Still more on early French travellers to Libya – Durand’s article at last!

Illustration opposite p.200.

In 2010 I wrote about the circus at Leptis Magna, and how guidebooks say that Durand, a 17th century traveller, found it in much better condition.  In 2011 I found a snippet from it.

This week Joe Rock,[1] who commented on the article, has come to all of our assistance.  He has obtained a copy of the article in Le Mercure Galant, March, 1684, and generously shared it with me.  The article, on p.199-219, contains  a letter by Monsieur Durand describing what he saw at Leptis, together with a diagram opposite p.200.

The PDF of the article is here: Mercure Galant_mars_1684_p.199-219 – smaller (PDF)

Dr Rock also created a transcription of the article, which he has kindly allowed me to place here: Mercure Galant transcription (.doc)

The spelling is of course that of French as it was more than four centuries ago.  So I have created a rough translation of the article, which is as follows.  (The drawing above appears opposite p.200).

    *    *    *    *    *    *

Mercure Galant,
March 1684.

[p.199] …

You have heard talk of a great number of columns, which are at Paris, on the Quai, between the Gate of the Conference and the Course, in a forecourt of the Palace of the Tuileries, and of which there remain a very great number at Toulon, which [p.200] must be transported here.  I believe that you have already said that the columns come from Lebida,  otherwise Leptis, an ancient ruined town, and whose territory is today under the government of the state of Tripoli; but here is something curious on this subject. It is a letter of Mr Durand, a young gentleman, who having been at Lebida, there has noted with care everything that he believed worthy of the curiosity of those who love antiquities, and has made a relation of it which he has sent [p.201] from Tripoli.  A copy has been handed to me, and from which I give you the following extract:

LEBIDA, a place situated at thirty-five leagues from Tripoli, to the east, was formerly called Leptis, following an old English author who spoke in these terms, of the place where may still be seen the debris of which I shall speak.  Here is what he says.

Leptis Magna was so-called to distinguish it from another Leptis which was nearby, on the other side of the river.  There may be seen [p.202] another town, also called Leptis.  The Romans having made themselves masters of the place, first occupied by the Greeks, joined these places together and made of them a very great town, very rich and very renowned, which they called Tripolis.  It has been destroyed many times by the inroad of many different peoples, rebuilt likewise many times, and finally entirely abandoned.

Everything is spoken of these, the three towns that the name of Tripolis signifies, the situation, the prodigious [p.203] quantity of debris, and the little to distinguish
[other] two places which are named by this name; so this town and another small habitation forty leagues from here, at Ponant, named in the maps as Tripolis Vetus [old Tripolis], in both of which there is no mark of antiquity, no appearance of a river, and which are not in the situation spoken of; these are something other than Leptis Magna.

Be that as it may, the place must have been extremely impressive, since one may still see there three things which are incomparable, the [p.204] magnificence of the port, which is entirely silted up, a circus of prodigious grandeur, which may easily be distinguished, and a space of almost two leagues along the sea entirely surrounded with walls, and a league inland, and the suburbs of the town were entirely filled with constructions and monuments.  The port resembled the figure marked A in the illustration.  It is of a prodigious extent and labour, entirely surrounded with chiselled stone.  At the mouth are two towers, which it is easy to distinguish, and immediately [p.205] to the two sides of the entrance, there are still some steps which go down to the sea. One may still see there the remains of broken columns.  From the two sides of the circuit of the port, one finds every so often steps, although not so beautiful as those of the terraces of the Tuilleries, and all around there are Amares (?) of stone which once served as vessels.  Near the entrance to the port, the circuit opens into a square, and beyond a platform, there one still goes up twenty-five very large steps; behind which there are five [p.206] arches, and debris of marbles and columns. Apparently there was at that place some kind of magnificent loggia, where the sailors went to render account of their

The striped area that you see in the circuit marks a special opening where the river goes into the sea under an arch, rather than obstruct or inconvenience the port, which is entirely filled up. 

