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See all inscriptions from Oea


The Neo-Punic form, Wy't (pronounced "Wayat" or "Uyat (Oyat)", so Levi della Vida) appears on coins of the late first century BC and early first century AD (Müller, Numismatique II, 15 ff.), and in Latin became Oea (Oeensis). The Greek references are too few and varied to establish the correct form. For the pronunciation of the name, see Silius Italicus (III, 257):

Oaeque Trinacrios Afris permixta colonos

There are no local inscriptions that give either the name or the ethnic. In external inscriptions, Oea is found at Lambaesis (CIL VIII, 2567) and perhaps at Gigthis (Cagnat-Merlin 17; see Aurigemma, Epigraphica II (1940) 179 ff.); Oeensis at Lepcis Magna (542) and Theveste (CIL VIII, 16542); Oiensis at Sabratha (146); and Oensis at Puteoli (CIL X, 1684).

The literary evidence is vitiated by the corruption of the manuscripts. The lists that follow are based on the best available editions (cited in brackets after each reference).

Oea (Oeensis). Found in some at any rate of the better manuscripts of the following: Mela I, 37 (Frick, Leipzig, 1880); Pliny NH V, 4 ,27 and V, 5, 38 (Mayhoff, Leipzig, 1906); Sil. Ital. III, 257 (Bauer, Leipzig, 1890) Apuleius, Apol. 17, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 73, 81 (Helm, Leipzig, 1905); Sentent. episc. de haeret. baptiz. (Hartel, CSEL III, i, Vienna, 168); Solinus 27,8 (Mommsen, Berlin, 1895); Amm. Marc. XXVIII, 6,10 (Clark, Berlin, 1910) Cosmogr. Iuli. Honori, 44 (Riese, Geogr. Lat. Min., Heilbron, 1878); Cosmogr. Aethici, 44, 12 (Riese, op. cit.); Augustine, Ep. 138, 19 (Goldbacher, CSEL XXXXIIII, Vienna, 1904); Coll. Carth. AD 411, 268, 284, (Migne, PL XI, Paris, 1845); Victor Vitensis 1, 23 (Petschenig, CSEL VII, Vienna, 1881; and Οἴα in Balsamon and Zonaras, Canones Synodi Carthaginiensis, 374 (Migne, PG CXXXVII, Paris, 1865).

Oensis, found as a variant in some manuscripts of the above, is the only form used in Notit. prov. et. civ. Africae AD 484 (Halm, Berlin, 1879; see also Ἑωχ, Ἑωεα in Ptol. Geogr. IV, 3, 3 (C. Müller, Paris, 1901).

All the manuscript versions of the following appear to be corrupt: Tac. Hist. IV, 50 (De Gubernatis, Turin, 1929); Itin. Ant. 62, 2 (Cuntz, Leipzig, 1929); Geogr. Rav. V, 5 (Schnetz, Leipzig, 1939); Tab. Peut.; George of Cyprus, Desc. orbis Romani, 798 (Honigmann, Brussels, 1939).


Oea, the modern Tripoli, owed its position in part to the possession of a small natural harbour, in part to the coastal oasis, which at this point tempers the austerity of the Gefara plain. Silicus Italicus (III, 257) speaks of a mixed Siculo-African foundation, and implies a remote antiquity for it; but the first secure evidence of its existence is afforded by the autonomous coinage, based on Punic types (Müller, Numismatique II, 15 ff. Suppl. 35); and it is not until the early empire that it figures in the contemporary literay record. Never as rich or as powerful as Lepcis Magna, its citizens took advantage of the confusion of AD 69 to settle a private vendetta, by calling in the Garamantes of the interior against their wealthy neighbour, an affray which was only settled by the intervention of the legate of Legio III Augusta (Tac. Hist. IV, 50). Valuable incidental light on local life in the mid-second century is thrown by Apuleius, whose celebrated Apologia was delivered in defence of the charge that his recent marriage to a wealthy widow of Oea had been secured by magical practices. In particular the statement (ibid. 98) that his young step-son, Sicinius Pudens (whose brother was an eques; ibid. 62), loquitur nunquam nisi punice et si quid adhuc a matre graecisset; enim latine loqui neque vult neque potest, testifies to the solid conservatism, beneath the external form and names of Romanization, of the provincial Punic mercantile aristocracy.

