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Tripolitania and the Marble Trade

  • John Ward Perkins


The excavation of Lepcis Magna and of Sabratha has yielded a number of inscriptions that document the supply and use of marble for architectural purposes under the Roman Empire. The texts of these inscriptions will appear shortly in the collection, ‘Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania,’ which is now being prepared by Miss J. M. Reynolds and the writer for publication by the British School at Rome (referred to hereafter as IRT). Few of them have been previously published, and of none has the significance been discussed. They have, however, an important bearing both on the architectural and on the economic history of their times; and the pages that follow are an attempt to indicate something of their character and significance, and to suggest further useful lines of inquiry.



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1 This article is the outcome of work done in Tripolitania in collaboration with two recent scholars of the British School at Rome, Miss J. M. Reynolds (epigraphy) and Mr. M. H. Ballance (the identification of the marbles). To both of these the writer records his grateful thanks; also to Dr. C. Chiesa, Director of the Museo Libico at Tripoli; to Professor G. Caputo, Dr. Glanville Downey, Mr. T. J. Dunbabin, Mr. Michael Gough, Mr. Russell Meiggs, M. G. Ch. Picard, and others, too numerous to name, for information about unpublished material and for bibliographical references.

2 IRT 794.

3 See p. 102, n. 5.

4 IRT 794(b). If this text has been correctly restored, it is the latest member of the series recorded on Synnadic marble.

5 Bartoccini, R., Le Terme di Lepcis (Leptis Magna), Bergamo, 1929.

6 IRT 361.

7 IRT 262, 396, 601 (cellam thermarum marmoribus Numidicis et opere musaeo exornaverit).

8 CIL III, 7005.

9 CIL III, 7032.

10 For the finds made in 1868–70 in the Marmorata, see Bruzza, L., Annali dell'Istituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica XLII (1870), 106204. This article (cited hereafter as ‘Bruzza’) is still fundamental to any study of the Roman trade in precious marbles. A further article on the Marmorata, by Professor G. Q. Giglioli, is forthcoming in Rend. Pont. Ace.; the writer has not had access to the latter.

11 And mason's marks, see postscript, p. 103. It now appears certain that the majority of the Tripolitanian texts were cut after shipment.

12 Plut., Popl. 15; this passage is evidence also for the work that remained to be done after shipment.

13 Bruzza, passim. A marble-yard found at Ostia, in the temple of the Fabri Navales on the Decumanus, includes what appears to be a single shipment of small columns of a rather coarse Greek marble, the stock of an early fourth-century contractor; they are unusually roughly dressed.

14 e.g. IG XIV, 2421, 1; CIL VIII, 14560.

15 IRT 798a.

16 IRT 804–6.

17 Perhaps grey granite; Notiziario Archeologico II (1916), 331.

18 IRT 530(a).

19 IRT 530(b).

20 PIR 2 F 554.

21 IRT 427, 428; Guidi, G., Afr. Ital. II (19281929), 231 ff.

22 Pliny, , HN XXXVI, 49, ascribes it to Melos; but the text is certainly corrupt. One MS., followed by Isidore of Seville, (Etymol. XVI, 5, 17) reads Chios, which may well be correct. Bruzza's identification of marmor Luculleum with the modern ‘africano’ based on a misunderstanding of Pliny's words; see Guarducci, M., Rend. Pont. Acc. XVI (1940), 1718. Gjerstad's recent excavations in the Forum show that the lapis niger is of just this date; it may almost certainly be identified with marmor Luculleum, at that date a precious rarity.

23 Guarducci, o.c. 14–21.

24 Pliny, , HN xxxvi, 158, cf. 135; Philostr., vit. soph. II, i, 1922. The Lesbian marble was perhaps grey rather than black. Pliny, (HN XXXVI, 62) also mentions black marble with a reddish tinge from Alabanda and Miletus.

