BMCR 2013.09.32

Leptiminus (Lamta), Report No. 3: The Field Survey. JRA Supplementary series 87

, , , Leptiminus (Lamta), Report No. 3: The Field Survey. JRA Supplementary series 87. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2011. 493; 2 foldout maps; DVD. ISBN 9781887829878. $149.00.

Front Matter

Leptiminus (Lamta) Report No. 3 on the field survey presents the results of ten years of survey work (1990-1999) undertaken in the Tunisian coastal town.1 The well-illustrated publication contains summaries of the outcomes of the environmental studies and geophysical survey, and its core chapters synthesise the conclusions on the site of Leptiminus in general. Furthermore, the volume includes a number of specialist reports on specific material categories.

The authors start by giving a thorough outline of the background of Leptiminus, both geographically and historically, and of the approaches of their study. The town of Leptiminus lay on the northeastern coast of the Tunisian Sahel, south of Hadrumetum (modern Sousse). The harbour towns here, like Leptiminus, were economically important as connections between the agriculturally productive hinterland of the Sahel and the other regional centres on the coast. As the study has shown, however, Leptiminus was also involved in supraregional trade, especially in the Roman period when the imperial transport system provided a convenient infrastructure. The Leptiminus project provides the first in-depth study of one of these towns. Having the extensive data at hand that has been collected within the project over the years, the authors come to more general conclusions and convincingly challenge a simplistic economic model of the Roman city as sole consumer of the goods produced in its territory, being well aware that Leptiminus is one example, albeit a very well studied one.

Chapters 2 to 4 present the methodology of the field survey and the results of the environmental analysis and the geophysical examination. Altogether, 10 square kilometers have been studied. The area is very suitable for survey and geophysical work, also in the former central region of the settlement, because large parts of the territory are used for olive plantations today. The distinctive feature of the Leptiminus survey is that it combines analyses in the settlement itself as well as in its suburban areas and the wider hinterland. The environmental analysis reached out to a broader area and identified the sources for stone and clay for building and pottery production at Leptiminus and established the importance of the wadis for the water management of the settlement. The chapter on the methodology used in fieldwalking and material collection not only helps to evaluate the presented data and conclusions (even the design of the recording sheets is published), it also carefully explains changes in the methodology over the course of the examination. This makes the chapter especially helpful for archaeologists undertaking survey fieldwork themselves. Geophysical analyses (magnetometry and earth-resistance) have been carried out in part of the survey area and have, among numerous smaller structures and walls, especially identified pottery kilns at the edge of the town and remains of larger buildings at the jetty. An overview of the research areas and results is given in colour (fig. 4.G on p. 119).

