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See all inscriptions from Sabratha


The Neo-Punic form, Sbrtn or Sbrt'n, appears on coins of the late first century BC and early first century AD (Müller, Numismatique II, 26 ff. and Suppl., 36 ff.). The Latin form, which was followed by Greek writers of the second century AD and later, varied between Sabratha (Sabrathensis) and Sabrata (Sabratensis). For the interchange of aspirated and unaspirated consonants in N. African usage, compare “Lepthiminus” (97) in place of the usual “Leptiminus”, and the Neo Punic “Tabahpi” (see 319, n. 8), latinized both as “Tapafius” (745) and as “Tapapius” (273,319, 321, 322, 323, 341). The earlier Greek form was Άβρότονον. For the pronunciation of the name, see Silius Italicus (III, 256):

Sabratha tum Tyrium vulgus Sarranaque Leptis.

The evidence is both epigraphic and literary, and may be summarised as follows:

Local epigraphy.

With the possible exception of two texts (111, 147) that use the abbreviation Sabrat., the local spelling is invariably Sabratha (Sabrathensis) (37, 102, 103, 106, 112, 113,117).

External epigraphy.

Sabrathensis is found once, at Rome ( Not. Scav. 1933, 433 ), and Sabratensis twice, at Ostia ( Not. Scav. l9l2, 435 ) and at Theveste ( CIL VIII, 16543 ).


This shows the same variation, but is of secondary value: not only is there the possibility of scribal error; but the available record is almost certainly incomplete, in that editors who regarded Sabrata (Sabratensis) as the only correct form, have not necessarily recorded variant spellings. The lists that follow, though based on the manuscript readings recorded in the best available editions (quoted in brackets after each reference) should, for these reasons, be treated with caution.

Sabratha (Sabrathensis. Found in at least one good manuscript of each of the following: Sil. Ital. III, 256 (Bauer, Leipzig, 1890); Sentent. episc. de haeret. baptiz. (Hartel, CSEL III, i, Vienna, 1868); Notit. prov. et civ. Africae AD 484 (Halm, Berlin, 1879); cf. also Sabrathenus in Victor Vitensis, I, 23 (Petschenig, CSEL VII, Vienna, 1881); and Σάβραθα, Σαβράθα in Ptol., Geogr. IV, 3,3 (C. Müller, Paris, 1883); Stadiasm. maris magni, 99, 100 (C. Müller, Geogr. Gr. Min., Paris, 1882); Procop. Aedif., VI, 4, 13 (Haury, Leipzig, 1913).

Sabrata (Sabratensis. The only relevant form recorded in editions of the following: Pliny, HN, V, 4, 25 and 5, 35 (Mayhoff, Leipzig, 1906); Suet., Div. Vesp., 3 (Ihm, Leipzig, 1907); Apuleius Apol., 59 (Helm, Leipzig, 1905); Solinus, 27, 8 (Mommsen, Berlin, 1895); Itin. Ant. 61, 3 (Cuntz, Leipzig, 1929); Geogr. Rav., V, 5 (Schnetz, Leipzig, 1940); Tab. Peut. ; Cosmogr. Iuli Honori, 44 (Riese, Geogr. Lat. Min., Heilbronn, 1878); Cosmogr. Aethici, 44, 13 (Riese, op. cit.); Acta Conciliorum AD 393, 206 (= Augustine, in psalm. XXXVI; Migne, PL XXXVI, Paris, 1841); Acta Conciliorum AD 394 (= Augustine, c. Cresconium, III, 53; Petschenig, CSEL LII, Vienna, 1909); Coll. Carth. AD 411, 271 (Migne, PL XI, Paris, 1845); and Σαβράθα Ptol., Geogr. IV, 3, 11 (C Müller, Paris, 1883); the latitude and longitude given are incorrect for Sabratha, but there is no trace of a second, inland city of the same name, as proposed by Dessau, CIL VIII. p. 2292; Balsamon and Zonaras, Canones Synodi Carthaginiensis, 374 (Migne, PG CXXXVII, Paris, 1865). Άβρότονον, the earlier Greek version of the name, is found in Steph. Byz. (Meineke, Berlin, 1849 s. v. Άβρότονον, citing Lykus of Rhegium; the citation of Ephorus in the same passage arises probably from a mistaken identification with Νεάπολις = Lepcis Magna); Ps. Scylax, Periplus, 110 (C. Müller, Geogr. Gr. Min., Paris, 1882); Strabo XVII, 835 c (C. Müller, Paris, 1877). Pliny (HN, ed. Mayhoff, Leipzig, 1906) appears to distinguish “Abrotonum” or “Habrotonum” (V, 4,27) from “Sabrata” (V, 4,25 and 5,35); but the latter is wrongly placed among the cities of the lesser Syrtis, and his sources were probably confused.