25 XXXVI 135.

26 Cited by L. C. West, Roman Gaul: the objects of trade 1935, 143–4.

27 IRT, introduction to ‘Lepcis Magna’.

28 Daremberg-Saglio, s.v. ‘marbre’, 1604.

29 HN XXXVI, 135. I owe this information, and samples of the marble, to M. Grenier. Extensive inquiry has revealed no other source of black marble in North Africa.

30 Cf. Mela I, 37, ‘Leptis altera’; Pliny, , HN v, 27, ‘Leptis altera quae cognominatur Magna.’

31 P-W III, 2, 2278 ff.

32 For a Gallic marble quarry that was privately worked, see CIL XIII, 38.

33 1 19, 6: καί οἱ (the stadium at Athens, built by Herodes) τὸ πολὺ τῆς λιθοτομίας τῆς Πεντέλῃσιν ἐς τὴν οἰκοδομὴν ἀνηλώθη; cf. VI 21, 2; X 32, 1.

34 Graindor, P., Un milliardaire antique: Herodes Atticus et sa famille, Cairo, 1930, 182, n. 2; followed by Larsen, J. A. O. in Frank, Tenney, Economic Survey of Ancient Rome IV, 1938, 462.

35 e.g., to Rome, for the arch of Titus, for Domitian's palace and for the temple of Minerva, and for the Pantheon; and to Lepcis Magna, see below, pp. 93 f. It is common at Ostia.

36 Bruzza, no. 291: ‘Serbilio Pudente et Fufidio Pollione cos. caesura CLA (or CIA) Hier. Attici et Apolloni Lupi,’ followed by figures. Borghesi (ap. Bruzza, p. 121) proposed to read ‘Cla(udi) Her(odis) Attici’; but the letters CLA or CIA are a familiar although as yet unexplained, feature of the quarry-mark series (Bruzza, p. 109); and the association of Herodes Atticus himself with the obscure Apollonius Lupus is most improbable.

37 Inv. 2400, 2401; Ruesch, nos. 4, 5; IG XIV, 1390.

38 H. Bloch, I bolli laterizi e la storia edilizia romana (Studi e mat. del Mus. dell'Imp. R.), 4; reprinted from Bull. Arch. Com. LXIV (1936)–LXVI (1938), Rome, 1947, 292 ff.

38a See, however, postscript, p. 103.

39 IRT 799–803.

40 Perkins, J. B. Ward, JRS XXXVIII (1948), 6670; Thompson, Homer A., Hesperia XIX (1950), 86.

41 IRT 807 (a) and (b); see also postscript, p. 104.

42 IRT 799 (r).

43 The ship wrecked in late Republican times off Mahdia, in Tunisia, carried marble capitals (Merlin, A. and Poinssot, L., ‘Cratères et candelabres de marbre trouvés en mer près de Mahdia,’ Gouvernment Tunisien: notes et documents, etc., IX, 1930, 14; Catal. du Musée Alaoui 2e suppl., 32 B. 102–122); but the cargo was exceptional, booty possibly from the Sullan sack of Peiraeus; it cannot be used as evidence of ordinary commercial practice in imperial times. Tapering blocks, very roughly trimmed to the shape of a capital, are recorded from the quarries at Luna; Bruzza, , Diss. Pont. Acc. 2, 11 (1884), 434, no. 40.

44 Ward Perkins, o.c. 60–72.

45 ibid. 72–4; Toynbee, and Perkins, Ward, PBSR XVIII (1950), 37–9.

46 IRT 798.

47 IRT 191 (a) and (b), from Bartoccini's MS. notes.

48 First used architecturally in the theatre, dedicated A.D. 1–2, IRT 321. The inscription IRT 320 is three years earlier.

49 Notably the remains of the original East Forum temple, excavated by Guidi, and re-examined and surveyed in 1948 by the British School at Rome's expedition.

50 Romanelli, P., Afr. Ital. VII (1940), 87105; IRT 353.

51 The Theatre, the Chalcidicum, the Temple of Liber Pater and the Temple of Rome and Augustus; probably also the porticoes of the Forum Vetus.

52 The West Gate arch, the Antonine portico at the west corner of the Forum Vetus, and the building, later converted into a Curia, at the east corner of the Forum Vetus.

