Archaeologists Find Ancient Treasure in Beautifully Preserved Roman Ruins in Libya

Archaeologists have unearthed a cache of ancient Roman silver and bronze coins as well as other treasures in the ruins of a 1,700-year-old villa on the coast of Libya.

The team discovered the haul of 553 silver and bronze coins known as sterercii in the remarkably well-preserved 3rd century building in the ancient city of Ptolemais, Haaretz reported.

The settlement on the North African coast was a key trading port in the Ptolemaic Empire and lies in the eastern corner of modern day Libya just over 60 miles from the city of Benghazi.

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Jerzy Zelazoski, an archaeologist from Warsaw University, said the coins were discovered inside a room alongside terracotta lamps, indicating they may have been the profits of local craftsmen.

They also discovered detailed mosaics built around a classical Roman courtyard inside the expansive building complex, which is roughly 600 square meters in size.

They included one depiction of the Greek god Dionysus sleeping with Ariadne, the mythical daughter of King Minos, the ruler of Crete, and another illustrating the adventures of the Greek hero Achilles.

A part of the ancient city of Ptolemais, Libya A part of the ancient city of Ptolemais is pictured near the town of Ad Dirsiyah, about 100 km (62 miles) east of Benghazi January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

The villa shows signs of centuries of inhabitation in its inscriptions and different frescoes and renovations. The house was most likely destroyed by earthquakes that rocked the region relentlessly between the mid 3rd century up until 356. The horde of coins lay undiscovered for so long because they lay beneath fallen layers of the house.

While the house fell into disrepair, Ptolemais remained the capital of the Roman province of Cyrenaica which succeeded the Ptolemaic Empire, until the year 428.

Ptolemais was sacked by the Vandals as they swept across North Africa and the razed to the ground once again in the 7th century during the Arab conquest of the region.

Libya retains some of the best preserved Greek and Roman ruins because of its dry climate and low population density. However, international antiquities bodies have expressed concern over the future of the sites because of the country’s fractious civil war.

Libya holds five UNESCO world heritage sites covering thousands of years of history. They include: Cyrene, a Greek colony founded in 631 B.C.; Leptis Magna, the Roman seat of power in North Africa; Tadrart Acacus, with prehistoric rock art sites dating from 12,000 B.C. to 100 A.D.; and Ghadames, one of the oldest pre-Saharan cities still in existence.

The greatest fears of possible destruction concern the town of Sabratha, home to an almost perfectly preserved 3rd century Roman theater where the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) made inroads in 2015.

In response to the threat, the International Council of Museums (ICOM), a U.N. body backed by the U.S. state department, issued an emergency catalogue of Libyan cultural items that could fall victim to ISIS’s brand of destructive iconoclasm or be sold on the black market.

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