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APOLLONIA (Marsa Susa) Libya.

On the coast about 184 km NE of Benghazi (Euesperides and later Berenice). The town served from its foundation as the port for Cyrene, whose history it shared until achieving autonomy during Roman times, if not before, when it was recognized as one of the five cities of the Libyan Pentapolis. As the fortunes of both Cyrene and Ptolemais waned in later times, Apollonia grew in prestige and power, until it was created the provincial capital in the 6th c. A.D. During Christian times it was more commonly called Sozusa, from which it developed its modern Arab name of Marsa Susa. Urban life ceased with the Arab invasion of A.D. 643.

Excavations fall into two phases: those of the 1920s and 1930s and those following the Second World War. The first phase saw the clearance and restoration of the large E basilica (6th c.), excavation of tombs, recovery of statuary, and the documenting of some topographical features, such as the aqueduct and an extra-mural triconch church. The latter monument, notable for traces of a triple apse at its E end, has not been excavated.

The second phase led to the investigations of remaining important features, underwater and land. The S edge of the walled town ran ca. 1,000 m parallel to the coast before turning N to meet the line of the sea. While its width today nowhere exceeds 200 m, the original town must have included a third more territory than it does at present since its outer and inner harbor facilities, with their moles, warehouses, docks, shipsheds, and slipways, have almost completely disappeared beneath the sea.

The principal buildings found inside the town walls are Roman or later. However, earlier inhabitation is documented by tombs in its SW corner and on the acropolis, in which pottery and coins of the 5th through the 3d c. have been found. Furthermore, pottery from a settlement of the first half of the 6th c. B.C. has been brought to light in the lowest occupation stratum W of the acropolis in the vicinity of the eastern basilica. In all probability Apollonia was used as the main port for Cyrene as early as the second generation of settlers following the foundation of the metropolis ca. 631 B.C.

The side of the town facing seaward was never walled. The defensive system was constructed in the Hellenistic period (ca. 250 B.C.) and then extensively overhauled and repaired in early Byzantine times. It consisted of three elements: towers, gates, and curtain wall. Nineteen towers survive on land, two round and the remainder rectangular. Only one major gateway survives at the W end of the city, while traces of smaller posterns have been found by each tower along the W and S perimeter. The original curtain consisted throughout of stone headers and stretchers. Each tower was connected by a short line of straight curtain to form an indented trace.

Within its walls Apollonia was divided lengthwise by a broad avenue, which ran from the W end of town to the acropolis hill occupying the E quarter. Here the rise in ground level halted the further progress of the decumanus, which was crossed at right angles by narrow cardines at intervals of every 35 m, at least in the urban center where traces of two such streets have been located.

The first monument to be encountered in the W sector is a Byzantine mortuary chapel, built against an exterior angle of the city wall. This structure, which has four central pillars supporting a dome, housed the remains of a saint or bishop in a Roman sarcophagus, recut in Byzantine times. Just inside the line of the city wall is the restored western basilica, whose apse occupies a former rectangular wall tower. Its nave and side aisles are divided by columns of varying types, sizes, and materials. A complex of rooms E of its narthex contained a small baptistery with sunken baptismal tank. Both the church and baptistery date to the 6th c. Nearby, along the inner face of the city wall, are three excavated rooms of Byzantine date. Their design, as well as their proximity to the main W gate and its associated small oval piazza, suggest that their function was largely governmental and bureaucratic.

The 6th c. central basilica lies ca. 200 m E of the west gate. Its restored interior was originally entered from the W through a small atrium, which in turn led into a long narrow narthex with apses at either end. Local limestone provided the material for some of its columns as well as sections of its paving. Since the rest of its fittings were of marble, evidently pre-cut materials were shipped to Apollonia where a structure had to be improvised for their accommodation. A substantial Roman bath, which, prior to its conversion around A.D. 100, served as a Late Hellenistic palazzo signorile, is located E of the church. Immediately N are remains of the late baths, built to replace the Roman baths after the earthquake of A.D. 365. Their construction indicates that they were never completed.

The Palace of the Byzantine Dux (ca. A.D. 500) was erected on the hillside SE of the Roman baths. This major complex was divided into two sections, with its W half containing the ceremonial chambers of the governor when Apollonia was the provincial capital. These include an audience hail, guardroom, armory, atrium, and chapel. The E wing is less monumental and appears largely residential in nature. An early Roman villa and small houses belonging to the Byzantine period are located ca. 100 m to the NE of the palace. Separated from the Byzantine housing quarter is the restored E basilica (5th or 6th c.), built on top of an unidentified Hellenistic building. The nave of this imposing monument is divided by large monolithic columns of cipollino marble. A baptistery of triconch plan is attached to its NE corner.

As ground rises toward the acropolis hill a rocky outcropping marks the site of a heroon dedicated to the nymph (?) Callicrateia. Further NE are a series of chambers, probably functioning as warehouses, hewn out of the rock ledge facing the sea. Remains of vaulted cisterns and Byzantine houses are located close by. The top of the acropolis hill was left open, with a series of rooms of late date grouped around. No sure identification of this area's use has been made.

The Hellenistic theater, whose scene building was reconstructed during the reign of Domitian, is located just outside the city walls E of the acropolis. A small section of slipways is visible about half a kilometer off shore from the center of the city. These once belonged to the inner harbor and today rise above the sea in the form of an island. A second island slightly to the E preserves traces of the base of an ancient pharos. About a kilometer W of the city are foundations of a Hellenistic temple, as yet unidentified.


R. G. Goodchild, “A Byzantine Palace at Apollonia (Cyrenaica),” Antiquity 34 (1960) 246-58; Cyrene and Apollonia. An Historical Guide (1963)MI; Kyrene und Apollonia (1970)MPI; J. du P. Taylor, Marine Archaeology (1965) 168-78M; D. White, “Excavations at Apollonia, Cyrenaica,” AJA 70 (1966) 259-65MP; J. G. Pedley, “Excavations at Apollonia, Cyrenaica,” AJA 71 (1967) 141-47MP. See also J. Ph. Lauer, “L'enceinte d'Apollonia à Mersa Souza (Cyrénaïque),” RA 7.1 (1963) 130-53.


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