Saturday, August 19, 2017

A. V. Koshy writes

Swapna Sundari
(First Draft.)

Leptis Magna, Al Khums 1 (13)

We were bound by the stars

telling us the way to go home

when I fell in love with you

Seeing the tears in your eyes

Namibia behind us

I, the captain and trader

- as luck would have it 
Al Khums loomed near -

broke the journey short

A Phoenican

but settled in that land

all for your love

to make you weep no more

Only the ruins may remain

of our settlement


though none may know

it is partly my Taj to you

for, from when you were dusky

and I longed madly after you.

(13) This section that refers to Leptis Magna, Al Khums and Triploi points out that it has been colonized by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Italians besides having Africans, the Arabs who came first and Indians etc., and Tripoli has seen both the British and Germans in plenty. The history of Libya, especially these two places, is richer or so it seemed to me than that of Alexandria, especially the one Lawrence Durrell portrays. The church referred to, the beautiful Grecian St George church in Tripoli, was looted and destroyed recently, Ghadafi's dictatorship was better for all concerned than what has been ushered in by the so called fundamentalist /fanatic/seemingly democratic Arab Spring revolutions which are intolerant to both those in the Muslim religion and outside as time has begun to show clearly.

The USA meanwhile does what Rome and the others did once, take away the oil.
Leptis Magna has to be seen to be believed. Al Khums means 'fifth of' or one fifth.



  1. The area of North Africa now known as Libya was under Roman domination from the destruction of Qart-ḥadašt "New City" (Carthāgō to the Romans) in 146 BCE to 670. (At that time the Latin name “Libya” referred to the entire continent of Africa and was not the name of a political state until 296, when Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus separated the administration of Crete from Kyrēnaïkḗ, which was divided into the new provinces of Libya Superior or "Libia Pentapolis" and Libya Inferior or "Libia sicca," both in the diocese of Egypt within the Praetorian prefecture of Oriens, while Tripolitania became part of the diocese of Africa, subordinate to the prefecture of Italia et Africa.) The coastal area of the modern nation of Libya was known as Tripolitania and Pentapolis, divided between Africa province in the west and Creta et Cyrenaica in the east. Leptis Magna, modern Khoms, the major trading port in the region, was the capital of Tripolitania, which also included Oea (modern Tripoli) and Sabratha; Pentapolis, formed by the cities of Kyrēnaïkḗ (Cyrene, near the modern village of Shahat), its port Apollonia (Susa) Arsinoe (Tocra), Berenice (near modern Benghazi), and Barce (Marj).

  2. Ptolemaĩos Apion, the nephew of the Egyptian king Ptolemaĩos VI Philomḗtōr and his wife/sister Cleopatra II, was the son of Ptolemaĩos VIII Euergétēs II (nicknamed "Physkōn,", meaning sausage, potbelly, or bladder); Antiochus IV Epiphanes had allowed the two brothers to continue as puppet rulers of Alexandria, all that was left of Egypt after the Seleudid conquest of 170 BCE. After Antiochus withdrew in 168 BCE due to Roman threats, the rothers formed a triumvirate with their sister Cleopatra. In 163 BCE the country was divided among them, with Physkōn in charge of Kyrēnaïkḗ. In 156 or 155 BCE, Philometor tried to have Physkon assassinated, then captured him before restoring him in Kyrēnaïkḗ. When Philometor died on a campaign in 145 BCE, Cleopatra II proclaimed her son Ptolemaĩos VII Néos Philopátōr, but Physkon forced her to marry him and accept co-rule; during the wedding feast he had Ptolemaĩos VII murdered and claimed the throne for himself. In 139 BCE he seduced and married Cleopatra’s daughter Cleopatra III Euergetis. In 132 or 131 BCE Physkon and Cleopatra III were forced to flee due to a popular revolt against them, and Cleopatra II had her 12-year-old son Ptolemaĩos Memphitis acclaimed as king; however, Physkon had him killed and sent the dismembered corpse back to his mother. He returned to Alexandria in 127 BCE, and Cleopatra II fled to Syria; she returned to Egypt in 124 BCE and the siblings were able to end the civil war with a formal amnesty in in 118 BCE. Physkon died in 116 BCE and Cleopatra III married her son Ptolemaĩos IX Sōtḗr Láthuros. Apion, Physkon’s oldest child (by a concubine) was given Kyrēnaïkḗ to rule. When he died in 96 BCE he bequeathed it to Roma; the acquisition was made into a Roman province in 74 BCE and united with Crete in 20 BCE.

