A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is Qadhafi Hiding Arms at Leptis Magna?

There are reports that Libyan rebels are claiming that Qadhafi is hiding Grad rockets among the spectacular Roman ruins at Leptis Magna, between Tripoli and Misurata. As a result, NATO is refusing to rule out air strikes against the ruins if they are concealing weaponry.

With so many human atrocities on record already in Libya, preservation of antiquities is naturally not anyone's priority, but Leptis Magna is a World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved Roman cities anywhere. (North Africa as a whole, like the Middle East in general, often has far better preserved Roman ruins than Italy does.) I certainly hope it isn't damaged.

Trivia note: the name of Tripoli itself came from Latin Tripolis, the three cities, referring to Oea (Tripoli proper), Sabratha, and Leptis Magna.


David Mack said...

The real dilemma would be whether to send in any forces to seize and remove such weapons supplies, or to destroy them in a manner that would not damage the antiquities. That would cross the line of "no boots on the ground," and for a whole lot of good reasons NATO does not want to do that. However, it would be less bad politically than an air strike that damaged Leptis Magna. We faced similar dilemmas in Desert Storm. At one point the Iraqi air force positioned fighter jets right next to the ziggurat of Ur.

Michael Collins Dunn said...


I think in 2003 Saddam did something similar near the Arch of Ctesiphon. Daring us, as it were.