53 The Arch of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 163) and the Templum Genii Coloniae (A.D. 183–4; Caputo, , Afr. Ital. VII (1940), 3545). The third, probably a bathbuilding, under the Castle, is undated.

54 HN XXXVI, 49.

55 CIL VIII, 14578–9, 14583, A.D. 149–151.

56 CIL VIII, 14564, 14580–1, A.D. 133–150.

57 Stat., Silv. I, 2, 148; I, 5, 36; IV, 2, 27. Martial VI, 42, 13. Iuv., Sat. VII, 182.

58 Suet., Iul. 85; Hor., Car. 11, 18, ‘non trabes Hymettiae premant columnas ultima recisas Africa.’

59 For which, see p. 98.

60 Including columns, Bruzza no. 221; also CIL xv, 7927(3).

61 CIL xv, 7926.

62 The columns of the exedrae, and for paving and veneer.

63 Paus. 1, 18, 9.

64 IGRR IV, 1431.

65 Bruzza, no. 220: the formula ex r(atione) elsewhere belongs to a more developed phase of imperial organization (see p. 100). To an earlier phase, very possibly pre-Trajanic, belong a certain number of undated texts that record simply the name of the responsible imperial slave, e.g. Puteolan(us) Cae(saris), followed by the serial number of the block; CIL VIII, 14591–5, Bruzza, nos. 225, 228.

66 CIL VIII, 14586 (Antoninus Pius); 14587, 14589; and Bruzza, nos. 222, 224 (A.D. 166–199).

67 CIL VIII, 14589.

68 SHA, vit. Gord. 32, 2.

69 SHA, vit. Tac. 10, 5.

70 CIL VIII, 14600.

71 e.g. Sid. Apoll., carm. XI, 18; cf. XXII, 136 ff.

72 Paul. Sil. II, 218.

73 Africano, first in 75; portasanta, by 96; Numidian, before 107; Carystian, between the latter part of the first century and 134. The Phrygian quarries, on the other hand, do not seem ever to have adopted the formula.

74 Bruzza, nos. 140, 147.

75 v, 222; VIII, 267; IX, 399, 437; x, 446, 487; XII, 577; XIII. 588–9; XIV, 645, 658.

76 XXXVI, 6, 7, 14, 44–9, 55–9, 62, 63, 102.

77 Strabo VIII, 367; Pliny, , HN xxxvi, 55. The well-known quarries of Mons Claudianus were presumably opened under Claudius.

78 Usually identified with Skyran, on the evidence of Bruzza no. 238.

79 For other instances of the use of marble in the pavements of Pompeii, see Blake, Marion E., Mem. Am. Ac. R. VIII (1930), 11159.

80 Rebert, H. F., Mem. Am. Ac. R., v (1925), 66, 75; it is not, however, impossible that some or all of these belong to a later restoration (CIL VI, 89). The door-sill consists of two blocks of portasanta.

81 Pliny, , HN XXXVI, 5, 7, 48, 114.

82 There is nothing in the remains at present exposed to indicate any radical later modifications. The example of the Forum Iulium, however, the Domitianic-Trajanic restoration of which is attested only by a fragment of the Fasti Ostienses, suggests the need of caution until the material has been fully studied and published.

83 IX, 437.

84 The marble needed for a single cornice-block, measuring 5 feet by 4 feet by 3 feet, would serve to pave an area of about 800 square feet.

85 Martial VI, 42, 11–20; Statius, , Silvae I, 5, 3441.

86 e.g. the Numidian columns of the portico beside the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine (Prop. 11, 31, 3), dedicated in 28 B.C.; the Temple itself, one of the richest Augustan monuments, was built of Luna. Perhaps also the Basilica Aemilia, which Pliny, (HN XXXVI, 102) ranks with the Forum Augustum and the templum Pacis among the wonders of Roman architecture: the reference to Phrygian columns raises difficult questions of identification (the surviving columns are of africano and of Carystian); but the general sense of the passage is clear and illuminating for the contemporary attitude to architecture in precious marble.

