Leptis Magna was a prominent city in Roman Libya. Originally a Punic foundation, it was greatly expanded under emperor Septimius Severus, who was a native of the city. The ruins of Leptis Magna are located in Khoms, Libya, 130 km (81 mi) east of Tripoli, on the coast where the Wadi Lebda meets the sea. The site is one of best preserved Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.
It is also the most important Roman site in the world, as it is widely recognized as the best preserved Roman city outside Italy, and, unlike most ancient ruins, its well-preserved remains give a clear picture as to what a complete Roman city would have looked like. No visit to Libya is complete without seeing this magnificent Magna.
Originally, the city was a Berber settlement, well before the arrival of the Phoenicians about 3000 years ago. The city depended primarily on the fertility of its surrounding farmland, where many olive presses have been excavated. As early as 46 BC, its olive oil production was to such an extent that the city was levied by Caesar with a tax of three million pounds of oil annually.
Leptis achieved its greatest prominence beginning in AD 193, as the hometown of emperor Septimius Severus. Septimius favored his hometown above all other provincial cities, and the buildings and wealth he lavished on it made Leptis Magna the third-most important city in Africa, rivaling Carthage and Alexandria.
In 439, Leptis Magna and the rest of the cities of Tripolitania fell under the control of the Vandals when their king, Gaiseric, captured Carthage from the Romans and made it his capital. Unfortunately for the future of Leptis Magna, Gaiseric ordered the city’s walls demolished so as to dissuade its people from rebelling against the Vandal rule. The people of Leptis and the Vandals both paid a heavy price for this in AD 523 when a group of Berber raiders sacked the city.
Work in the late 20th century included the uncovering of Roman villas on the outskirts of Leptis. In the 1990s excavations within the city revealed a Roman house with an intact water system, including a well and underground cisterns.