Tetrapylon with dedication of biga to Porfyrius, local notable. Lepcis Magna (Tripolitania). Later third century.

Partly preserved in four lines:

- - - - - -? / amatori patriae et civium suor[um quod] ex indulgentia sacra / civibus suis feras dentatas quattuor vivas donavit / ex decreto splendidissimi ordinis bigam decrev(eru)nt / Porfyri . Porfyri

'To ... lover of his fatherland and of his fellow-citizens. Because, by sacred indulgence, he donated to his citizens four living teethed wild beasts, they have decreed, by decree of the most splendid council (ordo) a two-horse chariot (biga). Porfyrius, Porfyrius. '

Letter height 5 cm.

Small tetrapylon of brownish limestone. Three of the four blocks of the crowning element are missing, as well as the first line of the text. The epigraphic field is 36 cm high and 118 cm wide.

The four pillars have flat mouldings at top and bottom. On both front pillars a boat in relief is carved. On the left side prow and rear are round and a triangular sail billowss at the mast. The boat on the right pillar is of asymmetrical shape and has no mast; it is loaded with a cargo of horizontal blocks, possibly a load of marble columns.

Above the pillars were four arching blocks. The blocks on the back and lateral faces are smooth; the front face is decorated with a tabula ansata that fills the entire width of the block and is decorated with a double band. The inner part of the tabula ansata has been cut back into a rectangular offset which forms the epigraphic field for our inscription. In the left upper and both bottom corners there are small circular holes; these served as dowel holes to fix a metal plate (see below). The monument was crowned by four blocks with simple mouldings of which just one has survived. On the upper face of this block there are three large oval shaped cavities, two at the sides and one in the centre; there is also an offset for a clamp at the left margin. Since the inscriptions informs us that the base carried a two-horse-chariot (biga), the two lateral cavities are possibly the imprints of the horses’ hoofs, while the central one was for a further support of the statue. The monument was probably partly restored by the excavators; it is possible that the crowning block was originally at the back.

Our inscription is from the third use of the base. The first use inscription was carved into the tabula ansata when it was still intact; to this phase belong the reliefs at the pillars. In the second phase, the inscription was cancelled in order to fix a metal plate with a new inscription at the front face. In the last phase that plate was removed and our inscription to Porphyrius was carved. The scarce decorations do not allow for a precise date for the first use; however, a date in the 2nd or early 3rd century is suggested by the sequence of re-uses, the last of which (our inscription) was apparently not earlier than the later 3rd century.

The inscription is standing in situ in the Macellum of Lepcis Magna, at the southern side of the northern Tholos.

Of the honorand’s name only the signum Porphyrius is extant. Porphyrius was a local notable (line 1) and benefactor who had donated four large ‘teethed beasts’ ( feras dentatas, line 2), probably felines, that were displayed in a beast hunt (venatio) (see also below, ‘Further Discussion’). Since other onomastic elements are lost in the inscription, it is not possible to link him with any of the known families from Lepcis Magna.

The appearance of the signum below the inscription follows a usage observable in the 2nd half of the 3rd century, a date supported by the letter forms. However, the ending of the signum in -i (instead of -ii which was used from the time of Diocletian) suggests a pre-tetrarchic date.

As the inscription states, the tetrapylon supported a two-horse chariot (biga, line 3). This was the typical form to honour benefactors who had organized games (ludi) in the amphitheatre. Events of this kind were regulated by imperial legislation, and Porphyrius’ generosity was enabled by special imperial permission (ex indulgentia sacra, line 1).

The macellum where the monument was set up was the location where the trade in animals probably took place; our inscription fits with other such evidence. Trade in wild animals was a major source of income in Lepcis Magna, and the prosperity of a part of the local aristocracy was probably based on it.

Ignazio Tantillo & Francesca Bigi

Main Reference

Tantillo, I. and F. Bigi (eds.), Leptis Magna. Una città e le sue iscrizioni in epoca tardoromana, Cassino 2010, 408-412, no. 50, figs. 7.10-11, 10.57, pl. XVII

Reynolds, J. M. & J. B. Ward-Perkins, The Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania. In collaboration with S. Aurigemma, R. Bartoccini, G. Caputo, R. Goodchild, P. Romanelli, Roma 1952, no. 603