87 Dio 56, 30, 3–4: τὴν Ῥώμην γηίνην παραλαβὼν λιθίνην ὑμῖν καταλείπω: Suet., Div. Aug. 28, 3.

88 On the authority of Flaminio Vacca; the identification has been questioned, Platner-Ashby, Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome 247.

89 A very large column now lying in the Via dei Fori Imperiali. The many columns of red Egyptian granite found during the excavation probably belong rather to the restoration after the Commodan fire.

90 Plut., Popl. 15.

91 Cf. Trajan's Forum: columns of Synnadic, Carystian and Numidian marble and of grey Egyptian granite; entablatures of Luna; sculptured column of Parian.

92 Proc., bell. goth. I, 22, 13.

93 Paus. I, 18, 9; IGRR IV, 1431.

94 Carystian under Hadrian (Bruzza, no. 1 = ILS 8717); Numidian under Antoninus Pius or M. Aurelius (see p. 96 f.); Egyptian granite (greatly increased production, including probably new workings) under Trajan and Hadrian.

95 It is perhaps significant that under the later Antonines, when imported marble was being very widely used throughout North Africa, there was relatively little new monumental building in Rome.

96 Bruzza, L., ‘Sui marmi lunensi,’ Diss. Pont. Acc. 2 11 (1884), 389448; Banti, L., Studi Etruschi v (1931). 475497.

97 Bruzza, l.c.; CIL VI, 8484, 8485.

98 A small circular recess, which may have contained a lead seal, can be seen on the upper or lower surface of many columns.

99 See above, p. 92.

100 Guarducci, M., Rend. Pont. Acc. XVI (1940), 1420. The marbles listed are: red and green (Laconian) porphyry; Thessalian (verde antico); marmor Luculleum; Lesbian; Thasian; Skyrian; Synnadic (Δοκιμηνοῦ); grey Egyptian granite (Κλαυδιανοῦ); and two marbles that are not otherwise recorded, Ανακαστηνοῦ and Ποταμογαλληνοῦ.

101 e.g. the columns for the Septizonium. The marbles used architecturally in the Severan buildings at Lepcis Magna are Carystian, Pentelic, Hymettan or Proconnesian, and red and grey Egyptian granite.

102 SHA, vit. Gord. 32, 2; the author's annotation, pari mensura, suggests that the re-use of earlier material was already the normal practice.

103 One of these (of an unidentified white marble) now stands behind Santa Maria Maggiore.

104 See table, p. 102.

105 M. G. Picard states that there is one such, inscribed in Greek on the abacus of a Corinthian capital from the Antonine Baths at Carthage. Another possible example, brought to my notice by Professor Homer Thompson, is from the Odeum of Agrippa, at Athens (Hesperia XIX (1950), pl. 35 c).

106 Squarciapino, M., La scuola di Afrodisia (Studi e materiali del Museo di Roma 3), Rome, 1943; Perkins, J. B. Ward, JRS XXXVIII (1948), 72–4; Toynbee, J. M. C. and Perkins, J. B. Ward, PBSR XVIII (1950), 3740; see further Richter, G. M. A., Proc. Am. Phil. Soc. xcv, 1951, 184191.

107 Toynbee and Ward Perkins, o.c. 20, pl. XVII, and 35.

page 102 note 1 The identification with marmor Chium (Bruzza, p. 143) is based on a misinterpretation of Pliny, , HN XXXVI, 46, 49. If Pliny has correctly named the columns of the Basilica Aemilia (XXXVI, 102) it may come from Phrygia.

page 102 note 2 Bruzza, pp. 143–6, nos. 138–190.

page 102 note 3 Including 6 (Bruzza, nos. 175–7, 348–350) that omit the formula ex ratione and are probably, therefore, earlier than 76 (Bruzza, no. 151); see p. 97.

page 102 note 4 For the lead seals that served, on occasion, as quarry-marks, see Bruzza, pp. 115–18; CIL XV, p. 988, nos. 7921–7939, with preceding bibliography.

