procopius explains the name as meaning "Shoal's Head."

32 III.xv.34, 35; the account given there is repeated in the present passage.

33 Cululis (or Collops Magna, modern Collo) was on the coast near the western boundary of Numidia.

34 Modern Jebel Auress.

35 About sixty miles; actually it is larger than Procopius indicates.

36 Cf. WarsIV.xiii.22 ff.

37 Modern Setif.

Thayer's Note: The ancient history and monuments of Sitifis are very well covered, with about twenty photographs and a map, at Livius.Org.

38 Or Sicca Veneria, modern Keff.º

39 Or Admedera.

40 The Moors living in Sardinia; cf. WarsIV.xiii.44.

41 The region in the interior of Sardinia called Barbargia or Barbagia still preserves the name Barbaricini, but Procopius's explanation of the origin of the barbarian settlers has not been generally accepted. See WarsIV.xiii.44. The name survives in our Berbers.

42 Gades; modern Cadiz.

43 Modern Ceuta.

44 Cf. Libanius Or. lix.37: ἐμβιβάσας γὰρ αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ προοίμιον τῆς βασιλείας.

45 The achievements, that is, of Justinian.

Thayer's Notes:

a Today's Awjila; see the photoillustrated page at Livius.

b For a description of the church at Sabratha (as the city's name is now usually spelled; but our Greek text of Procopius does have Σαβραθὰν), and two very good photographs of the splendid mosaic decoration, see Matthews & Cook, Cities in the Sand, p53.

c Usually now referred to as Genseric or Gaiseric.

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Page updated: 5 Nov 20