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June 21, 2011

More on Leptis Magna: During World War II, Friend of Lawrence of Arabia Prepared Preservation Plans for All of Libya's Ancient Sites

Leptus Magna in Libya (Photo via Africa Fairtrade Tourism)

Judge Arthur Tompkins emailed the ARCA blog after reading Rez Hamilton's post on June 19th, "Current Conflict in Libya Puts Greek and Roman Ruins at Risk." Judge Tompkins, who will teach "Art Crime in War" in July for ARCA's Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Culture Heritage Protection Studies, added this information about Leptis Magna in Libya:
Leptis Magna had an important triggering role in the formation of the English version of the Monuments Men in the mid 1940s.

An extract from my lecture notes for the course I teach the week after next records this: "When, in what is now Libya, the British entered the ruins of Leptis Magna, situated 130 kilometers east of modern day Tripoli, the Director of the London Museum, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Robert Eris Mortimer Wheeler, and another archaeologist, Lieutenant Colonel John Ward-Perkins, were amongst the artillery officers there, and both tried to prevent damage by the army as they moved in and through the ruins. In London, their reports ended up with Sir Leonard Woolley, an archaeologist and friend of Lawrence of Arabia, Architectural Advisor to England’s War Office, who worked with them to prepare preservation plans for all of Libya’s ancient sites.

In October 1943 Woolley was appointed to head up a Monuments and Fine Arts branch in England, which worked closely with the Roberts Commission, and, with the help of English experts, compiled similar lists of monuments, collections and sites requiring protection in both Europe and Asia."
Leptis Magna was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC.  It became a Roman city complete with a forum, basilica, and retail and residential districts, was constructed during the reign of Augustus and Tiberius.  It reached prominence during the 2nd and 3rd century when its native son, Lucius Septimius Severus, became emperor.  You may read more about Leptis Magna and see more images on the Key Africa website promoting tourism here.