The news this week that ISIS gunmen briefly occupied the center of Sabratha, a city of around 100,000 people between the Libyan capital, Tripoli and the border with Tunisia, where they beheaded twelve security officers, is an ominous sign that ISIS’ growing strength could soon threaten Libya’s prized Roman ruins.
Sabratha is one of two significant sites of Roman cities dating back to the Second Century AD; the other is on the western side of Tripoli at a place called Leptis Magna. Libya was occupied by the Roman Empire for the best part of eight centuries, from 146 BC, when Carthage fell to Roman armies, to 670 AD, with Leptis Magna the capital.
Libya has about fifteen sites dating back to the Roman occupation, five of which, including Leptis Magna and Sabratha, are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Libya, or to be precise the fertile coastal strip between what are now the borders with Egypt and Tunisia, became ‘Rome’s breadbasket’, supplying, inter alia, the grain to make the bread that Roman rulers traditionally gave away to the masses, which along with free games at the Coliseum, gave rise to the phrase ‘bread and circuses’ to describe how Rome’s leaders held on to power.
Both cities have beautiful and historically significant ruins, much of which have not been fully explored, but of the two, Leptis Magna, which in its heyday rivaled the great Roman cities of Carthage and Alexandria, has the most impressive remains, including a theatre which is simply stunning.
The great fear is that if ISIS continues to grow in strength it will repeat in Libya the unforgivable acts of historical vandalism carried out in the name of Islam which saw the ancient city of Palmyra devastated and other of the countries most impressive Roman monuments destroyed.
Below are photos of what was destroyed in Syria and what is at risk in Libya. As you view them remember that this monstrous desecration was made possible not just by a barbaric distortion of an otherwise peaceful religion, but by foreign policies of a sort advocated by people now vying to become leader of the modern version of the Roman empire – in particular Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Secretary of State when Libya was plunged into the anarchy and chaos which now fuels ISIS.