Sabratha, situated on the narrow coastal fringe of the Gefara, was geographically the least favoured of the three cities of the Tripolis. It owed its position to the presence of a small, but adequate, natural harbour which, in Roman times, was further strengthened by the construction of an artificial mole. Apart from a reference of dubious historical value in Silius Italicus (III, 256), there is no literary record of its existence prior to the late fourth century; and, while the possibility of a more ancient harbour-side settlement cannot be wholly excluded, recent excavation in the neighbourhood of the Forum ( Reports and Monographs II (1949) 21-4 ) has shown that the first considerable expansion of the city can hardly be dated before the beginning of the second century BC. After the destruction of Carthage in 146, Tripolitania came within the orbit of Rome; but Romanization was slow, and it was only during the first century AD, and then gradually, that Sabratha adopted the characteristic lay-out and institutions of a provincial Roman city.

Outside the pages of the geographers, the references to Sabratha in classical literature are few and, for the most part incidental. Vespasian's wife, Flavia Domitilla, is said to have been the mistress of an eques from Sabratha ( Suet. Div. Vesp. 3 ). In the middle of the second century it was the scene of Apuleius's celebrated Apologia, delivered on the occasion of his trial on a charge of witchcraft, following his marriage to a rich widow of Oea. It is first recorded as the seat of a bishopric in AD 253 (Sentent. Episc. de haeret. baptiz., ed. Hartel, p. 460); and in the sixth century Procopius records that Justinian gave it a defensive wall and built within it a notable church (Aedif. VI, 4-13). The evidence of archaeology is more explicit. At Ostia, in the Piazzale of the Corporations, the city maintained an office, the badge of which, an elephant, symbolised the trade in ivory, which was one of its main sources of wealth (Calza, Bull. Comm. Arch. 1915, 178 ff.; Aurigemma, Afr. Ital. VII (l940) 67-86); in Rome, in the Forum of Caesar, there is a base erected by the Sabrathenses in honour of Diva Sabina ( Not. Scav. 1933, 433 ); while at Sabratha itself the excavations undertaken during the last quarter of a century have laid bare rather more than half of the total area of the city. The detailed results of these excavations are still largely unpublished, but the broad outline of the cities growth and eventual decline are clear.

The first century AD was a period of steady expansion, during which Roman buildings and Roman ideas of town-planning gradually replaced the irregular, terraced settlement of Punic and Republican times. This expansion was continued throughout the second century, culminating in a wave of prosperity under the later Antonines, when the city reached its greatest extent, and many new public buildings were built and existing buildings remodelled on more opulent lines. During the third century the city seems to have escaped the strong contrasts that characterise the fortunes of contemporary Lepcis. It profited no doubt from the measures undertaken by the Severi for the security and prosperity of the province as a whole: but there is little to show that it received any individual favours; and conversely it appears to have escaped the reaction which is so marked a feature of mid-third-century Lepcis. Public works were still being undertaken on a considerable scale in the early fourth century, and there is no hint in advance of the disaster which was soon to overtake the city.

