The Lesser Syrtis, or Mediterranean littoral of southeastern Tunisia, is a pivotal region in North African history and archaeology. With the Gulf of Gabes as a natural harbor complex opposite the island of Jerba (associated with Calypso of the Lotus-Eaters), ancient populations of the area found themselves in an enviable strategic position with access to both the western Maghreb, as well as the major cities of the eastern Mediterranean. The region was deemed important enough to be mentioned in the historical sources, including Strabo, and was considered a zone of emporia. Archaeological findings from survey and excavations over the past decades have highlighted the extent to which the region was a cultural crossroads, with abundant Greek, Roman, Berber and Carthaginian material culture and inscriptions. Like the urban Tripoli to the east—with the “three cities” of Leptis Magna, Oea and Sabratha—the Lesser Syrtis has its own urban triangle, with the three centers of Gigthis, Meninx and Zita.
Dr. Ali Drine is a Senior Archaeological Researcher and Director of Archaeological Mapping at the Institut National du Patrimoine in Tunisia, where he oversees the excavations of the major archaeological sites in southern Tunisia. From 1997-2001 he co-directed the Jerba Project, along with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania. During this project, he performed the archaeological survey of the island, resulting in the publication of An Island Through Time: Jerba Studies, Volume I, The Punic and Roman Periods (2009), edited by Ali Drine, Elizabeth Fentress and Renata Holod. Si Ali is currently co-directing the Zita Project, together with scholars from UCLA and Brown University. He is a specialist of the Roman archaeology of Tunisia, a topic on which he has published widely.