A bishp of Oea was present at the Congress of Carthage in 256 (Sentent. episc. de haeret. baptiz., ed. Hartel, CSEL III, i, p460), and thereafter, until the end of the fifth century, the see figures regularly as one of the five sees of Tripolitania. Of the secular history of the city between the second and the seventh centuries there is, on the other hand, little record. Its territory was ravaged by the Austuriani in 363-5 (Amm. Marc. XXVIII, 6, 10); and the city itself withstood a lengthy siege in the seventh century before capitulating to the Arab invaders, who established it as the military and administrative captial of the newly conquered territory. This event , while securing a continuation of urban life that was denied to Lepcis Magna and Sabratha, sealed the fate of the monuments of classical antiquity. Substantial remains of four only have survived to modern times. Of these, the circuit of walls, largely demolished during the early years of the Italian occupation, had been rebuilt many times, but still followed the line, and incorporated sections, of the late Roman defences (Aurigemma, Notiz. Arch. II (1916) 367-379). The remains of a monumental building unearthed beneath the Castle, may be those of the Baths, and date from the second or third century. The other two are the Arch of Marcus Aurelius (232) and the surviving elements of the Commodan temple to the Genius Coloniae (230), dated 163-4 and 183-5 respectively. Here, as at Sabratha, the second half of the second century may well have been an age of expansion and civic prosperity; and the grant of colonial status at about the same time (see below) attests a corresponding political advancement.


Pliny (HN V, 4, 27) described Oea as a "civitas" without any qualification. The coinage. however, suggests that it received libertas under Augustus, shortly after 12 BC (Grant, 339); and some such status seems to be implied in its relations with Lepcis and the Garamantes in AD 70 (Tac. Hist. IV, 50. The coinage of the early first century AD bears the names of two native officials, who are perhaps to be interpreted as sufetes; but, with this exception, there is no evidence for the city's civic institutions before the second century.

Oea figures as a colony in the Antonine Itinerary and in the Peutinger Table. The earliest specific reference to this status is the dedidication of a temple to the Genius Coloniae in 183-5 (230); but already in 163-4 the chief magistrate was called duumvir quinquennalis (232); and a few years earlier again, Apuleius (Apol. 101) mentions a quaestor. Other officers attested in the second century or later are a curator muneris publici (232)and a curator rei publicae (542), of whom the latter came from Lepcis. Of the municipal priests, flamines perpetui, (232, 233, 237) and perhaps pontifices 235 are recorded. The only surviving tribal ascription is to Quirina (230).


The surviving epigraphic series is too small to permit the identification of characteristics perculiar to Oea. Comparison with the corresponding series from Lepcis Magna and from Sabratha, however, does suggest certain significant points both of resemblance and of difference. Of monumental inscriptions in local stone dating from the first or second centuries, two fragmentary blocks (234, 252) survive. Both are in the soft quaternary sandstone from the quarries of the coastal ridge, which, like the corresponding stone at Sabratha, can be used only under a thick preservative coating of stucco and disintegrates rapidly on exposure to the elements. Of similiar inscriptions in durable grey limestone, of which Lepcis has preserved fragments of so many, there is no trace. Geological circumstance dictated that in this respect Oea follow the practice of Sabratha rather than that of Lepcis; and the only valid conclusion that can be drawn from the absence of early Imperial texts is that the city was not yet importing in any quanntity materials sufficiently durable to survive. It was not until the second and later centuries that Oea, like Sabratha, began to import a certain amount of better material; and to judge both from the relatively high proportion of limestone, almost certainly shipped from the quarries near Lepcis, and from the scripts employed, the influence of Lepcis was here considerably stronger than at Sabratha. Of the 19 pre-Christian texts from Oea of which the material is known, 2 are in sandstone, 6 in limestone, 8 in marble and 3 in other materials (painting or mosaic). Two of the limestone texts (229 and 246) are bi-lingual (erased and Neo-punic 7, respectively); and two (231, 240) are in the Rustic capitals characteristic of the second- and early thrid-century epigraphy at Lepcis.

The Christian series is notable for two fine groups of funerary texts from the cemetaries at Ain Zara (261) and at en-Ngila (262), both on the border of the Tripoli oasis. Neither is now available for re-examination and, in view of the detailed publications that have appeared, or are about to appear, the texts have been omitted from the present volume. Their substance has been incorporated in the indices [Not in the 2009 edition]. The tombs of both cemeteries are of a form that has continued in local use down to modern times, and is characteristic of the latest phases of the cemetaries at Lepcis and Sabratha. Unfortunately the excavators of these two cities have not recorded the evidence for the date at which this form of tomb began to replace the flat gravestone; but it is unlikely to have been much before the middle of the fifth century, and it is almost certainly prior to the Byzantine reconquest. The clearest surviving evidence is that afforded: a) by the appearances on a number of tombs at Ain Zara of the Trisagion, current after the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, and b) by the relation of one of the inscribed tombs of this form (265) to the Byzantine city-wall of Sabratha. The en-Ngila cemetary, several tombs of which are dated, within a margin of seventeen years, by reference to one of the contemporary Byzantine Creation-eras, is a valuable and eloquent witness to the survival of Christianity in the Tripoli oasis under the early centuries of Arab rule.