At some date between the reigns of Constantine and of Valens and Valentinian it was sacked and burned; and despite the absence of any specific reference to Sabratha in the pages of Ammianus, it is hard to believe that the occasion was other than the savage incursions of the tribesmen from the interior, and specifically of the Austuriani, during the years 363-5 ( Amm. Marc. XXVIII, 6 ; see, most recently, Bartoccini, Quaderni I (1950) 33-5). To this event must be attributed the series of honorary inscriptions, ranging from Divus Traianus (17) to Constantine (54), the remains of which were collected after the disaster and deposited, together with a mass of other debris from the Forum area, in the vaults of the ruined Capitolium (see 1, n. 1). Others were re-used to repair the paving of the Forum (23, 27, 41) and of the Curia (126). To the aftermath of the disaster belong 57, 58, 103 and 111; and despite the gloomy tones of two of these texts, one of them (111) set up some twenty years after the event, it is noteworthy that sufficient civic vitality remained to effect a radical restoration of the city-centre and of some at any rate of the surrounding quarters. Here, as elsewhere, it was the Vandal occupation that sealed the fate of urban life, and recent excavation has vividly documented the city's rapid decline during the later fifth, and early sixth, centuries ( Reports and Monographs II (1949) 24 ). Justinian's second quest re-established for a time a defended nucleus around the port; but a century later it fell easy prey to the Arab invaders, who a few years later transferred the market to Tripoli (El-Hakem transl. De Slane, Journal Asiatique, ser. 4, IV (1844) 354 ff.). The name survived at least until the fourteenth century, and some of the later Arab historians (Edrisi, Ibn Khaldun) speak of a fort at Sabra; but as an important inhabited centre it probably ceased to exist in the eighth century.


Pliny, who distinguishes Abrotonum from Sabratha, a distinction attributable to the evident confusion of his sources, describes the former simply as “oppidum” ( HN V, 4, 27 ) and lists the latter, without qualification, among the cities of the coast of Syrtis Minor ( HN V, 4, 25 ). With this exception, there is no literary, and very little other, evidence for its status and civic institutions before the second century. The coinage suggests that it received libertas from Augustus, c 7-6 BC (Grant, 341); and the two abbreviated words that figure, in addition to the name of the town, on some of this Augustan coinage, are perhaps to be interpreted as the names of the sufetes (Müller, Numismatique II, 31; Suppl., 36, 37). The flamen perpetuus of an inscription cut on stuccoed sandstone (127) is certainly early and may be of the first century; and the honorary title “amator patriae” (95, of the second century), apparently a native usage that is paralleled at Lepcis during the first century AD (347), may be a survival from the first century at Sabratha too.

In the Antonine Itinerary (61, 3) Sahratha appears as a colony. Inscriptions of the second century attest the normal forms of a colonial constitution, e. g. a duumvir in 175-180 (23) and a temple to the Genius Coloniae is mentioned in an inscription dated by its letter-forms to the second or early third century (6): other uses of the title “colonia” are later (104; and “splendida colonia”, 111). During this period the population was organised in curiae. Eight of these are known, seven of them by name (ll8 - 125), and two of the names, “Faustina” (120) and “Hadriana” (121), suggest a special connection with Antoninus Pius: it is possibly to him that the Sabrathans owed their promotion to colonial rank (compare the derivation of the curial names at Lepcis from the titles of Trajan and of his family, see the section entitled "Trajan and later" on the Introduction to Lepcis page).

Inscriptions of the second century and later record the activities of the ordo decurionum (43, 55, 96, 101, 102, 103, 104, 111, 117; splendidissimus ordo. 56 ) with which is sometimes associated the populus (101, 103, 104, 111, 117; plebs, 102). A surviving magisterial career of the late second or third century (95) sets out the cursus from quaestor (also perhaps in 128) to aedile (also in 115), duumvir (also in 23, 55, 96, 117, 128, 129, 130) and duumvir quinquennalis (also in 23, 55, 104, 128, 129, 130). Curatores rei publicae are recorded (102, 104, and perhaps 113). The priests attested are augurs, who paid a summa honoraria for the honour (43, 116), flamines perpetui (55, 104, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 128, and probably 127), sacerdotes dei Hercules (104), and Flamines Liberi Patris (117, 126). Seven tribal ascriptions are known, three (97, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 130) and probably a fourth (128) to Papiria, and three to Quirina (95, 96, 112).


