Lepcis and Cyrene in Roman times were two very different cities, each typical of the province to which it belonged—Lepcis to Africa Proconsularis, one of the most successfully ‘Romanized’ provinces of the Roman Empire, and Cyrene to the province of Crete and Cyrene which always remained part of the Greek-speaking world and retained much of its Greek character and institutions. Architecturally, Lepcis today is one of the most impressively Roman cities, with its splendid public buildings, which include the grand Severan Forum and Basilica and the massive Hadrianic Thermae, and its spacious streets. Cyrene, in contrast, preserves an image that is severely Greek, dominated by austere Doric architecture. Even in quite late Roman times there seems to have been a determined effort to preserve the old forms, so that the Capitolium, for example, on the edge of the old Agora, was re-built under Antoninus Pius as a Greek building.
On the occasion of the Libya exhibition, I have tried to find a theme to bring together these two very diverse provinces that both form part of the modern Libyan Arab Republic. The choice of Septimius Severus, emperor from A.D. 193–211, needs some explanation. He was, of course, born at Lepcis probably in 146; he was there again as legatus of his uncle, the Proconsul of Africa; he may have gone there as Emperor in A.D. 203 during a grand tour of Africa and personally planned the great building programme which transformed his home-city. There is, on the other hand, no record of his ever having been at Cyrene, though he might have gone there as a boy. It is generally believed, indeed, that his first experience of the Greek-speaking empire was when he went to Syria to serve under Pertinax in A.D. 180. He does, however, provide a suitable link in that he was commemorated by sculptured monuments in both places, and the attitudes of mind which these monuments reflect, help us, I think to understand the underlying unity as well as the diversity of the two provinces.