  3. Leptis Magna reached its high point under the rule of its native son, emperor Lucius Septimius Severus. As a young man he had advanced through the cursus honorum, the customary succession of offices, and in 190 he became consul of Pannonia Superior (parts of Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Slovakia, one of the 25 governorships auctioned off hat year by Marcus Aurelius Cleander, the commander of the Pretorian Guard. Blamed for a food shortage in the capital, Cleander sent his troops against demonstrators, who were defended by the municipal police under Publius Helvius Pertinax, the son of a freed slave, who had also risen quickly through the civil and military ranks. Cleander fled to the emperor for protection but was beheaded with his son at the instigation of the imperial mistress Marcia. The emperor, only 29 though he had been in power since 177, enlarged his name to Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus and increased his authority, replacing Cleander with Eclectus as chamberlain and Quintus Aemilius Laetus as praetorian prefect. After much of Roma was destroyed by fire in 191, Commodus renamed the city Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana in 192, the Roman people Commodianus, the months of the year to correspond with his own dozen names (Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, Exsuperatorius, Amazonius, Invictus, Felix, Pius), his legions the Commodianae and his fleet which imported grain from Africa the Alexandria Commodiana Togata.

  4. At the end of the year Laetus and Eclectus conspired to replace him with Pertinax; Marcia poisoned him but he vomited up the poison, so the plotters sent his wrestling partner to strangle him in his bath. Pertinax seized power for three months but his efforts to restore discipline among the Praetorian Guards led to conflict that eventually culminated in Pertinax's murder by the Guard, who then auctioned off the imperial title to wealthy senator Marcus Didius Severus Julianus Augustus, whose reign would last 66 days. Septimius Severus in Pannonia, Pescennius Niger in Syria, , and Clodius Albinus in Britannia, each with three legions under his command, refused to recognise the new emperor. Severus was the most dangerous of the three because he was the nearest, so Julianus replaced him with a new consul and sent a centurion to assassinate him, but Severus declared Albinus to be caesar and marched on the capital, seizing control of the fleet at Ravenna and defeating the Praetorians. Julianus offered to share the empire with his rival, but Severus offered an amnesty to all of the Praetorians except the actual assassins of Pertinax. The senate recognized Severus, and a soldier slew Julianus in his palace. Severus then marched east against Niger, who had been proclaimed emperor by his own troops, defeating him at Issus in Cilicia in 194 before advancing further east and annexing the kingdom of Osroene (Edessa). When Severus declared his son Caracalla as his successor instead of Albinus, his former ally had himself declared emperor and moved south into Gallia. Severus defeated him at Lugdunum (Lyon) in 197.