For the proper understanding of the epigraphic series surviving at Sabratha, it is important to recall that marble was not introduced for this purpose into Tripolitania before the second decade of the second century. The earliest surviving text on marble at Sabratha is of Hadrianic date (17): prior to this all inscriptions, and throughout the period the majority of inscriptions of a more modest character, were inscribed on the local sandstone, a poor-quality, friable stone that disintegrates very rapidly on exposure to the elements. Occasionally during the second and third centuries other materials were imported, e.g. the brown limestone of 33, almost certainly shipped from the Severan quarries near Lepcis Magna, and the grey Djebel limestone of 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125; and during the third and fourth centuries, as odd pieces of re-used marble became available in greater quantities, it came at times to be used for classes of inscription that are barely represented under the earlier Empire. But there is nothing to correspond to the fine grey limestone used monumentally throughout the first and early second centuries at Lepcis, or to the coarser local limestones used at Lepcis and elsewhere for individual dedications and for funerary inscriptions. The first century at Sabratha is, in consequence, represented by a few weathered blocks from monumental inscriptions found re- used in later buildings, while for the same reason Neo-Punic, which at Lepcis had passed out of official use by the end of the first century, is found in two texts only and in graffiti. There are hardly any funerary texts prior to the Christian period.

A series of characteristic scripts is illustrated by 14, 15, 22, 25, 42, 52, 55, 103, 108, 117. In view of the close political, cultural and geographical ties linking the cities of the Tripolis, these scripts indicate a surprising independence of epigraphic practice. In several cases they differ very substantially from those in contemporary use at Lepcis Magna. Thus throughout the third century, despite a rapid decline in technical competence, the standard script at Sabratha for monumental epigraphy is based on the lapidary capital. Rustic capitals, the characteristic script of Antonine and Severan Lepcis, are hardly found: their place is taken by the rather free capitals illustrated in the lower part of 117. In the fourth century the scripts approximate more closely to those in use in the other two coastal cities; but the impression conveyed by the series as a whole is one of persistent regionalism.

The examples listed [illustrated in 1952 edition] are as follows:

  • 14, lapidary capitals, early Imperial (probably Augustan); cut on sandstone with a stucco surface.
  • 15, lapidary capitals, AD 76-79; cut on sandstone with a stucco surface.
  • 25, lapidary capitals, c. 164-166; on marble. Many of the second-century texts are in strict lapidary script, but intrusive, curvilinear forms also are common. The G of the present example is one of the two forms current in contemporary texts of the class of 22 (e.g., on 37).
  • 52, late lapidary capitals, AD 270- 275; on marble. This and 53 are the two latest dated examples of lapidary capitals found at Sabratha. The distinctive F appears first on a Commodan stone (2) and is common in the third century.
  • 42, lapidary capitals, AD 229-230 or 234-235; on marble. The lettering is unusually careful and well cut for so late a date.
  • 117, not precisely dated, probably of the late second century; on marble. L.1, lapidary capitals; the remainder, rather mannered capitals, in part an elegant version of 22, in part perhaps influenced by Rustic forms.
  • 22, AD 169-170; on marble. L.1, lapidary capitals, the remainder, typical of the script in common use during the second half of the second, and first half of the third centuries. The forms are not constant (e.g., two variants of R in 1.2), and the line of division between this and poor lapidary capitals or poor versions of 117 is not always easy to draw. Some of the characteristic forms (e.g. the G of l. 9) creep into local lapidary usage, particularly in the third century.
  • 108, not precisely dated, probably of the first half of the third century; on marble. Strong influence of Rustic capitals.
  • 103, AD 378; on marble, re-used.
  • 55, AD 340-350; on marble.



The majority of the Christian inscriptions from Sabratha belong to three clearly defined series, the approximate limiting dates of which can be established. These are:

Series 1.

