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Apollonia, Libya



1965: Clark Hopkins

1966–1967: John G. Pedley and Donald White

Theater at Apollonia. Apollonia Photo Archive 67-54.

Libyan Apollonia, the modern Marsa-Susa, was the seaport of ancient Cyrene. It lies on the north African coast almost directly south of the western end of Crete. The modern village is composed largely of descendants of Moslem refugees from Crete who settled in Cyrenaica in 1897. The ancient city is, however, free from occupation and its heavy Hellenistic walls lie along the shore some one hundred yards from the present beach. Outlines of ancient harbors exist in the offshore islands and the underwater remains, but the sea has battered down the wall, engulfed many of the harbor installations, and encroached some fifty meters on the old seaport.

According to Clark Hopkins, "the University of Michigan was attracted to the site in part by its size, commensurate with a limited budget, and was not deterred by the (archaeological) work already done. Apollonia has a history of a thousand years, and it was our hope to aid in piecing together the evidence for the various periods in her long career. We were very much interested in the Byzantine period but hoped we might aid especially in filling out the background in Roman and Hellenistic times." In fact, the history of Apollonia ranges from the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE, and while early investigations dealt with the harbor, sea gate, and city walls of pre-Hellenistic and early Hellenistic periods, the site also commanded interest as the capital of the Byzantine pentapolis. The ducal palace and the three churches attracted the research attention of scholars working on the Byzantine period.

During the first year, Professor Hopkins concentrated on the area of the sea gate which lies beside the round tower on the shore of the city, and also did underwater work on the sunken early harbor. The ancient road was cleared in hopes that the strata above and below would give clues to the date of the founding of the city, or at least its earliest period. But Hopkins and his staff found that the paving stones had been torn up in the later period and no clear strata remained. During the following years of excavation, however, when professors Pedley and White concentrated on the perimeter fortifications, an "unknown structure" within the city walls, and the site of the extra-mural Doric temple, evidence appeared to suggest a founding date. In several test trenches sunk against the bases of the tower and in front of the blocked gate, potsherds retrieved from the lowest strata suggested a date no earlier than the last quarter of the 4th century BCE for the construction of the round tower, a date consistent with evidence provided by excavation elsewhere around the perimeter. The entire defensive wall system of towers and walls was constructed at the same time.

The "unknown structure" within the city walls turned out to be an elaborate bathing establishment that was never completed. The foundation, the floor of the heating system, the furnaces, and the general intended plan of the dressing room, cold, tepid, hot, and plunge baths were apparent. But while the masonry within did not seem contemporary Byzantine by comparison with the masonry of the palace of the Byzantine duke close by, Pedley believes it unlikely that the baths would have been begun during the lifespan of the Roman bath in Apollonia, which was in use until severely damaged by the great earthquake of 365. Why work was stopped before the plumbers went in and why this Late Roman building was never completed remain mysteries. The shell of the building survived untouched, according to Pedley, until it was decided to fill in the yawning gaps with debris. Coins, pottery, and glass were recovered in great quantities from this fill, and coins of Heraclius (610–641) from the lowest levels of this fill were the objects of latest date retrieved. It appeared to the archaeologists that the fill had all been deposited at the same time, in the first quarter of the 7th century. After the fill had been shoveled in, squatters appeared on the scene. They laid irregular floors and closed doorways connecting units whose walls still projected above the fill. Circular stones set in the floors perhaps served to support poles for a rickety roof. These shabby squatters were the last inhabitants of Byzantine Apollonia.

About one kilometer to the west of the city, between the Muslim cemetery and the sea, members of the expedition came upon the leveled platform of an ancient temple. The temple was oriented east–west, and the approach, now as in the past, rose obliquely from the road that links Apollonia with Cyrene. After clearing, the temple area revealed cuttings in bedrock to receive the lowest course of the temple's substrate and several architectural members, among them an almost intact Doric captial. The capital has been studied thoroughly and Pedley believes it will prove invaluable in reconstructing the elevation. As for the temple plan, mathematical calculations, pending further investigation, suggest that it was hexastyle.

The excavation was extremely successful in establishing the date of the city wall, the identification of the bath, and Apollonia's first pagan religious structure, the extra-mural Doric temple. In addition, the expedition traced the water supply system and produced a complete and precise plan of the site.

While University of Michigan archaeologists were working at Apollonia in the spring of 1966, the Libyan government was constructing houses for workers in what was intended to be the new village of Shahat (modern Cyrene). The old Shahat spreads over much of the ancient Hellenistic city of Cyrene, which the government hoped to save for archaeological research. While digging foundations for the new village, construction workers discovered a small ancient aqueduct, a hillock with plain stone sarcophagi, a small circular monument, and, in a quarry, what appeared to be very ancient statues and bronzes. They called in archaeologists working at nearby Apollonia to examine the site and thus began the Kelsey Museum's involvement at Cyrene.