page 102 note 5 At Dokimeion (Docimium), 36 m. north of Synnada, and in the upper Tembris valley. CIL III, 356–8, 7005–7034, 12227–9, 14402 g–i; Ramsey, Mél. d'arch. et d'hist. II (1882), 290–301; Mon, As. Min. Ant. IV, nos. 6–8; ILS 8721, 8722; JRS XVIII (1928), 22–3.

page 102 note 6 Sixteen blocks, quarried and checked between 69 and 107, were still in the quarries and were counterchecked at dates ranging from 100 to 116.

page 102 note 7 Bruzza, pp. 190–1, nos. 255–265; ILS 8716.

page 102 note 8 Bruzza, no. 255, a column fragment with a lead seal inscribed …]IPPAE, and attributed to Agrippa.

page 102 note 9 Sometimes identified, on the evidence of Paul. Sil. 213 ff., as Carian, from lassos; Bruzza, p. 148.

page 102 note 10 Bruzza, pp. 146–9, nos. 191–219.

page 102 note 11 At Simitthus (Hr. Schemtu or Chemtou) in Tunisia; CIL VIII, 14560–14600; ILS 8723. See pp. 96 f.

page 102 note 12 A.D. 199.

page 102 note 13 Bruzza, pp. 149–151, nos. 220–236.

page 102 note 14 Ascribed to 64 by Bruzza (no. 220); but the formula ex r(atione) is elsewhere a late feature; see p. 97.

page 102 note 15 Near Carystos, in Southern Euboea; CIL III, 12288, cf. 12286; also 563, 12289, cf. VI, 8486, probably late first century (as CIL III, p. 987) rather than Hadrianic (as Bruzza, p. 142).

page 102 note 16 New quarries were opened under Hadrian, Bruzza no. 1.

page 102 note 17 Bruzza, pp. 140–3, nos. 1–137.

page 102 note 18 Bruzza no. 2, very doubtfully ascribed to A.D. 17.

page 102 note 19 Bruzza nos. 14, 17–42, which he dates c. 135 (p. 142), must be of the late first century (CIL III, p. 987; see, in particular, the reference to Claudia Aug. lib. Dynamis in CIL III, 563).

page 102 note 20 CIL III, 419; Bruzza nos. 243–254. All between 163 and 166.

page 102 note 21 Bruzza, nos. 293–301.

page 102 note 22 CIL xv, p. 988, nos. 7921–5, 7927(4), 7928 ff. For these seals, see above, n. 4.

page 102 note 23 ibid. 7921.

page 102 note 24 Or Nerva; ibid. 7922.

page 102 note 25 Elagabalus (Garrucci, , Dissert. archeol. II, 1865, 80); and Alexander Severus (3), Claudius Gothicus, Tetrarchy, , CIL xv, 7930–1, 7933, 7939.

page 103 note 108 Vitr. II, 8, 10; X, 2, 15; Strabo XIII, 588; Pliny, , HN V, 151; XXXVI, 47.

page 103 note 109 CIG 3268, 3282, 3386; IGRR IV, 1464–5 (all from Smyrna); Arif Müfid Mansel and Askidil Akarca, Excavations and Researches at Perge, Ankara, 1949, 4 (at Perge).

page 103 note 110 Constant. Porph. de caerimoniis (ed. Bonn corpus) 642 f.

page 103 note 111 Paul. Sil. vv. 664–5.

page 103 note 112 e.g. the chancel-fittings of San Clemente.

page 103 note 113 In San Vitale and the other sixth-century churches, passim.

page 103 note 114 The fittings of one such church, built by Justinian at Sabratha, are discussed by the writer in an article forthcoming in Archaeologia vol. xcv. There is an even more striking example, also the work of Justinian, partially excavated at Apollonia, in Cyrenaica. In both cases the possibility of local workmanship can be absolutely excluded.

page 103 note 115 Perkins, Ward, PBSR XVII (1949), 6071.

Tripolitania and the Marble Trade

  • John Ward Perkins


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