(Tolmeta) Cyrenaica, Libya.
About midway between Benghazi and Susa, this ancient
port occupies a narrow space (2 km wide) between the
sea and the lower spurs of the Jebel el-Akhdar. The
harbor was sheltered W and N by a small promontory
and two islets. A Greek settlement, name unknown, was
established here in the late 7th c. B.C. and became the
port of Barke, the rich colony of Kyrene 25 km inland
on the plateau. Ptolemy III (246-221 B.C.) refounded it
as Ptolemais. It came into the hands of Rome in 96
B.C., and under Diocletian became the capital of Libya
Pentapolis, but subsequently it decayed and Apollonia
(Sozusa) supplanted it as capital. Excavation began in
the 1930s and there is now a small museum on the site.
The Hellenistic city was laid out regularly, forming a
rectangle roughly 1650 x 1400 m. Two major cardines
run from N to S; the standard insula measures 180 x
36 m. An imposing decumanus, the “Via Monumentale,”
was given a triumphal arch and a portico in the early
4th c. A.D. Little remains of the Hellenistic wall. The
standard of masonry was good, though one section of
the wall, carried a short way up the hillside to include
a commanding point, was built of rough blocks of stone.
Some square projecting wall towers have been found
but the finest surviving part of the fortifications is the
Taucheira Gate, built of masonry with the marginal
drafting characteristic of many Hellenistic walls. Its inner side was altered, perhaps in the 3d c. A.D. when the walls seem to have been rebuilt. Traces of another wall found near the sea may have been a Byzantine
circuit protecting the harbor.
Ptolemais had an amphitheater, a hippodrome, and
three theaters, one at least Hellenistic. The smallest, the
Odeon, was adapted in the 4th-5th c. for water spectacles,
the orchestra and stage walls being covered with a layer
of watertight cement to form a swimming pool. Roman
and Byzantine baths are known.
The public cisterns and reservoirs are impressive. A
group of 17 Roman vaulted cisterns under a porticoed
space, the Square of the Cisterns, had a capacity of
7,000 kl and may have been preceded by a Hellenistic
reservoir. To the E are two later open reservoirs, which
probably received at least part of their supplies from
the catchment area provided by the lower slope of the
Jebel. A Roman aqueduct, probably Hadrianic, coming
from 20 km to the E, runs towards this quarter. Outside
the town are remains of a bridge that carried the aqueduct and a road across the wadi.
Several houses, wholly or partly excavated, are of the
standard Hellenistic type with peristyle. The “Palazzo
delle Colonne,” pre-Roman in its origin but with numerous additions in the 1st c. A.D., had a large pillared court
and two impressive oeci. It stood high, with an upper
story. Its height contrasts with a large, low Roman villa.
Other houses have been dug out in the N part of the
city. One excavated in 1961 has a 4th-5th c. mosaic
floor with Orpheus singing to the wild beasts. Further
excavations are in process.
Fragments of an unexcavated Doric building suggest
that it may have been a pre-Roman temple. The imposing temple tomb, Qasr Faraoun, W of Ptolemais, is Hellenistic. The chamber tombs found in great numbers in the quarries E and W of the city have yielded a
few sculptured tombstones and numerous inscriptions. A
number of sculptures and important inscriptions, including the price edict of Diocletian and an edict of Anastasius have come to light within the city.
A fortified Christian basilica has narthex, apse, chambers on either side of the apse, nave, aisles, and is solidly
built with a single narrow doorway on the N side. A
fortified building (75 x 45 m) probably 5th c., is commonly regarded as the headquarters of the Dux of
Libya Pentapolis; its walls are faced with good masonry
and provided with stringcourses to stabilize the rubble
filling. Two other forts within the city provided some
security after the old walls had decayed.
G. Caputo, “Tolemaide,” Encic. Ital
XXXIII (1937); “Protezione dei monumenti de Tolmeide,
1935-42,” Quaderni di arch. della Libia
3 (1954) 33-66;
P. Romanelli, La Cirenaica romana
(1943); G. Pesce,
“Il ‘Palazzo delle Colonne’ in Tolemaide de Cirenaica,” Monograph. di archeol. libica
2 (1950); “Tolemaide,” EAA
(1966) VII; Goodchild, “The Decline of Cyrene and Rise of Ptolemais,” Quaderni
4 (1961) 83-95; “The Forum of Ptolemais,” Quaderni
4 (1967) 47-51; R. M.
Harrison, “Orpheus Mosaic at Ptolemais,” JRS
(1962); C. H. Kraeling, Ptolemais, City of the Libyan
(1962); J. Boardman, “Evidence for the
Dating of Greek Settlements in Cyrenaica,” BSA
(1966) 149-56; C. Arthur, “The Ptolemais Aqueduct,”
SLS Ann. Rpt
. 5 (1973-74).