October 16, 2017

Monday, October 16, 2017 - ,,, No comments

UPDATE: The two Philaeni bronzes in Libya are reported as safe.


Earlier today, alerted by news reports from Libyan environmental activist Saleh Drayagh, ARCA posted a blog report that two reclining bronze statues of the Philaeni brothers had been stolen from an archaeological site in Sultan, Libya, 60 km east of Sirte by factions loyal to the Islamic State group.

Tourist illustration
of the Arch of the Philaeni
Image Credit: Khalifa Abo Khraisse
The bronzes were all that was left of the 100 foot tall,  Marble Arch, also known as the Arch of the Philaeni (Italian: Arco dei Fileni),  which was erected during the period of the Italian occupation and officially unveiled by Mussolini in 1937.  During that time, occupying forces built the Via Litoranea, the first tarmac road around the Gulf of Sidra, and constructed the rather out of place monumental arch at the point which marked the border between the two provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica at Ras Lanuf and Al Uqaylah. 

While the arch survived the Second World War it was later blown up under the orders of  Muammar Gaddafi in 1970. Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, was captured and himself killed on 20 October 2011 during the Battle of Sirte.

When first erected, the arch paid tribute to a story from long ago, when Libya was divided by still another war, the fight between the Carthaginian in the West and the Greek Cyrenaica in the East.  Legend had it that the two nations agreed to define their border with an unusual method. 

Each opposing force is said to have treated by selecting runners who were to start out running towards one another at the same time on the same day. When the runners converged, the spot would then mark the border between the two opposing nations.

Carthage chose the two Philaeni brothers, who it is said proved faster than the squad from Cyrene.  Arriving ahead of their adversaries, rumors began floating  about that the Carthaginians had cheated by allowing their runners to start earlier than the prescribed time.  As a result, the Cyrenaica refused to accept the results and honor the deal. 

Seizing the runners, the two Philaeni brothers were given a difficult choice, most likely to provoke a confession for duplicity.  The pair could either agree to be buried alive, right there on the spot and marking the new border with their tombs, or they could allow the Cyrenaica to continue to advance at their convenience to the west.


The brothers patriotically accepted the first option and the Carthaginians built two commemorative altars at their gravesite to honor their sacrifice.  On the ruins of the altars Mussolini's forces later erected the marble arch. 

But as more and more corpses pile up in Libya's modern war, specifically in the battle in Sirte against the Islamic State, the bronze bodies of corpses have luckily not become a casualty.  Instead, they have been dismounted and moved to a safe place.



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