Series 1, from a catacomb in the cemetery area, to the east of the Theatre (194, 195, 216, 217, 228). It is dated by the lettering to the fourth century. The Chi-rho monogram, ⳩ , figures frequently; twice on inscribed tombs (194, 195): the monogram cross, ⳨ is not found.

Series 2.

Comprising the inscribed tombs of the Forum cemetery, to the east and north of Church I (193, 196, 197, 198199200, 202-204, 207, 208, 210- 213, 218, 220, 223, 226, 227). This church was built probably in the early years of the fifth century, on the site of the Forum basilica; and it went out of use, at any rate for a considerable period, after the Byzantine reconquest. The inscribed graves are found in the adjacent South Forum portico, in the area to the east of the church, and once (202) in the courtyard in front of the early baptistry. They include nine of the twelve Sabrathan texts that employ the monogram cross: the Chi-rho monogram is not found.

Series 3.

From the large scattered cemetery that surrounds Churches 3 and 4 (205, 206, 114, 219, 221, 222). Some are flat gravestones, contemporary with those of the Forum cemetery. Others are of the later, upstanding form (see the section entitled b) Use of the Chi-rho monogram and of the monogram cross in the Introduction), but only exceptionally have the painted stucco texts survived. A single inscribed tomb of the later type (209) stands in a small, late cemetery near the north-east angle of the Theatre.


Characteristic texts [illustrated in 1952 edition] are 207, 217, 219, 221. The lettering of those from the catacomb is poorly cut, but it is still substantially classical, and resembles that of the city's contemporary civil texts: uncial G (217) and V (216) are found, once each. Fifth-century epigraphy, as represented by the texts from the Forum cemetery, shows a great decline. Many of the texts are scratched rather than cut, with a consequent deterioration of the letter-forms. These are very varied in detail, but certain consistent tendencies can usefully be listed:

A The normal classical form, with a horizontal bar, is found; more often, this bar is replaced by a small V. In one text (212) the bar is omitted throughout.
B The two well-defined bowls of the classical form tend to merge into a single, loose curve: the upper bowl is often disproportionately small, and merges with the lower.
D There is a marked tendency to elongate the lower angle forming a triangular letter.
F The two forms current locally in the third century both persist.
G Based on local, third-to-fourth century forms, with a small pendant tail, tending towards the uncial form; in one case (204) the tail is a detached, reversed C.
K There is a marked tendency to elongate the vertical stroke, and to diminish the two oblique strokes.
L There is a marked tendency to elongate the horizontal stroke and to slant it obliquely downwards.
M The two middle strokes tend to diminish.
N Sometimes the classical form; more often, a gently oblique stroke between two vertical strokes.
O The bowl becomes drop-shaped, pointed at the top.
R The bowl is nearly always disproportionately small.
X Almost invariably a long oblique stroke, upwards from left to right, crossed by a shorter, and usually curved, stroke.

Two of the texts from the Forum cemetery break into minuscule (207 and 210; also minuscule A in 227); and one of those from Church 3 (221) is in minuscule throughout, except for l. 1. Uncial forms occur sporadically (Q in 193; D in 201). Ligatured Vl is used commonly, but indiscriminately.

The following texts are characteristic [illustrated in 1952 edition]:

  • 217, fourth century; inscribed on marble (the closures slab of a loculus in the catacomb).
  • 219, probably early fifth century; inscribed on a re-used slab of grey marble. The lettering is unusually carefully formed and aligned, and represents the Christian epigraphy of Sabratha at its best.
  • 207, fifth or early sixth century; inscribed on a re-used paving-slab of grey limestone. The lettering of ll. 1- 5 is a careless version of that of 219, with characteristic exaggerations, e.g. B, M, N, O; l. 6 breaks into minuscule.
  • 221, sixth century, or possibly later; lightly inscribed on the thick stucco surface of a sandstone block, with traces of red paint in the letters. The elaborate ligatures of l. 1 are characteristic of later Tripolitanian epigraphy; ll. 2- 6 are in minuscule.