The circus situated on the east side (= côté du levant) along the sea-shore is incomparable. It is a little like the figure marked B in the illustration, being more than twelve hundred feet long and three hundred wide. [p.207]  It has fifteen or sixteen steps all around, almost entirely complete. The square below had some arcades, beneath which one walked.  Of them there are still some remains standing.

The place that you see marked in the middle around which apparently the chariots and horsemen ran, was full of columns, pedestals and figures of marble.  Of these one sees many remains, all dilapidated.  There are some traverses at certain intervals which are two persons wide, and at the end a type of circular amphitheatre. [p.208]  Behind, at the end of the great circus, was a grand arcade which emerged outside. 

The body of the town, as one may easily see, is almost two leagues in length along the sea, surrounded by walls of chiselled stone; of which in places one may see the rampart (le cordon).  There are in this wall some stones with Roman inscriptions, turned upside down and in no order, which indicates that the barbarians have desired to reuse them.    The largest part of the town inland is no more than a league; the wall can be followed almost everywhere. [p.209]  One of the gates of the town which was of a dozen arcades, and of which one may see three still standing, resembles a triumphal arch, and the others half of one. 

Many columns of marble have been taken from this gate, and three among others which are still at the sea-shore (? = la marive), and which nobody has been able to load onto ship because of their size and length, being twenty-five feet de tour (?) by forty long.  This gate belonged to a palace, or perhaps a temple, or maybe both together; whatever the case, it is impossible to describe to you the magnificence of the [p.210] remains of the place. 

One cannot recognise any regularity there.  It is a very great plain, full of masonry made of great stones, especially of marble, without lime or mortar, but which were joined with iron, and covered within with a green marble of which one finds quantities of fragments of the width of a finger, of which the most part has been carried off to Constantinople.  There has been taken from this place, either for Constantinople in the past, or for us at present, more than seven or eight hundred columns, and there are still more than three or [p.211] four hundred of them, either buried or broken and damaged by time.  I have only seen of these ten which are very complete.  This place was without doubt the most impressive in the town. 

The rest is an infinity of buildings, one after another, part filled with sand, and many razed almost to the ground, but all of chiselled stones, and in all of them a very great quantity of columns of all kinds, the grandest made of marble, broken and gnawed, so that it seems that the town has been built over.  There are [p.212] a dozen of them which appear entire, but if one digs the sand out of one, one finds quantities of others in the sand.  The environs of the town are full of ruined masonry, and of the remains of habitations, of which these are the principal ones.  An extraordinary wall fifteen feet thick with supports at a certain interval which are twelve feet square.  This wall is still three hundred feet long, the river whose course it determined having eaten it away, despite its thickness; and although it does not run at all with water in the summer, it was still diverted from the port, [p.213] so that it would not be inconvenienced.  It is half a league from the town.  At a quarter of a league, on the other side, the debris of a very large temple with the marks of a village; three aqueducts, one large and two small, stone blocks, figured with square towers (? Figures de tours en quarré), with pictures of the sun and animals, made apparently to decorate the roads, or to the memory of someone; because there is such a quantity of them, and which are very elevated, some square, some pointed.  At a single league from Ponant along the sea, [there are] the marks of a very great village [p.214] surrounded by walls, the remains of forts and cisterns; in the environs of the town,  the remains of a quantity of subterranean cisterns, and magnificent in their grandeur, but all filled with sand. As it does not rain here in summer, these are apparently all the cisterns of the town filled which have forced the abandonment of a  country as beautiful as this. 

Here are the inscriptions which I have found.  I have copied them faithfully.  There is reason to believe that the great pains that the barbarians have taken to destroy them have ensured that one may not find anything more considerable, [p.215]  or in greater quantity, or, if they are there, they are under the sand. 