  5. After consolidating his rule over the western provinces, Severus invaded the Parthian Empire, sacking their capital Ctesiphon in 197, and expanding the eastern frontier to the Tigris. He enlarged and fortified the Limes Arabicus in Arabia Petraea, campaigned in Africa and Mauretania, captured the Berber capital Garama (modern Germa in the Fezzan area of Libya, in the Sahara desert 600 km south of Leptis Magna), and expanded the Limes Tripolitanus along the southern frontier by annexing Vescera, Castellum Dimmidi, Gemellae, Thabudeos, Thubunae and Zabi to the province of Numidia. Late in his reign he traveled to Britannia, strengthening Hadrian's Wall and reoccupying the Antonine Wall before invading Caledonia (modern Scotland) and conquered the Central Lowlands, but he fell ill in 210 and died at Eboracum (York, England) in 211. The Roman Empire reached its greatest extent under his reign, encompassing 2 million square miles (5.18 million square kilometers). Severus favored his hometown above all other provincial cities, making it the third-most important city in Africa, rivaling Carthago and Alexandria. He rebuilt the docks and created a new forum while promoting the city’s security. Also, early in Severus’ reign, Victor I, a Berber from Leptis Magna (and probably its bishop), was pope. He changed the liturgical language of the Mass from Greek to Latin; excommunicated Theodotus of Byzantium for claiming that Jesus was a nondivine human who was "adopted" by God upon baptism, thus becoming the Christ, and became a deity himself after his resurrection; and he insisted on celebrating Easter on a Sunday rather than the traditional practice of celebrating it on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, the day before Passover. The Sunday-only policy was adopted by synods in Palestine under Theophilus of Caesarea and Narcissus of Jerusalem, in Pontus under Palmas, in Gaul under Irenaeus, in Corinth under Bachillus, at Osrhoene in Mesopotamia, and elsewhere, but the Eastern churches remained tolerant of the old practice, causing Victor to sever ties with them.

  6. After Septimius his hometown slowly declined. The Legio III Augusta had long defended the city from Berber incursions but was disbanded in 238 due to its support for the joint rule of Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus Africanus (Gordian I) and his son Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus Africanus Augustus (Gordian II) in opposition to the new emperor Maximinus Thrax (Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus Augustus); the senate recognized Gordianus, but the governor of Numidia invaded, defeating and killing Gordianus II at Carthago; Gordianus I hanged himself, ending his 36-day reign, but he was succeeded by his 13-year-old grandson Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Augustus (Gordian III). The senate elected senators Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus Augustus and Decimus Caelius Calvinus Balbinus Pius Augustus as co-rulers but then supported Gordianus III instead. Pupienus and Balbinus defeated Maximinus, who was assassinated by his troops, but they were killed by the Praetorian Guard.

  7. In 241, Gordianus married the daughter of the new praetorian prefect Gaius Furius Sabinius Aquila Timesitheus, who became the de facto ruler. However, in 243 Timesitheus blocked the Sassanid invasion led by Shapur I but suffered from diarrhea; Marcus Julius Philippus (“Philip the Arab”) had his medication altered, fatally inflaming the illness. Nevertheless, Gordianus resumed the campaign but was defeated at Misiche (near modern Fallujah) and was murdered by his troops at Zaitha (Qalat es Salihiyah, Iraq). Philippus then proclaimed himself emperor and negotiated peace. He reigned until 249, and his brother Gaius Julius Priscus was put in charge of the eastern provinces. Though the Legio III Augusta was reformed in 252 to deal with the “five peoples,” Leptis Magna was increasingly open to raids in the later part of the 3rd century and was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in 365, never to recover. The capital of Libya Superior was moved to Ptolemais (the modern village of Tolmeita), probably founded during the reign of Ptolemaĩos III Euergetes in the 3rd century BCE as the port for Barca, 24 km (15 mi) inland. The city was the home of Arius, after whom the Arianist heresy (which rejected Trinitarianism in favor of emphasizing God’s position over that of Jesus his son) condemned at Nicaea in 325 was named. Secundus, his patron who served as bishop of Ptolemais, refused to accept its decree and was deposed by bishop Athanasius of Alexandriat but regained his position; his Arian successor Stephanus was deposed in 360, but Arian Christian churches persisted in North Africa (where they were strongly favored by the Vandals), the Middle East, and Europe until suppressed by military conquest or voluntary royal conversion between the 5th and 7th centuries.

  8. With the definitive partition of the Roman empire in 395, Tripolitania was attached to the west while the Libyas went to the east (later called the Byzantine empire); Ptolemais continued as the capital until 428, when it was replaced by Apollonia.