The next three chapters, 5 to 7, present the results of the long-term survey project concerning the topographical, economic and chronological development of Leptiminus. Chapter 5 deals with the morphology of the settlement. From a nucleus indicated by the earliest pottery, the area developed in several phases. Remains of the forum, a temple, several baths, an amphitheater and a theater (probably a quarry originally) could be identified. At least one church was situated in the area of a cemetery outside the city, at Henchir Soukrine.2 The bay of Leptiminus was rather shallow, so that a long jetty (today under water because of the receded coast line) provided possibilities for larger cargo ships to anchor well off the shore. In Late Antiquity, production centres moved from the fringes of the settlement towards the centre and the inhabited area shrank. Not much evidence for occupation has been found after the middle of the 7th c. At some point in the early medieval period, the focus of settlement shifted to Lamta, about 1 km away, where in the 9th c. a ribat, a small fortification, was erected. The very substantial chapter 6 (205-272) deals with the economic situation at Leptiminus. Main commodities were fish and fish products, olive oil and pottery, and probably to a lesser extent wine. Pottery kilns and amphora sherds allow for a good reconstruction of local pottery production and the goods that were traded. As the authors clearly point out, Leptiminus cannot be labelled a “consumer city” in the classical model—the situation was more complex (262). Leptiminus was a collection centre for the goods produced in the surrounding hinterland, but it did not collect only for its own supply. In the town, locally produced amphoras were filled with oil and wine for transportation by ship. Leptiminus was engaged in production that supported its own overseas trade, and the suburban production centre was nearly as large as the town itself. Leptiminus was involved in a network that can be subdivided into “imperial economy” (regulated, e.g., involving taxation system), “provincial economy” (locally orientated free-market trade) and “extra-provincial economy” (supraregional free-market trade) according to David Mattingly’s model (263). The economy was most productive between the 1st and 4th c., with a break in the 5th c. and a smaller scale renaissance in the 6th and 7th c. Chapter 7 is labelled “profile of a town”, providing a synthesis that the authors of the chapter, Mattingly and David Stone, call an “urban biography” (273). In a very detailed reconstruction, the development of Leptiminus between the 5th c. BCE up to the 7th c. CE (and subsequently up to the 19th c.) is presented with site plans for the different phases. The story of the town began as a Punic emporium, with a hinterland later reshaped by Roman centuriation to an “internationally” connected commercial town in the high imperial period. This development is also reflected in the size of the settlement, starting at a mere 3 hectares, expanding to 45 hectares with a possible population of 9,000 inhabitants, and shrinking again to 3 hectares in the Islamic period. As the authors point out, Leptiminus’s prosperity depended on the functioning of the harbour and its connection to international trade routes (282-283). In spite of the impressive amount of information already gained on Leptiminus, some future directions of research at the site are lined out at the end of the chapter.

Chapters 8 to 19 are specialist reports on different aspects and collections of material, including lithics, pottery, iron remains, mortar, stone and pumice. The chapters on fineware, cookware and coarseware (ch. 9) and on amphoras (ch. 10) were prepared by the pottery specialist on the Leptiminus team, John Dore, but published post mortem by his colleagues. Ch. 11 is dedicated to the study of stamped amphoras that are especially useful for the reconstruction of trade relations. Drawings and photos for this chapter are additionally published on the accompanying DVD. The DVD also contains chapters 20 and 21, very useful and richly illustrated gazetteers for the urban survey (ch. 20) and the rural survey (ch. 21). This complete publication of the single sites studied in the survey is exemplary, and the decision to include the data on a DVD adds largely to the usability of the book. Two double-sided fold-out maps with field divisions, numbers and results of the geophysical examinations for the rural and urban surveys complete the publication.

The third volume of the Leptiminus series in its material richness, careful discussions and convincing analyses even exceeds the high standards of its predecessors. Whereas the second part of the book contains very useful specialist studies, essential for every decent site report, it is the first part of the publication that is not only of great interest for any survey archaeologist or specialist on North Africa, but also for researchers working on the Roman economy in general. The diachronic study of a port town with its suburban area and its hinterland is exemplary and will surely become a standard in the field. The core chapters of syntheses in particular make the third Leptiminus report a very stimulating and worthwhile read.


1. The first volume was an introductory study including research history, methodology and a report on the excavation of a Roman cemetery: Ben Lazreg N., and D. J. Mattingly (with contributions by others), 1992. Leptiminus (Lamta): a Roman port city in Tunisia, Report no. 1. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 4. In the second volume, the second part of the cemetery excavation was published as well as the study of the eastern baths and a number of suburban sites to the southeast of Leptiminus: Stirling, L. M. and D. J. Mattingly, N. Ben Lazreg, 2001. Leptiminus (Lamta) Report no. 2. The East Baths, Cemeteries, Kilns, Venus Mosaic, Site Museum, and other studies. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 41.

2. At urban site S304 at Dhahrat Slama, a project concentrates on the excavation of a Christian burial complex, Ben Lazreg, N., 2002. A Roman and Early Christian burial complex at Leptiminus: first notice”, JRA 15, 336-45; Ben Lazreg, N., Stevens, S., Stirling, L., Moore, J., 2006. Roman and Early Christian burial complex at Leptiminus (Lamta): second notice, JRA 19, 347-368.