On a pedestal of white marble, four feet high, in writing like that of today, like all the others of which I will make mention, one reads on one of the faces:

Divina stirpe progenitor.
D.N.Fortissimo Principi,
Valentiniano. Victori Pio,
Felici. ac Triumphatori.
Semper Augusto.
Flavius Benedictus, V.P.
Preses Provinciae
Tripolitano Numini   [p.216]
Maiestati que eius
Semper devotus.

On the other face of the same pedestal there is:

Dignissimo, principali,
Innocentissimo puero,
T. Fabio Vibiano junior;
Pontifici Duro Viro filio,
Ac collego T. Flavio Frontini,
Heraclii, in parvulis annis,
Exibentio Aqualiter
Voluptatem genera patris
Sui studiis, populi suffragio,
Et decreto ordinis.

On many stones in the middle of the town, scattered and out of order.

Traiano,   [p.217]
Divi Trajani,
Imp. VI. Cosu.
Imp. Galba
pro Repu.
C. Pomponius R.
Proimp. Provive,
Bombei, io.
Sari divi Nervae
Max. trib. Pro XIIII.
Coloniae Vulpiae Tr.
Cum ornament.
Q. Pompa
io, cerea
li, ex de
creto Or   [p.218]
dinis Rom.

On a small square stone.

In large letters on the sea side, the others being without order.


Outside the town, on a stone which is presently in a wall.

Bono filio
Bono fratr.
Pater feci.

On another stone, which [p.219] is still in use in a wall.

Domitiae Roga,
Tul. vixit,
annis XXIII.
M. Jullius,
Phicissiam Uxori,
Carissimae fecit.

In another place.

L. CL.
Tui pro
Vixit ann.
XX.    [p.220]

On another stone, in Greek, Latin and Arabic.

Birichi Basiliei
Mater flodi Medici.

DIOSIATROS in Greek letters, and the rest in Arabic.

In the open countryside.

Rutilius Victor
Vixit annis XI.

  1. [1]PS: Joe, if you’re reading this, your email isn’t working.

More on early French travellers to Libya

A year ago I posted a photo of the circus at Leptis Magna, and queried whether the circus — now reduced to foundations — really was standing to some height back when the first explorers arrived in the 17th century.

A commenter has directed me to an article with a figure from Durand’s article, from Le Mercure Galant of 1694.  I think it is worth seeing.  The top is his plan of the harbour; the bottom of the circus.

I’d still like to see the whole article, tho.

How much has changed in a year.  I doubt that I shall be going back to Leptis Magna soon.  How I wish that I had been able to go to Syria last year, as I had planned!  A travel company is using the following song for an advert at the moment.

You’re gonna take that ocean trip
No matter come what may.
You got your reservations
But you just can’t get away.
Next year, for sure, you’ll see the world,
You’ll really get around;
But how far can you travel
When you’re six feet underground?

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by, as quickly a as wink.
Enjoy yourself, Enjoy yourself
It’s later than you think.

True advice, I fear.


Early French travellers to Libya

One end of the Circus at Leptis Magna

A brief note in one of the guidebooks I brought back from Libya tells me that in the 17th century a French traveller named Durand found the circus at Leptis Magna in considerably better repair than it is now.  In particular the starting boxes — now vanished — were visible at the straight end of the course.

Unfortunately no reference is given, and I can find nothing online except a mention that his visit was in 1694.  Does anyone know who this Durand was, or the title of his book?

UPDATE: This link to Cagnat, Inscriptionum Africae Proconsularis, p.2289 quotes Durand on inscriptions and the reference is Le Mercure Galant of 1694.  This seems to be a periodical; the 1703 issue is here.  But links like this suggest to me that nobody has seen the original articles; rather that everyone is in fact using Cagnat, Les ruines de Leptis a la fin du XVIIe siecle (1901).  I’ve not located this yet online.

UPDATE: The Cagnat item Les ruines appears to be an article, not a book, in Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de France, vol. 60.  Still can’t find the right volume, tho.  1901 is year of publication; 1899 is the year of reports.