    The Vandals were a group of East Germanic tribes who had migrated from southern Scandinaviato southern Poland during the 2nd century BCE and expanded into Dacia (Romania) and Pannonia in the 3rd century, where they were blocked by the Goths in 330. Around 400 the Huns forced the Goths to migrate into the Roman empire, and the Vandals moved west into Gaul in 406 and across the Pyrenees into Iberia in 409. A Roman-Suebi coalition drove them from Gallaecia to Baetica in 419. But the Alani (an Iranian dialectical form of Aryan), who had migrated westward after the Goths were defeated by the Huns on the Pontic steppe in 375, and had also crossed into Gaul in 406 and into Iberia in 409, were defeated by the Visigoths in 418 and recognized Vandal overlordship. In 422 Gunderic decisively defeated a Roman-Suebi-Gothic coalition at Tarraco and in 425 pillaged the Balearic Islands, Hispania, and Mauritania, sacking Carthago Spartaria (Cartagena) and Hispalis (Sevilla). In 428 he was succeeded by his half-brother Genseric, the illegitimate son of a female slave, who led the Vandals and Alani into North Africa at the invitation of comes Bonifatius, the military ruler of the region who had lost Hippo Regius and Carthago to the Gothic comes Sigisvult. But Bonifatius confronted the Vandals on the Numidian border and was soundly defeated after negotiations failed in 430. Bonifatius fled to Hippo Regius and was besieged by Genseric; three months into the siege 75-year-old St Augustinus died, finally stirring the western regent Galla Placidia to raise an army and convince her nephew in Constantinopolis, Flavius Theodosius Iunior Augustus (Theodosius II) to send troops under Flavius Ardabur Aspar. In 431 Genseric raised the siege, and Bonifacius withdrew to Carthago, where he was joined by Aspar's army. But in the summer of 432 Genseric soundly defeated them and seize Hippo Regius unopposed, making it his capital. Roma recognized Vandal control of coastal Numidia in 435, but Genseric invaded Africa Proconsularis and seized Carthago in 439 and established a kingdom that included the Roman province of Africa, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta, and the Balearic Islands. Gaiseric ordered the walls of Leptis Magna to dissuade its people from rebelling.

  9. The Vandals fended off several Roman attempts to recapture Africa. Theodosius sent an expedition against them in 441 but it only got as far as Sicily. Flavius Placidius Valentinianus Augustus (Valentinianus III) made peace in 442, recognizing Vandal rule in proconsular Africa and giving them Byzacena, Tripolitania, and part of Numidia. However, although Roma regained western Numidia and the two Mauretanian provinces, Genseric looted the coasts of the Eastern and Western Empires. (Vandal activity in the Mediterranean was so substantial it was called Wendelsæ [Sea of the Vandals] in Old English. Valentinianus offered his eldest daughter Eudocia in marriage to Genseric's son Huneric. Valentinianus seduced the wife of Petronius Maximus, who swore revenge. First, he removed the power behind the throne, the western commander Flavius Aetius, by persuading the emperor that he was planning to assassinate him; Valentinianus strangled him in 454 but refused to appoint Maximus to succeed him. Maximus arranged for two of Aetius’ soldiers to kill the emperor, then seized the throne and consolidated his rule by marrying Valentinianus’ widow Licinia Eudoxia and canceling Eudocia’s betrothal. Licinia Eudoxia sought Vandal help, and Geiseric invaded Italia. After a 78-day reign Flavius Anicius Petronius Maximus Augustus tried to flee, but he was abandoned by his bodyguard and stoned to death by a mob on 31 May 455, which mutilated him and threw his corpse into the Tiger river. Three days later Geiseric took Rome and thoroughly sacked it for two weeks, though he heeded pope Leo I’s pleas to refrain from arson, torture, and murder. He also seized Licinia Eudoxia and her daughters, Eudocia married Huneric in 456, the year general Flavius Ricimer defeated a large Vandal fleet near Corsica. Meanwhile, Visigothic king Theodoric II installed Marcus Maecilius Flavius Eparchius Avitus (the bishop of Piacenza) on the Roman throne, but Ricimer defeated Avitus’ troops near Placentia, captured him, and forced him to abdicate.

  10. The new Eastern emperor Leo II declined to name a new Western emperor, but the Alemanni invaded Italia from Raetia and advanced to Lake Maggiore, where they were defeated by troops under Flavius Julius Valerius Majorianus, who proclaimed him emperor; he starved Avitus to death in 257 and, at the mouth of the Garigliano river, surprised and defeated a mixed Vandal-Berber army returning with loot from a raid in Campania.In 460 he attacked the Vandals but was defeated at the Cartagena. In 468 the Western and Eastern Roman empires launched an enormous expedition against the Vandals under the command of emperor Leo’s brother-in-law Basiliscus, but the Vandals defeated him at Cap Bon, capturing the Western fleet, and destroying the Eastern one with fire ships. In the 470s Ricimer negotiated a treaty with the Vandals, and in 476 Genseric concluded a "perpetual peace" with Constantinopolis. In 477, 88-year-old Genseric died and was succeeded by Huneric. But the Vandal kingdom was wracked by Arian-Catholic disputes and continued Berber raids; in 523 Berbers sacked Leptis Magna. In 533 Byzantine emperor Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus Augustus (Justinianus I) declared war while king Gelimer’s brother Tzazo was engaged in putting down a revolt in Sardinia; his general Flavius Belisarius landed unopposed 10 miles (16 km) from Carthago. Gelimer’s troops marched to Ad Decimum but were defeated, and Belisarius took Carthago. The armies clashed again at Tricamarum, but Tzazo was slain and Belisarius advanced to Hippo. In 534 Gelimer surrendered, ending the Kingdom of the Vandals. Gelimer was given large estates in Galatia but declined the patrician rank since he was unwilling to abandon his Arianism. In 544 the Leuathae tribal confederation besieged Leptis Magna and demanded ransom; prefect Sergius invited 80 negotiators into the city, but their rough handling of him led to a general slaughter. The Berbers launched an all-out assault, forcing Sergius to abandon Leptis Magna and withdraw to Carthago.In 546 Justinianus sent Ioannes Troglita to quell the Berbers, who were defeated at the Fields of Cato in 548. (His exploits were the subject of the last Latin epic poem, “Iohannis, seu de Bellis Libycis ("Tale of John, or On the Libyan War") by Flavius Cresconius Corippus. But the Arabs began their conquest of Libya in 642. In 645 they drove the Byzantines out of Tripoli but did not occupy it; Muslim raids resumed in 661, and the official conquest was launched in 663. They retook Tripoli in 666 and were in complete control of the area in 670.

  11. The Taj Mahal ("Crown of the Palace") is an ivory-white marble mausoleum in Agra, often regarded as one of the world's most beautiful buildings; Rabindranath Tagore called it "the tear-drop on the cheek of time.". Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram (Shah Jahan, "King of the World"), the 5th Mughal emperor in India, son of emperor Jahangir ("conquereor of the world") commissioned it in 1632, the fourth year of his reign, as the tomb if his favorite wife Arjumand Banu Begum (Mumtaz Mahal, "the elect of the palace"). The niece of emperor Jahangir's wife Nur Jahan "Light of the World"), she was betrothed to 15-year-old prince Khurram (the future Shah Jahan) in 1607 when she was 13 but did not marry him, as his second wife, until 1612. They had 8 sons (including his heir apparent, and Aurangzeb, who displaced and executed his brother, usurped the throne, and imprisoned his father for the last 8 years of his life) and 6 daughters (including Jahanara Begum, who took over her mother's duties as first lady after her death and shared her father's captivity). Seven of their children died at birth or in infancy, and Mumtaz Mahal died giving birth to a final daughter. Construction of the Taj Mahal was completed in 1643, though other phases of the project continued until 1653. Shah Jahan worked closely on the building's design and construction, with the assistance of his chief architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, who had laid the foundations of the Red Fort at Delhi, and Mir Abd-ul Karim (Jahangir's favorite architect). After Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb had him buried next to his wife.


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